Saturday, December 31, 2011

#Skeptic fail: #Dunning, #Shermer have blocked me at Skepticblog

Looks like I can post about a bit of New Year's Eve "skeptic" (as opposed to actual skeptics) fireworks and narrow-mindedness.

I have apparently been blacklisted from posting comments at SkepticBlog, one of the allegedly top blogs for alleged skeptics. Anyway, that's what WordPress tells me when I try to post comments there.

Apparently, my last comment on libertarian and selective skeptic Brian Dunning's latest blog post, trying to poo-poo the idea that biopiracy exists (sorry, no links if you're going to blacklist me), including a snarky aside about Dunning's upcoming court date on civil and criminal fraud allegations, was too much.

I will, speaking of that, give you this link though, to a previous blog post of mine about Dunning's legal woes and their connection to his libertarianism and selective skepticism. I'll also give you this link to a blog post of mine about how I apparently had a comment on another post of Dunning's deleted a couple of months ago.

That said, Dunning's not the sole proprietor of the blog. In fact, it's theoretically headed by his fellow libertarian and selective skeptic, Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine. So, any "block" decision ultimately falls

And, just as Gnu Atheists are a reason I don't primarily identify myself as an atheist, libertarian selective skeptics like Shermer, Dunning, magicians Penn/Teller and many others who deliberately conflate libertarianism and skepticism are another reason.

But, there's yet another reason.

More generally reasonable skeptics, like Daniel Loxton, have too narrow a definition of skepticism.

On this blog, I identify myself as a skeptical left-liberal (in U.S. terms, at least, I'm a left-liberal). That is, I apply skepticism to my own political stances and views. But, folks like Loxton don't want to apply skepticism to politics, or even too much to psychology or sociology, instead focusing on claims testable within the "harder" natural sciences only.

And, in addition to that, folks like Loxton are generally thinly informed on the history of Skepticism the philosophy. Were this not the case, and they had a deeper grounding in Philosophy 101, they wouldn't have such a narrow view of what "skepticism" is or should be.

That said, that's one blog to scratch off my reading list again. I went back there regularly about two years ago because friend Leo Lincourt said Shermer was posting less in the way of libertarian stuff there.

Well, he started again, and Dunning made up for that in spades.

And, I didn't think I'd have anything to blog about more than a trip to Austin (nothing big) or Iowa caucus thoughts

Friday, December 23, 2011

Moved ... and grateful

I am at a Starbucks in Austin. Took my laptop, equipped with wi-fi antenna (part of why I bought it years ago) when I drove into Cedar Park, suburban Austin, to turn in my rental truck, not knowing if I would get back to the Starbucks in Marble Falls before it closed tonight, not having checked hours before I left there.

That said, I'm grateful for a Starbucks there. I'm grateful that, on the phone connection, Verizon got out this afternoon, said it had fixed what was outside, and contacted my apartment complex to do what it needed to do inside. So, between high-speed at work, wi-fi at Starbucks, and good old dial-up at home, assuming it's fixed by early next week, I'll be fine on Internet.

I'm grateful for not only Whole Foods but the even better Central Market (a Texas-only chain) in Austin. I've stocked up on good coffee, great dehydrated split pea soup, black bean stew and curry lentil stew mixes, three types of curry powder, charsalt-type dry hickory smoke flavor, some sparkling waters, some high-ginger ginger ale and such. (And, the bulk food stuff I mentioned is actually relatively inexpensive.) Oh, and I had to get some non-inexpensive cheese, an indulgence of mine.

Halfway between Marble Falls and Cedar Park, northwest suburban Austin, is the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge. So, you can guess where I will do some hiking! The road winds a bit, in a good sense, following Texas' Colorado River through hills, with a mix of red oaks, white oaks, live oaks and cedars (could get rid of a few of those!).

I have tuned in Austin's 24-hour classical music station. I've already visited the Austin Symphony website. The Austin Classical Guitar Society, I knew about years ago.

I am grateful; grateful enough to start tearing up when I got in. I don't have to make a lot of money in life, if I can have amenities like this.

Marble Falls is not your typical small town, either. There's old Texas rancher money and at least reasonable-money retirees there. Not many towns of 7,000 have a Home Depot and a Lowe's. And two Thai restaurants, as I discovered today. So, even without going into Austin, I think life will be at least OK if not better there.

I'm grateful the job came open and other things, to make this possible.

Finally, I am grateful for the people on this list, some of whom go beyond acquaintances to friends, whether I've met you in person or not.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Splendid Saturnalia and best of the new year to everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kyoto carbon poetry

A comment from a friend on Google+, after he posted a haiku, led me to ask myself if I had a copy of this 1998 Kyoto treaty talks op-ed that I wrote all in haiku. And, I did. And yes, what follows was an actual op-ed column. (Small weekly paper, where I was publisher, and nobody to say 'You can't do that.')

Clinton seeks freer trade
With Chilean producers
Free wine, grapes, and fruit

Gephardt says "Never"
Dreaming Presidential dreams
Gore stands idly by

Newt and his minions
Will swap taxes for tariffs
Clinton: "See me next year"

He's to Kyoto
To cut back greenhouse gas growth
Subtle irony

Speaking, not doing
More global warming threatens
With his ev'ry word

Business USA
Claims the climate data is
Still insufficient

They preach doom and gloom
For our proud, strong economy
From mandated change

Clinton will stand and speak
To please Japan, Europe, home
And yet fall far short

Back in Washington
Ere his Orient Express
Reno had good news

Of campaign violations
Is terminated

Clinton breathes easy
As does loyal Gore besides
But is it over

On the back benches
Hot Republican firebreathers
Demand impeachment

The outside person
Knows all hands are money-green
Has cynic disgust

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Looking forward to Bob Carroll's new book

Carroll, the author of "Skeptic's Dictionary," both a basic go-to guide for skeptical thinking as a book AND a continually updated website of skeptical analysis and critique of claims in religion and theology, philosophy, alternative medicine, fallacious thinking and more, was kind enough to send me an electronic draft copy of his latest work, "Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism and Science Exposed."

I'm near the end of this book, which explains and documents how and why skeptical, critical thinking activities are "unnatural acts."

Here's a selection from the start of Chapter 8, "The Fallacy-Driven Life":
Fallacies are errors in reasoning. They drive the thought-engine of most people most of the time. We did not evolve to seek truth, beauty, and goodness. We evolved to survive and mate. Everything else is window dressing, including our so-called noble reason. Shakespeare may have mesmerized audiences with his lines:

What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty!
In form and moving how express and admirable!
In action how like an angel!
In apprehension how like a god!
The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

In fact, man is an irrational animal, driven by his needs, fears, and wants, and following logic or reason only if it suits him. Our natural way of thinking, of making judgments, of identifying causal connections is to jump to conclusions on flimsy evidence. Critical thinking is unnatural. Following our feelings and emotions is more likely to motivate our behavior than well-reasoned arguments. We are as likely to be persuaded by irrelevant appeals as by relevant ones, and are more likely to produce slanted, selective, biased, one-sided, incomplete arguments than well-reasoned, fair-minded, accurate, complete arguments. We make assumptions that aren’t warranted, create straw man arguments out of fragments of opposing viewpoints, offer up false dilemmas, and draw conclusions hastily. It’s amazing we’ve made so much progress!
Carroll, from the point of a professional philosopher and skeptic, takes largely the same view of human nature as behavioral psychologists and economists such as Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky.

But, Carroll gets his terminology right. I can't mention the number of times I have pointed out that a global warming denier's claims should be pulled under the credibility microscope because he works for a place like the far-right think tank, the Heartland Institute. He notes, on that:

The ad hominem fallacy is often confused with the legitimate provision of evidence that a person is not to be trusted. Calling into question the reliability of a witness is relevant when the issue is whether to trust the witness. ... Good refutations of arguments try to undermine the accuracy, relevance, fairness, completeness, and sufficiency of reasons given to support a conclusion. ... The fallacy in the ad hominem argument is due to the irrelevant nature of the appeal made, not to its falsity.
Regardless of one's political stripe, whether, libertarian, conservative, liberal or left-liberal, Carroll exhorts us to be more critical in our thinking about political events, scientific claims, sociological and psychological pronouncements and more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

One "None" doesn't speak for all "apatheists"

An apatheist is the semi-technical term for someone too apathetic to care about atheism or theism.

A common nontechnical phrase is "nones" in vernacular sociological discourse.

Not being a Gnu Atheist, I therefore looked forward to a New York Times column written by a None.

However, to put it bluntly, Eric Weiner is NOT a "None." Selections from the column clearly show that:
We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt. 
Really? Who's the "we" you claim to represent by such a blanket statement.
Nones don’t get hung up on whether a religion is “true” or not, and instead subscribe to William James’s maxim that “truth is what works.” 
Again, since Nones by definition have no religion, many of them don't even have that much focus on religion.
God is not an exclamation point, though. He is, at his best, a semicolon, connecting people, and generating what Aldous Huxley called “human grace.” 
So, you're actually a theist of sorts, of the Paul Tillich "ground of being" school of Protestant theology that still has antirational, anti-analytic-philosophy, anti-linguistic roots at places like Harvard Divinity School.

And, if those snippets aren't stupid and barf-inducing enough, the closing paragraph certainly is:
We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us. 
No, honest religious seekers don't need a capitalist mass marketer as the person to lead them down the road of "wherever." That said, I don't think Eric Weiner would know intellectual honesty if it bit him in the ass.

But, knowing what he's written and reported before, he exemplifies the Peter Principle in action at public radio's Nice Polite Republicans.

And, at times like this, the anger that Gnus have at people who claim to be intellectuals is understandable.

Critiquing the "top 50 atheists"

Via a Facebook friend, I saw this list of 50 top atheists, listed in part for influence and "seriousness." Comments of a critical nature (meant in the journalistic sense) are hereby offered about a few of them, based on their numeric ranking in the list. In some cases, my comment is a critique of the website more than the person

50. David Silverman. Until American Atheists' president officially disclaims its Muslim-bashing tendencies, he tars a lot of the Gnu Atheist movement. I'll pass on liking him.
46. P.Z. Myers. Isn't it a bit ego-deflating to only be No. 46, P.Z.?
43. Michael Newdow. He might have had a case on general principles, but he had a case for provoking revulsion on general principles by exploiting a child. Sue over an invocation at a city council meeting rather than the Pledge of Allegiance at your daughter's school, especially when you're a divorced parent who isn't primary custodian.
42. Greta Christina. Just.No. Were I Chris Hitchens, you'd get a boatload of snark of various sorts, including, were I Snitchens, some of it gender-based. But, I'm not Hitchens, for which I'm thankful.
41. Ophelia Benson. Hypocrite, for a reason which I'll show by quoting from her blurb on the website: "(B)est known for editing the atheist web site Butterflies and Wheels (the title refers to Alexander Pope’s counsel against rhetorical overkill, “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”)." This Gnu has broken plenty a butterfly in the name of Gnu Atheism.
30. Ray Kurzweil. Wrong. Not him (though he IS wrong), but the website, which says: "(H)is ideas are the logical extension of premises most atheists share." Totally untrue statement. Most atheists don't share most of his ideas and there's no logical extension from them to him, either.
26. Jennifer Michael Hecht. She teaches WRITING at Columbia? Her book "Doubt" has a number of its vs it's errors and other grammatical problems. The atheist Peter Principle at play. I did learn about Eastern "doubt" from her book, but, it could have been better in other ways, too.
24. Jerry Coyne. Opposed on general Gnu grounds.
23. Robert Wright. A one-trick pony as an author; "The Evolution of God" would have been bad enough without him trying to shoehorn other ideas inside that of his non-zero-sum games theory.
22. Richard Carrier. Deserves kudos as being the probable leader in the latest "nonhistoricity of Jesus" studies. I await his new book.

20. Steve Pinker. Pop Ev Psycher. And, I think his influence as an atheist is overrated by this website's ranking.
15. David Sloane Wilson. Someday, more group selection ideas will get better reception. He's a creative thinker.
13. Sam Harris. Just.Shoot.Me. But, first, lock him in a room with a couple of Iranian ayatollahs or something.
10. Christopher Hitchens. I've said plenty about him, the good, the bad and the ugly, elsewhere.
8. Steven Weinberg. A salute for an existentialist atheist outlook on life.
5. Dan Dennett. Didn't you used to be insightful, before you started recycling all your own shit? Daniel Wegner and others have WAY surpassed you in theorizing about consciousness. And, evolution is NOT algorithmic.
2. Kai Nielsen. A grand old man of modern atheism.
1. Peter Singer. WTF? He may be the world's most influential animal rights activist; he is NOT the most influential or most important atheist. Not even close.

Interesting that this was posted on a website for evaluating college choices. I'd be skeptical of some of their recommendations there, going by this.