Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Legislation

More legislation that pretends rights don't apply online, that is. SOPA was but one of many, not the first and certainly not the last. The 1994 Telecom law allowed wiretapping, which was expanded to include the entire internet in 2004/5, something the original bill explicitly forbid. That is, network component makers (Cisco, etc) must make back doors into the entire internet, at least the parts made in the USA. Aside from privacy issues, security (backdoors are easily used by criminals as well) this could deter anyone looking to start businesses in the US. Extra costs of infrastructure combined with customer privacy issues can and will drive many out of country.

Followed by the DMCA, a horrific law that allows content industries to sue for $150,000 per work, that makes it illegal to even theoretically find ways to bypass copy protections, that allows end user agreements to prevent you from modifying your devices, etc. The EFF, a wonderful organization dedicated to privacy and fairness online, has to fight just to make it a legal exception to jailbreak iPhones and root Androids. Every year congress passes or tries to pass SOPA like legislation. Usually under the umbrella of "Intellectual Property" protection that ignores consumer rights and assumes guilty until proven otherwise, or as a way to "combat" child porn. While protecting copyrights, patents and trademarks is part of capitalism, the unlimited protection for unlmited times is bad for society as a whole, but that is for another time. Up next is CISPA, an almost direct clone of SOPA. A few in the senate managed to get an amendment that would alleviate some of the worst issues in the bill, although a complete drop would be best, anti-privacy or pro- campaign funded by Sony Universal house members are trying to remove those protections.

Once more, we must fight this until congress understands that not only do we not need more legislation to enable anti-competitive and invasive moves by government and private corporations with poor track records to begin with, but we need to undue the damage done by the DMCA and telecom act.

Go Here.

Logic Priest


Technically I have one of them twitter things. @logicpriest. Don't expect tweets, though. I like to rant on and on, and 140 characters is kinda hard to fit my thoughts in. There are some fantastic one liner writers out there, but I have yet to master the art.

Logic Priest

I'm Not a Cynic

In both my personal life and on this shiny new blog, I complain a lot. I bitch about problems in both everyday life and on the national and global scales. I occasionally snark about it, I love the Colbert Report and Daily Show, who snark about it, and I don't go down very often to protects like #Occupy and such, although I follow the events around them longer than the media does. But I am not a cynic. A cynic looks out, expecting such disappointment and instead of rationalizing it, they just feel smug that they expected it. They get some measure of satisfaction that they, alone in this world, realize how shitty the world is. This is a bit funny, considering most of America at this point is at least cynical about our democracy. We all know our elected officials don't care about what we want unless we threaten revolution. They only cater to their main financial backers, and most political arguments are from this or that ideological point that we know won't ever make it to legislation, even while the politicians plaster said points on like badges.

But I am not a cynic. I see the general, inherent problems with a capitalistic democracy, or with most other systems. I see the same politicians, their same lies, the same general chaos world wide that the cynics see, I do expect it, but I don't feel superior by pointing it out. I point it out because it makes me angry. I don't feel smug, I feel rage. I hate how things are, from the poorest country with its small time warlords to our bloated military industrial complex and corporate interests running the country into oblivion. I am trying to speak out against it, and trying to discuss, or get involved in discussions, on what to do. Revolution must be planned. Revolution must be an evolution towards something better. There is a place between Lenin's revolution bloodbath and cynicism. Cynicism is another form of not caring. It is no better than the rationalizing masses the cynics love to feel better than. Cynics know that we are lied to, they know something is wrong, but they, like the "masses" rationalize and shy away from actual analysis. They enjoy the wrongness, and sit back and don't talk about it, or do anything about it.

A lovely quote from one of my favorite bloggers over at Freethoughtblogs, Crommunist, is:
We have been told that the shitty options we have are the only options, without any real explanation of         why that is. Communist or capitalist. Progressive liberal or reactionary conservative. Democracy or  n       fascism. These are definitely among the list of socioeconomic models, but they aren’t the sum total of things that we can do. And expressing the tired cynicism that accompanies any and all of the above options doesn’t move us anywhere, because they all accept the premise that we don’t have any alternatives.
Cynics rationalize just as hard as everyone else, they just get to feel smarter about it. Skeptics are often called cynics for pointing out what is wrong, but they are as far different as possible. Skeptics analyze and explore not just what but why are things wrong. Cynics notice a generalized wrongness and stop there.

So ya, I am not a cynic. I think of myself as a skeptic. While I don't have a concrete solution to fix the insanely complex and widespread issues we as a species have, I am open to exploring what we can do. I spend a lot of energy trying to figure out why things are fucked. I hope to convert cynics to skepticism, even if they don't immediately become full on atheists, rationalists and progressives.

Logic Priest

Monday, July 30, 2012

Not as Far as you Might Think

I was floating around the internet the last few days and I found, once more, horrifying proof that things are not as far along as people like to pretend. I'm talking about equality, progressive attitudes, and rationality. One of the biggest arguments against equality these days seems to be that we are already equal, it's all done, thanks have a good life. An interesting conundrum, I say. No, really I use the word conundrum. So there.

It is understandable that the privileged don't like the idea of equality, at least the reactionary ones, but what always gets me are the people of the given oppressed class who support the status quo. They make excuses for it or claim that it is the way it was intended, alternately by god or nature, depending on the speaker. I saw a blog post today claiming Sally Ride, the recently deceased first American woman in space, was pointless. They claimed that she had no effect on women, that women didn't want to do science or be astronauts and that men naturally excelled at such jobs. This is an old claim that Sally would have had to fight back in her day, but one would hope she helped remove such sentiments, at least from other women, as the blogger in question claimed to be. No, I refuse to link because someone like that would take that as a sign she was influencing people. That decades later Sally Ride was being diminished so is a terrible sign, a sign that we haven't actually come that far. 

In the 1980s when the feminists from the civil rights movement pushed for an equal rights amendment, their former allies in the black male leaders of civil rights almost unilaterally abandoned them, having gotten (they thought) what they wanted and not willing to give up the privilege they did have, that of being male. In turn, it did not pass, excuses were once more made about women being equal already, and two decades later women still make less money for the same positions and are heavily underrepresented in traditionally male fields like science. So much for equal. Again, excuses are made, such as imaginary differences in mental make up making women less capable at math, something directly denied by grades in high school and undergrad, or that the fields are less attractive. Well the second one is true, at least, but no due to biology. Women are less attracted to certain fields because they are systematically made to feel unwelcome within those fields. Technical fields are, at the top, still dominated by men, who in turn discourage female students and employees, who deny them deserved promotions in place of men, who pay women less for identical positions. 

Conservatives of course cite women taking family time off, another social requirement, not biological, and miss the fact that the pay statistics aren't based on age but on position. It doesn't matter that a women got to a certain level later in life because she had children, the point is that she is paid less for the same level of responsibility. Alas, logic is not the strong suit of the conservative. Base emotional appeals, reactionary responses and claims of persecution are the strengths of the conservative. 

This issue is not at all limited to feminism. Women fight feminism, PoC (people of color, for some of you) fight for racism, homosexuals build gay conversion camps, etc. The status quo is comfortable, familiar and you are rewarded socially for supporting it, even as it hurts you. The worst part, though, is that in the long run, such discrimination hurts the privileged classes too. I am a cisgender, white male and patriarchy hurts me too. Racism hurts me too. It all hurts all of us. It makes us irrational, it forces us into postions we don't necessarily want to be in, and it makes it hard to defend anything we do. It destroys anyone's image of being rational, and it just doesn't make sense. While I of course don't claim to be hurt as bad as maligned classes, such enforced social roles are bad for everyone. A great example is the ERA, mentioned before. When black political leaders ditched women, especially black women, because they thought they had what they wanted, they got to watch what they had slip away. An excuse to discriminate against one class is an excuse to spread discrimination. The Reagan era "welfare queen", as invented by the conservatives in the Republican party, became an excuse to discriminate against all African Americans, and all PoC. The rights black men thought they had earned dissappeared as the War on Drugs started, becoming a system wide excuse to jail young black men, while young black women were expected to get pregnant and be abandoned so they could go on welfare and cost poor white people money. 

So it confuses me when one class of discriminated people encourages the status quo for another, but then I see the same people encouraging discrimination against themselves. We have not come so far when women justify gender inequality, when so called civil rights "leaders" abandon their own, when people say that X people are equal now. The only real way forward is for everyone supporting any equality to support all equality. Rational thought only forces us to. 

Logic Priest

Friday, July 27, 2012

Geeks, Feminism and Assholes

Most institutions have some level of misogyny inherent in their culture. Even the skeptical/atheist communities are not immune, as can be seen from the last few fun times like "elevator gate" (I fucking hate attaching 'gate' to anything remotely controversial) and the general hatred towards Rebecca Watson or any of the Freethoughtbloggers who mentioned sexual harassment at conventions. Like any tradition, people get very defensive about changing it, piled on top of the instant hate generated by the mere suggestion that someone is a bigot in modern society. Wonderful catch phrases have arisen such as "feminazi" when someone mentions some issue related to gender, or "reverse racism" and so forth to talk about the threat felt by privileged people, usually white and male. They like to claim the problem doesn't exist or isn't important in THIS case, or that they didn't do it etc.

This brings me to a pair of articles on CNN. The first is a horrendously misogynistic rant about how "booth girls" and "fake geeks girls" attend conventions dressed in slutty outfits for attention. While I bet there are a few who are there for attention they otherwise wouldn't receive, I always thought that was why all the guys were there, too. Geek culture was always about a place to fit in where you wouldn't otherwise, but FSM forbid if a girl wants to do that. Note they are geek "girls" or "babes" not women or ladies or whatever, while males are just geeks. The Link. The article blathers on about some imaginary abuse brought about by attractive women showing off their bodies in some racy outfit from whatever game or comic, and he seems offended they would dare not be long term fans from infancy or some such nonsense. Many of the male geeks at conventions are onlookers as well, but they get none of his anger, being male and non sexy. The comments are very telling, if you dare read into them. Many who agree, and the ones who dare mention the insane amount of sexism in the rant are drowned out by shouting and accusations of being a "cunt" or "feminazi" and demanding people keep feminism out of their little sheltered world. For people who pride themselves on intellect, geeks sure seem incapable of calm, rational thought when their tradition of male dominance is threatened.

Perhaps it goes back to some feeling of frustration, since many who self identify as geeks have a history of being rejected by women. Sexual frustration seems to go hand in hand with anti-feminist rhetoric, from what I have seen. And rather than focus on themselves, why they have issues, which often come from their asshole nature or their attempts to interact with incompatible people, having convinced themselves they "deserve" a certain type of women with little interest in them.

Speculation aside, the anger towards women who don't "prove" themselves to be geeks, something never asked of male geeks, these men are little different from the conservatives and religious they claim to differ from. They are every bit the sexist assholes they claim other groups are, but they convince themselves it is the women's fault for not being "geeky" enough. If a man wanted to try dressing up and going to a convention, immersing themselves for the first time or looking for acceptance where they couldn't find it before, they would be welcomed with open arms, with many clamoring to explain the intricacies of their given comic or game. When a women does it, she is either ignored if she doesn't dress or look sexualized, or hated when she isn't knowledgable about the specific fantasy world the geeks love. You can watch the comments in the response article, written by a self identified female geek. She responds quite well, explaining why many women go there dressed up (same reason as the men) and talks about the models and celebrities involved and even why you shouldn't hate the ones there for attention. Hint: it is because that is why the guys are there, too. The Link.

As I mentioned, the comments immediately become defensive and full of asshole. Left and right you have people accusing the author of "radical" feminism and demanding she keep it out of geek culture, when all she did was explain the difficulties of being a female geek. She demanded nothing, she merely mentioned the reasons women show up to these conventions, these game shops, these shows. And the vast majority of the comics are offensive accusations and the always present rape threats and such that appear when anyone dares point out an inequality of gender expectations. I should stop being surprised when sub cultures that pride themselves on rational thought are quite irrational, especially when someone points out their flaws.

Logic Priest

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Democracy is a singularly unimpressive system. It tends to be just as oppressive for those who don't represent the ethnic, religious and cultural majority, especially women and children, and it tends to be built around a strong upper class. Democracies or republics, whichever you prefer for terminology (they are one in the same, regardless of what your grade school teacher claims) support the status quo just as much as any given monarchy or military run country.

Our democracy, in the US, is just a facade on top of an oligarchy. There always arises a class of wealthy, powerful people who overwhelmingly control policy, and sometimes it isn't even a bad thing. Sometimes the influence of the wealthy, as in the United States, can bring a measure of equality to marginalized groups who otherwise would remain marginalized forever. Usually this is for their own benefit, as well, but still some good can come from the oligarchy. For example, slavery only ended because the industrialized businesses of the Union preferred the cheaper, lower liability labor of poorly paid employees to the hassle and, in the long run, uneconomical slavery. The civil rights movement had some, if not much, success in part because it was beneficial for America to look less hypocritical when fighting for "freedom." International business was growing, and cooperation was difficult when at home the people you tried to deal with were less than human in your society. Civil rights was not well supported by the public, who preferred the status quo of women and non whites serving them.

The public, on the other hand, is even more attached to the status quo than the wealthy it helps. Change is hard, and it is frightening, and if a minimum level of comfort is maintained, the masses prefer to avoid change. The majority oppose civil rights and abortions and efforts to demarginalize non majority religions and the irreligious. The majority opposes acceptance of the "strange" such as transexuals and homosexuals or anything outside of the easy to understand social constructs of sexuality. The majority wants prayer in school, they dislike the idea of critical thought and changes, even ones which would help them, are opposed. And this is what makes them easily manipulated, easily led, easily lied to and what makes them follow the obvious oligarchy into oblivion.

This oligarchy is also incredibly bad for the majority, when it becomes overly short sighted. Of course policy will reflect some way to increase or maintain their power and wealth, but sometimes at the cost of their own long term health. Much of the changes in the industrial age were brought about by those better fit to think long term, who built up regulations and protected industries to avoid the crippling losses of the Great Depression. Many of the wealthy survived the crash in 1929, but many of them banded together and supported FDR in creating regulations, in spending government monies in order to rehabilitate the economy, and it positioned the US as the largest economy on earth. This long term thinking is rare, though. For the last several decades policy, against both self interest and majority opinions and interests, has been all about deregulation and moving away from a progressive tax structure. The wealthy have made themselves into victims, tried to convince the populous they are somehow blessed, as with the "divine right" of monarchs to rule.

These wealthy are only going to destroy themselves in the long run. Even a stupid majority will eventually notice, and even if they never revolt, a wrecked economy from the over concentration of wealth is no good for those who run it, either. If I have all of the money, it becomes worthless, and if I destroy industry to make money for myself, once more the currency becomes worthless and the economic collapse from stagnation and destruction don't help even the wealthiest. This kind of short sighted money making led to the Great Depression and will again, where many of the wealthy lost it all, too.

But aside from policy favoring the wealthy, aside from the gullibility and easily led nature of humanity, democracy makes little sense to begin with. It is however, ever so slightly better than monarchies, where one selfish monarch can destroy a nation, in democracies it takes many wealthy to do so.

Logic Priest

Monday, July 23, 2012

Funny Ends to Arguments

Human beings suck at being wrong. We have a lot of psychological baggage preventing us from gracefully accepting defeat in an argument, probably due to the negative consequences, socially in our distant past. We have built many forms of proper debate and argument to supposedly work around this, and all of science is really built specifically to alleviate this. But even scientists can become attached, and can become petty in their defense of wrong hypothesis. This all leads to rather sad, pathetic attempts to recoup a loss. What follows are the funniest.

1: "I'm done with you/this" or "I'm going to be the bigger man and (last wordism)" etc-
      This one would be fine if the argument had no clear answer, such as a topic with no evidence on either side yet, or one based purely on opinion. The problem is that it is often used to get the last word, where someone will say it a dozen times, failing to actually stop responding.

2: Ad hominems in general. They often take roundabout forms like "I make money/have a girlfriend" or "go get a life/real job/girlfriend" (financial and sexual assumptions abound).

3: My personal favorite, always make me laugh my ass off "I can do what I want/free country/freedom of speech/etc". This one is a really childish way of admitting you are wrong. If you cannot argue or leave peacefully (actually stopping is fine if it becomes annoying or stupid) but must withdraw to "I am allowed to be wrong" then you lose. End of story. I run into it constantly on Facebook and internet forums. One person keeps making points, good or bad, until the other, failing to have a counter argument says they are free to keep saying or doing or believing whatever, which was never the argument in the first place. They believe they have some freedom from critique, rather than the basic freedom to be stupid. Common in religious arguments or in anything with high emotional content, but it appears in other places. A good example from today, personally:

 I criticized someone for typing an illegible comment on a friends Facebook post. They replied claiming I had no life or money or something (it really was very hard to read). I pointed out that no one speaks the way he writes and that it isn't a matter of grammar or misspelled words, but deliberate obfuscation of his writing. Communication is about passing ideas, and erecting artificial barriers (such as uncommon spellings of words, randomly dropped vowels and word substitution) was just stupid. He then responded that he is a grown up (ok odd) and was allowed to type how he wanted.

The point obviously was some minor irritant of mine, nothing of real importance, but the fact that he retreated into being "allowed" because he was a grown up to type any way he pleased didn't really mean much. He had exactly zero points in his defense, he only threw ad hominems and retreated into his right to be wrong. Fine. Be wrong, but don't expect the rest of us to be silent about it.

Logic Priest

"Rights" and More American Exceptionalism

Once more, with the issue of mentally ill and isolated individuals going on murder sprees, we hear the "debate" (read: shouting match) about gun rights etc. No amendment in the US is as ardently defended as the second. I'm really not sure why. It's not like a bunch of untrained civilians with pistols and assault rifles can take on the US military, should it turn on us. We already can't own tanks and bombers. So that argument is complete nonsense. But, in the spirit of fuck you NRA, let us take a look at the other amendments we lose out on, assaulted by the same pro gun politicians the NRA keeps supporting.

1st Amendment: This one at least has a few lobbies, such as the ACLU (demonized by the GOP) and the EFF. But mostly we can't say certain things or be labeled terrorists, unpatriotic, evil, etc. Non Christians (and some Jews) are shoved around constantly at the state and local level, and blatantly illegal theocratic laws are pushed and passed even at the federal level. Wonderful. On top of the abuse of the Occupy protestors, who are literally beaten for their right to assemble.

5/6th: So much for due process. Guantanamo bay, Private Manning's illegal detainment, horrific lawsuits over copyright, the historic expansion of the Fed's wiretapping into all traffic, foreign and domestic, almost never with a warrant. Fantastic.

13/14/19th: Voter suppression laws in states like Florida, where they de-registered millions of minority voters and put up barriers like arbitrary limits and fines on registering "wrong" in order to discourage low income, minority and young voters because they tend to vote Democrat.

These all can get their own books, much less posts, but this was just an overview. Fuck you NRA, fuck you gun rights activists. We have bigger problems than your "right" to have a weapon designed only to kill other citizens.

Logic Priest

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Problem of China

I was in the bookstore today, and I noticed while browsing the current affairs section (for a laugh, I love seeing all the "Obama is the worst thing ever" books) I noticed several books on China. Reading the titles and descriptions of each, they all treated China as some alien threat. Using buzzwords like communism and even some McCarthy era "red menace" terminology, they all claimed to explain the "threat" of China. I have actually read a few of these books, but some of my favorite are the counterpoints to these xenophobic, racist claims. Which is what they are, since the claims
tend to be built around communism, alien cultures and imaginary threats of someone else invading or just having money.

The basic claims nowadays, compared to the Cold War version, comes down to economic warfare. In an increasingly international marketplace, conservatives love to whine about globalization. As the United States has shifted from an industrial to a consumer based economy, conservatives do what they do best: fear change. And make a fuss about it. Originally it was a fear of spreading communism, and while you may see that word used often enough the complaint now seems to be about China's successful industrial age capitalism. Talks about the Chinese economy and industrial base, complaints about their increased need for resources starting to finally compare to ours, complaints that they will overtake us or steal "our" resources and "our" jobs as if the US owns prosperity.

Aside from the idea that America owns prosperity, that the US deserves all the wealth, there is a deeper point. Politicians go on and on about China stealing jobs, implying they do not deserve economic growth and only we do. It is an old, mercantile and imperialist attitude, that the rest of the world exists only to serve our wealth. The real issue, though, isn't even the inherent arrogance and xenophobia surrounding this fear mongering about China, is a basic misunderstanding of how economics and its developments work. China is the greatest industrial nation still around, and it doesn't matter. The US economy is not industrial based and it hasn't been for a while. The jobs we lose have been replaced by other jobs, such as service industry and managerial jobs, such as stock brokers and middlemen, developers and engineers, while the Chinese economy is akin to our World War II economy, building machines, factories everywhere and a small consumer economy growing but quickly. They make but are only beginning to consume, and while the economic struggle for resources may cause issues, the job differences will not.

In fact, China gets the short end of the stick. They have stagnated their own change into consumerism with an artifically deflated economy, with an oligarchical and conservative government also struggling to stay in an industrial age keeping their currency kept low by purchasing bonds to keep much non liquid, to keep prices low and wages lower. Chinese companies make some money, but the workers make almost none, though more than they would otherwise. They have a growing class of middlemen, like our middle class, but they too are kept smaller than they should. And most important of all, while they make the goods, they do not profit much from them. For an example, look at Apple Computers. All of their goods are made by various East Asian companies, yet Apple themselves, an American company, bring home all the profits. Apple was the most profitable company on earth last year, and less than ten percent of the money went to manufacturers out of country. Their executives, their supply and distribution in all countries, brought back all the money.

The US doesn't get cheated by Chinese industrialization, China is being cheated by our economy. When the west industrialized it controlled its own profits, but with China, they don't get much of the money at all. China is on the bad end of the deal. The "threat" of China is manufactured, invented the by the same people who constantly blather about Muslim terrorists while 2/3 of terrorist attacks are from domestic sources. These people need us in fear, and this is just one more line of attack. The US middle class has suffered at the hands of US executives, who bring in the money they used to, more in fact, but no longer pay the middle class employees fairly. US wealth has grown with the shift in economies, but mostly at the top. The problem is not a lack of jobs, but unfair pay, unfair lending, unfair credit. We haven't lost anything to China, we have only lost out to other Americans, who wave a scary, non white and alien entity at us to fear.

Logic Priest

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Punishing Success

Republican rhetoric now is focused on making business people out to be Randian heroes. So soon after these "heroes" directly caused a worldwide banking and US real estate crisis, they now whine as if they are under attack. They pretend they made their money out of shear willpower, and when the president calls them out, when he says they built it in an American system, with taxes having paid for infrastructure they use, with normal, non rich people providing the consumer base and the actual labor, they whine about paying too much. They claim Obama wants to punish them for their work. They appeal to laborers to imagine their money being "stolen" in taxes.

The oddest part is that the loudest ones, the ones pushing these ads and politicians the hardest, are almost exclusively heirs to business empires. Romney himself is the child of a president of a once major  auto manufacturer. The Koch brothers, now infamous in liberal circles, pledge millions to politicians who spout this nonsense and set up shell corporations to lobby for more of these policies. They inherited the largest fortune on earth, put together, from a billionaire oil magnate father. Look into these people, who whine so hard about their "hard earned" money being "stolen" by taxation, which in turn should go to maintaining the public, allowing their corporation to operate with a good infrastructure, in a safe country. The shear ridiculousness is not even funny anymore.

The worst part is, they seem to have actually convinced themselves of it. Now, thinkprogress.org can be odd sometimes, but here is a good example. These corporate agents whine that they are disadvantaged here, they pay too much taxes, it hurts their businesses, then proceed to pay nothing. These "one percent" people claim if you reduce their stagnant, unused wealth they won't hire as many people, going back to a new version of Reagan's "trickle down" economic arguments.

Just look at the first few paragraphs and charts, seen repeatedly. These bitching wealthy have seen massive increases in earnings in the last decades since massive efforts at deregulation of banking and business. The middle class, however, has not seen much at all. The rich just gather more wealth, hoarding it in caves, risking other's money to make more for themselves, never using their money as they claim. This is obvious in investment companies like Romney's own Bain Capital, or in Enron where the whole company collapsed yet the executives remained wealthy as always. This money they earn just sits around, it never goes into the economy.

In very simple terms, an economy is healthiest when cash is liquid. When wealth concentrates, those with it have less and less need to spend it. Yes a billionaire may buy a ten million dollar boat, but they will never spend much past that. They sit on billions, they never borrow money for themselves, and they never spend their paycheck. The middle class, which does control a good chunk of wealth (not as much as before, but still good) must spend most of it. While we get told to save all the time, in reality the economy suffers if money is saved. Credit that people can afford to pay back is the best. Inactive money is like the warehouses of wheat in the Great Depression. Ya it is there, but how much does it help the country, or the starving masses or anyone at all?

The current wealthy are overwhelmingly heirs. They made money with money they got for free. And at no point do they "create" wealth. The money is there, the resources are there, at best workers can input more raw resources, but the majority of the rich only invest in things, never making any kind of real capital. They only concentrate it from the hands of the populace, from consumers and customers. They then pay almost no taxes on this wealth, hiding it and lobbying for insanely low capital gains tax (15% maxed out) which is the majority of their income. They then sit on it, as mentioned a second ago, and it kills the economy, slowly if done carefully, quickly when things like the mortgage crisis, caused by overzealous rich people lying to each other, too.

Taxes, on the other hand, forces that stagnant wealth to actually work, towards welfare for the poor, for infrastructure for all of us, for the education system that allows more people to become actual producers and consumers, who in turn make healthy economies. But the Republicans don't care. They don't think ahead that far. They just want as much money now, and will say any lie to keep it. In the long run, though, it isn't that helpful to have all the money. Once it concentrates into few enough hands, it becomes worthless, since the rest of us will use something else to trade resources. And that is assuming they don't just revolt.

It isn't socialism, it isn't punishment, it is just the way a good capitalist system works. It is the only way a capitalist system works, in the long run.

Logic Priest

Friday, July 20, 2012

The US and Shootings

Another shooting in a red state. And once again, no politician will bring up gun control. The NRA lobby is so strong at this point no important politician would dare use an event like this to highlight the issues with deregulation of gun ownership. NRA pundits always point out that "criminals will always have guns" etc etc, to claim if everyone had guns then they could "defend themselves."

After the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford, after the Vtech shooting, after more and more shootings with decreased gun control, shouldn't we talk about gun control? At least the type that makes it harder to get pistols and easily modded assault rifles?

The same NRA pundits will also blather about the second amendment, but like the first and the other few dozen amendments, they should only extend until they infringe on other's rights, such as the right to not be mowed down in a theatre, or school, or anywhere, really.

These same pundits will say "crazy people and criminals will still..." but they fail to notice the main point. That crazy person with a knife does far less damage than the one with an assault rifle.

Logic Priest


Crazy GOPer already whips out some "because atheists" and "more guns fixes guns." Sigh.

Another note: all the guns were bought legally in our current legal system. Woot.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rand and How America Was Not Self Made

One of the most confusing philosophers in American history was Ayn Rand. Not to say her works were complex or hard to understand, she made damn sure the explicit monologues brayed by her shallow characters got the point across. What always confused me about Rand was the fact she had followers.

The only thing I could think of was her psychotic selfish philosophy, built around the idea that there were self made supermen and everyone else was a parasite really resonated with the American fantasy about being self made. One of the greatest, most prolific fictions in the American culture, right up there with White Jesus and Gun Toting Jesus. The American people, even progressives, believe that America was built by self made men, visualizing small frontier forts and homesteads in a barren landscape.

This myth is beyond just the everyday life. Americans live in a modern, civilized society that, with strange exceptions like healthcare, has a very socialized state. Combined efforts built roads and cities, regulate the entire EM spectrum, allowed for the construction of what was once the best telecom and information network, and allowed us to jump into world wide wars virtually unscathed. Somehow, all the people benefitting from this, benefiting from a prestigious school system and easy transport and communications, much of which was pioneered by public effort in this country and Europe, like to consider themselves self made. This causes most Americans to view poverty not as a shitty situation but as a sin, somehow brought on oneself. This causes Americans to ignore the past advances made by public efforts, by government sponsored construction and research, by group effort and claim that they made the predatory millions off of the death of production is all because they were so fantastic.

It really does go back to our foundation. Americans imagine an untamed wilderness, conquered by whites, with silly primitives scattered about and conquered. The reality is very different. The English, one of the last to get on the transatlantic Imperialism, landed to find entire cities and towns, farms and infrastructure abandoned by a heavily thinned out Native American population. Even then, half of the English colonies died off or were killed by the remaining natives. Going south, the English lucked out into older Spanish lands and trading ports, like New Orleans. Americans then managed to annoy the English enough that they pulled anchor to go deal with the French, at the time a major empire.

Due to the lower population, America managed to steal thousands of brilliant minds from countries ravaged by the European wars. Rand like industrialists nearly destroyed America then and there, and only through massive socialization was the country saved. American history is one of luck, cooperation, and external help. The self made image is entirely imaginary, even historically.

But the conservatives in this country don't care much about reality. They are made up of people who hide in ignorance, who desperately want to be the superman, imagining their weaknesses are other people's faults and failing to realize they would be the downtrodden masses in the Randian Utopia. It smacks of racism and xenophobia, of wanting the world to give them everything while complaining about the few dollars from their paychecks that go to the roads they use, or to the people born to poor families. These people are born middle class and above, and they love the idea that they deserve it somehow, as if they earned it in the womb.

Rand is popular because a huge chunk of Americans are pathetic assholes looking for some excuse for their awfulness. The part that really gets me is this simultaneous blame of society for fucking them over, and the adamant declaration that everyone is self made and thusly cannot be society's fault. If YOU fail it must have been socialism or the welfare state or liberals or whatever demons you can find. But when THEY fail it was because they were not the supermen, they were the dirt beneath the supermen's heals.

Logic Priest

PS: Good article on Rand more specifically: http://www.opednews.com/populum/linkframe.php?linkid=130609

PPS: On a personal note, I really hate when individualist or existential/nihilist philosophers get dragged into the muck with Rand. Nietzsche is especially maligned, with many calling Rand's Objectivism a progression of Nietzsche's superman. In the sense that Rand had obviously skimmed over some of Nietzsche's works and liked the very poorly understood version of what she thought he had said (keep in mind she was damaged, emotionally and intellectually) and she used many of the same key words, like superman. However, she utterly failed to comprehend even the most basic aspects of Nietzsche's works, even skipping over the bullshit philosophy freshmen love to spout off before they really understand anything they say. She somehow attaches the idea of a philosophic superman with a sociopathic business tycoon. She relates the fact that morals have no absolute definition to 'there should be no morals'. She takes Nietzsche's call to reevaluate morals and ethics without the superstition and self loathing as a call to be a dick, really. Nietzsche had his own philosophical issues (which he actually admitted within his works, making them into open questions) alongside issues like sexism etc, but he also never claimed to offer a perfect system. He in fact said that a new generation of supermen would need to arise in order to seek such a moral/philosophical system. Rand was little more than a traumatized, selfish child seeking unwavering approval at the expense of friends or sanity. She was a cult leader, nothing more.

Magic Words, Part 2

Another example of magic words is in law. Law is all about interpretation of words, either as written laws or prior rulings, but there is an entire movement out there whose entire existence is based around the idea that if they cut words out of context and assert hard enough they get to re-invent their own legal system. There was some nutter claiming conservatives could re-interpret the SCOTUS decision about the Affordable Care Act since SCOTUS could interpret the constitution, since the word interpret appears in both clauses.

More entertaining, or dangerous, depending on if they like guns or not, are the 'Sovereign Citizens.' Or 'Freemen' or whichever name they go by this generation. Normally these are just tax evaders claiming that since they 'don't agree' with some part of the social contract they are free from its laws and, more importantly, taxes. Now they of course fail to realize their entire lives depend on this same contract, but that is the least of their issues.

Once again they are a group who cling desperately to magical words. Calling the government a corporations etc somehow makes it different? Really, just read over what they claim. http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/07/17/americas-shadow-government/

Logic Priest

Monday, July 16, 2012

Argumentem ad infinitum

Very miniature post.

When arguing with theologians, apologists philosophers, bible thumpin' preachers, new age hippies or anyone else who likes to claim they can 'prove' the existence of this or that magical thing, keep in mind that you must agree on the premises to start. I always make sure the premises are very, very clear and spelled out. I never let my opponent start his argument until these basics are settled.

Some wonderful examples come from Christian apologetics. All of Aquinas's 'Five Ways' start with premises I and any materialist, humanist, rationalist or empirical rationalist would instantly disagree with, making anything that follows pointless. They all begin with the basic premise that you must have a first of everything, but somehow that first can be exempt and must therefore be a thinking being called God. This is both the premise and the conclusion, and if we shut down the premise we don't have to deal with the painful tautological and circular shouting logic.

Another favorite is of course the ontological argument, in it's myriad forms. It depends entirely on no one paying attention to the premise. It quietly offers a (very fuzzy) definition of perfection, then tacking on the idea that existence is in itself a quality of something and fails to even mention these two points. Many long and quite eloquent deconstructions and defenses of the ontological argument exist, but they can be entirely avoided if we simply refuse to allow the poorly thought out and fanciful premises.

None of this means you can just be disagreeable or ignore reasonable premises, but it is a good way to kill many arguments. The premises must be agreeable, they must make sense from either earlier arguments, evidence, or they must be self evident in the simplest way. Otherwise no amount of argument will decide anything.

For those of you trying to prove some god or another, don't whip out arguments without stating your premises clearly. If you try to gloss over them you can't win, you can only bully.

Logic Priest

Poor Singularians

As an interested party in computer science, I love the idea of artificial intelligence. I know enough computational theory to know that AI is technically possible, there are many physical barriers to creating something we would recognize as 'intelligent.' I am, at heart, a materialist, and as such buy into emergence theory and such, but a theoretical possibility is not guaranteed to ever be invented. Our own bodies have nearly four billion years on us, although we could take a shorter path, since we have a deliberate goal in mind.

Alan Turing's hypothetical machine could emulate any system if you give it enough complexity, but that right there is where physical limits start to slow us down. Any computer you find lying around works on the same strict principles. Microscopic transistors store information simply by combining large patterns of on and off, 1 and 0. On is designated by an electron charge, off by a lack of one. While these transistors have become smaller and smaller over the decades, there is a physical limit on their size. Electrons do have a size themselves, and any material used to store them as a charge would in turn need to be a minimum size to not begin having quantum uncertainty issues, assuming the material itself doesn't do weird stuff that small. Many other complexities get in the way, such as bus speed, processor complexity, etc. In fact the binary nature of things, the 0s and 1s, increases complexity by a large magnitude compared to biological computers, with multi-state neurons in place of transistors (and other parts, as well. Neurons are multi-function.)

Assuming someone puts together a complex enough computer, we then come down to the software. In fact some have theorized we do in fact have the computing power, in the form of distributed computing (think large networks like the internet). This massive, distributed computing could, perhaps cooperate well enough towards a common set of goals or commands, so let us allow it for our hypotheticals. Now you have a mass of goo. Insane processing power, able to run millions of commands at once, approaching the complexity of organic computers. But now, unlike those organic computers, you need programs as a separate component. Within the structure of organic computers are certain instincts and drives, emotions and reactions. These are physically and chemically ingrained into the brain, which causes another issue we can examine later. Once more let us gloss over the issue of integration and use complex programs to emulate these biological impulses and structures. Ok, who codes this? Billions of years of admittedly messy code is still quite a project to emulate. Already the issue begins to become very, very clear.  Many, especially in computer science, assume it is just a matter of adaptive programming, where the programs can self modify, but they are the very people who should know better. An operating system, such as Windows XP (an old OS), has tens of millions of lines of code. The linux kernel alone has some 15 million plus lines of code.

So far we have a massive coding project, an insane network of computers, and we are still stuck with some issues of complexity. It really does keep coming back to complexity. To go back to biology, which has us beat so badly in the game of computing, PZ Myers at Phyrangula has a great post on the complexity of the brain. In his post:

You need to measure the epigenetic state of every nucleus, the distribution of highly specific, low copy number molecules in every dendritic spine, the state of molecules in flux along transport pathways, and the precise concentration of all ions in every single compartment. Does anyone have a fixation method that preserves the chemical state of the tissue?

The programs can, as Turing showed mathematically, emulate many of these functions, so let us pretend we managed to reach the requirements and have a working AI, most likely in some manner an emulation of a human. This AI now has whatever we thought would best model our own thought, but without the hormones, senses, or the entire rest of our nervous and limbic systems. This entity we have created now has in common with us only what we were able to emulate of ourselves. Perhaps it shows some form of our emotion, but the only thing emotional theories agree on in psychology is that they have a strong physiological component. I already mentioned the integration of the 'programs' and 'hardware' in biological brains, and despite program emulations of such, this self modifying entity will not cling very strongly to human biological urges, emotions, instincts or morals. 

I don't automatically assume the new intelligence is going to kill us all, because that requires a very human anger or hate. But with only logical backings and likely flawed programming, this AI will be very, very different from us. It won't have an extended body, it will probably skip much of our built in abstractions and it really won't have common ground for us to communicate with, aside from purely technical instructions. 

To really build an AI that we would recognize as such, we would need to emulate much of ourselves in it. We would need some pretend body and environment, some emulated limbic and nervous system (the brain is only PART of the nervous system, something most futurists forget). We would also need to build a completely different type of computer, one where the architecture is structurally tied to certain actions. Basically we would need to build a human body, but far more expensive. It would need DNA instructions, separate abstracted layers like our 'reptile' brain to work it's normal, computer functions and higher order processors for complex thought. 

None of this is to say AI is at all impossible. For one thing, this assumes we use transistor based computers, which may the only ones you or I can buy, but are not the only ones being researched and made. But this is to say AI is not some accidental programming error that could happen secretly on the internet, or in some military lab deep underground. And it is also to point out the philosophical differences between us and any AI. It probably won't like us, but it won't hate us either. Both of those require some measure of survival instinct, which an artificial construct won't really have. 

On the flip side, the point of the PZ Myers post I linked earlier makes is that due to this, as well as the scanning issue he discusses, we are not very close to 'uploading' our brains. We are more than memories in slide show presentations, we are more than our brain. We are our entire bodies, every cell and nerve and sensation. AI is possible because any system of enough complexity can emerge into intelligence, but we may have very little to say to it.

Logic Priest

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Genealogy of Morals, Part 1

One of my favorite philosophical books is Frederich Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals" (Zur Genealogie der Moral). The basic purpose of the treatise is to outline the development of morality throughout history. Now, having been written in the 19th century, it makes a few historical errors, due to the poor state of archaeology in that time. Most historical sciences in that era were heavily distorted in order to 'prove' the notion that European culture and races were the best in some way or another, creating a void in Nietzsche's knowledge of other regions of the world. The basic premise, however, seems to have gained some amount of support from more modern archaeology and anthropology, but the book offers more of a description of morality throughout history rather than any provable hypothesis.  

From here we will deal with pure hypotheticals and descriptivist ideas. The next version of this post will attempt to put more links to scholarly articles, because I need a bit of time to find ones readily accessible without $50,000 dollar subscriptions.

There have been several anthropological hypothesis relating to how civilization formed. Most revolve around various forms of 'tribal alliances', describing how male tribal leaders would form hierarchical bonds with other tribal leaders. Basically a male who took charge of the tribe through strength or force of personality would recognize some benefit to being subservient to a stronger tribe, up through an advanced enough organizational structure to form early city states with kings of some form. This basic hypothesis existed back in Nietzsche's time, and he described the morality then, mostly from backwards extrapolation of known morals and philosophies of later city states, as a 'master' morality. Not as in some race or ethnicity, but as a class of people. Someone, by some nature of strength, took charge of these early societies, and as such they became the lines of nobility and royalty. 

The societies would then in a sense have been built by the strong, using the labor of the 'weak'. Any philosophy or moral system would represent this, with the nobility in this case having literally moved the majority into a safer arrangement than before, protecting them from roaming predators and tribes. From sources as ancient as these, you see a general praise for strength and all that was 'good' was associated with strength. Not necessarily a physical strength, so much as a strength of will. Evil was not so much even a concept, rather than good being described as the strong, who protected and took what they wanted, and the bad merely being the pitiable, the weak. Heroes from epic around this era were not good by modern standards, often being rather vicious and merciless. Odysseus for example, was represented as a good man in his epics, but by modern standards he would be considered a tyrant and a barbarian. Hercules, a staple hero, in his original incarnation would be counted among psychotics and serial killers.

Even through the classical empires, like Alexander's and the Roman's, strength was good and weakness was bad. This moral system is obviously in contrast to today's, where most power is considered evil if not derived from some agreement or constitution. Taking power is the mark of 'evil' men and while there was a minor burst of strength equals good morality in the 1980s business world, that only applied to a small, rich class while the rest of the world looked on in horror. Today, 'good' is the humble, the meek. Humility and faith are the highest virtues while wrath and ambition the worst sins. 

In the next post, I will expand on the 'master' morality, what it meant and what it means, and of course Nietzsche's take on it. I will also attempt to offer some links related to it. Following that, a post on the evolution of morals, then another on the 'slave' morality described as modern morals.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Magic Words

One of my many academic and philosophical interests is language. Not in the sense of literature, but in the sense of linguistics, the study of language and it's psychology. We have been speaking, as a species,  for far longer than we have been writing or building cities. Language is what enabled the construction of abstract ideas, and it is an integral part of not just human culture, but our physiology.

All children are naturally talented at learning languages. Under a certain age, usually set around 12 by most linguists, you can drop them into a group of anyone and they will learn the language, or even invent a fully featured new one. Language is built into the structure of our brains, and if we are cut off our brains don't develop. Linguistics is a broad field of study now, finally coming into the respect of other sciences since its revolution by Noam Chomsky.

For more on it, the Wiki has good information on linguistics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics

This isn't really about linguistics though. While fascinating, it is tangential to my point in this post. A side effect of language being so integral to our thought is a tendency to put more weight on the words themselves. You see this in everyday usage, with 'curse' words making people genuinely upset. Almost every culture has at least an historical trope about powerful words, with things like names having some innate, magical connection to the object or person in question.

From this obsession with words, with labeling, we as a species have developed a unique hole in our reasoning ability. When we label something, we assign the label's properties to it. We believe we can define things, and should they contain similarities to other words, we then assign the related properties to it.

Many  of the favorite arguments of the religious involve such word play. A short, and by no means comprehensive list follows:

1. Creation requires a creator - this one is obvious. They label the universe creation, then make the false connection to a related word. Aside from their own arbitrary label, words sharing a root don't logically follow that they must share a relation.

2. God is perfect, and the most perfect being must exist as a quality of perfection. This one is actually a quite high end theological argument, perhaps belying the inherent issues in the entire field of theology. Arbitrarily labeling a hypothetical being as 'perfect' and proceeding to define perfection however you see fit has no effect on reality.

3. God is (insert emotion/vague concept here). Such as the Christian apologetic "God is Love." This is another attempt to define a being into existence. More liberal religious theologians spend a lot of tie denying the human like god of the Bible and try to claim god is some vague emotion or concept. Like the perfection argument, this one is an arbitrary redefinition of a word with the intent of controlling reality.

A recent example: The discovery of the Higgs Boson 'god' particle. Because of its nickname there are many Christian pundits and bloggers and everyday people claiming it proves the existence of god. Because of its nickname.

But this magical words phenomenon is not limited to theologians and under educated theists. I've read works from otherwise brilliant logicians abuse this notion as well. They fail to catch their own circular logic simply because of names. This is, in fact where the notion of defining perfection equals god exists came from. This is the entire basis of the Ontological Argument. It has been refuted time and again by philosophers such as Kant, who point out that existence isn't really a property, but this is just shorthand for the fact that defining something doesn't make it true. Wordplay and hypothetical logic are fun and all, but they don't really affect reality. The universe doesn't much care that you can define it to be the science project of an old, bearded white man in the sky.

Back to non-theistic logicians now. Philosophers of such a logic bent seem to enjoy similar wordplay to the theologians. Starting with any type of premise they often claim they can prove anything. Many of the logic puzzles taught in discrete math classes are really just terrible plays on words. Now this is not to say logic is poorly constructed, merely that many of its biggest fans don't quite grasp the purely hypothetical nature of any given logical construct. Without genuine input, defining your premises however you please is mental masturbation.

For one of the best treatments of logic and truth in a reality based way, see Bertrand Russell's "The Problems of Philosophy" where one of the greatest philosophers of all time explains just how pure philosophical and logical reasoning tend to fail alone.

The Cult of Reason

printf("Hello World!");

Welcome to the Cult of Reason. Now, reason has many definitions that are connected only loosely, but here it will generally refer to reason as used in rational empiricism. Rational empriricism in philosophy is a combination of two older forms, empiricism where only what can be sensed matters, and rationalism where the claim is that the world can be entirely derived from logic.

If you haven't been scared off by the short philosophy lecture, let me continue in a more conversational tone. This blog is about science and atheism, about civil rights and civil discourse. It will relate to the harm that come from faith, and the harm that come from treating any group as less than equal. I won't always be right and I will admit so when proven wrong. I hold no ideas sacred. Nothing is above critique and I think argument only makes the right ideas stronger.

I may be all over in the subjects of my entries. One post may be about religion, another about Copyright reform. In the same day I could talk about how software patents are one of many things hurting innovation in the United States and Japan,  and how even this or that civil rights group ignores another group for personal gain, like what happened with the Equal Rights Amendment. I make no promises to maintain a particular subject, or even a particular position, since as a rational human being I can change my mind when convinced to do so. 

My only unifying principle is the rejection of faith. Everything I believe must be supportable, justifiable. If something fails to meet those simple standards, I reject it until it does. I am not a cynic but a skeptic. Just like no idea is above critique, neither is any person. Authorities must meet the same standards as anyone else to be believed. 

A bit erratic, I know, but this is my blog, my cult, my personal church for the 'worship' of reason, as the religious might call it. Feel free to comment, to let me know I am wrong, but be prepared to defend yourself. Bring evidence to the table, show inconsistencies using logic, or go away. Ad hominems will be summarily ignored, claims of biblical 'evidence', regardless of what bible, will be ridiculed. Accusations of having an 'atheist religion' will be mocked, and cries of 'militant extremist ____' will be given a dictionary. Godwinning auto-loses any argument.

Don't be discouraged though. I don't need only praise and agreement. As I said, ideas that withstand argument are only stronger, and those that don't aren't worth clinging to.

Enjoy :D

Logic Priest