Friday, October 28, 2011


Once again this year, I will be participating in Nanowrimo, which partially explains my current absence and will explain my absence during the month of November as I and a billion other people attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. If I am here writing words, that can only be taking away words from my finished project.

I'll probably get one or two posts in next month, but expect them to be hurried and mildly insane.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I planned to write my review on the season 2 opener of Walking Dead (short version: liked it, especially the first 30 minutes, have some reservations about implicit sexism in the show, but we'll see), but today I'm going to write about some conversations regarding the #Occupy movement.

First, though, check out Lousy Canuck's post which is a nice summation and has plenty of handy links for some background. I especially like the graphs (which he knicked from Mother Jones) showing how basically 80% of us are all in the same boat. See how those lines just sort of flatten out and listlessly lie there on the bottom? That's us. Lousy Canuck also quibbles a teensy bit about the 90% to 99% and how they actually have it pretty good and should expect that this fight will directly benefit them. I agree, except to say that I believe this battle will indirectly benefit them - I think that the wealth that can be generated by having a population that is fed, sheltered, educated, and healthy is not insignificant...I mean, we're pretty much at a stage in human history with few limits on energy and wealth (aside from some issues about distribution, and our tendancy to ignore what's best for us and continue using fossil fuels and helping global warming get worse...). How many Einsteins are never going to be discovered because they live day-to-day with no food and less money?

For me, the most powerful thing about the #Occupy movement is the 99% meme. Yesterday, coming home on the subway, I watched the people around me and contemplated on how we are all together on this. We all share a lot of the same struggles, we all just want to live our lives without worrying about the roof over our head, with full bellies, with work that we find fulfulling. It's powerful to realize that we are all together in this.

That said, I've had a couple of convesations with friends about the #Occupy movement here in Toronto. They're interested in it, they know that things are getting worse for us, but they are really reluctant to join in the protests. One of them says that if his face appears on camera, he could lose his job. Another has similar concerns, that if people find out what she is doing she could be fired, and the risk to her and her family is too great.

With both of them, I found myself getting angry. Part of it is that these are the people that need to be out there. One of the weakest aspects of modern activism is that it's easy to dismiss as "the usual suspects". No one listens to the poor, the homeless, the "extreme leftists". This movement needs the faces of the people who work, the people who have mortgages and kids and lines of credit. It's frustrating to me that they feel frightened and stuck, that they can see that the bills get higher, the pay stays low, the interest doesn't get paid, but they fear that if they do something, they could lose everything. It's the prisonner's dilemma, but when there are other people depending on you, most often you need to take what seems to be the safest choice, even when you know that with the safest choice, you still lose.

What's worse is that I know there's a critical mass. If enough of these people, the ones in the middle, came out, there would be change. Big change. The reason why they feel so much pressure, why they're stuck feeling afraid, is because they have real, serious power. Not individually. Individually we all have squat. But if these two friends, and a few more, all came out, the halls of power would tremble. And if my friends came out, maybe that would inspire some of their friends to come out, too. It's like standing in the middle of a pile of kindling, your friend has a match, and complains that it's too cold, but they're afraid to light the pile. Frustrating.

I think another part of my anger or frustration comes from the fact that these people can afford to be silent, and some people can't. It happens in every social movement that it's the outsiders that have to do the heavy lifting. In the gay rights movement, it was the trans and the drag queens and the women and the really, really faggy sort while the middle class, white male gays living in the closet because they could ended up getting the benefit. And today, where a guy like me can live my life relatively free of homophobia, those same people, the trans and queens and fags and women still have the same old shit.

And now, it's the poor who are fighting for everybody. These people have nothing to lose, yeah, but that means that they have nothing. And we're watching and hoping that maybe change happens, but we're afraid to lift a finger to help it. We let Them do the hard work, because we are scared shitless that we could one day become one of Them. This is the underside of humanity, our worst nature that we don't like to admit. We're all in the same boat, but as soon as we have any kind of comfort, we forget about all of those who don't have it. We worry, we agonize, we say things like "I wish I could go, but...." and in the end everything gets a little harder for everyone. The house we're worried about losing isn't worth quite so much, the future for our children isn't quite so bright, the air isn't quite so clean...but we hold on to what we do have instead of risking it on the hope that maybe working together we can all make things better. For a social species, sometimes we aren't so bright.

I have to back off, though, because I don't have kids. I don't have a mortgage. I've been (briefly) homeless, and I know that the world is pretty much chaotic enough that losing everything isn't a disaster. And if I can help to make things a little bit equal, I know it's worth the risk. But if I ever had to look into my son or daughter's eyes and tell them they can't go to college because I lost my job...that would be tough. I can understand why people are scared to act, and while it makes me angry, I can't force them to do it.

But I make sure to tell them that there are other ways to help. They can make donations, they can write letters, they can go and wear a mask, they can convince a friend or two to go in their place, they can make sure they vote, they can spend their money more wisely. We need to do these things, at least, because we've got the poor doing all the hard work fighting for us, the 99%, and we really ought to support them somehow. It's only decent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burden of Proof

Over on the AVClub they've reviewed Dawkins' new book and there was actually some interesting discussion in the comments that (at last reading) didn't even mention "CancerAIDS." I've read very little Dawkins, even though I guess he's supposed to be required reading for the atheist set. I've read (and pretty much enjoyed) The Greatest Show On Earth, and I read a bit of The God Delusion at a friend's house when they weren't looking.

At the time I was reading Delusion, I was hard core agnostic, not soft wibbly atheist like I am now, and I remember being put off by his tone (yeah) and thinking that he was making some faulty assumptions about agnosticism and whatnot. I wonder what I would think if I read it now. I still kind of think of him as a bit of a grumpy old man, but whether he is or not, his arguments ought to be weighed by their merit, not by whether or not we like him as a person. I'm shying away from him just now as some of his comments regarding sexism, for example, turn me off, and there are plenty of other atheists online and in print that I can read instead.

Anyway, in the comments of the review a discussion about atheism and faith came up and some of the remarks really helped me to crystalize some of my thoughts about why I shouldn't believe in god. One commenter insisted that if god is outside of reality, then science can't really address this god, and should leave him alone. I mean, if god is outside or "meta" real, then we'll never be able to address the idea in a reliable, discriminating way, so it's certainly possible that anyone's ideas about god, the afterlife, etc are true, so why can't the militant atheists lay off? The nature of the supernatural is outside of science's purview, so hands off!

But, okay, we can't know, we'll never know, so it must therefore be true and possible?

I can't accept that anymore. Because, well, if we can't know anything about God, then everything we say about God is, by definition, made up. Sure, it's possible that God is what we think it is, but without being able to test our claims, this possibility is basically identical to every single other possible idea, from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to the Orbitting Tea Cup, to the God Who Really Likes The Colour Greyish Green and Wants Us All To Enjoy Tea As Much As Possible. We can say that God is Love, we can dance through a bunch of philosophical hoops, and that's all well and good, but if the argument is that God is outside reality, that we'll never be able to measure in any way what God is, then it might as well be a made up fairy tale for all the good it does us.

Now, if there is a God who affects our universe, then science can, maybe not now, but theoretically test these claims. If that's the case, then the burden of proof rests with the theists, and they have to show their work. Otherwise, they're kind of just playing make-believe, aren't they?


Oops, until just now comments were only open to registered users, which was not my intention. I really doubt anyone was wanting to make comments, but I've now opened them to anyone, including anonymous, so I can't wait to see how big my penis can get or how much cash I can get from an exiled Zimbabwean prince.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I'm a terrible debater. Not because I'm stupid or get things wrong a lot. Forgive me for my egotism, but I'm pretty smart and in areas where I've done my homework, I'm right more often than not (though I could be wrong....). Over on freethought blogs The Atheist Experience has a post that hit home to me this morning, because it's about the types of debate we have and why we should be having them. And, more often than not, I debate for the wrong reasons. I debate not to find the truth for myself, but to convince other people, and I get so very emotionally invested in what they believe that I tend to get irrational and flame wars ensue.

I've known that there was something I've been missing for a while, and especially over the last few months because of two or three very heated discussions with friends and family, I've seen that my "style of debate" does more to harm my relationships than it does to help understanding, and that's not a good thing.

I have a lot of the tools I'd need to be an excellent debater. I'm clever, I'm fast on my feet, I'm good with words (written, anyway). And I think that debates need to happen, that there is worth in convincing people towards a reality-based understanding of the world (even as I imperfectly work towards my own understanding), and that I shouldn't stop trying.

But what I do need to do is find a way not to be so invested in what other people think. If I can express my opinion, if I can back it up with facts and reason, if my logic and ideas are sound, that's all I should be concerned about. The best way for me to convince people is to work on improving myself. I think. This line of reasoning is a bit of a work in progress.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"That's a pretty big coincidence, don't you think?"

First off, though: it's National Coming Out Day. I am gay. Are you? Take a minute to send some love or support to the gay youth you know who may be struggling with some serious stuff.

So, the other day I was having a conversation with a friend about skepticism and naturopathy and things. My friend isn't as steeped in the skeptical movement's groupthink as I am (he qualifies more as an "apathetic agnostic", whose philosophy is best summarized as: "Eh, I don't care. What's on TV?") but he had taken some time to call out a mutual acquaintance on some pretty fishy-sounding ideas about Intuitive Medicine (where you give a "Medical Intuitive" your name and she - somehow - tells you exactly what's wrong with you) and I wanted to thank him, since whenever I try to express skepticism, I end up sounding like a douche. I've gotta learn to embrace my douchiness, because it isn't like superstition is going anywhere soon.

Anyway, after I thanked him, he confessed that he doesn't think naturopathy and the like is necessarily all bad, and brought up that he has a condition that "modern science" didn't really help him with, but the pills a naturopath gave him really did the trick.

Doing my best not to be a dick about it, I agreed that "natural" remedies weren't necessarily ineffective, but that the problem was that by and large they are not monitored by any agency and you don't really know how effective they are or even what you are actually getting inside those pills. I suggested that he consider the following: his condition (which he's described to me before) is one that comes and goes and varies in frequency and severity. What if it was naturally going away at the same time as his naturopath gave him the pills? How does he know that the pills actually do anything?

"You mean to say that I would have been cured whether or not I took the pills? The naturopath just happened to have really good timing? That's a pretty big coincidence, don't you think?"

His patience was being tested, so we called a truce and went back to whatever it was we were doing, but here's what I would have said if I weren't more interested in preserving the friendship:

It is a coincidence. Or, at the very least, there is absolutely no way, with the information we have, to show that it isn't other than saying "I just know." Thing is, we're SWAMPED with coincidences. The whole world is filled with coincidences, everywhere. Million upon millions of things all happen at the same time, and without evidence, without using some sort of rational tool (consciously or not) there is nothing to say that A caused B but didn't cause C but may eventually make D fuck up E if F is happening at the same time.

That your condition cleared up shortly after you started those pills doesn't surprise me as odd. What would be odd is if you didn't have any coincidences at all. Maybe the pills work. Maybe the condition went away on its own. Or maybe you changed peanut butter that week, or toilet paper. Maybe your neighbour had his apartment sprayed for cockroaches. Maybe there was a solar flare. Without any sort of way to eliminate these and the billions of other stuff that was happening at the same time, there's no way to say.

The conversation ended with him saying "Well, they're my pills and I like them, so there."

And I can live with that, I guess. There's all kinds of stuff that I do that isn't healthy or smart or rational, even when I know better. But people should at least be aware of this sort of thing.

Anyway, you may have heard of this "Occupy Wall Street" thing. Well, this coming weekend is the Toronto version in support/solidairty. Unless something horrible happens, I plan to attend, and then maybe blog about it. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Voice

So, I'm a couple of months into this blog thing and I find I'm still trying to find my blogging voice. My instinct and experience tell me that the best way to do that is to just be myself and try to express myself as openly and honestly as I can, but I find myself hesitating. Part of this is just intimidation. The blogs I read are heavy hitters, written by talented and accredited people. I have strong opinions and think I'm fairly well-educated on certain topics, but without a degree or two, and without anything more than a customer service background, I feel a little bit like a fraud. This has kept me from putting my website out there along with any comments I make, because I'm a little bit terrified that someone will see a comment, come back here and then tear me a new one for being stupid.

Which is just a little bit ridiculous. I mean, yeah I might be wrong with my opinions, and I might have gotten some facts wrong, but isn't that part of the point? Aren't I doing this to help improve myself? If I am wrong, shouldn't I WANT someone to come along and point it out to me so that I can maybe become a little less wrong in the future?

I guess this is unsettling, because I don't just want to be myself here. I want to be my BEST self. I want to be contributing somehow to improving the world, making it a little bit more equal, a little bit more fair, and I think I can do that through my writing. I'm not expecting this blog to see thousands of hits anytime soon, but I want to lay a foundation here, a foundation based on good blogging. I don't think I'm there, yet.

Also, part of the problem is that I'm working my way towards becoming a "militant atheist", in the sense that I really don't believe in god, but I do believe that we share one reality with one set of rules, and that it's best to go through life with as much of an understanding of what is real as possible. I've gotten into at least one argument with a self-professed agnostic, and I have to admit I was very uncomfortable and surprised with how the argument went. It got pretty aggressive pretty fast, and I haven't figured out how much of that was personality driven and how much was ideology.

See, I was an agnostic like this guy was, until pretty recently. The stance was more or less "we can't really know if gods are real or not, so making a statement that they aren't is probably foolish." And...fair enough, I guess, but that's not squaring with some principles that I have now that I've been finding I value more and more.

I mean, what kind of a statement is it to say "we can't really know"? Really? We can't? And I know this because.....?

I suppose there will always be a part of me that acknowledges that there's a possibility of some god who started this whole thing off and now lives outside of or as a part of the universe but otherwise doesn't do much of anything (and I like this kind of god, it's neat to think about, especially if you throw in the part about love) but....well, jeez, if that's the kind of god we have, it's kind of worthless, isn't it? We don't really get a benefit to worshipping this vanishing deity, except to maybe feel better about ourselves...

I guess I'm becoming a bit more utilitiarian in my beliefs. I think there are real, serious problems that we ought to be solving. Starvation, prejudice, injustices around the world and at home, inequality, poverty. I think we should be doing all we can to fix these problems, and I think that we should be doing things that work. I don't know that, long-term and big picture, believing in a nonexistant god actually helps. I'm all for it if someone is motivated to help and reach out because of their faith, so long as the result is a net good. But maybe religion isn't the best way to get there.

Anyway, I'm still working this out, and while I flail about I can't help but struggle with this inferiority complex at the same time. I want to be myself, but my self is pretty messy, and just like I'd hesitate before inviting someone into my messy (seriously) apartment, I feel weird about putting up thoughts before they're really complete. But this is a process, right? It won't ever be complete.

Well, here's hoping that I will settle into this blog, and I mean, hey, I have like 1-3 page views any given day (and they're probably all me), so I can relax for a little while more. But if you ARE reading, I hope you get something out of my musings here. And let me know how I can do this better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Over at, Ophelia Benson responds to some more comments about the Rebecca Watson situation wherein she was propositioned by a guy in an elevator in the middle of the night and then publicly said that it made her uncomfortable. I'm still absolutely amazed that this is a "thing", because her comments seemed to me perfectly reasonable, but some people think it makes her crazy (among other things).

On Ophelia's blog, she posts the guy saying:

The solution to such ambiguity is simple – as a way forward, women who attend atheist-skeptic conferences that are absolutely certain they don’t want to be hit on should wear a clearly visible “do not proposition me” sign on their backs. If not, maybe a colour-code can be designated for such women by the event organisers – let’s say, red – and then it could be announced that all women wearing red clothes should not be propositioned or approached by strangers. But will they do this? Most probably not. They will, in all likelihood,  protest that it should not be incumbent upon them to make clear to others not to hit on them – yet at the same time they want to be in a public conference where human beings, the highly sexual creatures they are, are freely interacting.

Okay, so first off: really? A highly visible symbol? Like a colour? Or maybe a symbol like a pink triangle or star of david? A red letter, perhaps? But that's clearly a strawman (see what feminism gets you? NAZIS! Be careful how much equality you ask for, ladies, or else it's the holocaust all over again!!).

What really bugs me, really, really, REALLY bugs me is this implication that men are completely helpless when it comes to our penises. How dare women expect to be unharrassed in PUBLIC, where men with our uncontrollable sex urges are forced to try to decypher the complicated, ambiguous concept of not hitting on women when it's not appropriate.

It's ridiculous and offensive and it's everywhere. I mean, look, people make mistakes. We're animals, after all, and our brains are awash in presumably-useful hormones and neurotransmitters and whatnot that fairly often make rational decision making difficult or impossible. I've done stuff I regret, probably some of it because I was horny, or drunk, or skipped breakfast or something. But there's nothing in those regretful incidents where I can say "It's because I'm a MAN!!" and I sure as heck had to face consequences the morning after.

If a guy has trouble behaving himself, it's because the guy has a problem, not because he has testicles. I wish people would stop playing up the differences between men an women as if they were inescapable, natural, and true....because whenever we start to turn a skeptical eye on these differences, the importance of culture and "nurture" and one's environment starts to loom ever bigger. Bad behaviour is because someone fucked up, not because they "couldn't help themselves". Rape isn't a problem because boys will be boys, it's because some boys are assholes, and they ought to be treated as such.