Friday, December 19, 2008

Et Tu, Bono?

Look at that, mere hours after saying I was putting up my last post of the year, I have another one.

Apparently U2 is releasing a new album in March. Initial reviews indicate that it sounds like a ripoff of Coldplay.

The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind

Phickle Thoughts

This will, in all likelihood, be the last post for 2008. There's a small chance I'll get to another one, but we'll be back in Minnesota soon, so there will be very little time. We've got a lot of friends and family to catch up with, and obviously the holidays will take up a good chunk of our visit. Expect plenty of posts when I come back. Towards the end of the year here I've done a pretty good job putting up regular posts, and I aim to keep it that way in 2009.
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Complicating things a bit will be that I'm taking the Minnesota bar exam in February. This might slow down posting for the first couple months, but I'll do my best.
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Among the planned posts is the big abortion one that I promised back before the election. I've also got one that ponders what an Obama presidency really means, and I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as we transition between administrations. I also have hopes to put up a really big rebuttal aim at libertarians. Jacob, you've inspired me on this one... Watch for it.
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For anyone interested, 2008 was easily my biggest year on Philosofickle. I had the second most posts that I've ever put up, had the longest comment thread, and got the most hits. In fact, I got just over 11,000 hits, more than half of the hit total since I last changed my counter (I think well over 3 years ago). Since this was a leap year, that adds up to just over 30 new hits a day (page views are significantly higher). Naturally I'd love even bigger numbers (if there's one hallmark of a blogger, it's thinking their thoughts a great enough that everyone should be reading them), but I'm more than happy to know 30 people a day are visiting this site.
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When you're bored, and you start doodling little nothings, have you ever thought to yourself, "I think I've doodled this before?"

My doodles stick generally to straight-lined, angular shapes, and variations on the 3-d box. What do other people doodle? This intrigues me...
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I've got a new subtitle up. I may have used this one before, but it just works so very well.
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A while back I posted two different Magic Sweatshirt stories. This past week I submitted those to my writing group to get feedback (because we needed submissions, not because I really wanted a ton of feedback on those stories). People really really liked them. But folks weren't sure if I should make them more for a more advanced audience, with comedy geared towards things adults would find funny, or if I should make them more for a children's audience, with even more stylized drama. Both interest me, and I might try my hand at re-writing them at some point. If anyone has any thoughts on that, it'd be great to hear them.
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And finally, happy holidays. I hope everyone enjoys themselves over the next couple weeks. I know I will.

See you in 2009!

While the merry bells keep ringing
May your every wish come true

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Place Your Bets

The Express is a free newspaper handed out on the metro in the mornings here in D.C. (I understand they have it in other cities too, right?) On my way into work today I saw a number of people reading it, and I kept catching just the top half of the ad that was on the back page. It read, "Why believe in God?"

I couldn't see the answer since for some reason or other everyone around me managed to have that part covered. As I got off the metro I grabbed one of the papers, just to check the bottom half of the ad. I was hoping it would be some sort of controversial statement that would give me good cause to put up an interesting post, and not something lame like "Because he believes in you."

You'll never guess what it said.

Lame, right?

Anyway, I decided that was still good fodder for a post: why believe in God? The topic has kind of been addressed here and on Zhubin and Ben's blogs, and maybe a couple of others, but I figure it's certainly a question worth taking up again.

Unfortunately it's late, and I'm tired, and I really don't have the energy to handle this topic right now, so instead I'm going to take up just one reason why you should believe in God: Pascal's Wager. Frankly, it's a somewhat compelling risk/reward game theory, and I think it's a point that's always worth making in any theism/atheism discussion. So if this were the longer version of "why believe in God", Pascal's Wager would probably have been point number one, just to lay it on the table.

I'm going to assume everyone is familiar with argument itself, and instead move into my question: are there any really good critiques or counter-arguments to Pascal's Wager? I know I took this topic up in philosophy 101, and probably a couple other places, but I honestly don't recall any substantial counter-arguments, and certainly none that were compelling.

So anyone out there, whether you're a theist or an atheist, are there any arguments against Pascal's Wager that you find compelling, or that at least make some good points?

Also, this raises the perfect song quote. Patric, I expect you to get this. If anyone beats him to it, double points.

And it's not that I believe in your almight
But I might as well as insurance or bail

Monday, December 08, 2008

Whooo Boy-Boy

Well, this subject seems to have come up a lot for me lately, so I'm going to post on it. Same-sex marriage. So much for shying away from controversy on this blog...

Anyway, let me say again at the outset that I'm a supporter of civil unions. I think giving access to the same rights is a good thing and that equality is a worthy and important goal.

So why not also support same-sex marriage? Because I see a difference between heterosexual marriage (herein "traditional marriage" for sake of ease, not because I'm trying to make a point) and same-sex marriage. It's a big difference:

One of the chief purposes of marriage is procreation. Not just raising children (which same-sex couples can do just fine in my opinion (just as can single adults)) but also the creation of children. Quite simply, and obviously, this is a purpose that cannot be achieved by same-sex couples. Therefore, a same-sex marriage cannot fulfill all of the same purposes of marriage in the way that a traditional marriage can, and thus a reasonable (and arguably important) distinction can be made between the two.

The ready-made response of same-sex advocates is that there are also traditional marriages that do not achieve this purpose of marriage. This is a fair point to raise, but I feel there's an important response that has been largely unvoiced in the same-sex marriage debate: Traditional marriages without children frustrate one of the purpose of marriage by impediment (infertility or unwillingness), whereas same-sex marriages frustrate this purpose of marriage by definition.

As I wrote on Mike's blog, "I think the difference is pretty obvious, and it's relevant both philosophically and practically."

Philosophically: Human nature is oriented towards procreation. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be here. One of the functions of marriage is to serve this aspect of human nature (and I'd even argue monogamous relationships like marriage are human nature themselves, and that locating the procreative function inside of those relationships is also a part of human nature). Obviously same-sex marriage can't be oriented towards babymaking, so philosophically same-sex marriage has a different orientation than traditional marriage.

Practically: Allowing only fertile couples to marry requires a fertility test for traditional marriages before issuing licenses. Homosexual couples require no such test. We know they can't have kids, never could, never will, and there's no exception to the rule. So practically, if we want to encourage procreation as one of the purpose of marriage, it makes sense to draw the line at same-sex vs. traditional marriage.

So basically that leaves us with a pretty fair reason for drawing a distinction between same-sex unions and traditional unions. Is it going to be compelling for everyone? No. I'm sure there are those who would say both that we don't care about procreation within marriage and/or that allowing same-sex marriage is more important than drawing this distinction.

Personally, I think it's an important distinction, but I don't see any reason to deny same-sex couples any of the rights associated with marriage (unless there are rights attached only to procreation, but I can't think of any). That's why I support a dual marriage/civil union framework. It allows us to give everybody the same rights, while at the same time maintaining the important distinction between same-sex and traditional marriages.

And as I see it, that's pretty much the case against same-sex marriage.

And all the stars were crashing 'round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

There's A Red-nosed Reindeer In The Nativity Scene

For whatever reason, I feel like I've been exposed to an abnormally high rate of atheistic holiday messages as Christmas approaches. They haven't all been entirely hostile to religious celebration (though many certainly were), but they've all encouraged viewing Christmas as a secular holiday.

The primary point that seems to be made in advocating Christmas as secular is that Christians co-opted pagan rituals for their holy day.

I guess maybe I'm a little obtuse here, but, so what? I don't see how that in any way de-legitimizes Christmas as a Christian holiday, or removes any religious significance. Christmas is both secular and religious. If some people want to celebrate it in more religious fashion, the secular nature doesn't diminish that meaning. If others want to celebrate it in more secular fashion, the fact that others attach religious significance to the day should have little impact.

And yet both the secularists who cry out about the non-religious origins and the religious folks decrying the "war on Christmas" are equally guilty of trying to deprive the other side of their holiday. We have secular holidays (4th of July, Groundhog's day). We have religious holidays (Pentecost, Opening Day). And we have joint holidays (the perfect example is below in my song quote). The joint holidays cannot be bifurcated. Why do people try?

Ok, I realize this post was pretty crummy. I think there's some solid ideas here, but I didn't really have a focus. I apologize. Still, I'd like to see if there's some discussion that can be generated here, since I feel like I've got some digging to do into this topic. So here's a couple quick questions:

Why do secularists point out that Christians co-opted pagan holidays? What are they hoping to achieve with that point? What do they achieve?
Is there a way to bifurcate the holiday? Should we even try?
Why do people want to call it a singularly religious or secular holiday?

Ok, go:

Santa Claus knows we're all God's children

Monday, December 01, 2008

Minimum Wage! HYAH!

Back when I was in middle school, whenever my family would visit my Grandparents', one of the first things I'd do was rush up the stairs to my uncle's room to play Sega. My uncle is just a year older than me, so we've always been pretty close. He always had all the good toys and games, including his video game systems. While we'd play he'd often put in a CD. My primary focus being on "getting Blanka to do that one move", I didn't give the music in the background that much attention.

In those days I was not the big music lover I am now. I listened largely to oldies, with occasional forays into Top-40 radio. It just wasn't that important to me.

Then one night, when I was a freshman in high school, I was at a cast party, after one of our plays. The host was a really cool senior, that everyone looked up to. He put in an album that he wanted everyone to hear, because he was real excited about the band. As it played I realized that I knew all of the songs on the CD. Turns out I had been listening when my uncle played his music. I had a great conversation about the music with the host, and later told my uncle all about it. The next Christmas I got that album from my uncle. One of the seminal gifts of my life.

The album? Flood, by They Might Be Giants.

This was the album that really began my love of listening to music. I stayed up late every night of that Christmas break listening to that CD over and over. I loved it then and I loved it now. My music listening has expanded tremendously, but to this day I consider Flood to be the greatest album of all time. The songs are fun, the music is tight, the sound is balanced, the instrumentation is flawless, and "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is one of the most perfect songs ever crafted.


Fast forward to last Friday night. I've got half a dozen TMBG albums, a bunch more mp3's, have passed their music on to a sizable handful of other people, and watched a documentary about the band. But I've never been to one of their concerts. The day after Thanksgiving, they had a concert here in D.C. They played two sets. The second set was terrific - at least one song from all of their albums, great humor, excellent variety, crowd participation, even the lighting was well-done - and they played two awesome encores. Heck, they even played a much-loved song ("Why Does The Sun Shine?")(Answer: The sun is a mass of incandescent gas) and a follow-up tune that reflects the more current scientific understanding ("Why Does The Sun Really Shine?")(Answer: The sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma").

But the first set; Unbelievable. Their first set was greater than words can express. Simply outstanding. They played Flood straight through, in its entirety.

I got to see my favorite band - the band that made me love listening to music - play the greatest album of all time. I can't think of much that would be better.

We're having a good time
Rock'n'rolling 'til the break of dawn