Wednesday, September 20, 2006

John Mayer's Blog

I was reading an interview with John Mayer on, I believe, and it was a pretty neat article. He's interested in doing stand-up comedy and sneaker design, of all things, but he doesn't want to do it based on his success as a musician. He wants to earn those things, which is extra cool in my book. When asked if he was thinking about acting, he said that if he did, he'd want to do four years of stand-up first, so that he knew he wasn't some ungrateful musician taking the acting job of somebody who'd put himself through the paces.

Anyway, there was a link to his blog, which I've found quite amusing and interesting. It's here, and though there's a lot of technical music stuff there, if you sift through it, there's some neat musings, as well. The music video for his new song, "Waiting for the World to Change," is there, and I like it quite a bit. I like that he's felt comfortable branching out from pop into the worlds of blues and hip-hop, and that he's been willing to grow as an artist.

And for any of you who haven't seen it, go to YouTube and watch this video right now. It's friggin' amazing.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Validity of Opinion

I often hear two statements bandied about that are taken by most as equivalent. They are:

Everyone has the right to his/her own opinion.

Everyone's opinion is as valid as everyone else's.
The first is something with which I strongly agree. The second is something with which I couldn't disagree more.

Let me explain.

I don't think I have to spend too many words to let you all know why I think that everybody has the right to an opinion, whatever that opinion is, and however repugnant it may be to some. Freedom of expression is fundamental to our ideals as a nation, and to mine as a person. But beneath that freedom of expression is the freedom to hold whatever opinion it is you want to express. For some, maybe that goes without saying. That's probably true. I just wanted to make it explicit.

As for the second claim, though, that everyone's opinion is as valid as everyone else's, I don't just disagree with it. I don't think that anyone agrees with it, regardless of whether or not they say it. Everyone necessarily priveleges certain opinions over others, in their view, by adopting them as theirs.

For instance, it's my opinion that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the last decade. Now, people certainly have the right to disagree with me, and think that High Fidelity was a big steaming pile of crap, but from my standpoint, I don't have any obligation to consider that opinion as equally valid as my own. I have considered all of the same evidence as the person who despises one of my favorite movies, and I've come out on the opposite side. If I truly think that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the past decade, it would sure weaken my argument to concede as equally valid an argument that High Fidelity is one of the worst movies of the past decade.

I don't by any means advocate disrespect, or mischaracterization of others' positions. I don't advocate character attacks, or false inferences drawn from opinions of others with which I don't agree. For instance, if I said that somebody who didn't think that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the past decade is the 21st century equivalent of those Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s who burned the great books of our past, I would be dead wrong, and I would deserve to be called on it.

What I do advocate, though, is a forceful expression of opinion, without the need for concession to opposing opinions with which you truly don't agree. Every time somebody starts an expression of their opinion with something like, "I understand why some people would think High Fidelity is the worst movie of the past decade, but..." the whole argument is undermined. It may seem like it's a bit thornier with more serious issues than movies, but it's really not. All I'm saying is that we have to have the courage of our convictions, and we have to express them with poise and confidence.

To do any less would be a disservice to ourselves and to those whom we would seek to convince.


Losing [My] Religion

My last post was a setup for this one. I hope you've had time to absorb it a bit.

With this post, I wanted to outline my own religious views, as they've been shaping up for the past few years. It's something that I've been quite up front with myself about, and increasingly so with people outside of the online arena, but because of the associations most people have with the words involved, I've been a bit hesitant to vociferously self-identify in this way. But you know what? I've decided it doesn't really matter what people think of me. I'll go into that a bit more in the next post. For now, though, on to the main event.

I consider myself a weak atheist and a strong agnostic. For those of you who don't feel like scrolling back down to the last post, here's what that means: I lack belief in a God or gods, but I don't make the positive assertion that they don't exist. That's the weak atheist part. As for the strong agnostic part, I think that it's not just unknown whether or not God exists, but that it's fundamentally unknowable, by the very definition of the word.

You may notice that I'm very careful to not say that I'm outlining my beliefs. I don't say that I disbelieve in God, because that would be strong atheism. Lack of belief is not at all the same as active disbelief, and I'd like to be very clear with that distinction.

Some strong atheists would question my weak atheism. That is, they would question why I stop short of asserting that God doesn't exist. For me, it's purely a question of logic. Just as it's illogical to assert without evidence that God exists, it's also illogical to assert without evidence that God doesn't exist. That is, both require at least a small "leap of faith" to jump from the evidence to the conclusion.

That is not to say, though, that because something's existence cannot be disproven, that is reason enough to believe in its existence. I could rattle off, literally until my dying breath, any number of concepts that could not be disproven, each more ridiculous than the last. But there would be no basis for belief in any of them simply based on the fact that they cannot be disproven. In fact, I would have constructed them specifically so that they could not be disproven by logical means, in the same way that the idea of God cannot be disproven by logical means.

This is where I get into the strong agnosticism. In fact, it's completely tied up in that place where weak atheists and strong atheists differ. As soon as you define something whose existence is fundamentally unprovable by any means that would convince somebody else absent a revelation of faith, then we've gone into the realm not just of the unknown, but of the unknowable.

* * * * *

I don't expect this to change anyone's mind or anything. Far from it. I just wanted to get it out there and see what y'all thought of it, if anything. I've been talking about posting about my convictions on the subject of religion for some time now, and I figured that time had come.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Primer on Atheism and Agnosticism

Most people, when they hear the word "atheist," have a definite picture that forms in their minds. The picture is what more nuanced people would probably call a "militant atheist," and more likely than not, that person is probably tearing up a bible, or maybe spitting on a crucifix.

But atheism is a much more subtle beast than that, and comes in more varieties than most people realize. I'm gonna try to lay out the four major overlapping divisions of atheism here.

Implicit Atheism

Only those who define atheism in the broadest sense (as I tend to do) really recognize implicit atheism as a type of atheism at all. Put simply, implicit atheists are those who lack theistic belief without consciously rejecting it. By this reasoning, somebody who was born, lived his whole life, and died with no exposure to religion, and who didn't formulate religious beliefs on his own, would be an implicit atheist. He quite obviously lacked theistic belief, but he didn't actively reject that belief, since he was never given the opportunity. Those who buy into the concept of implicit atheism then say that everyone on the planet is born as an implicit atheist.

Explicit Atheism

Given the definition of implicit atheism, the definition of explicit atheism is obvious. An explicit atheist is one who consciously rejects theistic belief. This probably sounds closer to that picture that forms in most people's heads when they hear the word "atheist," but we're not quite there yet. There are two more subdivisions of atheism that overlap with those that I've already laid out here.

Weak Atheism

A weak atheist is someone who lacks theistic belief, without the positive assertion that deities do not exist. This may seem the same as implicit atheism, but there's one important difference: A weak atheist can have consciously rejected theism, but not adopted the viewpoint that deities definitively do not exist. Thus, all implicit atheists are weak atheists, but weak atheists can be either implicit or explicit atheists.

Strong Atheism

Again, here's a definition that follows directly from the one before it. A strong atheist is someone who lacks theistic belief and also positively asserts that no deities can exist. As you can see, if you've been paying attention, a strong atheist is necessarily an explicit atheist, since his viewpoint includes a positive assertion, and not just a lack of belief. But again, not all explicit atheists are strong atheists. Truly, it's the vocal fringe of these strong atheists who make up the pictures that pop into most people's heads when they think of atheists.

* * * * *

Astute readers will at this point notice that such a broad definition of atheism doesn't necessarily exclude atheists (weak atheists, anyway) from being agnostics as well. Let's jump into a brief definition of two differing types of agnosticism here, just to be perfectly clear.

Weak Agnosticism

A weak agnostic says simply that the existence or nonexistence of deities is currently unknown. A look at the etymology of the word makes this clear. The prefix "a-" means "without," and in Greek, "gnosis" means "knowledge." Hence, "agnostic" literally means "without knowledge."

Strong Agnosticism

A strong agnostic believes, like the weak agnostic, that the existence or nonexistence of deities is currently unknown. More than that, though, the strong agnostic asserts that not only do we not know whether or not deities exist, but that it is impossible for us to know whether or not deities exist. Whereas the weak agnostic leaves the door open for mitigating evidence at some point down the line, the strong agnostic asserts that the existence of deities is, by their very definitions, unknowable.

* * * * *

So where am I going with this? I'll get to that in my next post. You're welcome to guess in the comments, though.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Die, Die, Die, My Delta

Yesterday afternoon, my roommate Jason came downstairs with a proposition.

"Hey, Fargus, you wanna go to London?"

Without hesitation, I replied, "Yes. When?"

"Um, I was sort of just kidding," Jason replied, a bit taken aback at how quickly I answered. "Delta's running a special deal where tickets from JFK to London-Gatwick are only $99 each way."

"I say again, yes. When are we going?" I stared him down.

"Well, I don't want to go, I was just kidding," Jason said.

At this point I immediately went upstairs to my room and started researching the trip. Sure enough, there on the Delta website, were tickets to London for only $99 each way. The applicable dates were November 15, 2006 through April 20, 2007, excluding the period from December 15, 2006 through January 7, 2007. The only stipulation was that you'd have to stay over a Saturday night.

The other stipulation was that the tickets had to be purchased by Tuesday, September 12, 2006. Tomorrow.

I immediately got on the phone, trying to find out who would go with me. I figured I could probably count on Oliver and Eli, and that we might be able to find another person or two. Sure enough, Dan, Oliver and Eli said that they'd be up for going over the Thanksgiving holiday, maybe sometime like the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday afterwards.

I went to the website and went to book tickets, just to double-check the prices, and I was surprised to find that it was giving me prices of $525 or so for the round trip. I called up the online help line, and the only thing they could offer me was that the special fares were sold out. There was nothing on the website about there being a limited number of special fares, or about their having been sold out. It appeared that the offer was still good until tomorrow, and I'd assume that it still appears so right now.

So we're not going to London for Thanksgiving, so far as I know right now. But now I've got the travel bug, and I'd like to go somewhere for Thanksgiving. If anybody's got any suggestions for places that might be cheap and fun to travel, I'm all ears.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tonight, Tonight

Tonight I'm at Darren's, and I finished the bottle of Captain Morgan's rum that I started last night. Our lives aren't very exciting when they consist of drinking some rum and playing bad video games, but don't judge me. The video games may be bad, but Ryan got them for free.

We spent a little bit of time abusing a service that was instituted for a noble purpose. The concept of internet relay calling is really a noble thing, and allows people who can't otherwise hear people on the phone to carry on conversations, however labored and awkward they may be. Dan and Oliver discovered this service years ago and used it to make operators say terrible things to me. Anyway, I think it makes it better that I feel a little bad about it now.


Friday, September 08, 2006

A Near-Death Experience

It's been a while since I've posted (8 days shy of three months, to be exact). I'm not quite ready to get back to where I was before, where I was posting exclusively about political things, and a couple of times a day. I don't think I'll ever want to go back to exactly that.

Instead, I'd like to have more of a mishmash of topics in here. Anecdotes, stories from my youth, political postings sometimes, religious postings others, etc. This one will be a story from my youth, and though my recall of it is likely a bit fuzzy, I'll tell it as I remember it, and maybe my dad can help me out with the details.

I spent the first eight and a half years of my life in southern California. My mom, dad and I lived in Orange County for a while, and then in various spots around the San Fernando Valley. One thing that my dad and I used to do every weekend was to go to the Sherman Oaks Park (this is one of those details I might be wrong on, Dad).

I don't remember exactly how old I was, but one day the two of us were on the Ventura Freeway, driving home from the park, when a car went to cut us off. My dad swerved to get out of the way, and that was when the car began to go out of control. We started fishtailing down the freeway, and despite my dad's efforts, the car kept going further and further out of control. The fishtails got wider and wider, and as I recall, I think we even spun completely around once or twice.

I was glued to my seat. There was a knot the size of my head lodged in my throat, which made it pretty difficult to even consider breathing or swallowing. My life didn't flash before my eyes, and I didn't have any grand revelations, but I do very clearly remember thinking that I was probably going to die.

Then, THUD!

All of a sudden we were slowing down, and we weren't spinning anymore. We pulled off to the side of the road, along with the car that we'd hit, to inspect the damage. Somehow, neither my dad nor I was hurt at all. The car that we'd hit was white, but I don't remember what make or model. There were two girls in it, and they weren't hurt either. Remarkably, when we looked at the damage on the cars, we found that their bumper had a dent in it, and our bumper had a crack in it. That was it.

I didn't know about all of the details that went on, while my dad talked with the driver of the other car. All I remember was that I didn't have any shoes on, and the girl who was the passenger in the other car gave me piggy back rides by the side of the road so that I didn't have to walk on the hot asphalt.

Anyway, there's probably some details there that are missing, and some that are inaccurate, but that's how that story's stuck in my head for the last 20 years, give or take. Maybe my dad'll come along and offer up some clarification in the comments.


UPDATE (9/14/06): Here's what my dad had to say in the comments, if you don't feel like clicking through:

Wow. I haven't thought about that for a long time. You got it essentially right as I remember it. I learned to drive on rear-wheel-drive cars and drove in snow in the winter for the first 8 years of my driving experience, and the main thing I remembered about driving in the snow and ice was that you steer in the direction of your skid. In other words, if your back end is skidding to the left, you steer to the left to regain control.

Well, I was driving a front-wheel-drive Honda Accord that day, and as my life flashed before my eyes, I remember trying to steer in the direction of the skid but it kept getting worse and worse as we fishtailed down the freeway at 60 mph, and I couldn't understand why (I later figured out that it doesn't work with front wheel drive). I know we eventually did a complete 360-degree turn, and the drivers all around us were trying to stay out of our way and beeping at me as if I was doing this on purpose.

When we finally stopped, I remember it more as a gentle bump rather than a THUD, but nonetheless, we were shaken but alive.