Showing posts from July, 2017

Trump’s assault on trans rights is predictable political theater

Trump's decision to reverse an Obama-era rule that would have allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military has provoked a predictable wave of comments, such as "The military isn't a place for social experiments," and "It would have been asking for sexual assault," and many others I need not repeat. Labels and buzzwords are tossed out like "politically correct," "social justice warrior," "regressive left," etc. None are particularly useful or meaningful—they merely reinforce tribalism—and appear to mostly represent people's discomfort with the inevitable upheaval of the status quo. When I reflect on the increasingly toxic political climate of the last decade, it seems to me that a few issues have been at the root: 1. Advancement of lgbtq rights, particularly the legalization of gay marriage and repeal of DADT, the debate over transgender rights, the debate over "rape culture," and how these issues ar…

I am really confused about grace

Randal Rauser has published a book entitled What's So Confusing About Grace?, in which he navigates the theological nuances of Christian soteriology in a manner intended for the layperson. You can read his post about the book here.

I considered commenting on the topic of grace on Randal's blog post, but I have to respect that this book is quite clearly not intended for atheists like me; it's written for Christians who are confused about what they are supposed to believe. Launching a debate about soteriology in the comments of Randal's announcement post would have been discourteous and inflammatory. Instead, I thought I'd share my thoughts here—not about the book, which frankly I'm not interested in reading since I am clearly not among the target audience—but about the topic of "grace" in general.

What's so confusing about grace? What's not confusing about it? Randal remarks on the back cover,
At first glance the Gospel seems straightforward: &…

Straw-manning feminists because it's cool

Recently, Michael Shermer (of whom I'm generally a fan) claimed that Sandra Harding, a philosopher of science and influential feminist, had called Isaac Newton's "Principia Mathematica" a "rape manual."

Today, I read a similar statement from an anonymous source shared on Facebook which claimed that feminist and philosopher Luce Irigaray called the equation e=mc2 a "sexed equation" because she argues that "it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us". The original source of this claim is apparently a criticism of her work by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont published in 1997.

Both cases were repeated by Richard Dawkins (of whom I'm also generally a fan) in a 1998 essay entitled "Postmodernism disrobed."

In both of these cases, the feminists were using what educated adults should know as a "rhetorical device." In the former case, Harding was using sarcasm in her criticism of Sir …

The problem with Alien: Covenant

I'm gonna lay my cards on the table now: I liked Alien: Covenant. I really liked Prometheus back in 2012. I'm fully aware of how divisive these films have been for fans of the Alien franchise, and I'll debate the quality of these films all day. But Covenant was a mediocre performer at the box office, and it's a good opportunity to explore what went wrong and where the franchise should go next.
*Spoilers for Alien: Covenant follow* Ridley Scott had, and has, no desire to essentially remake the original Alien. It was a pioneering movie for its time, but if you watched for the first time today you'd probably be underwhelmed by the primitive special effects, predictable (and stupid) deaths, and xenomorph hugs.

I don't think too many people have a problem with the first hour or so of Covenant—i.e., everything that happens before David finds what's left of the crew. The initial setup is done very well, and the climactic end to the first act with the 'neomorph…

On Milo Yiannopoulos' critique of Islam

Milo Yiannopoulos is often painted as an anti-Islamic bigot by his leftward critics, perhaps rightly so. For my part, my introduction to Milo's critical thought process was an article for Breitbart in which he argued that women should be forbidden from pursuing science and math degrees because they tend to change career trajectories later in life. My initial assessment was that his rhetoric consistently has a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater flare to it, in which some nuggets of truth are used to argue for solutions to problems that don't exist. I wanted to see if this instinct would be correct regarding his views on Islam, so I watched on of his talks and read some articles and interviews about his views on Muslims and Islam.

Milo makes a compelling point in arguing that mainstream Islam is a problem. This is not all that divorced from something that, say, Sam Harris might argue. In Saudi Arabia, as in many other Muslim nations, women are severely oppressed. Gay people c…

"Mad Max" is a terrific game, and a timely warning

I'm currently spending my sparse free time with the video game Mad Max, which was released to modest reviews in 2015, but I overlooked it in the onslaught of triple-A games released in the same period. I purchased it on sale last year, but it sat idly in my Steam library, not so much as installed. I fixed that last week.

As a game, Mad Max is essentially a mishmash of more innovative predecessors. The hand-to-hand combat is borrowed generously from the Arkham series. The driving (there's a lot of driving) is a lot like Rage, but I like the driving in Mad Max better. The progression and world has a distinctive Ubisoft flare, liberally using well-established tropes from series like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry. It shouldn't be a special game, being that it stands on the shoulders of giants. But that's only a deficiency insofar as it feels familiar, and that familiarity makes it easy to pick up and play.

Playing the game now seems a bit more timely than it might have …

About those "eyewitness accounts"...

“There is not a single mystical belief that is not supported by numerous cases of eyewitness evidence.” — Isaac Asimov

The supplement industry is an argument against libertarianism

Broadly speaking, I have two basic gripes with libertarianism. The first is that it assumes that in a free and unregulated market, people will act rationally and in their collective self-interest; research in behavioral economics has shown that to be false. The second is that, at least in my experience, the term 'government' is used as a catch-all term to describe some sort of monolithic entity, failing to make relevant distinctions between (say) an authoritarian regime and a democratically elected representative government comprised of civilians.

Now before someone stops reading there and tries to get pedantic over libertarianism, it's worth pointing out that libertarianism is itself a fluid and contentious concept. In my experience, a lot of people who identify as libertarians don't actually believe in a fully unregulated laissez faire economy (or, if they do, they're pragmatic enough to know it's a fantasy); lots of them are just republicans who can't ge…