Sunday, May 14, 2017

What The Democrats Need Now



I've been dreaming lately of what it would be like to be president of the United States.

I'd run as the politically incorrect liberal — the rational middle ground between the Right wing bigots and lunatics, and the bleeding heart ultra PC liberals, as that's how I see myself. I'd implement tax reform that shifts the burden onto the rich and back onto the corporations, which is what we need. I'd take no money from lobbyists or special interests or super PACs. I'd be a president that actually works for the people. There's an idea! I'd fill my cabinet with ardent populists. I'd fire anyone in any agency that wasn't down with my populist agenda that says we shouldn't have a government that works almost entirely for corporations and special interests. In other words, I'd drain the fucking swamp.

I'd reform our drug policy by immediately removing marijuana from the schedule I classification that it is in now. My attorney general would push for legalization at all costs. I'd do everything in my power for legalizing weed, whether by executive order, or by introducing legislation. I'd also push for the decriminalizing all of drugs. The DEA would be ordered to stand down on most drug enforcement policy that doesn't involve violent offenders. With marijuana legal in all 50 states a whole new economy would arise that would reduce crime from illegal gangs and cartels, and it would generate a huge new source of tax revenue and create jobs. I'm so fucking tired of stupid policies by stupid politicians, who are unfortunately voted into office by stupid uninformed citizens. My platform would be centered on the idea that the US has to be the smart country once again.

I'd put someone really smart in charge of the Department of Energy, someone who's a really thinker and innovator and who wants to move the US towards full renewable energy sources. Someone not beholden or affiliated in any way with the oil and gas companies. I'd put someone who supports the same kind of education reform as I do in charge of the Department of Education. There'd be no religious fundamentalists, or climate change deniers, or Nixonian anti-drug crusaders in my administration at all. We'd get to finally have the smart progressive policies we should have already had.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Tax Plan


As I get more and more into politics and economics I strive to one day be a policy wonk. I've been listening to podcasts like Vox's The Weeds, where they dissect and analyze public policies like the ACA, Trump's AHCA, tax policy, and trade policy, and I've become fascinated by the intricacies of policy.

Now I'm far from a policy wonk myself, and I'm still in the process of learning. What I'd like to do here is spend a few posts exploring policy proposals I've been floating around in my (still learning) head.

There is no doubt that we need tax reform in the US. The tax laws are weighted far too heavy on labor, and in particular middle class labor, who often pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes than do he rich. I've previously floated the idea of a graduated sales tax in lieu of an income tax around, but here I want to propose the tax plan that I'd implement if I was president.

Federal tax rates for individuals:






Income amount Tax rate

0 – 2,500  0.00%

2,500 – 10,000 10.00%

10,000 – 40,000 15.00%

40,000 – 90,000 25.00%

90,000 – 150,000 28.00%

150,000 – 250,000 33.00%

250,000 – 500,000 35.00%

500,000 – 1,000,000 40.00%

1,000,000 – 10,000,000 43.00%

10,000,000 – above 45.00%





For the first $2,500 dollars of earned income there would be no taxes. This is intended to give the poor and middle class some tax relief. This plan raises the highest rates to 45% and generally lowers the rates for those at the bottom of the brackets. The current tax rates top out at 39.6% for income above $418,400. But to me there should be additional tax rates for the super wealthy, as there's a huge difference between a relatively wealthy person making 500k a year, and a super wealthy person making 20 million or more a year. The person making 20 million or more a year shouldn't be paying the same rate top rate as the person barely cracking 500k.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Don't Live As If Death Is Final



I was recently rereading the preface of the updated edition of Hitch-22, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, whose diagnosis of esophageal cancer just a few months after the book's release would kill him a little over a year later. Having just learned of his diagnosis, and not knowing whether he'd celebrate another birthday, Hitchens is writing— beautifully as always — with the prospect of death staring at him in the face, and one sentence stood out on the original read that I had to read again.

If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or making of it. 

It struck me, given his insight induced by his condition, that although my naturalistic philosophy entails death is final, and that our loved ones never return to us in any way once they're gone, I certainly don't seem to be living as if that's the case. I seem to be living as if I'm going to be reunited with all my loved ones after they die, as if the amount of time I'm going to be able to spend with them is infinite.

I was recently on the phone with my mother and she told me, as many mothers do, that I don't call her enough. And it's true. I barely call my mother. I can go months without a peep. And it's not the case that I hate her; I love my mother and we have a decent relationship, so it's not like I'm trying to avoid her. It's just, you know, when we get older and move away and our parents are not in our lives and they get a little annoying with their neurotic concerns about us, there's the tendency to avoid them.

But we're acutely aware of our own mortality, and that of the others around us. And we know that if we live long enough, we will see our parents die. And then they will be gone forever. And while I know that's true, I don't seem to be living as if that's true. I don't seem all that concerned of the prospects that I will one day lose both my parents and never see them or hear from them ever again.

I've been wondering lately what that's going to be like. I feel like I might be purposely distancing myself from my parents to be less emotionally reliant on them, as an attempt to make their eventual deaths less burdensome. But is that logical? Am I missing out on worthwhile interaction with my family that I will never have when they die? Will I strongly regret this missed interaction with them when they die? I really don't know. But Hitch's advice would prescribe a visitation. And I'm sure his motivation was very real to him when he wrote it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The First Amendment Explained


Source: Flickr

Everybody loves the First Amendment to the US Constitution it seems, regardless of whether you're a conservative or a liberal. But many people have the wrong interpretation of it, including both liberals and conservatives. A growing number of liberals today think free speech is only to cover speech they like, and conservatives for years have thought that the Establishment Clause is to protect Christianity only. They're both wrong.

So here I want to break down the First Amendment line by line to give a short synopsis of what each part really means.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, 


The very first part of the First Amendment is the Establishment Clause and this establishes the United States as a secular country. Meaning, the government, both federal and state, must not recognize any official religion by recognizing a "wall of separation" between church and state. This means no government can use tax dollars to fund or promote religious institutions or services and must remain neutral on matters of religion, and all laws must have a legitimate secular purpose. This means of course that it is unconstitutional to give Christianity a privilege over any other religion, or over no religion, in the government.

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; 


Because the government must stay neutral on religious matters, it cannot prohibit the free exercise of religious practices, otherwise it will have to violate that neutrality. However, where ever secular law and religious tradition conflict, secular law must always win out. So if, for example, a religion condones child marriage and secular law prohibits it, then secular law wins. As long as secular law does not have the primary effect of inhibiting religion this relationship is justified under the First Amendment.

The Lemon v. Kurtzman holding illustrates this relationship beautifully:

"For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and also must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Not To Be An Atheist


I just found out that a neighbor of mine who I've known for more than 20 years is very ill and in the hospital. She's a 97 year old lady, who originally emigrated here from I think the Czech Republic, or what ever it was 70 years ago. I ran into her son who told me the news. We had a brief conversation about her and what's been going on, and after our conversation ended he turned around and asked me to pray for her.

I didn't expect that to happen.

Given the situation — his mother dying, and the sadness of the atmosphere, I just didn't have the desire to say anything about the inefficacy of prayer. It wasn't the right time. It didn't feel right saying something atheistic at that moment. Knowing this, I turned around and said not very confidently, "I will," and turned away. I could've said "Prayer doesn't work," but that would be insulting. I could've said "I don't pray," but that too would be insulting, given the situation. And so I feigned belief out of politeness like many of us atheists do.

I understand that there are some ardent anti-theists who wear their atheism on their sleeve all the time and wish that not a single spoken instance of faith based thinking ever go without criticism. I get that. But sometimes we should just give it a rest.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Political Compass


It turns out I'm a Jewish socialist.

Let me explain.

I recently took a political compass test and I landed right on Bernie Sanders. I mean literally right on his face. It turns out the Vermont senator and I basically see eye to eye on politics, at least according to the test. I supported him in the primary, and still support him now, but I was really surprised to see that I was right on him on the compass.

According to the test, I'm a "left libertarian," roughly in the center of the libertarian left quadrant of the compass, not far from Noam Chomsky. I didn't think I'd be that libertarian and honestly expected to be a little more to the center on the libertarian-authoritarian scale.


One of the interesting questions is whether or not one can be moral without being religious. That was an easy one.


I think every political candidate should take this test and this should be a part of the public knowledge on them for us to take into consideration in order to vote. And every sitting politician should take it once a year so that we can track long term trends of candidates and their time in office.

Take the test here if you're interested. It's worth knowing where you stand.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quote Of The Day: How Length Contraction Entails Eternalism


Vesselin Petkov is a philosopher of physics who has written relentlessly on the reality of spacetime. He's one of the founders of the Minkowski Institute, an organization dedicated to (among other things) changing "the present situation in fundamental physics and lead[ing] the research on the major open questions," and is the current director. I emailed him a year ago to comment on my logical argument for eternalism and in response he said it "looks correct" and sent me a link to a short PDF that makes some additional arguments for the same conclusion.

The PDF, entitled The Ultimate Judge: Time does not Flow since it is the Fourth Dimension of the Real World, describes how the empirical evidence of time dilation and length contraction necessarily entail eternalism. Unless you want to deny your senses and empirical evidence as if they're an illusion forged on us by some unknown aspect of nature, the conclusion of eternalism necessarily follows. That is the only way to deny it. 

Below is an excerpt from one part of the PDF that makes an argument that the length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed only as a three-dimensional body, and not as a worldtube in 4 dimensional spacetime (which is what it is on eternalism).


It should be stressed that if the worldtube of the meter stick were an abstract geometric construction and what existed were a single three-dimensional meter stick (which constitutes a single class of simultaneous events), both observers would measure the same three-dimensional meter stick of the same length, i.e. the same class of simultaneous events, which means that simultaneity would be absolute and there would be no length contraction. So, if the meter stick were a three-dimensional object, neither relativity of simultaneity nor length contraction would exists, which means that all experiments mentioned above (that repeatedly confirmed these relativistic effects) would be impossible. This conclusion can be easily generalized - as a three-dimensional world is defined as everything that exists simultaneously at the present moment (as a single class of simultaneous events), if reality were a three-dimensional world evolving in time, then at every moment all observers would share this single three-dimensional world (since nothing else exists); therefore they would share the same single class of simultaneous events, which means that relativity of simultaneity would be impossible in contradiction with the experimental evidence.

This thought experiment clearly demonstrates that length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed as a three-dimensional body (not as a worldtube). An ordinary three-dimensional meter stick at rest with respect to an observer A is shown in fig. 1. What we see in the figure is what we perceive and take for granted that it is what really exists. According to Minkowski, however, the meter stick exists equally at all moments of its history and what is ultimately real is the worldtube of the meter stick as shown in fig. 2 (only part of the worldtube is displayed in the figure).

Assume that another meter stick at rest in another observer’s (observer B’s) reference frame moves relative to the first one at a distance 1 mm above it. Let us assume that at the event M the middle point of B’s meter stick (the mark “50 cm”) is instantaneously above the middle point of A’s meter stick. Lights are installed at every point inside A’s meter stick, which can change their color simultaneously at every instant in A’s frame. At the event of the meeting M all lights are red in A’s frame. At all previous moments all lights were green. At all moments after the meeting all lights will be blue. When A and B meet at event M this and only this event is present for both of them. At that moment all lights of A’s meter stick will be simultaneously red for A. In other words, at M the present meter stick for A is red (that is, all parts of A’s meter stick, which exist simultaneously for A at M, are red). All moments before M, when all lights of the meter were green, are past for A, whereas all moments when the meter stick will be blue are in A’s future. Imagine that B’s meter stick contains cameras, instead of lights, at every point along its length. At the event of the meeting M all cameras take snapshots of the parts of A’s meter stick which the cameras face. At event M all snapshots are taken simultaneously in B’s reference frame. Even without looking at the pictures taken by the cameras it is clear that not all pictures will show a red part of A’s meter stick, because what is simultaneous for A is not simultaneous for B.
When the picture of A’s meter stick is assembled from the pictures of all cameras it would show two things as shown in fig. 3 - (i) A’s meter stick photographed by B is shorter, and (ii) only the middle part of the picture of A’s meter stick (as measured, i.e., photographed by B) is red; half is green and the other half is blue. So what is past (green), present (red), and future (blue) for A, exists simultaneously as present for B. But this is only possible if the meter stick is the worldtube as shown in fig. 4.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Here's What You Have To Believe In Order To Deny Eternalism


I've recently gotten marred down in another debate over eternalism vs presentism via private email. It's a debate I generally like having because it's one I know I can win. Plus it's a great way to get to know Special Relativity, one of the coolest and most fascinating scientific theories. What I want to emphasize here is what one has to deny in order to deny eternalism and hold to either presentism or possibilism, because it's not always apparent to those who do so.

In order to deny eternalism, one has to deny one or both of the following. They have to either:
  1. Deny that the speed of light travels at constant speed regardless of the speed of the light source.
  2. Deny that we can accurately measure two non-parallel distances as being of equal length with any physical instrument, such as a ruler or tape measurer, or even sense in any way that they are equal or unequal.
The denier of eternalism must accept one or both; there is no logical way to deny at least one and still deny eternalism.

The reason why is because logic demands it.

If... 
(1) the speed of light is constant for all observers and isn't changed depending on whether or not the light source is moving,
And...
(2) we are able to physically measure two perpendicular distances accurately using any device such as a ruler or tape measurer,
Then...
(3) if two beams of light travel an equal distance to a single point and arrive at the same time, they must have been emitted at the same time and the events that emitted them must have been ontologically simultaneous. 
And...
(4) if two beams of light travel an equal distance to a single point and arrive at different times, they must have been emitted at different times and the events that emitted them must have not been ontologically simultaneous.
In order to deny (3) and (4) you must deny either (1) or (2) or both (1) and (2). There is no other logically possible way to do so.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

For The Sake Of Absurdity


In recent years I have more and more come to celebrate and embrace the absurd. I have an intense infatuation with what is preposterous, ridiculous, and incompatible with sound reason. I think this is why I love religion so much. It's the absurdity of it that fascinates me and the humor drawn from the absurdity that I find so appealing. Now the philosophy of absurdism within existentialism is about conflict between the search for meaning in world and its meaninglessness. And my view on this, as an atheist, is to embrace the meaninglessness of the world, rather than commit suicide or believe in a religious transcendental realm. One way we can do this is to celebrate the absurd.

But what's the absurdity? Is it the meaninglessness of the world, or the religious view of the world created by a designer who confers meaning? Well if you ask me which one is supposed to be the absurdity, it's both. They're both absurd. The world having no meaning, and the world having meaning given by some god are both absurd. The very idea of those two things are absurd too. Every worldview is absurd if you ask me. Existence itself is absurd. But we can make the most of it by finding subjective meaning in things, like art, or music, or philosophy, and so long as we don't ever confuse these things with any notion of objective meaning, this can make life more pleasurable.

But I say, we should also embrace the ridiculous of the absurd by creating more of it. I routinely tell absurd jokes with deliberate non-sequitors simply because they're absurd. I routinely emphasize natural absurdity contrived by nature. And I try to create absurd situations when ever possible, just for the sake of absurdity for laughs. The more absurd, the better. Humor is the celebration of the absurd.

There is a dark side however to celebrating the absurdity. Donald Trump as president is absurd. Totally and completely absurd. In some ways, I like it because him and his presidency are absurd, and I know people who've voted for him solely because they thought it would be absurd if he was president. Now I think his presidency is a "total disaster" and "Sad!" — to borrow his own phraseology, and I truly fear for the future. So I think sometimes it's proper to set aside one's embrace of the absurd for the sake of human well being. The absurd we celebrate should be harmless, and other than rustling a few feathers, no one should be seriously hurt from the absurd if it can be helped. The presidency of Donald Trump, while a daily monument to absurdity, is going to seriously harm the world. His lack of concern for man-made climate change alone is enough to do this.

So I urge you to consider the absurd. For laughs, try inventing a religion with the goal of making it as absurd as possible. Do it with friends, and try to out do each other. Make an absurd joke that has no obvious punchline other than the absurdity of the joke itself. Tell an absurd story just for laughs. Emphasize the absurdity of the news, situations, or of life in general. For example: How can relationships thrive in a society that increasingly celebrates individuality? It's absurd when you think about it.

Don't confuse any of this with being the same thing as Albert Camus's philosophy of absurdism. That's a deeper intellectual project. I'm simply recognizing his thesis and arguing that we should cope with life's objective meaninglessness by celebrating absurdity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Gender Pay Gap Is Misleading


It's one of the things that gets repeated over and over again: Women earn 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. Sometimes it's reported as 81 cents, as in Senator Bernie Sander's recent tweet for #EqualPayDay:


But after reading about the pay gap, I've discovered over the years that it's completely false at worst, and misleading at best. The claim makes it appear that women are making 77 or 81 cents for every dollar a man makes for the exact same job. But that's by and large not the case. If it were, why wouldn't every employer fire all of their male employees and replace them with women who will be paid 20% less as a way to save on labor costs?

It turns out, the truth behind those numbers is more complicated than what we're often lead to believe. The 77 percent figure is created by comparing the amount earned by men and women regardless of their occupation. And since men tend to work in higher paying professions and women tend to work in lower paying professions the total amount of money men make tends to be higher than women. If women are over represented in lower paying occupations, they will earn less money than men on average.

Although it is not clear how the study that came up with the 77 percent figure calculated what full time workers are, women tend to work part time much more than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 women were 13% more likely than men to be working part time for economic reasons, and nearly twice as likely than men to be working part time for noneconomics reasons. This means women often work part time because they want to, for a variety of reasons, like being able to spend more time with children, and choosing to do so will make it so that women earn less then men in a given year, or over a lifetime. Women sometimes exit the workforce entirely to care for children for a number of years, and this too cuts down the earnings of women to men over their lifetime. All of these are major factors in why women earn 77 or 81 percent of what men do.

This is not to say that there is no pay gap whatsoever, it simply means that the 77 cents on the dollar figure is not explained by the claim that women earn 77% men do for the same exact jobs. In fact, for unmarried childless women in their 20s, they are often earning more money than their male counterparts in large metro areas like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.

But say any of this to your average liberal, or your average feminist, and they will think you're a sexistor even worse, a republican! That's because once this claim gets repeated enough and becomes your rallying cry, you will continue defending this in the face of contrary evidence due to the sunk cost bias. And this is very hard to shake off for most people. We all need to fact check our claims, especially the ones we're most committed to, as this is the best way to ensure that we're right. Our ideology shouldn't determine the facts, the facts should determine our ideology.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Great Video On Life As A Nihilist


Nihilism may seem bleak to some, but to others, they manage to enjoy the world of wonder around them that admits of no objective purpose. Over at the Veritasium YouTube channel, science enthusiast Derek Muller talks about seeing the world as a nihilist in "Our Greatest Delusion."


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Hitchens On The Fine Tuning Argument


As I've said before, I don't look to Christopher Hitchens if I want to hear the most sophisticated arguments for or against god, but he did have a snappy comeback in a debate about the apparent fine tuning of the universe with Rabbi Wolpe years ago. Wolpe challenges Hitchens, saying, "The odds that the universe would actually be constituted are .0000 to the billion power, because all these various astronomical constants have to be exactly right, balanced on a knife edge in order for there to be a world. So that's the first piece of evidence that the world knew we were coming."



Unimpressed, Hitch responds,

Now to this knife edge point, why are people so impressed that it so nearly didn't happen? Some designer. I might mention on the knife edge point, knife edge is exactly the right metaphor as it turns out, just in the little far off suburban slum of our tiny solar system—that's a detail in the cosmos—just the one we know, we know the following: that of the other planets, all of them are either much too hot or much too cold to support any kind of life at all. If they ever did they don't any longer and will never do so again. And that is true a very large tracts of our own planet. They're either the too hot or too cold and it's on a climatic knife edge as it is and is waiting for the Sun swell up into a red dwarf, boil the oceans, and have done with the whole business, and we even know roughly the date on which that will occur. That's just in our suburb; it's in our hood. So we may have a lot of a little bit of something this now but there's a great deal of nothingness headed our way. Some design, huh?

He continues, showing the absurdity of thinking the whole of the cosmos, including all of its mass extinctions, was all a preparation for us.

They were waiting for us? It was waiting for us to occur? For you and me to arrive? 98.9 percent of every species has ever been on earth has already become extinct. So if there's a creator or designer—and I can't prove there isn't—who wanted that, this designer must be either very capricious, very cruel, very incompetent, or very indifferent. Grant him and you must grant all that. You can't say "Ah, what a welcome. What a table was spread for us to dine on." 

And then of course the crowd laughs and claps.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why It's Harder To Live On Your Own As A Young Adult


With 32.1 percent of 18-34 year olds living with their parents, up from 20 percent in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center study, two clear trends are emerging: (1) more young adults are living with their parents for a longer amount of time, and (2) fewer young people are getting married. I'm going to be writing a 2 part series of blog posts that address why these two trends are emerging in recent decades.

For the first part, here are 3 important reasons explaining why more young adults are living with their parents:

1. Rent costs have gone up faster than inflation. Rent is the bigger factor when it comes to how housing costs make it harder to survive on your own as a young adult, since most young people rent and are not buying a home right out of college. Median rent costs have risen 64% since 1960 when factoring inflation:


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Atheism In A Nutshell? Wrong


This is what the majority of theists think atheism requires you to believe:


There was nothing, and then, *poof* there was something. This gets the atheist view completely wrong. Well, I hate to say there is an "atheist view" on cosmogony, but no atheist has to accept this gross misconception that most theists think we have to adhere to.

The logic is completely wrong. Think about it. If there was nothing, how could you then have a moment later? It presupposes time exists, since you have before and after notions. But time is something—it's not nothing. Many atheists unfortunately fail to understand this, including Lawrence Krauss, who constantly refers to something as nothing, conflating the two, and bringing upon himself much justified criticism.

The fact of the matter is there never was nothing. The philosopher's "nothing" of the total and complete absence of any thing is a concept in our minds, but not something that has ever existed. Therefore we don't go from "nothing" to "something," you start with something. This meme seems to get that near the bottom. The big bang theory indeed doesn't say the universe came from nothing, because, again, nothing never existed. It says the universe came from a singularity, a point of spacetime of infinite density and energy. There may be more spacetime before the singularity, or it may be literally the first moment of all of spacetime. Either way there never was nothing, and the universe doesn't "come from" nothing. The universe has always existed—every moment—past, present, and future, in one giant spacetime block universe. The burden of proof of the existence of nothingness is on the person making the claim.

I've written a screenplay for a web series on atheism that covers this very important aspect of the origin of the universe that I hope to begin filming next month and have completed editing by the end of spring. It will cover the origin of the universe, morality, and secularism. Oh, and I will be acting in it! A million things can go wrong with it however, so I'm scared this will not ever happen. There are many points of failure, including the other actors, the cameraman, the sound guy, and our schedules. So we'll see.

But the bottom line is this: there was always something. No need for a creator.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reality Comes In Layers And Containers


I just saw Lawrence Krauss speak about his new book, The Greatest Story Every Told — So Far, with Alan Alda at the New York Public Library. And during the event Krauss reiterated a point I want to drive home here because I think it's really important.

It has to do with how we understand scientific theories and their relationship with one another. Many people have the mistaken impression that each new scientific idea disproves all the previous ideas of a particular area. For example, before Einstein we had Newtonian physics where we had Newton's laws of motion. However, Einstein's Special and General Theory of Relativity superseded Newton's laws of motion, giving us a more accurate mathematical description of the way large objects behave.

But Einstein didn't disprove Newtonian physics, as if to say, Newton's equations fail to give us any predictive power. Newton's equations got us to the moon after all. Einstein's equations just show us where Newton's equations break down. That is, Newton's equations are a close approximation to the more accurate equations Einstein gave us, and they're accurate in a certain regime, but they break down dramatically at really fast speeds, like near the speed of light.

And where Special Relativity breaks down, General Relativity takes over. Special Relativity doesn't take into account accelerating reference frames, nor does it take into account gravity. But General Relativity didn't falsify Special Relativity. Special Relativity is still accurate in it's regime — that is to say, in it's domain of applicability. It's a description of reality at a certain level, within a certain range of circumstances. In other words, we need to think of scientific explanations as containers within other containers. Each theory or explanation is accurate within its container but not accurate outside of it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the internal containers are false or disproven because a wider ranging theory eclipsed it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Would A Graduated Sales Tax Work?


Would a graduated sales tax work in lieu of an income tax? Like say 8% on sales under $1,000 and 12% on sales between $1,000 and $10,000, 16% on sales between $10,000 and $100,000, and 20% on sales between $100,000 and $250,000, and 25% on sales between $250,000 and $500,000, and 30% on sales above $500,000.

This would make it impossible to find loopholes around it and to put corporations overseas to avoid paying US taxes, ensuring everyone and every corporation pays taxes whenever they spend money. Now if a corporation buys products overseas to sell in the US perhaps a matching graduated import tax could work as well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson Admits We Have No Free Will


I've been a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson for years now and had the chance to meet him a few years ago at a bar. One thing I didn't like about him was his ambiguity towards the issue of free will. It wasn't clear that he acknowledged that we don't have it in his many talks. But recently he did acknowledge that we don't have free will and that it's an illusion when talking about time in a video by Vsause3. And he acknowledges the illusion of free will due to eternalism by recognizing that our worldtubes are complete and locked into the block universe! He says this towards the end of the video below. It's definitely worth a watch.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

80 Million Americans Make Less Than $30k A Year


Much has been said about the fact that most Americans—slightly more than 50%make less than $30k a year. That's more than 80 million Americans. It's amazing that for so many workers, so much of them make barely enough money to survive. It's hard for me to accept the idea that "middle class" in 2015 means making around $29,930.


I never realized that I'd be in the top quintile of earners. In other words, I make more money than about 80% of workers in America. I don't feel privileged because I live in New York City, where the median wage is closer to $55k.

But one thing that confuses people is average income vs median income. The average is the mean; it's the total amount of income divided by the number of people. This can give misleading results because a few high income earners can off-set the average for the group. Say you want to measure the average height of 10 men. 8 of the ten men are 5'2" and 2 are 7'6". The average height of the group becomes 5'6" when in reality 80% of the men are below that height. The median will be 5'2", which is much closer to where most people in the group are. The average income in the US is about $44.5k, even though 66% of workers make less than $45k a year.

If we rose the minimum wage to $15 an hour that would increase wages for half the country. And we'd lift all workers out of poverty. But with Trump's new budget and proposals, it looks like he's going to continue a modified trickle down approach.

See the wage index for yourself on the SSA's website.

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens? Part 2


This is a follow up response to my original post a week ago on whether or not government has a duty to educate its citizens. I originally wrote a critique of the speech made by the first speaker, Chuck Braman, and now I'm going to write a line-by-line critique of the arguments the second speaker gave, Roberto Guzman. He writes at the blog Capitalism and Ideas and his blog post, written here, is inspired by his arguments in the debate. So without further ado:

Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order.

Yeah, unless they can't afford private education, especially if a "free market" Republican governor like Scott Walker tries to destroy the teacher's unions.

Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.

I couldn't corroborate that 30% claim and Roberto does not include a source. The number I see is 19% of public school teachers send their kids of private schools, though 28% have tried alternatives to public schools at some point. This is definitely higher than the national average, but why are so many public educators sending their kids to private schools, especially in urban centers? Well, it's because many urban schools suck and teachers who work there know this. So if they can afford to send their kids to private schools, they will. The median high school teacher salary is $57,200, for middle school it's $55,860, and for elementary school it's $54,890. But the vast majority of Americans won't be able to afford this option, not when the national average for private school tuition is $10,003 a year. Even if it was half that, most Americans still wouldn't be able to afford it, not with 50% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year.

What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?

Most members of congress are far wealthier than your average American. In 2012 the base salary for all members of the US House and Senate was $174,000 a year. Few than 3% of Americans earn that much. And this doesn't even count additional income from book selling, speeches, and gifts from lobbyists. People will always be able to pay for better private education than what the public system can offer. Nobody denies that. But this is not an argument to privatize all public education.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

STUDY: Positive Impact Of Raising New York's Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour



A year ago a study by UC Berkeley of New York state's plan to gradually raise its minimum wage from its current $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021 determined that the raise would result in a mostly positive outcome. With the raise signed into law by Governor Cuomo, we're going to see the effects over the next few years. So I hope the report is right. Key findings include:

  • As Cooper (2016) reports, increasing the state minimum wage from $9 to $15 will increase earnings for 3.16 million workers, or 36.6 percent of the statewide workforce. 
  • As Cooper (2016) also reports, among those getting raises, annual pay will increase 23.4 percent, or $4,900 (in 2015 dollars) on average. These estimates include a ripple effect in which some workers who already earn $15 will also receive an increase. 
  • Three industries account for nearly half of the private sector workers getting increases: retail trade (17.6 percent), health care and social assistance (18 percent), and restaurants (13.5 percent). 
  • 79.6 percent of workers in the restaurant industry in the private sector will receive a wage increase, compared to 19.6 percent in finance, insurance and real estate
Effects on businesses and consumers by mid-2021 
  • Payroll cost increases will average 3.2 percent over the entire for-profit economy. This increase is much smaller than the minimum wage increase because many businesses already pay over $15 and many workers who will get pay increases are already paid over $9, the current minimum wage. 
  • Employee turnover reductions, automation, and increases in worker productivity will offset some of these payroll cost increases. 
  • Businesses could absorb the remaining payroll cost increases by increasing prices slightly—by 0.14 percent per year over the phase-in period. This price increase is well below annual inflation of nearly 2 percent over the past five years. 
  • Price increases will be much smaller than labor cost increases because labor costs average about onefourth of operating costs. 
  • The consumers who would pay these increased prices range across the entire income distribution. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens?


Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.

Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:

To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.

With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?

The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Boycott Bill Maher? Um, No. Here's What Liberals Should Boycott


I read an article today critical of Bill Maher in the Daily News arguing he should be boycotted.

There are many loud voices on the Left now calling to boycott Bill Maher and his show Real Time after he interviewed Milo Yiannopolous, the controversial "dangerous faggot" and alt-right darling. I think these calls are wrong and misguided.

We desperately need voices like Maher, who is indeed a liberal, and who calls out the Left on its hypocrisy and occasional insanity when many others on the Left aren't willing to. Without people like him, the Left will further spiral into their echo chamber where nonsense will emerge and flourish without any reflective criticism to keep it in check.

Maher is willing to talk with the "other side." He's willing to sit down with conservatives of all stripes and challenge them (and occasionally agree with them!). But it seems that most on the Left these days would rather succumb to the worst of political tribalism and never speak with those they disagree with and never concede a single point the other side makes. This is stupid.

Most importantly, Maher criticizes Islam. Yes, he commits the unspeakable crime of criticizing a religion that enables the discrimination and mistreatment of millions of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and atheists. How dare he! For most on the Left today, any criticism of Islam at all is racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia.

This must stop. I genuinely understand the desire of the Left to want to prevent actual racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, and I don't want to enable the far Right racists. But I'm not going to play this game where Islam is untouchable, and I highly respect Maher for being consistent in criticizing anti-liberal values where ever they exist, even when it's politically incorrect.

So no, we shouldn't be boycotting Bill Maher. We as liberals should be boycotting countries like Saudi Arabia that treats women like pieces of shit and arguably worse than black people were treated in the Jim Crow south. We should be boycotting anything to do with that country, and use every opportunity we have to call out its barbarism and sexism. We should picket its embassies, and criticize its leaders without mercy, and foster international pressure for the government to change its ways. And as a country we shouldn't even consider selling them weapons until they do this.

Now I understand some people just aren't going to like Maher. I get that. But we shouldn't be boycotting everyone we dislike. There are plenty of people I don't like that I don't plan on boycotting. Maher is not a bigot for merely criticizing Islam, nor is he wrong for talking to people who disagree with liberals. The Left would just rather live in an echo chamber, and I just don't want to see it fall apart because I see that it's quickly doing that. So the Left needs figures like Maher to defend liberalism when other liberals are too afraid to out of feat of looking "Islamophobic," and to keep liberals in check. Boycott what matters.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Visualization Of Quantum Physics (Quantum Mechanics)


I've been busy lately recording projects, and finishing up on a script for a web series on atheism I hope to complete by summer. So I haven't had much time to blog. In the meantime, for you science lovers out there still perplexed by quantum mechanics (as most of us are), here's a nice video I came across that nicely visualizes many of its main components.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Make Atheism Great Again!



As I spend more and more time in the atheist community I've been beginning to notice a fairly common and recurring theme. And that is, sadly, that atheists can be just as close-minded, and dogmatic, and tribalistic, and ignorant on the issues as almost any religious person can.

Atheists have a reputation for being rational, free thinkers—more knowledgeable on religion than the religious are, and more knowledgeable on science than the general public is. There is certainly some truth to that. But there is also certainly some truth to the notion that being an atheist doesn't automatically make you rational. And it should be patently obvious to all that atheism is by no means an inoculation against irrational views.

As someone who's a very thoughtful and intellectual atheist and who's deeply familiar with most of the subjects relevant to atheism, I can say for sure that I encounter irrational views all the time among my fellow atheists, ranging from politics, to science, to a whole spectrum of social issues—and it pains me when I hear atheists say incredibly stupid things. So I'm going to outline a few problems I see in the atheist community and offer some remedies on how atheists can fix them.

1) Stop saying philosophy is dead. The one thing that pisses me off the most that I keep hearing atheists say over and over is that "philosophy is dead because hey, we've got science now!" This is a very popular view among atheists that is also ceaselessly reiterated by some of the most high profile people in the community, most notably Stephen Hawkins and Lawrence Krauss. But they're completely wrong and here's why.

Science can never replace philosophy because they do too different things. Science is an epistemology, it's a series of methods for understanding the world we experience that uses hypotheses, repeatable experiments, and formulating theories that explain facts. But not every fact is best obtained through science, and indeed, science itself has to make philosophical assumptions that it cannot prove. For example, what the scientific method should be  and what science is (and there are disagreements) cannot be resolved by science, it has to be resolved by philosophy. And this means philosophy is more fundamental to science, and covers a wider range of topics.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cost Of Corporate Welfare


I'm back, with a new look. My site now has a white background with black font for all of you who were having trouble reading it before. The old colors did effect my eyes a little too, especially when switching between sites with different backgrounds. So I hope you enjoy.

I ran across a post a few months ago about the cost of corporate welfare to the average American Family. As reported by Common Dreams, The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business.

If this is true it's staggering. The sources seem pretty legit, citing, among others, the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank, no friend of big government.

The $6,000 a year price tag bottoms down to:

1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies
2. $696 for Business Incentives at the State, County, and City Levels
3. $722 for Interest Rate Subsidies for Banks
4. $350 for Retirement Fund Bank Fees
5. $1,268 for Overpriced Medications
6. $870 for Corporate Tax Subsidies
7. $1,231 for Revenue Losses from Corporate Tax Havens

Both liberals and libertarians should join sides and work together to end corporate subsidies and send that money back to working families. I could sure use an extra $6,000 a year. The Federalist examined this article and has determined that the actual cost is $2,436 per year. They cut out numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 from their list, probably because, as a libertarian leaning organization, they're fine with interest rate subsidies for banks, retirement fund bank fees, overpriced medications, and corporate tax havens. Other interpretations of the source that make this argument have the total at $4,000 per family. Regardless of whether it's $6,000, $4,000, or $2,436, it's too much, and we need to set ideologies aside and work together to end corporate welfare.


Time For A New Look


So I've had a few people complain that it's hard to read my site because of the white text on the black background and that I should change the color. Technically, the text on my sight is a light gray, and the background is not truly black. But the point's taken.

The reason why my site background is black is because I read years ago that black backgrounds use less power than white backgrounds, and that by turning millions of websites black we can save tons of energy. Well, I did some recent research on this and it turns out this isn't true. For LCD monitors—the flat kind that almost everyone uses, they don't use any more power to keep the screen white than black, and in fact might even use less power for a white screen. The old CRT monitors did use more power for a white screen background, but nobody in first world countries uses them anymore.

So the original reason why I made my site black turns out to be false. As such, I am planning to make my site background white, or maybe a light gray, and the text black, as most sites are. I'm keeping the same font, however, because I like it. So expect some aesthetic changes in the near future here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Would Let Milo Speak On Campus, Under One Condition




A week ago the "dangerous faggot" Milo Yianopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley University in California and some students violently protested and set fire to parts of the campus in opposition to him speaking there. This was widely reported in the news, and even the president tweeted that he'd withhold federal money from the campus if the university didn't allow free speech.

Much has been said about the kerfuffle, from how intolerant the Left is, to how all this protesting just raises Milo's profile, to how hateful his speech is. But I have a proposal. If I were the head of a university making the decision on whether or not an alt-righter like Milo gets to speak on my campus my policy would be this. I would allow Milo to speak on one condition. If he wants to speak on my campus, the format will be a debate. That's right. He can spew all his nonsense talk about how "Catholics are right about everything," but not in a way that it goes unchallenged. It's a debate or nothing. That's it.

I'm sure Milo wouldn't have a problem with that. Would he? The thing is, the Left indeed has lost the ability to debate and defend their views. They rely far too much on feelings and persecution complexes. The Left needs to learn how to debate again. And I'd use this as an opportunity to find the person who can best debate Milo and make it a must-see spectacle for all.

That just brings up one question: who's the best person on the Left to debate the dangerous faggot? I'd love to debate him, but I'm unfortunately a nobody. So this is an open question for me. Anyone properly debating him must be familiar with his arguments. Some generic Leftist who doesn't "get it" would be destroyed. Perhaps Kyle Kulinkski of Secular Talk? Hmm.

Just a thought.

Is Supporting The Rights Of Muslims Hypocrisy?


I'm a part of several politically oriented groups on Facebook and recently this meme below showed up on my feed by a conservative showing an apparent hypocrisy in what Democrats do:


The thing is, you can support someone's civil rights even without agreeing with them on their political and social attitudes. Anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows I'm one of the biggest critics of Islam there is. I detest almost everything about Islam. But I will respect and stand up for the rights and civil liberties of Muslims to not be unfairly discriminated against and mistreated.

What does "Dixon Diaz" think Democrats should do? Fight for the removal of civil liberties from Muslim people in the US because we may disagree with them on certain things? Think of it this way. Should I, as a Democrat, stand up for the rights of Republicans to not be discriminated against even though I vehemently oppose their views? I'm sure every Republican would say "yes." In fact, many Republicans are complaining now that Democrats and liberals aren't standing up for the free speech of Republicans, particularly on college campuses. So there you go.

Now it's one thing to support someone's civil rights, it's another thing to support their agenda. I'm against supporting the agenda of Muslims who do not agree with the very civil rights I'd protect, who instead support regressive laws and policies. But I still think they deserve basic civil liberties. Liberals just need to be fully aware of this distinction, and so do conservatives like the guy who made this meme. Supporting someone's civil rights does not entail you support their views. And without doing this, no one would have any rights.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Less Than A Third Of Americans Think Being A Christian Is Very Important To Being An American


As I've said before, PEW is a treasure trove for data geeks like me. A recent report on national identity offered up a surprising poll. When people were surveyed in several different Western countries on whether being a Christian is very important for being truly the nationality of the country, I was surprised to see that in Germany, among millennials 18-34, 0 percent think it's important. Zero. And in many other countries such as the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain, have percentages in the single digits in the same demographic. The West is secularizing faster than I expected. In another generation when today's older generation is gone, religion in many European countries will almost be non-existent, at least among the native population.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Interview With An Iraqi Refugee


So a few days ago president Trump signed an executive order banning all nationals from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, and Somalia from entering the US for 3 months, and all refugees from these countries for 180 days, until (apparently) our government can figure out "what the hell is going on." Now aside from the evidence that there were zero deaths in the US by nationals from those countries over the last 40 years from terror related activities, and there have been plenty from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, curiously not on the list, the reason given by the Trump administration was "danger."

But what can we say? It's Trump. He's not a rational actor. The news of the ban though, reminded me of my own friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an Iraqi refugee and secular activist who came to the US in 2013. The ban for him is personal, since if it happened 4 years ago he wouldn't have been able to make it into the US, despite him being an atheist and secular activist who argues against Islamic extremism.

Below is the interview of him we had on the Firebrands Podcast last month (which you should totally check out) about his experiences and work as a secular activist trying to reform Islam.



Monday, January 30, 2017

The Justice Democrats



Recently, a new movement in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has begun. It's called the Justice Democrats. It's to reform the Democratic Party away from the corporate wing, and back to the populism of its roots. It's democrats that represent the people, not corporations. I learned about it a week ago on Kyle Kulinksi's SecularTalk YouTube channel. It's a collaboration between him, The Young Turks, and I think maybe a few other organizations and it's right up Bernie Sanders's alley. Watch below as Kyle explains the platform and read it for yourself here.



I basically agree with the entire platform. This is what the Democratic Party should be about, and this is what "Our Revolution" that Bernie Sanders advocates for is all about. So go to their website, donate, and sign up if you can. Share on social media. We need grassroots Democrats who will work for the people, and not the corporations.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Notes From My Debate On The Abundance Of Open Source Information


What my position is: Open source information is more beneficial than harmful to society. Why?
  1. Access to open source information is a free speech issue. Your ability to put information online and have other people freely access to it, falls under the category of open source information, is a form of free speech. 
  2. OSI can help expose corruption, it can help keep governments and businesses in check, and it allows legitimate criticism of them to become known.
    • We take for granted that we live in a country that has some of the most liberal laws on free access to information in the world.
    • In most other countries the government imposes limitations on access to information online. 
    • And in some countries criticism of the government, leaders, criticism of the state religion, and certain political views like “democracy” and OSI itself are suppressed, and information about them is restricted. For example:
      • The “Great Firewall of China,” blocks websites that are critical of the Chinese government or that promote democracy
      • Wikipedia - epitome of OSI - is sometimes banned, or censored.
      • Without OSI political and corporate corruption becomes much more difficult to expose, thereby enabling it.
  3. OSI allows for the spread of liberal values like free speech, human rights, and secularism around the world.
    • In Saudi Arabia in 2012 a blogger named Raif Badawi was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison plus 1000 lashes with a whip for the crime of starting a website forum that promoted democracy and liberal values and allowed people to debate it.
    • Saudi Arabia not alone --- In other countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Iran, they have laws against spreading information online critical of the state religion Islam, which is often used by govt to brutally oppresses women, homosexuals, non-religious people, and other minority groups.
      • Woman beheaded in Afghanistan last month for shopping without a male guardian.
    • Without OSI antiquated legal and moral policies can never be criticized, which enables them to persist. OSI allows for moral progress.
    • Hope I don't have to convince you this is good but consider the question:
  4. Why do so many countries around the world fear open source information?
    • Do you think ISIS is for OSI? Or Al-qaeda? Or North Korea? Cuba? China? 
    • It’s so that governments, and in many cases, corporations can control people by controlling what information they have access to. 
    • Free speech and OSI is absolutely fundamental to having a free society where ideas can compete in a marketplace.
      • Every society that isn’t free, restricts it
    • The suppression of OSI has always been aligned with dictatorship, of one form or another.
      • Even Donald Trump's been saying he wants to "open up the libel laws" to make it more easy to sue someone for defamation - by which he really means write anything critical about him.
Summary
  • Whatever harmful effects that OSI has, like fake news, is negated on the benefits it offers. 
    • We’re either going to have a censored internet (China, Saudi Arabia) where someone or some organization censors the information you have access to. 
    • Or we’re going to have a free and open internet, with a free and open flow of ideas. 
  • Ask yourself: Who would you trust with the authority to regulate free access to open access to information? Who gets to determine what information is harmful? Or too sensitive? 
  • Would you for example trust our new president Donald Trump with that power?
Final point:
  • Giving governments the ability the regulate free speech opens up a dangerous slippery slope that I don’t want to go down & I think ultimately be more harmful than good to society.

Review Of My Debate Plus Night Of Philosophy


So, what a week it's been. President Trump has banned refugees and residents from 7 Muslim majority countries, sparking outrage around the world, he revived the Keystone pipeline, and has introduced "alternative facts" into the dialectic. Oh yeah, and I had a debate about the abundance of open source information and attended the Night of Philosophy event at the Brooklyn Public Library.

First things first — the debate review. This was my first formal public debate and I hope will certainly not be my last, but I was not as experienced as our opponents were and it showed. They were both fairly experienced and formidable debaters. The format was two-on-two, with my friend Thomas Kim, who ran the NYC debate group for 5 years on my team. And on our opponent's team were two men named Avi and Lenny. Avi is an assistant coach on the debating team of a private K-12 school, and Lenny was on the debating team in college. They did a really good job debating for their side and we made some mistakes we should have looked out for.


First, Thomas and I didn't prepare as much as the other team did, and that was generally evident. Second, I wasn't as forceful as I should have been. I was just too reserved. I held back from trying to make the other team's arguments look bad. Third, since there was no rebuttal period, the closing statements acted effectively as a rebuttal period, but I didn't use my closing statement to do that. Instead I just reiterated many of the same points I made in my opening statement when I should've rebutted the other team's arguments. On top of that, Thomas's arguments were even less forceful than mine, making our entire case much softer and less polemic than our opponent's. And as a result of all these mistakes, we lost. And I really hate losing debates. How do we know we lost? The audience was asked before and after the debate and more people switched to the other side's view from ours.

So that's the bad. What's the good? I nailed my opening statement. It was nearly perfect and much better than any of my rehearsals. I was loud. I was confident. I gave great fucking opening speech. A woman even came up afterwards and told me how good it was. But unfortunately, it was all down hill from there. I will be putting up the bullet points from my debate in the near future.

Over all it was a good experience. I learned a lot and I can definitely see what makes a good public debater a good debater. I can see now why so many inexperienced public debaters just skip to their prepared speeches. That's the mistake I made. I didn't use my time to rebut my opponent's arguments as I should have. Also, many debaters just aren't aware of the format they're in. I made that mistake by failing to recognize there was no formal rebutting period. But I will definitely be better for my second debate. Here are some pictures:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Quote Of The Day: The Psychological Effects Compulsive Liars Have On Us


It's day four of the Trump regime and the post-truth era. Trump has spent his first few days issuing executive orders reversing Obama's policies, and blatantly lying to the world about the size of his inauguration crowd and that millions of illegals voting cost him the popular vote. It's clear that we're going to have a president completely detached from factual reality who has absolutely no shame lying whatsoever. But what kind of psychological effect can this have on people? Politico has a scary answer:

When we are in an environment headed by someone who lies, so often, something frightening happens: We stop reacting to the liar as a liar. His lying becomes normalized. We might even become more likely to lie ourselves. Trump is creating a highly politicized landscape where everyone is on the defensive: You’re either for me, or against me; if you win, I lose, and vice versa. Fiery Cushman, a moral psychologist at Harvard University, put it this way when I asked him about Trump: “Our moral intuitions are warped by the games we play.” Place us in an environment where it’s zero-sum, dog-eat-dog, party-eats-party, and we become, in game theory terms, “intuitive defectors,” meaning our first instinct is not to cooperate with others but to act in our own self-interest—which could mean disseminating lies ourselves.

Welcome to the post-truth era! Facts, it's been nice knowing ya!

Monday, January 23, 2017

I Will Be Publicly Debating Whether Open Source Information Is Harmful


I'm going to be publicly debating whether open source information is more harmful than beneficial to society this Thursday night at WeWork Times Square in Manhattan. If you're in the area and want to come, you can RSVP here. It will be a team debate, two-on-two, done in the style and format of the popular Intelligence Squared debates. The debate will be run by a group called Motion Debate who want to create a growing community where debate enthusiasts can learn the art of debate and the have the opportunity to put it to use. I'm all for it. We really need more public debating in our highly polarized country. And I'll say it again: nothing helps me learn a subject more than being forced to debate it.

As you probably expect, I'm debating on the CON side of the proposition, that an abundance of open source information is not more harmful to society. I've been wanting to get more into the arena of public debating because, well, I love debating, and because debating online doesn't give you the full experience. So I hope I do good, and I hope there are more to come. I've been told the debate will not be recorded, but it will be photographed. Future debates, which I might participate in, might be recorded. So stay tuned. For now, I have to finish up my argument.

Debate description:

Is it beneficial for all people to access and contribute to an unlimited open source information platform? Should authorities censor potentially dangerous content, or does freedom of expression outweigh these concerns?



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