Category Archives: Philosophy

Use Your Birthday for Charity

A good friend came up with this idea recently that I thought was pretty brilliant: when your birthday comes around, rather than ask for a gift for yourself, encourage potential gift givers to donate to a charity. My thinking is that even if this idea caused only one person to donate where they wouldn’t have otherwise, then it was worthwhile.

Well, my birthday is coming up soon and so this seems like a good time to try to spread this fine idea. I considered recommending an environmental organization like Sierra Club, but I think that the folks at Against Malaria might be doing work that would benefit from more immediate attention. I also think that even small donations go far with them.

Putting Charities to the Test
According to Guide Dogs of America, the cost of training a dog is around $42,000. So if you had $42,000 to give, you could greatly improve the life of one blind person.
But what if instead, you spent that $42,000 on eye surgeries for people with trachoma in Africa? Helen Keller International, which works to prevent blindness, says trachoma surgery costs as little as $25 per person and is 80 percent effective. That same money, then, could restore the sight of 1,344 people.

Mark  Very good! Every little bit helps. I was just thinking about the unnecessary stuff we accumulate and how hard it is to get rid of.
John  I would give, but I heard that Africans are afraid of getting shots and all the money goes to warlords. Plus, even if you *did* save someone, think of the quality of life they’re likely to have after! And, how do you even know that it works? These things are so poorly tracked.
Clifton  Well, John, the money would not easily end up in warlord hands as it goes to purchasing nets. People generally aren’t that afraid of nets.

As for the quality of life, I think the going-in assumption is that people would rather live than die, regardless of the attendant hardships. Given that this is true for most people, we might go a step farther and assume that the average child doesn’t want to die from malaria.

This is from a section on the web site where efficacy is published for Ntcheu District, Malawi: “Malaria incidence, compared to the same month in the prior year, is 50% lower in Mar 2012, 50% lower in Apr 2012, 45% lower in May 2012, 45% lower in Jun 2012.”

John  Well, what about the Syrian refugee crisis? Isn’t that more important? I read somebody calling it the worst humanitarian crisis since Rwanda. And, why not donate within the USA? Continue reading Use Your Birthday for Charity

Colbert and Sci-Fi v. Fantasy

So, I’m tempted to think that the reason I feel some apathy toward fantasy is how easy stories like Game of Thrones and LOTR make it for writers to use magic as a deus ex machina. Of course, the same could be said of Star Trek and “technobabble.” So, why is it easier for me to forgive Star Trek? Well, for one, I think it’s more fruitful to converse about technobabble. You can actually talk about real science when you’re talking about why Treknobabble is pseudoscientific.

So, why do I prefer Star Trek to Dr. Who? Well, for one, Dr. Who doesn’t give us a homo sapiens that has overcome its pettiness. Star Trek — to my delight — explores the possibility of what comes after Sagan’s, “If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” It seems to me that the Doctor performs a similar capacity to the Vulcans: overseer of the humans. They’re both waiting with their fingers crossed to see if we continue surviving each new genocide, pandemic, or other crisis and continue evolving (intellectually if not biologically) to eventually become spacefaring. (Also, the critical attitude of the Vulcans toward humans seems much more realistic to me than the avuncular attitude of the Doctor toward us.)

That’s infinitely more interesting to me than the idea of constant, secret alien visitation on earth by hostile aliens that require earth to be saved by other kindly aliens. This is essentially the idea of Transformers as well and how cool would it be if the Transformers did what Picard and company do? (Not cool at all if all you want to see is hot robot-on-robot carnage! But, that was well-covered in the first Transformers movie!)

Another thing about fantasy: why are so many important characters in Game of Thrones and LOTR humanoid? This seems forgivable to me with respect to Star Trek because the original series probably lacked funding for advanced effects and make-up. Humanoid aliens were just more practical to make and act. Game of Thrones and LOTR were books, though. Books don’t have budget constraints, right?

And, why, why, why must fantasy take place in a magical corollary to the Dark Ages? Actually, an answer occurred to me as I was typing the question: it may have been in the Dark Ages that magical thinking most flourished.

Discussion Concerning the Anti-Gay-Marriage Argument from Tradition

The cosmos is about 13.8 billion years old.
The human is about 200,000 years old.
The first recorded marriage involving a human occurred about 2,674 years ago.

Marriage contracts were first recorded in the Late Period (661-332 BC), and continued until the first century AD. They were often drawn up by the husband to establish the rights of both parties to maintenance and possessions. The law did not require a marriage to be recorded.


Appeal to Tradition

The argument supports a position by appealing to long-standing or traditional opinion, as if the past itself were a kind of authority.


Marie  I suppose you don’t consider Adam and Eve to’ve been married?
Mark  Did you snope this already? j/k
Joseph  Whoa whoa whoa … I thought everything was only 6,000 years old. Check your facts, heathen.
Clifton  Marie, this hadn’t actually occurred to me. From what I can gather, the thinking behind such a position is that Eve was "wed" to Adam because she was taken from a part of his body and then added back to him to complete him. If that is what it takes, then I would imagine that no marriage since has been valid. No?

Mark, I didn’t. As always, I am open to contradiction. I claim no expertise. Incidentally, Snopes generally does an excellent job of avoiding the argument from authority, which seems to me to be one of the human’s most abused fallacies.

Joseph, I’m glad you responded. I always wonder why my irreligious friends get married. Perhaps you can explain it to me. From my perspective, if you want to be with somebody, you will do that. Fidelity shouldn’t be a problem because you both agree to certain terms prior to formally entering into your relationship. Continue reading Discussion Concerning the Anti-Gay-Marriage Argument from Tradition

My Carbon Footprint for 2012

1.80 metric tons at 10,000 miles
1.62 metric tons at 9,000 miles
1.44 metric tons at 8,000 miles
1.26 metric tons at 7,000 miles

1.56 metric tons at 10,000 miles
1.41 metric tons at 9,000 miles
1.25 metric tons at 8,000 miles
1.09 metric tons at 7,000 miles

Secondary Measurements
2.91 metric tons with daily red meat
2.61 metric tons with white/red meat
2.30 metric tons with mainly white meat
2.00 metric tons with mainly fish
1.70 metric tons with mainly vegetarian diet
1.39 metric tons with vegan diet


Louis C.K. and (Not) Being Evil

I finally watched the first episode of Louis last night and, although I laughed at this bit, I was disappointed and a little disturbed that it ended with just a smirk.

Which is why I’m so pleased to find this:

Louis C.K. gives $280,000 to five charities after ‘Live at the Beacon’ sales rocket to $1 million

(The first episode of Louis premiered in June 2010* and his big donation occurred in December 2011.)

So, how could I possibly be disturbed to begin with? Well, crazy as it may sound, I don’t wish for people to suffer horrible misery when I can easily help to alleviate at least some of that misery.

Because I know that not everyone is as crazy as I am, here are some selfish reasons to give away your precious money:

Research suggests that many people think that spending money on themselves will make them happier than spending it on other people (Dunn et al., 2008). But there is evidence from various different studies that, on average, this isn’t true:

  • Participants who were given $5 or $20 to spend on another person were happier than those who spent it on themselves (Dunn et al., 2008).
  • People who spend greater proportions of their income on giving to others or to charity are happier than those who spend it on themselves (Dunn et al., 2008).
  • Canadian and Ugandan students who thought back to times they’d been generous to others were happier than those thinking back to money they’d spent on themselves (Aknin et al., 2010).


Perhaps you’re still worried that you’re just going to be giving money to some African warlord.* That’s probably unavoidable. Perhaps you don’t want to remove anybody’s incentive to pull herself up out of the gutter. There are lots of reasons that people don’t give.

Well, if you happen to visit this site, I think most of your uneasiness will be alleviated. Perhaps (after donating) you will sleep even more neo-nascently than June 2010 Louis Szekely did.

Burt Lancaster: Atheist

“I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in a hereafter or a God,” announced Actor Burt Lancaster in London. Or, evidently, in good timing, since Burt’s remarks came just hours before a royal command performance of his movie Moses. Partly recycled from his six-part TV opus Moses The Lawgiver, the feature-length film shows the actor as bearded religious leader rather than dashing ladies’ man. “Since I’m 62, that gets a bit embarrassing,” Lancaster allowed, “although I am still susceptible to the charms of a 19-year-old girl. Like any man, I suppose, I’m still a bit of a ‘dirty old man.’ ”


Nick Sagan on Carl Sagan

He had a knack for pinball, knowing just how hard to bump a machine without tilting it. We’d go to arcades together and he’d win bonus games like mad. Videogames were never his thing, though he could appreciate the better ones. I remember the day I showed him Computer Baseball, a strategy game for the Apple IIe. You could pit some of the greatest teams in MLB history against each other. We played Babe Ruth’s 1927 Yankees against Jackie Robinson’s 1955 Dodgers for about an hour, and then he turned to me and said, “Never show this to me again. I like it too much, and I don’t want to lose time.”


George Will Contrasts Liberalism and Conservatism

“Conservatives favor freedom and are willing to accept inequalities of outcome in a free market; liberals tend to favor equality of outcome and are willing to sacrifice and circumscribe freedom in order to get it.”

“What conservatives say is…‘we will protect you against the liberal faith that they can make something straight from the crooked timber of humanity.’”

[June 3rd, 2008, The Colbert Report]