December 25, 2010

Flashback!

To an old, and quite popular, post I did a few years back:

The Holiest Day of the Year.

Because, let's face it, for guys the big deal is getting some. Merry Christmas!

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posted by Thursday at 12:46 pm 0 comments

December 22, 2010

Pascal's Three Card Monte

For those who don't know, Pascal's Wager runs something like this:

A) If you believe in God, and are right, you achieve paradise when you die;
B) If you believe in God but are wrong, there is no afterlife, so when you die nothing happens;
C) If you don't believe in God and are right, there is no afterlife, so when you die, nothing happens;
D) If you don't believe in God and are wrong, you burn in Hell forever;
E) It is only reward and no risk to believe in God, so why not?

The problem is that this is binary thinking in what is pretty much guaranteed a non-binary system, at least for these choices to be available. Pascal is only concerned with the Christian God in his reasoning, and fair enough given his time and place: he was a Catholic in France in the 17th century, specifically a Jansenist, a group who focused on the "fall" part of mankind. Amusingly, it's stil occasionally used today in misguided efforts to "convert atheists through reason" by people who probably don't actually know who Blaise Pascal was...

I'm going to use the same counter described by Euripides when he thought of this same argument centuries before, and for much the same reason. But first things first: Pascal's assessment of risk.

The assumption he makes is that there are two potions, believing on God or not. To which the proper response is "Which God do you mean?" There is all of one mention of atheists in the Bible, in Psalm 14:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.


...Which certainly puts them in their place, but that's just being scorned rather than punished. No, punishment is saved for those who worship the wrong Gods, or worship God in the wrong way. Boy HOWDY do those guys get it! There are regular wholesale slaughters of people who decide to worship different Gods or in a different way that Yahweh commands.

So given how those who believe in the God of Pascal's faith treats people who believe in him, but do so in the incorrect way (both in the multiple variants of Christianity and in the multiple variants of Islam and Judaism), what chance do the followers of other divine images have? Pascal himself said that the understanding of God is infinitely remote, so no one actually knows what it is God wants. Any one of the hundreds of images of God could be the "right" one!

So let's say Pascal and I both die - bound to happen, really, what with us being the same age and all - and go off to our reward. Then what?

Me, I die and whatever happens I can say honestly and with a clear conscience that I didn't think there was enough proof to support the existence of any God, so I didn't worship at all, sorry about that. Poor old Pascal, on the other hand, clearly believed that God existed and was happy to worship Him... right up until he was face-to-face with Horus. He's going to have a fun time explaining his way out of that one!

Seriously, what if the ancient Eqyptians were right? Or some version of Shinto where the afterlife is nothing but hanging out with your parents for eternity? Or that Mohammed was the last prophet of God, but only the Sufis got it right?

The long and short of it is that the followers of false gods are treated worse than the followers of no God at all. Which means for Pascal, there's a one in ten thousand chance he guessed right; for me, it's straight up 50-50. That, and the very real, very practical benefit of not following any scripture is that I can decide how to live for myself, and can choose to change or adapt my life as I see fit or as I'm convinced otherwise.

I'll take that bet.

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posted by Thursday at 2:45 pm 0 comments

December 14, 2010

Why WikiLeaks Helps Diplomacy

"Tyrants tremble when they see their people with their tongues wagging."

-Italian satirist Gregorio Leti

It becomes increasingly difficult to take any of the talking heads seriously when they openly call for the assassination of a private citizen for the high crime of... embarrassment. Because, frankly, that's all the latest document dump on Wikileaks has done: embarrassed the U.S. State Department and some of the ambassadors involved.

Thus far, that's the sum total of the "damage" caused. So Canada "discovers" that we are regarded as touchy, insecure, passive-aggressive and with a tendency to knee-jerk anti-Americanism? Is there anyone out there who cares to dispute that? Heck, anyone with 20 minutes and access to the internet could discover that; and anyone with a sense of history and basic knowledge of humanity could figure it out just looking at a map! These are all tendencies we share with the other "small neighbours" of the world: New Zealand, Portugal, Ireland... Small economies beside much larger ones can be a little twitchy. Sorry about that.*

(Not to make light of hurting American diplomat's feelings, but it ends up that 20 hours with a television is actually how this conclusion was reached by the State Department. No, really.)

The cables from Mexico revealed a deep concern with the drug war going on there, especially in the border states, and whether the army can succeed in those ongoing battles.

Where things get interesting is seeing what the reaction will be in nations that lack a free press: the knowledge that other Middle Eastern nations don't support Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmahinejad has him scrambling to paint the entire thing as a set-up by the American government in an effort to discredit his leadership. Why would he do that? Because he knows that there's no way to stop the information from getting to the self-same population that he's been telling the exact opposite to.

I don't see any harm in revealing to the world that China is getting sick of the antics of North Korea, and that the younger members of the Party see little return from supporting North Korea, as their economic interests are minimal there when compared to Central America, the United States, and Africa. Bringing this out into the open does nothing but strengthen negotiations with North Korea, highlighting the madness and isolation that is Kim Jong-il. If this report makes it to the North Korean people, his position is weakened even more.

In those nations that do have a free press, what is being talked about? Mostly gossip: the worst that could be said about the relationship between most European countries and the Unites States has already been said by some newspaper or other. Describing German Chancellor Merkel as "risk averse" or French President Sarkozy as an "Emperor without clothes" is hardly shocking news.

Likewise, few surprises are coming from diplomatic cables in Central America: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is "crazy"; the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan have made association with the U.S. a political hot potato in Brazil; and the State Department wants to know how Argentina's new President Christina Fernandez relaxes after a long day.

The worst nation to get "hit" was likely Turkey, who's Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan is mentioned as being in an isolated bubble, an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisers"; and who's foreign minister is called "exceptionally dangerous".

In all of this, what is actually known is out and in the open. Diplomacy that relies on playing into a leader's delusions is only effective until either the leader or his delusions change, and frankly that is going to happen sooner or later. The only thing that can have any lasting power is negotiation based on reality: anything else is doomed to failure.

*Did I mention passive-aggressive?

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posted by Thursday at 4:03 pm 0 comments

December 12, 2010

You Won't Understand

...But thats okay. We just wrapped up production of a Mother Goose pantomime, so I haven't been here terribly often. It's been a long few months, as ever with any production, and playing the villain has left my voicebox in shreds. Today was a day of rest (and rehearsing another play - bit part with no singing, thankfully!), so I spent it writing up tomorrow morning's radio show and throwing a parody of the panto together in an exercise to make an ouroboros proud...

If you don't get it, that's okay: it's not for you to get.

Mother's Goosed - A Parody

(Whoops! Looks like there is some concern about mistaking actors for characters, so down it comes. Sorry!)

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posted by Thursday at 9:32 pm 0 comments

December 03, 2010

I Said QUIET!

Admit it:

When you heard that a man was shot and killed with a crossbow in a public library, you were thinking the same thing I was, weren't you?

He would have used a gun, but didn't have a silencer. Hey, it was in a library!

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posted by Thursday at 2:05 pm 0 comments