Tuesday, January 31, 2017
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
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.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
What my position is: Open source information is more beneficial than harmful to society. Why?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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
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'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.
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?
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Nearly a century ago the American journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken predicted what seems like the rise of our soon-to-be president Trump.
Thanks to Jerry Coyne for tweeting this meme.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Since over 95% of prisoners will eventually be released, you have to ask yourself, do you want them to adjust back to society and stop committing crimes when they leave prison, or do you want them to continue reoffending? And do you want lower rates of crime in the future or more?
If the latter, then we should pretty much keep doing what we're doing, because the recidivism rate in the US is 76.6% after five years for state prisons and 44.9% for federal prisoners. So if your goal is to get as many people in prison as we can, and get as many of them as we can to commit more crimes upon release, you have to admit, we're doing a pretty good job. In fact, it wouldn't be absurd to blame someone for thinking that was indeed American's goal. We have the largest prison population in the world, by far, nearly double that of the next country on the list, China, which has four times our population.
I don't think that anyone in their right mind would say what the US is doing now as far as its prison and criminal justice situation is what it should be doing. The fact of the matter is is that most of us agree with the same over all goals for our society: we want there to be less crime, and we want criminals who do go to prison to not commit additional crimes when they're released. Where we disagree is on how to achieve that common goal.
Many Americans support retributive justice that often involve harsh penalties with a "lock them up and throw away the key" attitude where the conditions in prison should be as uncomfortable as possible. But this leads to the mass incarceration we have in the US with the high recidivism rates which are the very problems we want to resolve. So what do we do?
We reform our criminal justice system and our prisons. How do we do that? Here are some things we can do.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
By now it's apparent that president-elect Trump's cabinet picks are horrendous.
Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary? He's the guy who just admitted he has no experience for any cabinet position. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary? He's the guy who wants to get rid of the Department of Energy, but famously couldn't remember it in debate that eventually sunk his presidential hopes. CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State? The guy who's worked his entire adult life for Exxon, and who stands to make the company billions by lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia for invading the Ukraine. Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education? She's the billionaire conservative who isn't a fan of public schools. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General? He's the guy who never voted in favor LGBTQ rights, voted against the reauthorization of Violence Against Women's Act, had trouble acknowledging that secular people can make rational decisions, and opposes the Justice Department's involvement with local police shootings, the very department he would head.
I can only hope that many of them don't get passed Congress's scrutiny and get voted down.
But that opens up another question. If the ideal president in my view were elected and could appoint anyone, who would the ideal cabinet picks be for the various positions? Who would the best HUD secretary be? The best Energy Secretary? The best Secretary of State? The best Secretary of Education? Or the best Attorney General? And all the other positions?
I'm not sure, but just about anybody would be better than the picks we have now under Trump. This nation could be going to shits if they were all to pass their nominations. I want true progressive policies that will bring the US into the 21st century. I want marijuana legalized in all 50 states. I want to end all incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. I want prison reform*, education reform, and energy reform to pivot away from fossil fuels towards the eventual goal of total renewable energy. We're definitely not getting that under Trump. I want single payer healthcare to fix our current problematic system which is a giveaway to corporations that still leaves millions uninsured. Let's hope Trump really does replace Obamacare with something "terrific," but I highly doubt it.
*I do like some of Greg Caruso's views on justice reform. He'd be on my short list for appointees to the Department of Justice.
PEW that atheism grew faster under outgoing president Obama than during previous presidents. Some conservatives are attributing this fact to Obama's "hostility towards religious believers."
But that's nonsense. The rapid rise in atheism over Obama's presidency is part of a larger trend towards secularization in the Western world that, in the US, began rising in the early 1990s and began rapidly increasing during the Bush administration during the mid 2000s, coinciding the the birth of "New Atheism."
In fact, it could be plausibly argued that the rise in atheism, agnosticism, and secularism are in large part backlashes against the Religious Right's encroachment into politics and social issues beginning in the 1980s. So don't blame Obama or his policies for turning our country godless. Blame the backlash against the Religious Right, the reaction to the Catholic Priest pedophile scandal, the events of September 11th, 2001, and perhaps the internet, where the free flow criticism of religion is nearly ubiquitous.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
I've been somewhat obsessed recently over the idea of weak emergence in understanding how all the layers of ontology fit into one another. This is an area that I think trips up so many people, both atheist and theist alike.
One reason why is that many people will think that naturalism entails that only the most fundamental layer of ontology has an sort of real status of existence. This view is known as eliminative materialism. Alex Rosenberg, a prominent atheist philosopher, told me back in 2015 that he thinks eliminative materialism is the logical and inevitable outcome of a naturalistic ontology. On this view only the most fundamental constituents that science tells us exist are real. Everything else is an illusion. That means people don't exist, color doesn't exist, solidity doesn't exist, and consciousness doesn't exist. In other words, all higher level phenomena has no ontological status whatsoever. If it isn't fundamental, it's an illusion.
Contrast that with the view that physicist Sean Carroll proposes, which he calls poetic naturalism. It's poetic because there are "many ways of talking about the world." We can talk about the universe in terms of fermions and bosons or we can talk about it in terms of people and societies. In other words, the emergent world of people, plants, animals, color, solidity, consciousness, countries, and economies—all the higher level phenomena—exist, at least in a certain sense. They don't "exist" in exactly in the same way that fermions and bosons exist. They exist as higher level emergent phenomena. However, some things really are illusions. Free will, souls, and the flow of time really are illusions, because they require certain things to exist fundamentally that don't; they can't truly be said to have any kind of real ontological status. Compatibilistic free will, which acknowledges that there isn't any real libertarian free will, is another matter. Bottom line, one has to understand how and why some emergent phenomena are or aren't illusions.
The major problems with this arise from our innate inability at understanding emergence; it's not at all intuitive and it's also extremely complex, generally requiring exceptional knowledge in both science and philosophy, which, let's be honest, most people don't have. And that's why so many people, both atheists and theists, even those reasonably knowledgeable in either science or philosophy, come to the conclusion that naturalism entails eliminative materialism.
River Out of Eden, saying, "In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” (p. 133)
So the newly elected 115th Congress is 90% Christian, according to recent data from PEW. Despite the fact that the US as a whole is only 70% Christian, and the unaffiliated now make up a whopping 25% of the US population. There is only one member of Congress who is openly unaffiliated, Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona.
That means that of the 430 members of the House a whopping 0.2% are religiously unaffiliated. About 7 more we either do not know their religious affiliation or they refused to answer. They could be closeted secularists. But I have no idea. In the Senate there are no openly unaffiliated members. If the Congress was accurately represented by the population, there would be 107 members of the House who are openly unaffiliated and 25 members of the Senate. And about half of them would be openly atheist or agnostic. That would be about 66 members of Congress openly atheist or agnostic to represent the tens of millions of Americans who either question or reject a belief in god.
African slave trade for centuries. In fact the prophet of Islam himself owned black slaves. It says so right in the Islamic scriptures in the Hadith. Sahih Muslim Book 010, Hadith Number 3901:
Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man).
Are black Muslims aware of this? Does those who left Christianity to convert to Islam because they felt Christianity was too much of a white man's religion know that they now swear allegiance to a religion whose founder owned black slaves? Say what you want about Jesus, but he never owned any slaves, certainly not any black ones.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Here a quick link page to all my posts on special relativity. Some are educational, some are used in arguments, but all can be used to help you understand the theory better.
Lesson 2 I forgot about but will be done relatively soon!
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Given the argument from Core Theory that I just wrote, those who wish to deny its conclusion will have to consider answering the following questions that are honestly aimed at understanding how a world with souls makes sense with what we already know to be true.
- There needs to be a way that "soul stuff" interacts with the fields of which we are made-with elections, or photons, or something. Do those interactions satisfy conservation of energy, momentum, and electric charge?
- Does matter interact back on the soul, or is the principle of action and reaction violated?
- Is there "virtual soul stuff" as well as "real soul stuff," and do quantum fluctuations of soul stuff affect the measurable properties of ordinary particles?
- Or does the soul stuff not interact directly with particles, and merely affect the quantum probabilities associated with measurement outcomes?
- Is the soul a kind of "hidden variable" playing an important role in quantum ontology?
This are all the questions asked by Sean Carroll in chapter 27 his book The Big Picture. This is in addition to my previous post If You Believe In A Soul That Gives You Free Will, I Have Some Questions For You.