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No, I’m Not Gone

Tuesday July 1, 2008 1 comment

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Just been busy with other things. I do have a couple things in the works right now, though. Never fear!

The first thing I’m working on, which I’m pretty excited about is Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto. Yeah, no kidding… insane. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the movie “Shine.” Best movie ever, in my opinion – and it also happens to be a true story. Here’s a video from that movie. The main character (David Helfgott) stumbles into a restaurant only to baffle the customers at his skill in playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee.”

In Shine, David (aside from all of the other things going on in the movie) finally learns the “Rach 3,” Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, after spending his life studying it. This kind of gives you an idea of what I’m tackling here.

There are many videos on YouTube of people playing parts of it… my favorite is the Cadenza (Ossia). Here’s one of my favorite videos…

I’m not tackling the Rach 3 all at once. For anyone familiar with the piece, and who has the sheet music (in particular, the Schirmer’s Library version), you’ll notice that it’s conveniently broken into sections; 79 sections to be exact. I will be studying it on a section by section basis… in no particular order.

If all goes well, I plan on putting the videos of each section that I learn on my YouTube page. They’ll probably be titled “The Rach 3 Project” or something like that.

I’m starting with section 10, for anyone who has the sheet music. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful melody in the whole piece. I’d considered taking on the Cadenza (Ossia), but right now, it’s looking pretty intimidating. I’ll leave it for later… probably much later.

The other thing I’m working on is a skepticism piece on 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists. While it focuses on the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, it’s also on why you can’t have an honest debate with someone who’s a “True Believer.” Someone who believes something regardless of evidence to the contrary.

I don’t want to reveal too much now, but just know that these things are in the works.

To conclude… read a book. It’s good for you.

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Categories: All, Blogging, Life, Movies, Music

The Easter Holiday From Hell [Religious Irony Intended]

Monday March 24, 2008 1 comment

Yesterday we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus in the normal way… with candy. Joanna and I, being Atheists, just enjoy spending time around the family. I think we know better than to bring up religion on days like that. You’re just looking for trouble.

Anyway, I didn’t really bring this up to talk about religion (solely). Yesterday ended up being a horrible day. It started out good. We went to Joanna’s aunt’s house. Hung out with the family. Had an Easter brunch. Enjoyed the whole “family merriment” thing.

Joanna, being the photographer, had started taking pictures of everyone. Her sister was sleeping in one of the chairs by the fireplace, and she thought it’d be a good picture to get of her. Now, I didn’t actually see the event happen, but apparently Joanna was standing on the hearth, the little elevated plane in front of the fireplace, and somehow she slipped and fell on her ankle.

At first, it didn’t seem that bad. I didn’t even hear her fall. I just looked over and saw her on the floor saying that she hurt her ankle. But it wasn’t long until we found out just how bad she really did hurt it. I’d never seen swelling that bad before. Literally the size of a baseball.

So her parents took her to the hospital and I stayed back with the girls. And from what the doctor said, she apparently didn’t break her ankle. 3rd degree ligament damage.

As we speak, she’s at a foot specialist. They’re determining whether or not she’s going to need surgery. I still can’t believe it. She didn’t even fall that far. Not even a foot. I guess it’s just in how you land. This wasn’t the good way.

Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s more. I took Tessa and Torri back to Joanna’s parent’s house and waited for them to get back from the hospital. Now, you know how kids are, especially when wired on chocolate. Running is definitely part of the repertoire of hyper children.

So yeah, the kids were basically running wild around the house, ignoring my warnings that they needed to stop or someone was going to get hurt. Aside from falling, I failed to mention the whole thing about running with food in your mouth, and how that can lead to choking… and, of course, it did. Tessa runs in from the kitchen, gagging and holding her throat. Jesus friggin’ Christ (a good name to swear with). Had we not enough excitement for one day?

So now I’m giving my child the Heimlich Maneuver while her mother is in the hospital with 3rd degree ligament damage to her ankle. I’d had more than enough danger and peril for one afternoon.

As a side note, to put a skeptical angle on things, there’s an interesting point I’d like to make about the events of yesterday. If there are any religious or superstitious people reading this, I can already determine, with some accuracy, their thoughts on the events that took place yesterday.

If I’d only not been an Atheist, if I’d only had faith in God, these things would not have happened. This is, somehow, God trying to teach my family a lesson. God is punishing me for not believing in Him. I’d like to point out the nonsense in that argument.

First of all, there are completely logical explanations for the aforementioned events. As far as the situation with Joanna and her ankle, she simply lost her balance and fell on her ankle. Jesus didn’t “knock her down” or anything like that. She was on a slick surface with slick socks on (she doesn’t usually wear socks). Concerning Tessa and her choking incident, well, I think we all know why that happened. Running with food in your mouth is bad. You will choke.

I only bring up this point for the simple fact that I’m sure I’ll get comments related to this line of argument. I’m sure that there is even a testable experiment that could be done to prove the validity of this. We could do a study to find out of Atheists trip or fall down more often than Christians or other religious folk. Something tells me that there would not be a statistically significant difference between the groups. I think Jesus pushes people down in equal numbers, among all religious (non-religious) groups. Chuck Norris, on the other hand, only does roundhouse kicks to bad guys.

As another side note, I’d also like to posit an hypothesis regarding Jesus and the Resurrection. I don’t really think that He came back to life and floated up into the air, into the clouds and up into Heaven. I think what people really saw was someone who looked like Jesus, and this guy happened to be doing the “Soulja Boy” dance. Down through the years, the story changed, and morphed into Jesus flying up into the clouds. I think some guy was just “crankin’ that Roosevelt,” or even more likely, he “cranked that Robocop.”

Yuuuuhhhhh!!!

Read a book.

What Does Skepticism Mean To Me?

Sunday December 23, 2007 Leave a comment

What does it mean to be a Skeptic? More importantly, what does it mean to me to be a Skeptic?

For me, it’s a pretty general thing. Basically, I don’t take anything at face value. I don’t just accept things that I’m told without some kind of reasonable proof. I place a very high value on science. It’s the only way we, as human beings, can know anything. And this goes hand-in-hand with my thoughts on faith.

Faith is, basically, an artificial reasoning process. It’s a method of convincing one’s self of something when there is no reason to believe in it otherwise. There’s no reasonable proof of the idea, and so it requires faith to accept it. I do not put faith in anything as far as religion, or philosophical thought is concerned. Again, reasonable proof is the key element.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have any “faith” whatsoever. There are many things that I have faith in. Maybe I should put it a different way. There are many things that I have trust in. I trust that my kids love me. That their mother, the woman that I love, loves me. I trust that when I hold a ball in my hand, before I even let go of it, I know that it will fall toward the ground. I would bet my life on it. I trust that when I put “1+1=” in my calculator, when I press Enter, the number 2 will follow as the result. These previous examples are things that are tangible. Things that have been demonstrated to me. The mathematical examples follow certain laws, things that we’ve learned from science to be true under all conditions. The other two examples are a bit more complicated, but you see my point.

There is a tendency, though, in Skepticism, of being almost dogmatic with it. There is a tendency to become almost mechanical in one’s thinking. And this, it might be thought, may be the reasoning behind why religious believers claim that the theory of Evolution is a “religion.” It’s not necessarily the facts that they’re calling into question. Perhaps, even subconsciously, their reasoning may come from the attitude of the guy claiming that Evolution is fact. His “science is the only answer” attitude.

Science is the only answer when it comes to observational proof. But, when it comes to matters of religion and faith, believers argue and debate more on the level of emotion, and on that of being human – imperfect. When a Skeptic approaches these people in a mechanical manner of thought, reciting facts and such, it doesn’t sound any different than when believers argue from the Bible – citing scripture. In that way, we Skeptics are doing the same thing we’re complaining about. We think science has all the answers, and the believers think the Bible has all the answers. We both use a model of reasoning that rubs against the grain of the opposing party.

Science is not infallible. It is, after all, based on human observation. And this is why, in the beginning of this post, I stated that I only accept things that have reasonable proof. In a deceptive manner, anyone can make anything seem like there is “proof” to support it. You can lie with statistics. You can argue from authority – some guy with a Ph.d in Physics claims that Evolutionary Biology is completely incorrect. How would this guy know? Yes, he has a Ph.d, but not in Evolutionary Biology. So this, to me, would not be reasonable proof. Even more than this, a prominent Theologist could claim that Evolution is wrong, and people would believe him just because of his position – not because of any specific proof or evidence that he offers. In fact, he will probably not offer any physical proof whatsoever. He will, more than likely, try to simply appeal to the emotions of those around him. This is the typical method of reasoning for people of faith.

The main difference, then, is a standard of proof. Believers require some type of allegorical proof. Something that stirs the emotions. They totally distrust science (possibly a “tool of the Devil”). Skeptics, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. Only scientific evidence is accepted. Emotions and allegorical proof is never trusted.

In objective reality, scientific evidence of anything is more reliable than allegorical stories or emotional statements. So, you might say that the real difference between the two groups might be that of education. This, and the fact that there are different ways of perceiving the world. Those who are more “fantasy prone” tend to accept what they are told. They rationalize proof into situations that would otherwise have no proof. Manufactured proof. Emotion plays a large role in how they think. If it feels true, then it probably is. Feeling is the standard of proof.

But I got a little off topic here. I guess my reasoning for going off on that tangent was to talk about what Skepticism means to me, what I want out of the Skeptical philosophy. Why I am a Skeptic.

Skepticism, to me, seems to be the most logical way of looking at life. Religion answers no questions about the world. It only creates confusion. It goes against everything we know about reality. Miracles, supernatural phenomenon and the idea of psychics (prophets). There is no physical evidence of any of these. The texts themselves are morally reprehensible. The death penalty is demanded for the slightest offenses. Rebellious teenagers, women who are married and found not be be virgins, those who work on the Sabbath. All these are punishable by death. And this is where people get their “morals?” And Christians actually have the audacity to ask where morals come from if not from the Bible? The 10 Commandments are supposedly the foundation for all of these “morals?” And what happened before the 10 Commandments? People could just kill, rape and steal all they wanted? Not that they didn’t, because there’s plenty of evidence of that in the Bible as well – all at the command of the Almighty God.

No, morals come from somewhere else. It comes from instinct. And more than that, it’s simple common sense. You don’t need a Bible to know that killing another person is wrong. And anyone who says otherwise is a lying fool. Or they’re trying to deceive themselves, to rationalize their beliefs. I don’t need a God to tell me what’s right and wrong. Christians make up nearly 80% of America’s prison population. Atheists make up .2%. (This study is far from perfect – but there is, nevertheless, a stark contrast between those who claim to be religious and those who don’t as far as prison population is concerned.)

So, if you were going to base morality on what religion someone was, Atheists seem to be the most moral of all religions. Or, at least the most moral when it comes to punishable crimes. In fact, you could probably conclude from this study that believing in God made you more likely to be arrested and sent to jail. I suppose that throws out the whole idea of morals “coming from God.”

As far as what I don’t want from Skepticism, I don’t want to be mechanically minded. I don’t want to be perceived as someone who thinks they’re greater than others because he values science. I’m an Atheist, but I don’t hate people of faith, and I think that is a common misconception. I’m a person, a human being. I’m not perfect, and neither is science. I just have a lot more “faith” in science than I do in religion. Religion, to me, is on the same level as Greek Mythology. Science has a lot more to offer than a 2,000 year old book that has never had a revision to keep up with modern times. 2,000 year old philosophy grounded in bloodthirsty revenge and bigotry.

I feel that since abandoning Christianity and becoming a Skeptic, my life has improved 100%. I no longer feel guilt over thoughts that I’ve had, or for listening to the “wrong music,” or for simply thinking for myself. Having my own philosophies about life. Worrying about whether or not I’m “really saved.” Whether or not I’m following the “right brand” of Christianity.

No more. I now know, from accepting ideas like basic logic and reasonable proof, that there is a better explanation for how life came to be. It doesn’t involve magic. It involves natural processes that we know took place because we can see them taking place today. It’s a liberating feeling.

Being tied down to superstition is a horrible way to live life, and I realize that now after experiencing what it’s like not to have it. I now understand that everything happens for a reason… and that reason is called cause and effect (AKA: The laws of physics or biological processes). Natural phenomenon causes things to happen.

There’s nothing mystical that happens when you get a raise at work. No ghost controlling your boss’ mind. Nothing magical when you find a dollar on the ground. It only seems that way because we don’t see the entire process. We only see the end reseult. Actually, what happened was, someone was walking down the street counting their money and just happened to drop a dollar due to an inadequate grip on the bill, causing it to fall (notice all the physics involved – no magic spells) to the ground. You just happened to be walking in the same area as him. No magic involved. But then again, some people are prone to accept magical explanations – they are fantasy prone, and almost prefer the magical/supernatural explanation over the ordinary/scientific explanation. Maybe it makes life more interesting for them?

To conclude this extra-long post, I’d just like to say that I’m happy and proud to be a Skeptic and an Atheist. I wouldn’t live my life any other way – providing that the evidence supports it.

Read a book.

What I’ve Learned By Playing Chess

Saturday November 17, 2007 Leave a comment

Chess is such a fascinating game. And what makes it fascinating are the infinite parallels between the game and real life.

Upon learning the game, and journeying on to play against people or computer programs that are much better than yourself, you, if you aren’t careful to study your opponents moves, really almost seem to learn nothing. How can this person be beating me? What am I doing wrong? Everything seems to be working against me! No matter what I do, I fail!

At first, your instinct is to try to learn all of the different “openings,” in hopes that you will see moves that you recognize, and quickly counter them. But just as in life, you can’t memorize the behavior of others and react to every situation in the same way. Nothing is stable in life. Even what appears to be solid and dependable often breaks down under even a slight amount of resistance. So it is in Chess.

To demonstrate what I mean, just take into account the approximate number of possible games of Chess that could be played. Leaving out a lot of the complicated math involved, there are more possible games of Chess that could be played than there are atoms in the Universe!! To be exact, there are approximately 1080 atoms in the Universe. That’s a 10 with 80 zero’s after it. A pretty staggering number.

Now, let’s compare that with how many games that are possible in Chess. A guy by the name of Claude Shannon, an Informational Theorist, calculated the number of possible games to right around 10120!!! This, along with the 1043 possible positions! Astounding! You can read more about it here.

A number that size is practically unimaginable. Now, just imagine trying to remember each move for that many games! It’s impossible. And I believe that this is where it is more important to learn basic principles and ideas of the game, rather than positions.

Just as one could never, in a million lifetimes, become intimately familiar with every inch of the Universe, no one could become intimately familiar with every possible game of Chess. It’s theory that’s important. Not exactness of memorization.

You could even relate this to the battle between Creationism and Evolution. Creationists basically base every single idea that they have on the Bible. Memorization of quotes and verses – similar to trying to memorize the myriad of openings. “The Bible says this, and so that’s what I believe, no matter what.” Evolutionists, on the other hand, rely heavily on theory, the consensus of the scientific community. What has been shown to work in the past. Ideas that have stood the test of time. And, of course, experimentation.

Let’s say, for example, someone with a Creationist mindset plays Chess against an Evolutionist, and they maintain their mindset as concerning their beliefs of the origins of life – they apply those attitudes and propensities to playing this game.

The Creationist will play his game very strictly, according to very narrow rules. Do this always in this situation. This is the method in which the Bible teaches. “Knights always respond to such-and-such a position by doing such-and-such,” or, “always move your Queen like this,” etc. People were created by God, and that’s all you need to know.

The Evolutionist, on the other hand, plays very methodically, testing the waters. Where does the evidence point? What has worked in the past? Does what I’m about to do have a solid foundation behind it? His game grows; it evolves. He doesn’t rely on strict rules to govern his play. More importantly, his ideas change as the situation changes. “In past games, moving my Queen like this, in this type of situation, pretty much always worked out poorly,” or, “I’ve always been taught to move my center pawns out early, but in this situation, it would not be a good idea,” etc. How can I change my current playing philosophy to fit more in line with what works? Playing dogmatically is a horrible idea.

Another important thing I’ve learned is that taking risks is necessary. Of course it is impossible to know exactly what your opponent will do, but when you see a good opportunity, taking a risk is almost necessary. And how could this be more like life? The greatest rewards come from taking the greatest risks.

Then there’s the planning aspect. Making moves without any reason behind them, without any future plan is sure to prove devastating against an attentive opponent. You wouldn’t buy a stock without looking into it, just picking randomly. You wouldn’t buy a house just by driving by and saying, “I’ll take it.” And you wouldn’t move your Queen to d5 just because you felt like it.

That’s about all I’m going to get into right now. I think you’ve got the idea of what I’m saying here. Maybe I’ll write a little more about this later.

Read a book. Play/learn Chess.

Categories: All, Chess, Games, Life, Philosophy, Religion

I’ve Found My Truth (The Flying Spaghetti Monster)

Saturday April 28, 2007 Leave a comment

We all struggle to find our own truth. What we consider to be “the Truth” as far as faith is concerned. So many unanswered questions in life. Questions that no one can answer absolutely. Where did we come from? Where did the Universe come from? What is the meaning of life?

Well, I’ve found my answer. I’ve found my Truth. My Truth lies in my Faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can visit the homepage of my new Church here. Everything you need to know is there.

Who is the Flying Spaghetti Monster? He’s the Creator. He’s invisible. He has a Noodly Appendage with which he performs all of his Miracles. He is my God.

Now, if you’ve been to the site and read what it’s all about, you may think it’s absurd. But, let me put this challenge to you. Can you disprove it? Can you prove that Global Warming is NOT related to the amount of pirates in the world? No more than you can prove that “Jesus is Lord.” In fact, Pastafarianism is far more believable than Christianity. We have a graph with statistical evidence. Visit the site for more info.

But there is a deeper issue at hand here. In the educational system, religious fanatics insist that, along with Evolution (a scientific theory), Creationism (Intelligent Design [ID]) should be taught in school. Intelligent Design cannot be proven. And since these religious people insist their beliefs must be taught in the school system, we (the Flying Spaghetti Monsterists) feel that our beliefs should also be given equal time in the education system. There are 10 million of us and growing.

I’m going to leave it up to you to visit the site and see the Truth. But I will end with a prayer:

Our pasta, who art in colander,
Draining be Your noodles.
Thy Noodle come, Thy sauce be yum,
On top of some grated Parmesan.
Give us, this day, our garlic bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trample our lawns.
And lead us not into vegetarianism,
But deliver us some pizza.
For thine is the meatball, the noodle and the sauce,
Forever and ever.
RAmen.

May you forever be touched by His Noodly Appendage.

What’s New? A Blog

Wednesday April 18, 2007 Leave a comment

Looks like it’s been while since I’ve written anything here. Just about an entire month! What’s going on with me?

Well, I’m pretty happy, so far, with my new blog. It’s not actually a “blog” in the normal sense of a blog, like this one is. It’s a place where I publish my short fictions and little creative writing things I’m working on.

It’s still in its very early stages. So far I’ve only got 2 pieces up. The first one, entitled “Video Game’d Out,” shows a picture of two kids sitting on a couch, playing video games. I wrote a caption to go along with it, kind of a short snippet of what their life might possibly be like. The second one is entitled “Hanging From This Tree.” I’m very happy with how this one turned out.

It begins with a strange photo. A dark setting, a tree with what seems to be small packages hanging from each limb. In the background there are mountains. It conveys a feeling of isolation. The story is basically about happiness, and how far we are willing to go to find it… and more importantly, how unwilling we are to look where we are right now to find it. Remember “The Wizard of Oz?”

Aside from this, not very much in the way of “new stuff” has really been going on with me. I suppose that’s why I haven’t written anything lately.

So anyway, take a look at my new blog. I think you’ll find it interesting. I’d also appreciate some comments on it.

Read a book.

The Truth About Environmentalists

Wednesday March 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I’d thought about several ways to begin this post. Should I talk about Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth?” Should I talk about Greenpeace? Global warming? What about how to store nuclear waste from power plants, or warheads? There are a lot of things I could talk about, seeing as how America is the worlds #1 polluter per capita. But, I chose not to talk about these things. I chose to start off by saying that no one really cares about the planet. Not in and of itself.

The truth is that the only reason anyone claims to care about this planet at all is because our actions may, at some point, cause our own lives to suffer some type of inconvenience. We might end up in an uncomfortable situation. Ocean levels may rise, threatening our Oceanside condo. Without an alternative source of energy, we might not be able to get to work, in order to consume more stuff with the money we earn. And, of course, we all need to heat our homes. Why do we need to do that? Because humans couldn’t actually live in the Northeastern US, in the winter, without heat. Humans didn’t originate in cold climates. We moved here. It was our choice. So we need to make our lives comfortable. It’s our “Manifest Destiny.” Meaning, we do what we want, when we want, in the name of God or Allah or Buddha – or just because we really, really want to no matter what.

And how do we make our lives comfortable? Well, that comes at the expense of the planet. We burn wood, fossil fuels, anything. And we never worried about this stuff before. Not until it became known that we may not be able to continue with this behavior ad infinitum.

And so, a search for alternative fuels ensues. We need to be able to constantly consume.

But how much do our actions really effect this planet? Possibly in little ways. Sea levels rising. Stronger storms. Radiation. But, so what? Would that be considered significant change? Our planet has been through a lot worse than those little things in its 4,500,000,000 years in existence. Humans have been roaming this planet for only a few hundred thousand of those years. Heavy industry has only been around for a few hundred years.

We’re so self-important, aren’t we? I don’t think we could stand the realization that we’re only a temporary fixture on this blue and green marble floating through space. That nothing we do could really effect the planet in any significant way. Nothing we could possibly do couldn’t simply be flushed away by a tsunami. Even the most toxic radiation goes away after a few hundred thousand, maybe few hundred million, years. No real significant impact.

What has our planet been through before we humans entered the picture? Ice Ages. Nuclear winter. Meteors. Molten lava covering its surface. Solar radiation (before the presence of a strong atmosphere). So yeah, these things have had a little more of an impact on the Earth than we humans and our Styrofoam and our CFC’s.

The interesting thing is that if we do end up being a big enough pest to our planet, it will simply rid itself of us. We’re merely a parasite on Earth’s skin, picking and tearing and biting. Hurricane Katrina was Earth scratching an itch. So was the Black Plague.

Our planet isn’t worried about carbon monoxide. It has its own corrective mechanisms. Whether it be rising oceans or increasing planet temperature; it will all eventually lead to a disruption in food supply, an increase in disease, and an eventual end to the human race. The Earth makes no distinctions between humans and any other object on its surface. Just ask the dinosaurs about that.

Our planet will be here long after we’re gone. There’s nothing we can do to destroy it. And that fact alone probably hurts more than the illusion that we are destroying it (making our lives inconvenient). Maybe that’s our “inconvenient truth.” The fact that anything we do is actually insignificant as far as global impact is concerned.

This is not to say that I have a pessimistic view on life. I’m just thinking about it in terms of objective reality. Putting our role in the Universe in perspective.

I suppose this is the real dilemma of the human condition. We are controlled by the survival instinct, putting our own survival above anything else. At the expense of anything else. Maybe it’s a struggle to be self-important. Maybe, because of the way our mind functions, it’s impossible for us not to be self-important.

I think it’s great that we’re looking for alternative sources of fuel. But we shouldn’t be doing it under the false pretense of wanting to “save the planet” by not burning fossil fuels. Do it because you don’t want to end up paying $15 for a gallon of gasoline. Our economy depends on an economical fuel source. And how much does our economy matter to the planet? Ha. That’s funny.

Anyway, read a book.