Recent comments

  • Virge's Guestbook   14 years 45 weeks ago

    I found you at the OELDILF site, in the forum, when I was looking for my posts (skipjordan).Clearly you are an IT guy (as I used to be for over 40 years). Your site is interesting!
    I have a website ( where I put some of my limericks for fun (but no profit).
    Please keep in touch.

  • Sense of Entitlement   14 years 47 weeks ago

    I agree that laws and lines of demarcation generally come down to making some category decisions, and I can see why many people are happy to make a marriage category decision on the basis of different-sex (a potentially reproductive union) vs same-sex (a traditionally non-reproductive union), even though physical problems like age may not be consistent with the reason for making the distinction. In traffic regulations we take blood-alcohol content to be a proxy for driver impairment, even though an experienced driver with high tolerance for alcohol who's over the limit might be far safer than a less experienced driver who gets giddy and disoriented after one drink. We try to make laws based on the actual thing we want to regulate, but in practice we need to use proxy measures that are correlates of the really important factors.

    So with marriage, if one assumes that the most important reason to support marriage as a civil institution is to ensure the propagation of the species, then using same-sex vs different-sex as a proxy for reproductive fitness is a fair call. In this crowded world of over 6 billion people, with far more children than can be adequately cared for, my disagreement is with the assumption that we should be making any rules to favor increased reproduction.

    We don't have a problem with lack of children, yet we have traditional institutions geared towards making as many of them as possible, regardless of the social and environmental consequences. Maintaining a traditional system that encourages further population growth is a recipe for a Malthusian nightmare, which can only lead to increased conflict and suffering on massive scales if growth outstrips the organizational and technological changes we need to support it.

    What we have in our westernized societies is a social acceptance of birth control, of reproduction being an option rather than an imperative, of quality of life and relationships being a suitable substitute for fulfillment through reproduction. We've reached the stage where our society is better served by letting people live satisfying lives without any pressure to procreate. The biological urge to make babies and raise children won't magically disappear because we accept childlessness as a morally supportable lifestyle decision.

    As humans we have all sorts of natural urges. Most of them had their usefulness from an evolutionary development perspective. A lot of them need to be artificially limited now that we've already been fruitful, multipled, and covered the face of the earth. Some ideologies and traditions would have us shun birth control, shun relationships that allow emotional and sexual fulfillment without reproduction. Anyone with the mathematics to understand geometric series will see why I consider these ideologies to be blind to reality and morally repugnant.

    Biological urges don't change quickly. Societal mores can change drastically within the space of a few generations, and we need to let them. China has adopted a fairly draconian approach to dealing with the overpopulation problem - their one-child policy. Why should we value relationships that can produce offspring over ones that can't? Allowing and even encouraging same-sex relationship options delays the time when our reproduction laws curtail the rights of those who want babies.

    The categorization issue doesn't need any supporting argument. It's the root values that sex categorization is a proxy for that need reexamination. Why should our society still favor making more babies?

  • Sense of Entitlement   14 years 47 weeks ago

    I think your list is pretty good. In particular, the goals of having and raising children seem to me to be the most important ones to society at large. (Legal asset sharing can be important to individuals, but surely there are other ways than marriage to accomplish this. In fact, considering the number of bitter divorce cases one hears about, I would tend to call legal asset-sharing a necessary evil of marriage rather than a reason to marry. Political bonds between kingdoms were quite important back in the day: do you think that that is how marriage gained importance as a civil institution? I never thought of that, but perhaps there is some merit to the thought. In any case, same-sex marriage would never have worked for uniting kingdoms, of course, but kingdoms are no longer as pressing issues as they were.)

    So to come to the reasonable arguments for the anti-same-sex position: you've already inferred them and addressed them. You say that if the purpose of marriage (to society) is having babies, "we should be denying the right to marry for couples who intend to remain childless, and that includes anyone who can't reproduce due to disability or age." That's a fair point, in my opinion, but not a telling one. Reductio ad absurdum is not always a safe way to argue: I could counter by saying that if the purpose of marriage is to facilitate an emotional connection between two beings (or anything else that includes same-sex marriage), then it should be extended to people and animals. (Fortunately, the bestiality community is not big enough to make this a real issue and complicate the matter further.) No matter where you draw them, unless you are a really hardcore nihilist, lines have to be drawn, and it is not always easy to draw them with mathematical formalism.

    To address your specific point, about what the difference would be: I'd say that the difference is one of kind: biologically infertile couples fall into the class of heterosexual couples, which as a whole, is the class that produces (and usually raises) new members of society. Homosexual couples fall into a different category. Of course you can attack this thesis fairly easily, as I have not provided any outside justification for this division into classes; if you want I can try to take up that end of the debate, but my real point is that categorizing things is hard to avoid, and also hard to do in some empirically/theoretically airtight manner, if such a manner even exists. Do you think that you can do it? How do you distinguish between man and wife, man and husband, owner and pet, even narcissist and self, for instance?

    As I said, arguments can be made for both sides, but ultimately I think that an element of subjective judgment is inevitable. Unfortunately, however Justice is depicted, judgment is seldom blind.

  • Sense of Entitlement   14 years 47 weeks ago

    Judah notes: "hinging on what the function of civil marriage is anyway."

    Bingo. That's an important observation. What are the contenders for marriage function?
    * having babies - in which case we should be denying the right to marry for couples who intend to remain childless, and that includes anyone who can't reproduce due to disability or age;
    * nurturing children - in which case any type of couple (or extended union) should be allowed to marry if they can provide a nurturing environment for one or more children;
    * legal asset-sharing based on a long term non-familial emotional bond - the sexes of the participants really don't matter here;
    * forging political bonds between family groups (or kingdoms) - ditto;
    * asserting ownership and sexual access rights of one person over another - ditto;

    There are probably more (potentially socially useful) functions one could attribute to marriage. I haven't tried to produce an exhaustive list. I'd be interested in hearing of any that specifically require opposite sex couples. I want to hear the reasonable arguments for the anti-same-sex position.

  • The Conversation Continues   14 years 47 weeks ago

    Haha, brilliant, Virge.

  • Sense of Entitlement   14 years 47 weeks ago

    You did notice that "them" in the sentence you bolded refers to "important freedoms", not to "Christians", right? "Level playing field" is still funny, I agree.

    About gay marriage itself, I think that there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides--the question hinging on what the function of civil marriage is anyway. Of course none of the debaters are objective, but when is that ever the case?

  • Memes   14 years 47 weeks ago

    No, I hadn't. Thanks for the link David.

  • Memes   14 years 47 weeks ago

    great stuff here...

    you've probably seen this:

    live, 1996 - on tv no less...

    thanks for sending out these great poems!

  • A wormhole barfed my homework   15 years 1 week ago


  • Sense of Entitlement   15 years 5 weeks ago

    *is still chuckling*

    I think I want to have Stephen Colbert's babies.

  • Sense of Entitlement   15 years 5 weeks ago

    I'm not sure if you can stream this is Australia or not, but here is a U.S. version of the gay marriage, um, debate:

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 6 weeks ago


    And note, there is a big difference between desecrating a cracker that someone has sent to you (and quite likely hadn't been blessed by a priest - how could you possibly tell?)

    If you could tell, I imagine you would be headed to church. And doing quite a bit of time in penance as well.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 6 weeks ago

    Here in the U.S. the extremists ran a huge block of the country, using religion to support slavery. Now, 150 years later, that whole block of the country is still a huge power base for ignorance and idiocy.

    But, if you use voting republican or democrat as a proxy*, you can see the places where that starts to break down... mostly places where, via census bureau, there is a large influx from other parts of the country (looking for jobs/weather/whatever). It's nice people's views being changed by exposure to other nice people's views.

    I've met very few people in my life who, on their views being ridiculed, will say "hey, wait a sec, you're right!" There is no more effective way to get a group of people to stand together than to attack it. The P.Z. Myers blunt approach is preaching to the choir (hee hee) of the already converted, and is actually a negative for gaining more converts.

    *: Not the best proxy in the world, and effective in that region only because the republican party is much more closely identified with the more idiotic southerners. Also not effective amongst the black population, which contains a similar number of idiots, but typically votes democratic as a block.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 6 weeks ago

    I guess part of Myers' point is that religion supports these loonies. There are quiet, calm, peaceful, tolerant people who just want the simple freedom to have their own beliefs (a position I have a lot of sympathy for) despite the having no evidence or the existence of contradictory evidence. And these "nice" religious people provide a huge political power base for the extremists who happen to have the same irrational beliefs, but see the maintenance of their beliefs as a burning passion.

    What is to gain from upsetting these "nice" people? How about the lives and health of thousands of Africans?

    And note, there is a big difference between desecrating a cracker that someone has sent to you (and quite likely hadn't been blessed by a priest - how could you possibly tell?) and going into someone's house and destroying their property. The cracker desecration is a purely symbolic act. It's not an extremist act like a death threat.

    I don't know whether the P.Z. Myers blunt approach will work to weaken irrational beliefs, but it doesn't seem to me that the polite approach has done anything. Leaving people's beliefs undisturbed, unconfronted, unridiculed is a vote for the status quo, and that is hurting real people.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 6 weeks ago

    People hold all sorts of beliefs. Some people believe the number 13 is unlucky; some believe in aliens; some in alien abductions; some in alien abductions for immoral purposes; and some that torturing possible terrorists is a good policy. Odd beliefs seem endemic to the human condition.

    And then there is religion, where belief in the face of contradictory evidence is specifically singled out for praise.

    In any case, I've just read the linked articles at the top. There was some kid who intentionally decided to tweak catholics. If I were a catholic, I'd be thinking to myself he was a pretty obnoxious kid. He was getting death threats for it, which seems admittedly loony, but there are hundreds of millions of catholics in the world. You seldom have to break 1000 people to find outright loonies. Then P.Z Meyers called the whole thing stupid and loony (more power to him, glad someone speaks up and all that), and then offers to really desecrate a cracker. See above note on number of catholics and breaking the 1000 person barrier.

    What in the world is the gain from going the extra mile in high dudgeon to offer to really desecrate a cracker? If he were guesting in the house of the Imbobo people of Lower Lakistashistanika, would he smash the wooden idols he saw on their mantel? He's confusing his belief that people are being silly and superstitious with the fact that when you have enough people annoyed, some of them are going to go over the top. And proving it by going over the top himself.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 6 weeks ago

    John Wellington Wells:

    So you say "A priest's incantation transforms a mass-produced cracker into the...."* I think to myself on reading this, "That's a pretty rude thing to say." Obviously it is intentionally rude, but I have to wonder at the cost benefit ratio on statements like that.

    Ok, I take your point on inflammatory language. As soon as I describe a "prayer" as an "incantation", I've created a jarring connection between a prayer (something that a Catholic would consider right and proper) and a magic spell (something that a Catholic would consider to be evil). The result is then considered shocking and rude. The cost/benefit depends very much on whether making that connection forces thought, or just raises the shields.

    I refer to the Catholic deity as "a person who supposedly lived and died 2 millennia ago" to signal that the evidence for the very existence of historical Jesus is sparse (and almost all provided by writers heavily invested in the Jesus religion). For people who've been taught from the New Testament as an unimpeachable source, this too is probably shocking. I don't think this part is rude at all, but I guess someone who is deeply in love with the concept of Jesus would interpret it as rude.

    And I call their "religion" (a term they deem respectable) a "cult" (something they've been taught is bad). Here my language is ruder and more provocative than it need be. The word "cult" has implications of spuriousness, but it also connotes unorthodoxy, which is definitely not applicable to catholicism.

    Maybe I'm getting too intolerant of incoherent nonsense. Transubstantiation - the idea that the "essense" of something physical changes in a completely undetectable way because of a ritual, and thereafter actually is the broken body of a god - frightens me. I can understand those who take the transformation to be purely symbolic. But when ordinary Catholics believe in literal transubstantiation enough to deliver death threats to someone who desecrates a cracker, a polite description of their unsubstantiated beliefs seems inadequate.

    Perhaps this nonsense is the dangling booger of the religious mind.

    John Wellington Wells:

    *Does the period go before the quote? Is there a space after the ellipsis but before the period?

    The order of period and quote depends on which side of the Atlantic. In the USA the period always goes inside the quote, even if it would make sense outside. As for ellipses, I haven't a clue.

  • On death and deluded philosophers   15 years 7 weeks ago

    I'm pretty sure Critchley didn't touch upon anything of that nature in the interview. He may have in his book.

    Crowding and accumulation of power are real issues for immortality. Crowding is already a worsening problem - one that we need to solve regardless of life extension. While I agree that life extension can hardly help but make crowding worse, I can't bring myself to value death as a solution. I'm pretty sure making death optional would not result in everybody deciding to live for ever, but the space made by deaths together with development of new human life supporting environments might never be enough to satisfy the natural urge to raise children. Some (probably severe) reproduction limits seem inevitable.

    Accumulation of power is a more subtle problem. At the moment, the ability to leave accumulated wealth to descendants is not a reliable way to pass on power indefinitely, because each new generation that grows up in privilege has a chance to squander the inheritance or fail to maintain it. Even with those shortcomings we still have wealthy families that wield disproportionate power. We live with this situation and fight large wealth with progressive tax laws (to very little effect), and fight establishment of tyranny by trying to empower all people (with varying degrees of success).

    An immortal could accumulate wealth, power, and the skills to maintain them indefinitely. If a person does this in ways which are to the detriment of others, then we need to find ways to curtail the behaviour. This is a bug in our current society, not just the hypothetical future. The possibility of immortality merely stops us from sweeping it under the rug - ignoring the pain and relying on natural attrition to clean it up.

  • On death and deluded philosophers   15 years 7 weeks ago

    Since I haven't read what Mr. Critchley wrote I don't know if I am retreading his delusions, but what about the question of the effect of immortality on society. That is to say, if politicians, capitalists, dictators and strongmen never die, what are the odds that the society immortals wind up living in would be miserable? Not to mention very very crowded. Seems to me there might be a good argument for death in there somewhere (so long as it is someone else, of course).

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 7 weeks ago

    Being able to take umbrage at something someone else has said is based in the accepted norms of society. It is an issue of what is considered polite.

    Polite: Marked by or showing consideration for others, tact, and observance of accepted social usage.

    Is it possible to take advantage of peoples politeness to suppress certain points of view? Absolutely. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater--politeness is on the whole worth having. It definitely beats having brawls on the street every time someone opens his and or her mouth.

    So you say "A priest's incantation transforms a mass-produced cracker into the...."* I think to myself on reading this, "That's a pretty rude thing to say." Obviously it is intentionally rude, but I have to wonder at the cost benefit ratio on statements like that.

    I suppose one could argue that there is a straight line from believing that to believing that God sends hurricanes to New Orleans because of licentious Mardi Gras celebrations, but I have to say I know people who believe the first but not the second. I also know cracker backers who believe just as firmly in evolution.

    There is a reason that polite society frowns on comments that feel disparaging to members of that society, and the reason is that without those social norms society can no longer function. The question of when people should be allowed to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes is to be found in the distinction between telling your wife that "those jeans make you look fat" and "there is a booger hanging from your nose." Sometimes you have to chance the consequences; but sometimes it is better not to.

    *Does the period go before the quote? Is there a space after the ellipsis but before the period? While I don't care enough to actually look it up, I'm none-the-less annoyed by it. Sigh.

  • Virge's Guestbook   15 years 8 weeks ago

    Thanks for the heads-up, Lel. Sounds like it could be fun.

  • Virge's Guestbook   15 years 9 weeks ago

    Hey Virge, a friend of mine works at the Boston Museum of Science, and they are looking for submissions of Evolutionary Haiku.

    Starting in mid-April, they'll be displaying Darwin
    artifacts from collections alongside a kiosk that will display haiku poetry with evolution or Darwin themes submitted by staff, members and the general public.

    If you wait a few weeks you'll probably be able submit your haiku directly to the MOS website (, but if you want to submit one before that, just email it to me at and I will pass it along to them directly.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 19 weeks ago

    Judah, you seem to be suggesting that I would in some way prohibit freedom of speech when someone wanted to say race-related things. Not so. (I do draw the line at speech that could incite violence against any group.)

    If someone said "that race of people has subaverage intelligence" (like people were saying in the bell curve debates a decade or two ago) and you thought it was wrong or stupid or possibly right but socially irresponsible etc., then the appropriate response is not to curtail freedom of speech but to answer, to criticize the beliefs being expressed. Censorship grants too much silent unaccountable power to those who apply the gags.

    I think it is fair to recognize the real difference between a person holding a stupid belief, and that same person after they've broken away from the ignorance or the social culture that helped maintain the stupid belief. One can (and I think should) criticize a belief rather than the person who holds it, because people can and do change their beliefs.

    If I must respect persons so much that I cannot call their silly ideas silly, for fear of being accused of saying that they are silly persons, then you can forget freedom of speech.

  • Every religion has them   15 years 19 weeks ago

    Although they are not on the scale of the perceived Islamic terrorist threat, the abortion clinic terrorists should not be ignored.

    Fortunately the last examples of Catholics executing Jews for Host Desecration was back in 1761 and the likelihood of any resurgence of this practice is small if it doesn't have at least tacit government support.
    However, so long as it's easy for any citizen to get a gun and go postal, I'd be reluctant to write off emailed death threats as hollow.

  • Freedom of speech vs. umbrage   15 years 20 weeks ago

    I believe in freedom of speech too, but don't tailor it to your fit. After all, many people disagree with you. You believe their beliefs are stupidity. That's fine, and you have every right to say it.

    But what of views that you personally find distasteful? Say, "the natives of this country tend to be dishonest", or "that race of people has subaverage intelligence". In my view, that falls under precisely the same freedom-of-speech umbrella as your example.

    I'm not sure whether you agree with the above. You seem to be drawing a distinction between criticizing a person and criticizing a belief, and suggesting that the latter is more acceptable than the former. To me, that seems like a hard line to draw.

  • Every religion has them   15 years 20 weeks ago

    Hmm, without making any particular judgments, it does seem to be true that Islam is fostering more violence this century than any other religion. I don't think one can legitimately compare death threats that are not intended to be carried out with actual acts of terrorism (or, if you don't like that word, killings of people who are not personally known to their killers).