Monday, November 10, 2014

Brief notes on "The Unbelievers"

I watched a documentary about the promotion of atheism, focused mainly on Richard Dawkins and Lawrence M. Krauss. Titled "The Unbelievers," it followed Dawkins and Krauss around on some of their various and intertwined speaking engagements. Plenty of noted atheists, such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, put in cameo appearances.

I found two aspects of the documentary notable.

A Universe from Nothing?


Krauss is known for his advocacy of the view the universe arose from literally nothing. Krauss says true nothing creates the perfect condition for something to pop into being, albeit with zero net energy (matter and antimatter making up part of the balance, for example).

The documentary showed Krauss appearing on the Colbert Report with host Stephen Colbert. Colbert, playing his usual role as the conservative rube, asks Krauss if there is no god in existence, if god is nothing, then therefore may we conclude that god created the universe? Laughter ensues, since of course that's a joke. But Colbert unwittingly has a point.

Critics have made a point of mocking the idea of God creating something from nothing. And now a scientist says its plausible from something to come into existence from nothing and we're supposed to take it as an evidence in favor of atheism.

The documentary doesn't deal with the anthropic principle. Dawkins badly misunderstands it. Doubtless Krauss would deal with the argument better than Dawkins, perhaps by invoking the multiverse concept. The problem, of course, is how one explains a universe of the type we have based on a random popping into existence. Some versions of the multiverse idea suggest an infinity of universes, making the one we know inevitable (along with all the possible universes). Do either Krauss or Dawkins contemplate the difficulties for that idea? Science Fiction writer Larry Niven wrestled with the idea decades ago, making a strong argument that it makes free will absurd. One literally must take every option and refuse no option. Walk off the cliff if you wish; another you will take the safer option. Or you can walk away from the cliff and leave the risk to your alternate selves. One of them will surely take the plunge if the infinity of universes is sufficiently well populated.

 

How About a Morality Based on Reason?


Dawkins spends some time advocating the idea that we can make our own morality, doubtless one that makes much more sense than those foisted on us by religionists.

But that's a problem right there. Atheists will tend not to agree on morality except where they agree the religionists are promoting something that's between 1 and 100 percent baloney. The view that morals are real (moral realism) isn't particularly popular among atheists. Morality exists only as normative patterns for those skeptics.

The morality problem shows up in the background when Dawkins and Krauss talk about how a democracy needs people who are informed so they can make intelligent decisions about stuff.

One wonders whether either atheist has anything more than a pragmatic appreciation for the democratic principle. Wouldn't both get on board with government by scientific elites? Who better to steer humanity toward a brave new world than those blessed with the intellectual ability to navigate a treacherous future?

"The Unbelievers" tries to paint a positive picture of unbelief, naturally, so the face of atheism in this film is intended to appear free of blemishes. That's unless we count the vulgar denouncement we see from atheists (?) confronting religious protesters.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"The Secret" by Edu Ardanuy

Ordinarily I try to share either live performances or an official video when posting music videos. I'm making an exception for Brazilian guitarist Edu Ardanuy, whose song "The Secret" successfully channels Steve Morse without copycatting. Morse recordings usually include something in this chamber music style.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Firewell" by Jolly

This band reportedly played as the opener for Flying Colors.  That's how I heard of them.  This is one of the songs I particularly like.



What's that guitar? "Warmoth," it says. First time I've seen a Telecaster-style body used with heavy rock. But maybe I just don't get out much.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sex discrimination in automobile insurance

There oughta be a law


Now that the nation has addressed unfair sex discrimination in health insurance, the next logical step is to ban gender rating in automobile insurance.
“The gender gap in insurance is especially real under the age of 25,” says Anne Fleming, president and CEO of consumer review site Women-Drivers.com.

“Under the age of 25, male drivers are absolutely paying more than their female counterparts when they drive the same car, are the same age and have the same coverage.”
The above passage comes from a document that also assures us that men pay more for good reason:  They present a higher risk to insurance companies.  But the same is true with health insurance.  In both cases, gender rating charges more for the gender carrying higher risk.

So it's a simple matter of fairness.  And we'll be making this sensible advance right behind the European Union.  Right, President Obama?


Fair is fair.

Or is it?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Liquid Tension Experiment: "Biaxident" (Live)

My Mike Portnoy as Daario Naharis post serves as a segue to a live performance of "Biaxident" by Liquid Tension Experiment.

Four out of five  Three out of four  (counting is hard) of the group were in the prog group Dream Theater in 2008 when this was recorded.  Bass player Tony Levin is the one not part of DT.  Yes, that's Portnoy on drums.  Enjoy!



Thursday, May 08, 2014

How hard is it to cast Daario Naharis?

Bear with me for this minor Game of Thrones rant.

Okay we had the surfer-dude Daario last season.  This season we get an even more forgettable miscasting.

Why is it so hard to cast a good Daario Naharis?  Two words:  Mike Portnoy.



Daario Portnoy?


He'd have to change the hat and shirt, plus lose the wrist watch, but other than that, Portnoy's the obvious choice. And now I'm wondering if he dyed his beard blue having read the books that serve as the basis for the HBO series "Game of Thrones."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Kansas soundcheck with Steve Morse and Kerry Livgren

Steve Morse is my favorite guitarist, and I've also long been a fan of the band Kansas and guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Kerry Livgren.  Morse replaced Livgren on guitar when Kansas reformed in the later 1980s.

Kansas put out a special live DVD a few years ago, and both Morse and Livgren put in cameo appearances.  But perhaps even better than that, the soundcheck before the concert featured a version of "Down the Road," an early Kansas song, with Steve Morse and Kerry Livgren playing guitar.

It's kind of special.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where's Merlin now?

This is a Merlin. Look it up if necessary, 'cause it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You know, Obamacare may slow the growth of health care spending after all

I've been highly skeptical (along with quite a few experts) that Obamacare will slow health care spending.

It's counterintuitive, after all, providing health insurance to a bunch of people and then see spending on health care drop.

However, I was under the impression that the new health insurance policies would actually be better.  That's what Democrats have been telling us, anyway.  It's now looking like Obamacare sets up strong pressure within the insurance industry to get patients to pay a larger share of their health care costs out-of-pocket, via higher copays and higher coinsurance rates.  The "better" in our better insurance comes largely from lower maximum out-of-pocket spending by the insured.  People who exceed that maximum are a rarity, relatively speaking.

This means that for many routine medical problems Obamacare partially addresses the third-party payment problem.  The third-party payment problem, briefly, simply means that people use more of something if somebody else pays for it.

I don't think this is the outcome Democrat legislators had in mind when they passed the law.  If it was, then it's likely I'd have heard somebody describe it this way.


Correction 2/25/2014:  Not sure how I ended up spelling "Ocamacare" in the title and then overlooked it for so long, but it's finally fixed.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Boston Red Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays, game 4

In the past I've viewed Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson as the potential reincarnation (not literally!) of Cubs/Braves great Greg Maddux.

So it's been frustrating watching Hellickson struggle his way to a 12-10 record and an ERA in excess of 5.0 in 2013.  And it causes me to raise an eyebrow or two at the coaches' decision to use rookie pitcher Chris Archer (9-7, 3.22) in relief while using Hellickson as the fourth starter during the playoffs.



GM Joe Maddon and company have to see something in Hellickson at this point in the season that's eluding me.

It's not that I think Hellickson can't pitch well.  I viewed him as the No. 2 starter for the Rays entering the 2013 season.  So far it hasn't panned out that way.  But beating the Red Sox tonight will do a great deal to make his performance this season look good.  I hope Maddon is right on this one.


Go Rays.


Update 12:31 a.m.

Hellickson cruised through the first inning before getting lifted from the game during the 2nd inning jam he helped create.  The bullpen sustained a shutout through the 7th inning, when the Red Sox scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead.  The Rays didn't score after that.

Game over, season over.  And the game was akin to the season.  Boston played consistently well (still hate 'em; this is just respect) and the Rays played spotty.  Pitching wasn't the strength it should have been, and the batting lineup was dotted with severe slumps from key players.

Go A's or some other team I hate less than Boston.  The lower the payroll the better.