Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taxonomy of Theism

 - Theist: Believes in god in spite of lack of proper evidence and/or logical integration.  Tries to form his ethics according to some moral guidelines on this basis or experiences guilt over his non-compliance.

 - Atheist: Doesn't believe in god.  Doesn't claim he can prove god doesn't exist, instead he dismisses such a claim as he does with any arbitrary claim.  Doesn't form his ethics as if there is a god in spite of it.

 - Agnostic: the transvestite/hemaphrodite of theism.  Can't quite bring himself to believe that god exists but is unwilling to say that this makes him an atheist, which term he wishes not to be associated with.  May form his ethics partly or fully with the same fundamentals as the theist.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Atheism as Non-theism

My friend Greggystills writes at his blog:
"As I understand it, strong atheism is the claim that there exists no god.  For such a claim to be true requires either complete knowledge of all that exists, or a really lucky guess."
He is on to something.  You cannot prove a negative assertion on existence because it requires omniscience.

I have a thought in response. And it is about the nature of certainty.  When you come to know something, it is always based on and abstracted/inferred from perceptual evidence.  You see and hear things interacting and you try to find explanations for the phenomena that you encounter.  And when you see things happening always C when A and B interact, then you form theories about the nature of that interaction and about the entities A and B.

Certainty can only arise from evidence provided by your senses when you are engaged in non-contradictory identification.

But what if you have no evidence at all, perceptual or otherwise?  I have no evidence that Martians will invade Herndon.  I don't believe that Martians exist.  Why?  No reason to.  No evidence, direct or inferred.

I don't believe in a god.  Why?  No reason to.  The label for this concept is "a-theist".  A "theist" is defined by Princeton Wordweb as "One who believes in the existence of a god or gods".  What then does it mean to be athiest?  It means that you are one who doesn't believe in the existence of a god, or more specifically, that you fail to meet the criteria of being a theist (in the full affirmative).

Accepting the label of athiest (properly understood) doesn't mean that you hold a belief that is not proved.  It means the opposite: that you refuse to hold a particular belief that is not proved.  And if you are a rational person, you will always consider new evidence presented by your senses and processed by your faculty of reason.

Non-existence doesn't have to be proved.  Arbitrary claims have no cognitive standing and the burden of proof always rests on the one whom asserts in the positive.  If you recognize this, then you understand that atheism is a term which shouldn't have to exist, in the way that a-martianism doesn't exist.

You'll note by the way that my definition for atheism does not include a moral component.  It says nothing about what you actually believe and which ideas you consider important.  This is the other thing that I believe Greggystills was standing against.

In common use, the term "atheism" is colored with baggage.  In the least, people consider atheists immoral.  At worst, evil.  Regardless, people somehow think they know a thing or two about you if they can paint you with the label "atheist".  But they misunderstand the term and so they misunderstand the consequences. Just as believing in God doesn't automatically make people engage in behavior you might call good, the opposite belief doesn't automatically result in what you might call bad.

There is no evidence on which to associate atheists with a specific moral code or the total absence thereof.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Notes About Copper - For Shelly


Copper - aka "The Buddy"
So I got this new kitty on new years eve and his name is Copper and he's a Bengal.  If you're friends with me on BOOKFACE then you know that I've been posting a lot of pictures.  Well I'm glad to hear that I'm inspiring some interest in Bengal cats because I can't seem to stop photographing him when he's being cute.

Shelly asks...
...how much are you loving your kitty? I think I'm getting ready to get a new kitten and I'm lovin the bengals. Do you have any "heads up" for me? Copper is beautiful. How old is he? How hard are they to train? Does he get up on your counters?
So here is my FAQ on Copper and since I don't know how representative he is of Bengal cats, let's just say this is more about him then about Bengals.

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How old is he?
  • He was two when I adopted him.  I got him fixed shortly after so he was neutered as an adult and is still going through his changes.  I am significantly less allergic to him than when I first got him though.

Does he get up on my counters?
  • Just about every moment that he can.  And he can open drawers and cabinet doors.  He's also been on top of my fridge and on top of the roofline of the cabinets.
  • I've given up trying to keep him off at this point.  He doesn't mind water for the most part.  Doesn't like loud noises but that doesn't make for much when you're trying to keep him off your counters.

What do I love about him?
  • He's got a very strong personality.  Just look at his face.  He's got this whole... I'm a punk thing going and it's kind of awesome.  
  • He *is* indeed Gorgeous.  The pics don't lie.  I think he's probably the best looking cat I've ever had.  His coat has this rich metallic brown under-layer.  Very stunning under bright lights (and on the red carpet)
  • He's very playful and kitten like and loves little catnip mice ($2.50 for a 3-pack at Target - yay!).  When he's playing with those he charges all around the apartment.  We play together.  I throw the mouse, he pounces and goes crazy.  It's like a one-sided game of fetch.
  • He really likes shrimp and chicken.  I can give him "treats" directly from my hand and he's very gentle about taking them.  
    • However, while you're eating your food he will get up and try to sniff it... repeatedly.  And I'm sure that moves to eating it if you let him go far enough.  
    • Kate W on Bookface remarked: "Be careful, though. Bengals are feisty. Not just run-around-the-house feisty. More like claw-food-straight-out-of-your-hand feisty."  Almost true but we're only at sniffing so far.
  • He does generally want to be with you.  He's very interactive with a strong, curious, and playful personality.

Is he a lap kitty?
  • Rarely.  When I am home, he seems to wander a lot, talking to the walls.  He takes a long time to settle in and does so better when I'm in front of the TV rather that at the computer.  Too bad for him I compute more.

What is difficult about him?
  • Keeping him off the counters.
  • He really kind of doesn't shut up.
  • Trimming his nails can be tricky.  He hates it.  Has actually tried to claw me in the face once or twice over nail trims.  Still figuring it out... but lately I have to get him purring and then do one or two nails at a time.
  • He really doesn't respect the computer at all.  He is constantly between me and the monitor and occasionally types e-mails.

What has been easy?
  • For the most part, he knows where to scratch.  The main place he scratches that is improper is on my office chair.  But I have yet to see any damage.  (In fact, he's standing on the back of the chair now, which is about an inch-and-a-half wide and not too stable)
  • He was litter trained and knows where to go.  That said, he covers up thoroughly and tracks litter dust for quite a while afterward.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

FSA/HCRA: Holding Your Money Hostage and Creating Waste.

In recent years, I have made a small but significant use of the Flexible Spending Account (or Healthcare Reimbursement Account) benefit which my employer provides.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is basically a pre-tax medical escrow account that you can draw on to pay co-pays, costs for prescription drugs, corrective eyewear, and previously over-the-counter medications.

This last is the subject of my post.  The FSA has always been cumbersome.  Your employer requires that you predict during the year before what amount you would like to be put into that account during annual benefits enrollment.  The dollars which are set aside held hostage are drawn as pre-tax dollars.  You have to spend it during the next year.  They get to keep what you fail to spend by the end of the year.

Starting in 2011, they now require a "statement of medical necessity" for any over-the-counter medications.  I am certain that this has to come from my doctor, and I am also certain that my doctor would be required to document that I have visited them recently to produce this.  This may be fair on their part since they have to be compensated for their work, even if it's clerical bullshit imposed by the IRS because of odd tax laws.

Here's the thing though.  I'm buying allergy medicine, Lortadine.  A year's supply is roughly $15 at Costco.  A doctor's visit probably costs $60-90 dollars ($15 out-of-pocket).  If I were to bug my doctor for this statement, the total cost would likely be much more than the $2-$5 dollars in tax savings I would get.  And even if I were narrowly focused on my out-of-pocket costs - that would still be a net loss.

I thought this story was worth sharing.  It is a small example of how onerous government tax structures designed to influence people into behaving in certain ways results in greater waste.  That is: more net cost, less benefit.

What can be done?  Here is a list of suggestions.
  • Remove all tax incentives for medical care - especially the tax break for employer provided health insurance.  
  • Remove any regulations on medical providers and insurance companies.
  • End all coercive welfare/redistribution programs, especially Medicare, and let voluntary charity handle situations where people cannot afford their own care.
  • Reduce the size of government and simplify the tax code.
Combined, all of these actions will result in leaving medical providers free to structure their services according to their best judgment and will require them to compete in a price and value coordinated market for medical services.  It will leave consumers of medical services with more of their income and will permit them the exercise of greater choice.

Medical care *is* broken in America.  This will address the cause and not just the symptoms.

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If you want to know more about America's medical disease, see also: Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine - http://www.westandfirm.org/