Tag Archives: skepticism

Stream-of-Consciousness: Arm Yourself


Just a friendly little reminder:

Everything is made up. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Even the experts are making it up as they go along.

Sounds good, right? That’s the mantra of the “free thinker.” Unfortunately, that kind of thinking can land you in some pretty untenable places, like for instance, denying that humans are responsible for climate change or thinking that 9/11 was an inside job. You embrace the thinking that “you can’t trust anybody” and the whole world begins to look like a conspiracy theory. Pretty soon you’re driving around in a car that looks like this:

20171110_160620.jpg

Which is a pretty good way to advertise to the world that they shouldn’t waste their time talking to you.

Fact is, experts are experts not because they know everything, but because they constantly question whether they know anything. An expert will admit when he’s out of his depth. And then he’ll start asking the questions that expand his depth.

Put another way, when all the fish are swimming in one direction, your first thought shouldn’t be, “I’m swimming the other way.” Your first thought should be: “why are they swimming that way?” There just might be a good reason.

Arm yourself against idiocy. Arm yourself against people that want to take advantage of you. Ask questions. Think about what you see instead of just parroting the party line.

This post brought to you by nothing in particular.

Part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday, even if it’s a day late. Everything is a day late around here lately. Maybe I’ll invent my own time zone.

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Liechtenstein!


It finally happened; I’ve had a visitor from Liechtenstein!

Actually, a lot of folks landed here after the interweb dumped them out of the tubes from Eastern Europe. Funny story actually.

Turns out, some douchenozzle hijacked a photo of my son from my blog. You know, the gross one — the one immediately following his birth, where most of his small intestine is in a toothpaste tube attached to his belly button (he had gastroschisis, but don’t worry — he’s fine now). Said douchenozzle then used said picture to fuel one of those garbage social media posts. You know the ones. Look at this suffering baby. Like = 1 prayer, Comment = 10 prayers. Essentially, a ploy for attention and clicks using my son to bait the faithful.

Which is shameful, but I guess not shocking. The internet is a place for all sorts of deplorables to get together, after all. Funny thing, though? That picture is lifted from my “Why I Am an Atheist” post. Which goes to show you — not that it’s shocking or anything — just how hard this particular deplorable worked when he stole my picture. (Spoiler alert: not hard at all. Searching that picture brings you straight here.)

But wait!

The hits, it seems, are coming from this site — which is in German, thanks Google Translate — which appears to be something of an aggregator for skepticism and debunking fake news. Two of my favorite things! And somebody at that site saw the post, researched it, found out it was a load of hot garbage, and pointed out the proper home of the picture. Along the way, they cheekily pointed out that the picture, property of an avowed godless heathen, was being used to garner prayers. Ha!

So a handful of Eastern European atheists — a gaggle of Germans, a smattering of Austrians, and my one Liechsteinian (that’s so much fun to say!) are landing here. That kind of makes me smile.

Although I have to wonder how well the stories about toddler poop hold up when they get translated into German.


On a Trump Victory (welp, that happened)


I guess this is what the Brexit felt like.

Image result for dumbledore welp

What else is there to do for a guy like me on a morning like this, but go for a run under the early morning stars and try to write some things down?

Unfortunately, of course, the stars don’t have any answers for the questions I’m asking today — what went wrong? how could this happen? what the hell do we do now? — in fact, the stars themselves are hidden behind a smoky veil of clouds, like they don’t want to think about it either.

But we have to think about it. We have to deal with the reality that’s been plopped on our plate like a pile of cafeteria mystery meat.

So what do we do?

Well, for one, we can’t rise to the bait. We non-Trumpers are going to face a fair bit of heckling and bragging, and we’re going to have to weather that. Fair’s fair, after all, and we bragged for months that this was impossible. Well, it happened. Let’s not cry about it. Let’s swallow what’s left of our pride and move on.

That means, for better or worse, letting go of Hillary. She needs to retire in the country, or to a mountainside, or to her own private island. I know a lot of us were pretty excited about the prospect of her presidency. But an enormous portion of the country (a majority, as it turns out) were not so jazzed. Even many of her supporters were less than enthusiastic about her as a candidate. Is that fair? Is it justified? Hard to say. The Republican hate machine has been working against the Clintons for decades, and the slime is all over everything. Yes, we’re due for a woman president. But it’s clearly not going to be this woman. Let her go. Give somebody else a shot.

And we’re not going to do ourselves any favors demonizing Trump more than we’ve done. That case has been made, it’s been heard, and it’s been dismissed. The fact that he’s a misogynist, a bully, and a political opportunist has been established, and it turns out, people don’t care.

Nor will it help, either, to bash his supporters. At the end of the day, they are people with hopes and dreams and fears and thoughts about the state of the world we live in, and they made their voices loud and clear. This is their right, regardless of what you might think of what they have to say. The man managed to galvanize his support in a way that Hillary simply couldn’t — helped along in no small part by the case the GOP has been making against her, again, for decades. What the race came down to, I think, is that his supporters felt a lot more strongly about putting him in office and keeping Hillary out than Hillary’s people did, and that’s why they turned out when it mattered. But at this point, it doesn’t much matter how he got there. What matters is that he is there.

So all that’s left is for those of us on the other side to be good skeptics. Republicans are going to find out whether they actually want what they’ve bought and paid for in Trump very, very fast. The rest of us have to watch this thing as it develops and be willing to be proved wrong on some of the horrible things we said about Trump. For instance: is he actually going to attempt to build the wall he promised? Is he actually going to shut down all Muslim ingress to the country? Is he actually going to try to reverse gay marriage? I suspect that he won’t. Pragmatism will dictate that, now that he’s in power, he will have to stay within certain lanes, and there are some things that just can’t be done.

That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to pull a perfect about-face on the things he’s said. But let’s not forget that he famously said in 2008 that, if he ever ran, he’d do so as a Republican. Not because of his ideology, but because of the voters.

I still believe, 100% and unwavering until I see some good evidence to the contrary, that Trump is in this thing for Trump.

Maybe that means that, now that he has it, he’ll put his feet up on the desk and delegate the actual ruling to people who actually know what they’re talking about. Yes, in the meantime, those will be Republicans, but we can only deal with so much heartburn first thing in the morning.

I reassured my wife this morning by pointing out that realistically, I don’t think much changes for us. We’re heteronormative white folks, after all. (And I feel a little bit dirty and shortsighted, pointing that out, but we can’t change our stripes.) But there is a fight to be had if (and more likely, when) Trump and co. come for the rights of people with less privilege.

And it’s a fight that we have to be ready for.

We won’t help ourselves out by being ridiculously hyperbolic, though there will certainly be a lot of that in the coming weeks. We haven’t lost our country. This is not the end of freedom. The atmosphere hasn’t turned into chlorine gas overnight, the bastions of democracy aren’t burning.

The sun still rose this morning.

We just have to stay vigilant. It’s up to Republicans to hold Trump’s feet to the fire and make sure he behaves himself in office.

And it’s up to the rest of us to regroup, figure out what went wrong, and fix it for the next time around.

 


Harry Potter and the Unfalsifiable Speciosity


Yes, “speciosity” is totally a word. (I googled it after I decided that I needed it. Sometimes things work out in your favor. Oh ah.)

‘I’m sorry, but that’s completely ridiculous … You could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!’ – Hermione Grainger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

author J.K Rowling

Thanks to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe for reminding me that there are things to love about the Harry Potter books that go way beyond the whimsical. (The SGU wraps up every episode of their (really quite excellent) weekly podcast with a skeptical quote, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear this one.)

What? My commute is over a half-hour each way. I listen to a lot of podcasts these days. (To be fair, I listened to this episode while running. BTW, it’s still effington hot out there.)

Happy Sunday!


Free Money (Somebody Has to Win, Right?)


Apparently the Powerball is up to $500 million.

I know this because my wife made me go get a ticket tonight. I protested that if we wanted to throw money away, it would be easier, faster, and in fact cheaper to simply take my cash out on the back porch and burn it. But ours is a typical American patriarchal marriage, so I got in the car and headed around the corner to the gas station.

Did you know you can now buy lottery tickets online? Of course I didn’t, or I wouldn’t have wasted the extra money in gas to drive to the station to throw my money down the gullet of Big Lottery. But when I arrived at home, my wife had pulled up the website to see when the drawing was, and lo and behold, you can buy your lotto tickets online. This shocked me, because I can remember a time not so very long ago when I tried to buy a scratch-off ticket to go with my Snickers bar and Icee (it was a rough time in my life) in a convenience store, and the clerk happily rang up my frozen sugar but told me I couldn’t buy lottery tickets with a card. Cash only, he said. Why, I said. Because you can run out of cash, he said. I asked if that was really a problem; if people would really spend more money than they had for the privilege of rubbing a quarter against a lacquered piece of paper for a dopamine hit. He got a little dead in the eyes and told me I had no idea, then proceeded to tell me about customers — regulars — who would come into the station and buy one scratch-off ticket after another, winning three dollars here, ten dollars there, and using the winnings to buy more tickets, then going to their pockets for more cash when the wins ran out. I know a guy who’ll come in on a Friday and burn through a hundred bucks in fifteen minutes, he said.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. There are entire towns in our more-or-less-great nation built on the broken hopes and dreams of citizens trying to get rich quick, thinking that if they play the odds in just the right way, or at just the right time, a tidal wave of cash will sweep them out of their miserable existence. I’m torn between complete apathy and really soul-crushing sadness over that, because there are individuals out there who have gambled their lives away. On the one hand, you make your own bed by playing a game that’s rigged against you. On the other, the system that rigs the game rigs it by making you think it’s rigged in your favor. You win a little bit here, maybe a lot there, and you don’t notice the steady stream of dollars out of your bank account.

But we’re hardwired to think that way, aren’t we? Somehow each of us thinks, “I’m not like everybody else.” “It’ll never happen to me.” “Somebody has to win, so why not me?” And it takes us by great surprise when the universe reminds us, sometimes in the harshest of ways, that we are, in fact, just like everybody else. We are all unique little snowflakes, but nobody cares about your delicate crystalline structure when they’re shoveling millions of you and your inimitable brethren off their sidewalks or scraping you off their windshields. Everybody thinks they’re different, and maybe they are, but we’re different like all the ingredients in a borscht are different: they all bleed into the same red, gloopy, tomato-ey mass. I’m reminded of this little Gary Larson gem:

The lottery takes advantage of this defect in our thinking, and paradoxically its effect is greater the more people play it. More buyers mean a bigger jackpot, which draws in more buyers, which increases the jackpot, until it’s 9:45 on a Wednesday and my wife is sending me out in my gym shorts and sandals to buy a slip of paper that will be as useless tomorrow morning as the roll of toilet paper sitting on the back of the john. No, wait, sorry — the toilet paper is thick and absorbent and two-ply, and has a very specific and necessary function, while the lotto ticket I bought serves only as a badge of shame that I allowed myself to be taken in, even for a moment, by the thought that maybe, just maybe, my wife and I could be millionaires tomorrow.

We won’t be. Somebody may be, but probably not me, and probably not you, either. And our lives won’t be any different, except that I’m a few dollars poorer.

Unless I win.

*crosses fingers*

*slaps self across face*

Except I won’t win.

*secretly crosses fingers behind own back*


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