An intervention (or, more on the most worthless stat in baseball)

I totally made this up, but I think it could happen.

THE CAST

Mark Shapiro — GM of the Indians

Eric Wedge — Manager of the Indians

Travis “Pronk” Hafner — Designated hitter, clubhouse leader

Grady Sizemore — Cleveland’s version of Derek Jeter, except without the rings or the bad defense and better offense

The ghost of Bob Wickman — former closer of the Indians

Assorted other Indians players, Johnny the Batboy, and a ham sandwich named Melvin.

Scene 1 (early 2007)

SHAPIRO <on the phone>: Yes, yes, Mr. Dolan. I know we don’t have a Proven Closer ™ this year. Of course I’ll get one. You can depend on me! <hangs up>

Now, let’s see who’s available that will shut Dolan up… Keith Foulke! He helped win a World Series in Boston! Let’s get him!

<calls Foulke’s agent>

Mr. Jewstein? I would like to hire Keith Foulke. He is good at pitching. We will give you money in exchange for his services. What’s that? …. No, I don’t think you’re an idiot. This is how I talk to everybody… Great! Tell him to come to spring training.

<hangs up>

Great! Now, I should get a couple more pitchers in case Foulke doesn’t work out. Roberto Hernandez AND Joe Borowski are still available?!? I’m on the phone so I can call their agents and acquire their services for money! I have money and I need services! Pitching services!

Scene 2: A meeting in the Indians clubhouse (End of spring training)

SHAPIRO: You there, manager of the Cleveland Indians Professional Baseball Club who is known as Eric Wedge! Come here!

WEDGE: For the last time, Eric is fine. What do you want?

SHAPIRO: One of the gentlemen who throws baseballs later in the game for our club has chosen to retire from the sport of baseball, which our business (the Cleveland Indians) partakes in!

WEDGE: Look, Dolan gave you a new contract. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced you’re smart enough to stick around. Me, on the other hand…

HAFNER: Hey, skip, I heard Keith Foulke bailed on us. Who’s the closer now?

WEDGE: What? That… Who on our club has saves? Saves are important!

SHAPIRO: According to this computing device which may be kept on one’s lap or other flat service, both Joseph Thomas Borowski of Bayonne, NJ and Roberto Manuel Hernandez, from Santurce, Puerto Rico, have acquired countless saves in the past… specifically 80 for Mr. Borowski and 326 for Mr. Hernandez.

SIZEMORE <running up to catch the news>: Isn’t Hernandez older than dirt? ::giggles boyishly::

SHAPIRO: Young Master Sizemore, I do believe that Mr. Hernandez is over forty years of age! This is a salient point, and should play a role in the decision making process, Baseball Manager Wedge.

HAFNER: Aren’t you still a rookie? Go fetch my laundry, rookie! <gives Sizemore a hot foot>

SIZEMORE: Oh, Pronk! ::giggles boyishly, then skips like a metrosexual::

WEDGE: Borowski it is then. I’m glad we have a Proven Closer this season!

EVERYONE: Woo hoo!

Scene 3: Middle of May, after an Indians win and Joe Borowski save

WEDGE: Thataway, Joe. Good game!

HAFNER: Yeah, Joe. Here, rook, get Joe and me a beer!

<Ryan Garko starts to get up, but Hafner waves him down until Sizemore shows up>

SIZEMORE: Sorry, Mr. Pronk, my beloved lord and master, I was retrieving the balls as befits my status as a rookie!

GARKO: Uh, Travis, isn’t Grady –

HAFNER <whispers>: You want to do it? <Garko thinks better of it>

SIZEMORE: I’ll be back in a minute, my noble sir ::giggles boyishly and prances off. Two female fans swoon.::

BOROWSKI <muttering>: I hope everybody likes me. I need to be loved! FOR CHRISSAKE WON’T SOMEBODY LOVE ME! ANYBODY!?!?!?

HERNANDEZ <melts in from the shadows>: Joseph, heed me well. I well know the ways of the professional athlete. If you wish to be well regarded, you must appear to be as those who came before. <melts away>

BOROWSKI <muttering>: Yes, yes of course! I’ll start watching film of Bob Wickman! Everyone loved him, even though he was fat! I know, I should gain more weight and shave my head! Then I’ll start pitching like him! Yes!!!!!!!! <calls wife> HONEY, PLEASE TELL ME YOU LOVE ME! PLEASE!!!! I NEED TO BE LOVED!!!! <dial tone> NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Scene 4: A meeting in Wedge’s office. HAFNER, BOROWSKI, AND VICTOR MARTINEZ are present.

WEDGE: Joe, we need to talk. You’ve been getting saves, and saves are good, but you’re not being very efficient.

BOROWSKI: Oh, no, I’m sorry, skip. Please don’t hate me! PLEASE!!!!!?!? I NEED ATTENTION!!!!!!!!!!!

HAFNER: What’s his problem? Rook, get him some more beer! <looks around, sees Grady isn’t there, then notices Victor> What the…? Who are you? Are you also a rookie?

MARTINEZ: I was here last year… and the year before that…

HAFNER: No way. That’s spooky.

WEDGE <whispers to MARTINEZ>: He’s a DH. We told him not to worry about playing the field, and it seems he’s forgotten everybody who does. He knows all the pitchers, but calls all the position players “rookie.”

HAFNER: That’s okay, I’ve got some beer under my seat.

WEDGE: No beer in team meetings! Now, Joe, I brought Travis here because he’s kind of our clubhouse leader –

HAFNER: Damn straight, skip.

WEDGE: And Victor because he’s the catcher and has the most contact with you. Victor, do you want to explain the problem?

MARTINEZ: See, Joe, the problem is that you need to control inherited baserunners better, as well as your own.

BOROWSKI: I… see. I… have failed. OH, MERCIFUL JESUS, STRIKE ME DEAD!!!!!

HAFNER: Lighten up, Joe. You want a beer?

WEDGE: NO BEER!!!!

HERNANDEZ <melts in from the shadows>: Borowski, you have not convinced them. The one called Wickman was never questioned and was always beloved. You must continue to be like him! <melts away>

WEDGE: What the…? Did you invite Roberto here, Joe?

BOROWSKI breaks down weeping.

Scene 5: May 31st, 2007 in Mark Shapiro’s office.

SHAPIRO: Good day, friends and employees all! I have gathered you together to discuss the contributions of our comrade Joseph Thomas Borowski, second in the American League of Major League Baseball in saves! All hail the bountiful statistic that is the save!

All shout: “Hail the save!”

SHAPIRO: Now, Closing Pitcher Borowski, it would seem we are at something of a crossroads here. You continue to accumulate the save, and yet, you pitch quite poorly. Your Earned Run Average, which is calculated by dividing the number of earned runs by the number of innings you have pitched, is a quite ghastly 6.50. I feel, my good man, that you are not maximizing your potential.

HAFNER: I’m thirsty. Beer, anyone?

SHAPIRO: Designated Hitter Hafner, there shall be no consumption of alcoholic beverages in my office.

HAFNER: Damn.

SHAPIRO: Nor shall there be profanity.

HAFNER: Well son of a –

SHAPIRO: I ask you, Mr. Hafner, to depart before you incur my righteous wrath!

HAFNER: Fine. Come on, rook. <everyone in the room leaves except for BOROWSKI, WEDGE, and SHAPIRO>

BOROWSKI: PLEASE DON’T FIRE ME!!! IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, PLEASE, GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE!

WEDGE: Take it easy, Joe. Look, I know you came from the Marlins. We aren’t going to send you back there.

BOROWSKI: OH, THANK YOU, TREASURED LEADER! A THOUSAND TIMES THANK YOU!

SHAPIRO:  Do behave as a professional baseball player, which you are, Mr. Borowski. We are simply asking why you perform so poorly. Perhaps it is a mechanical issue?

PITCHING COACH CARL WILLIS <spits out chewing tobacco>: It almost looks like he’s tryin’…

GHOST OF BOB WICKMAN: OOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I am he who was once Bob Wickman! Who dares summon me?

SHAPIRO: According to my payroll sheet, Mr. Wickman, you are no longer an employee of the Cleveland Indians Professional Baseball Club, nor are you dead, so I do not see how you can possibly have appeared here.

WEDGE: Wait, which one is Joe?

SHAPIRO: Zounds! That’s it! Mr. Borowski has possessed by the ghost of a living player! But only the most powerful voodoo priest could have possibly unlocked such a mighty spirit.

HERNANDEZ <melts in from the shadows>: It is I, Roberto Hernandez, who dared summon the unthinkable horror –

WICKMAN’S GHOST: Wait a minute –

HERNANDEZ:  For one reason only! I wish to claim the closer’s job and all of its glory for myself!

WEDGE AND SHAPIRO gasp. BOROWSKI cries like a little school girl. WICKMAN’S GHOST spots an unfinished hoagie and begins eating.

WEDGE: But you’ve got over 300 saves!

HERNANDEZ: I know, but… everyone thinks I’m so old…

BOROWSKI whimpers, looking like a puppy dog with his big sad eyes. 

SHAPIRO: You were born on November 11th, 1964.

HERNANDEZ: I know that!

WEDGE: Hate to break it to you, Roberto, but you’re actually pitching worse than Joe. He has a better strikeout to walk ratio.

SHAPIRO: He also has a lower Walks + Hits divided by Innings Pitched.

WEDGE: You’ve allowed a higher average against.

SHAPIRO: If not for his opponents striking the most prodigious of pokes against him, he would also have a lower Earned Run Average than you.

BOROWSKI: I… would? I’m not… worthless?

WEDGE: Of course not, Joe, you’re the second best man in the AL in saves!

BOROWSKI: This is the happiest day of my life!

HAFNER <ducks back in>: Anybody else want a beer?

EVERYONE: Oh, Pronk! ::laughter, including Grady’s boyish giggle::

Fin.

The most worthless baseball statistics ever (A review you can use! [tm])

Now, as Monty Python would say, for something completely different. Those of you who were on the site I had a long time ago (when I was a freshman in college) have seen a version of this; I have updated it to include knowledge I have now that I didn’t have then. In order to be truly worthless, people must actually care about a statistic.

5. Wins (for pitchers)

Like many of the stats to follow, this stat is highly context dependent. Over a large enough sample size, it’s valid (say, a career), but in any one season, there are lots of examples of bad pitchers with bad K/BB ratios getting wins because they play for strong offensive teams. There’s a very low correlation of wins from season to season; BP, in their work Baseball Between the Numbers, rates it a .20 R value. The rules for a win are just too context dependent: 1) a starter must go at least five innings and have a lead when he leaves or 2) a reliever must come into a tie game, the tie broken while he’s the pitcher of record, and the lead maintained after he leaves. Imagine, if you will, Johnny McStarter, who pitches five shutout innings and has a 12-0 lead. He tweaks his hamstring, so he leaves the game. Lousy Relieverington, on the other hand, gives up 12 runs in the fifth inning, and because the manager is asleep or dead, starts the sixth inning. In the bottom of the fifth, the team scores another run, and Lousy somehow gets an out (let’s say baserunner interference). If he is replaced by Awesome Q. Reliverman, who finishes the game without even giving up a hit, it is Lousy who gets the win.

4. All-Star Appearances

Initially, this was not in my list, but the folks at Fire Joe Morgan converted me. Again, these are context dependent. Even worse, since every team MUST have an All-Star, even putrid players get onto All-Star rosters (I’m looking at you, Mark Redman). This isn’t as bad now, as there is a stronger incentive to maximize All-Star construction, since the winning league gets home-field advantage, but in the past, there were periods where just being alive would get you an All-Star spot. Even zombies were strongly considered, if they came from the Pirates. Maybe it’s a terrible year for a particular position in a particular league (off the top of my head, the year the AL had four shortstops and one 2B). Like the Gold-Glove, below, there is a tendency to give people All-Star appearances to people who have had them before.

3. Gold Gloves/Errors

Terrible fielders get Gold Gloves. Exhibit A, Derek Jeter. Exhibit B, Mike Bordick. I’m sure there are more. The two stats are interrelated, which is why I am combining them. People judge defensive performance by fielding percentage, or errors+chances/chances. Mike Bordick had zero errors one year; this was less because he was a stellar shortstop than because he barely moved. If a ball zips right past you, and you make no effort, the scorer won’t give you an error. If you dive for a ball, jump up, and throw the ball to first, but ball goes over Shorty Q. Firstington’s head, it’s your fault, not his, and you will be charged with an error. Derek Jeter makes two good plays every year, and then people are all “OMG PANTS GIVE HIM A GOLD GLOVE.” Derek Jeter is a consistently below average shortstop, with one or two years as an exception. Alex Rodriguez could outplay Jeter at SS today, after a readjustment period.

2. Runs Batted In

I debated putting batting average here; ultimately, I left it off the list (for reasons you can read in the honorable mentions category). Bad hitters can get lots of RBIs. Read that again, I’ll wait. Good? Okay. In 2004, Tony Batista played for the Baltimore Orioles and got 100 RBIs, which makes many old school baseball people spooge in their pants. However, according to VORP (Value over Replacement Player, a BP stat), he was WORSE than Jim Bob Triplea would have been in the exact same position. Joe Carter has over 1,000 RBIs — his OBP was .307. Leadoff hitters will rarely get RBIs; that doesn’t make Ichiro or Rickey Henderson less valuable than Shea Hillenbrand or Mr. Batista, to name two players who get 100 RBIs without contributing anywhere near as much as the former two. Really good hitters will get plenty of RBIs because they are in the middle of the order, where they should be. The converse is NOT true.

And the most worthless stat of them all — Continue reading

Why I Am A (Semi-Reluctant) Theist (Significantly Less Funny)

Tony graced us with his explanation of why he’s an atheist and a defense of atheism in general. Now it’s time for me to slightly-rebut and explain why I’m a theist. Brace yourself for action!

Okay, now that I have my brace on, it’s time to begin. Now, at the beginning, I too was actually an atheist. Not of the thinking variety (as Tony is), but rather of the unthinking variety: I never really thought about it one way or the other but instead just decided that I didn’t really care about religion. In my household, my parents were irreligious. My mom is an irreligious Jew, and my dad an irreligious Catholic. They raised four roughly irreligious children who went very different ways—my younger brother is a hardcore atheist, my sister a Buddhist, my older brother some type of tree-worshiper (last I checked, though I’m probably being a bit harsh…), and me, the Orthodox Jew. Funny how that works out sometimes…

Anyhow, I decided roughly at the age of 16 that I would become Jewish. This decision was, in part, because I wanted to take the road less traveled, but I didn’t want to be the kind of kid who “takes the road less traveled” by taking the road traveled by every single teenager and built by 40-year-old advertising executives with ponytails. But even after my decision to become Jewish (and to start practicing after I left for college), I would not say that I actually believed in a higher power. Even after I started reading Torah sections each week, I still didn’t really _believe_. I thought that some were interesting stories—and that other parts, like the census, were incredibly boring—but stories nevertheless. John Derbyshire wrote an article or blog post or something once in which he talked about faith, and I agreed with him entirely. Effectively, he argued (if I remember it correctly) that there really is not that strong of a tension between faith and reason, and they don’t actually fight against each other all that much. Instead, the difference between religious and irreligious people is actually the existence of faith. Faith exists outside the realm of reason, which means that you cannot will yourself to have faith or develop it through logical explanation. Either you have it or you don’t, and Derbyshire pointed out that he, sadly, did not. He has never known what it is like to experience legitimate faith, so even though he was an Anglican who would go to church each week, it was never truly a religious experience, but rather a social one. Derbyshire rationally understood the social benefits of believing in a higher power (or at least acting like it)—generally better behavior from individuals and another connection to other people as actual people rather than abstract trading partners—but was never really certain the actual existence of one. That pretty much sums up my thoughts as well: I wanted to believe in G-d, to believe that what I was reading is the truth, but I entirely lacked faith.

This changed somewhat after reading Witness by Whitaker Chambers. Those who have heard of the book generally know it as the story of taking down Communist spy Alger Hiss, but when I read it, there was something much more important. Even better than reveling in the experiences of convicting a legitimate enemy of the republic was something profound which Chambers wrote concerning Communists and faith. Now, a fair number of scholars and many non-scholarly types have pointed out that Communism acts as an ersatz religion, but I think that Chambers was the first person I read to elaborate upon something even more powerful: when you lack faith in G-d, you generally tend toward a faith in man, as happened in Communism. People need an ideal or a concept of perfection in which to believe, and when you put all of your faith in man, you envision a perfect type of man* (New Soviet Man being a great example of this). When real man fails to live up to this standard of perfection, there are two things you can do: either lose your faith in man or decide to “remove the impediments” keeping man from being perfect. Chambers took the first strategy and ended up developing a real faith in G-d in his later years, but most Communists took the second tack, blaming the kulaks and the international bourgeois conspiracy and sundry other “external forces” for man’s flaws.

After thinking a lot about this, it pushed me on the first steps toward having some sort of faith. As I said, I don’t believe that you can actually rationally develop faith, but I do believe that you can hide latent faith using reason, and I believe that this is what I was doing. Even though I was always of the “original sin” style of thought regarding man, recognizing that man is inherently flawed and could never attain perfection of any sort, this did not directly translate into religious belief, but after reading Witness, I did want to give it a try. In my senior year of college, I had the opportunity and started going to an orthodox synagogue, and the funny thing here was the mixture of people who attended. I think that I wasn’t the only one who was going the orthodox route to try to see if there’s some way to develop faith, as there were a couple of people there who seemed like they were struggling to be religious. As a result of all of this, I was able to honestly say that I believe in G-d although my level of faith was still, well, quite limited.

In fact, even to this day, I would not consider myself to have a particularly high level of faith in G-d. I sometimes go into “suspension of disbelief” mode when I’m reading some religious texts and I sometimes have my strong doubts about the unknowable—the afterlife, the future, and even the past to an extent. But I have gone through enough experiences to have some amount of faith. None of these experiences have been the mind-shattering miracles that some people have, but rather are a combination of many small things and a desire to believe that man is something more than a long chain of mutations coming about from a freak accident. So, is this proof of the existence of a deity? Of course not, and for me to claim otherwise would be to contradict myself. As I said before, I don’t believe that you can actually _prove_ the existence or non-existence of a deity, due to the fact that you can’t use reason to prove or deny faith, as they are separate entities. Every logical proof to attempt to show the existence or non-existence of G-d fundamentally hinges on the idea of faith, and you can’t get around it. This is not to say that religious people lack rational belief—trust me, nobody who has read a significant amount of Rabbinical works could possibly believe this. Rather, it is to say that we should not be talking about the tensions between faith and reason, but rather the orthogonal nature of faith and reason.

And that’s where I come from in the existence department. I have a wholly different take in the desirability of belief department, however. In this case, I would consider it a benefit to have a religious society over an irreligious society. As Tony pointed out, religion has been the excuse for much evil. But in contrast, atheistic societies have been devastating—take a look at the death tolls in Communist countries and, if you’re feeling particularly plucky, Nazi Germany as well (Nazi Germany is a much more difficult case to make, considering that a portion of Hitler’s support came from the Catholic south and he had to placate them to an extent, but if I remember correctly, it is fair to say that he was himself an atheist who believed at most in pagan spirits, and many of his top advisers and leaders were not exactly religious men).

Tony says that [his] “environment, education, and upbringing” are the foundations of his morality, but this just pushes the problem back one step. Environment, education, and upbringing are dependent upon others, and also upon the moral codes of others, so where did they get theirs? These are not natural constructs; there are no morality trees whose fruits we pluck to gain notions of honesty and fair dealing. Nor are they entirely the conscious products of men; no man has deliberately created a moral system worth a hoot in hell (I’m feeling Pattonesque today). In fact, when people try to develop moral systems as rational exercises, there is a major risk that it will devolve into murdering all those who do not live up to the perfections of the system. The reason is that most people who attempt to craft such systems fall into the “faith in man” category of things, and when man is perfectable, flaws must be man-made and therefore punished. There is no chance for redemption because there was no acceptable reason for failure. So a totally artificial system of morals, aside from being useless (because no mind could ever comprehend, much less encode, the entire gamut of proclamations concerning what would be moral and what immoral), also tends toward dangerous paths.

A moral system must instead come from one of two logically independent sources: either of divine origin or developed as a matter of custom (or perhaps both, as one does not necessarily preclude the other). Arguing that morals come from divine origins would send you down the faith track once more, as somebody who lacks faith naturally would insist that morality could not come from a non-existent figure, so instead I shall focus on custom. In this case, it is the slow, potentially-unconscious change in the sets of ideas that individuals in a society have over time that would cause a development and a change in a moral system. This system can be —and most likely will be—incomplete, but the flaws will tend to work themselves out in one way or another over time, either by conscious, rational actions (such as Rabbinical arguments in Judaism or members of the Catholic bureaucracy coming together and deciding on a particular statement and track to follow) or by the daily actions of individuals (which may contradict the rational actions of higher moral authorities). In either event, these changes are piecemeal and modest, taking a fair amount of time to fully diffuse through a population and for the implications of this moral change to take place.

But I guess I’ve gone off on too much of a digression by explaining this (or have I? Yeah, maybe I have). Getting back to the point at hand, even if you are an atheist who lives within a set of moral rules, it does not mean that the level of morality present in a society (regardless if it is high or low) would be the same if this society were entirely atheistic. In fact, I would argue that it would be lower, and that, in countries such as the United States, atheists actually free-ride off of Judeo-Christian moral capital which has been built up over the past centuries. I have two reasons for this belief, and they both hinge upon the idea that immoral behavior (including but not limited to lying, cheating, stealing, rape, murder, and unfairly destroying the reputations of others) has a personal advantage but a social disadvantage. In other words, we are stuck in a prisoner’s dilemma, which implies that the dominant strategy is to engage in immoral behavior**. After all, if I gain more from cheating you than by fair dealing, I will cheat. And if cheating can limit the damage done to me if you cheat, then I will cheat as well. So basically, both people find it in their best interests to cheat. So you should think of the issue here as a PD game, and the goal of moral rules is to get people to cooperate instead of defect, to be honest rather than lie, to be fair instead of cheating, etc., etc.

So given this, why do I think that a G-d-fearing audience would be more likely to follow moral rules than one which doesn’t believe in G-d at all? As I said, there are two reasons. The first one, something which you should not discount, is the fairly simple concept, “because G-d will punish you.” Even if you don’t get caught by the mortal authorities—even if you _can’t_ get caught—you still have a fear that you will be punished for it later by this supernatural authority. For somebody who really believes in and fears G-d, that could be enough to cooperate, and I would say that the number of people who go from immoral to moral behavior would be far greater than the number of people who would be moral but then decide to engage in immoral behavior just because they want to spite G-d. That is reason number one.

Reason number two is similar, but not quite the same: because G-d allows for some kind of transcendent authority whose laws you are to follow and give an answer to the question, “Who says?” To understand the significance of this, I have to go back to the prisoner’s dilemma. In this case, there is a particular theorem called the Folk Theorem, which states that, in an infinite-horizon game (i.e., you don’t know when you’re going to die or stop dealing with this other person), all agents might find it in their best interests to cooperate rather than defect. This, I think, is the wellspring of custom-driven morality. Because I believe that people are generally fairly rational, I would say that a good number of people could realize these potential gains and act in a way to obtain them. And others will find that the rules that they adopt lead to more successful outcomes and imitation from others, even if nobody knows exactly why this success occurs. But because I do not believe that people are entirely rational or able to follow long logical argments, I would say that there are a number of people who would not realize the potential gain here and would continue to defect just beause they do not know any better. And there are some people who, even after explanations, will never really understand it. In this case, some of these people can be persuaded to go along by invoking an argument to authority. When G-d exists, He can be the authority—and as G-d told Moses, do X, Y, and Z. But when G-d doesn’t exist, you’re basically left with the government as the big authority here, and that leads to potential problems as described above.

Now, I realize that there is a potential for abuse here. In fact, religious figures certainly have abused individuals in the past, do so today, and will do so in the future. People are flawed, corrupt, and some are power-hungry. Religious figures are, all in all, no different. But even if people are not inherently corrupt or power-hungry, it can still be in their self-interest to act in abusive ways. The public choice branch in economics has gone a long way toward describing why government officials do bad things, and they do not start from the premise that government officials are evil; rather, they begin with the idea that government officials are just like everybody else, no better and no worse. So because I do not see any inherent reason as to why it would be different, I would extend it to religious figures as well. But I would also extend it to every group of individuals, so I do not consider it a direct knock on religion, due to the fact that, even without religion, there would still be the same individuals clamoring for the same authority, just in different spheres. Again, in a society without religion, government tends to take over a lot of authority that was previously held by religious figures. And to be honest, I’d prefer that power be fairly diffuse in a society, so this would be a separate reason for wanting religion to exist, and for it to exist independent of the government.

Okay, so having said all of this, and having argued that atheists are free-riders and that an atheistic society would, by missing some tools to entice people to stay in line without entering into direct punishment, be less moral than a religious society, I should say now that I’m not anti-atheist. In my years of knowing Tony, I’ve never tried to convince him to become religious—in fact, one of the things I like most about Judaism is that it is an anti-proselytizing religion, which fits me rather well as an anti-proselytizing person. So on the contrary, I am tolerant of atheists and some of my intellectual heroes were atheists (David Hume being superstar example #1). I do not consider an avowed lack of faith to be some form of evil, and all those who happen to have decided that there is no G-d, that is your own way. [Richard Dawkins is one of the few atheists who I genuinely dislike on account of his atheism, just because he's got all of the holier-than-thou fervor of a born-again Baptist preacher trying to save souls, as it strikes me as annoying.] But at the same time, I would not want to live in an atheistic society. I do not believe that a society without G-d could develop, in the long run, appropriate morals for its survival and it would also run a much higher risk of collapse into authoritarianism and horrors that do not plague theistic societies to nearly the same extent. Instead, my idea of what works best is a pluralistic society founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs (and infused with Anglo-Saxon notions of law, life, and liberty, and I believe that the latter depends in good part upon the former). And if you take a look at migration patterns, you would see that such societies appear to be popular destinations for folks, which implies that they are superior to the other types that exist.

I look forward to hearing Mr. Gudorf explain his side of things, as he would round this bit out with a strongly theistic explanation, as that’s the kind of diversity 36 Chambers promotes. That and we’re going to fire Tony and replace him with a black lesbian in a wheelchair, just to knock off four categories right there.

* – I would consider the Stoic ideal of man to be an interesting case here. In this case, there is an idea of a “perfect” man, as embodied by the mythical Socrates in Stoic writings. Every Stoic philosopher, however, understood that no man could ever be a true Stoic, and so when man failed to live up to expectations, it was because of man’s flaws, and these flaws are inborn and irreparable, meaning it would be stupid and even against the nature of Stoicism to punish a man for his failings in this department. So in this case, it would be possible to have an entirely irreligious philosophical outlook with a form of perfection that does not really involve man as such. But then again, a fair number of Stoics were also Jewish and the two have a lot of common ground, so at the same time, Stoicism need not be irreligious. Anyhow, that’s a nugget to ponder a bit over…

** – Think of a truly sociopathic individual.

Why I’m an atheist (I promise it will be at least a little funny)

As long time readers of the blog know (mainly Kevin and Dan), I’m an atheist. I’ve at least been agnostic since high school, and I credit Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams with firmly convincing me to be an atheist. I am 99.9999999999% sure there is not and never has been a supreme being of any nature. As a reasonable skeptic, this is the highest opinion I can have of anything; if somebody presents me with conclusive evidence that a supreme being exists, I shall accept it. (Beginning your argument with “The Bible” or “The Qur’an” is not a good place to start.)  I am going to answer questions about this particular topic, as it’s very important to me. If I can be said to have a cause, it is that I can increase awareness that atheists do exist and that they are not terrible people. I will include below questions people have asked me and I welcome more.

So, do you believe in the Devil/Hell/anti-Supreme Being?

No, and this is a profoundly stupid question, and you are profoundly stupid for having asked it. I do not worship ANYTHING (except for possibly DVR [DVR be praised!]). Any godlike creature you can name, I don’t believe in it.

Don’t you WANT to believe in a higher power?

The short answer: No. The longer answer: Wanting is immaterial. No matter how you want something to exist, things will not exist sheerly out of wanting. And the first person who brings up the ontological argument for the existence of a G_d is even more profoundly stupid than the person who asked the question above.

Where does your morality come from, if not from religion or the Bible/alternative holy text?

The same place everyone else’s did: my environment, education, and upbringing. I don’t know whether or not I’m a good person (although I’d like to think so), but I do know that there is a considerably expansive list of people who are bad people that have religion. Nobody uses religion and only religion to form their morality; if they did, we’d still be stoning adulterers.

Why do you hate G_d?

I don’t. I’m atheist, not anti-theist. I don’t judge people by what they believe, no matter how silly or counterproductive it seems to me. I don’t hate Allah/G_d/Jesus any more than I hate pink elephants or Mickey Mouse. I have lived in peace with many, many theists and few have them attempted to kill me, and I’m pretty sure he hated me specifically and not my disbelief in a supreme being. If you say or do something stupid, you’re an idiot. If you think something stupid, you’re normal (and that includes me, as I continue to believe in lucky shirts and other such beasts.)

All right, Mr. Smarty Pants, how did life originate?

Excellent question. I have no idea. There have been several experiments that have attempted to replicate the early conditions on Earth, and none have conclusively established a plausible explanation. There is, however, a huge difference between “I don’t know” and “it’s impossible without a supreme being.” I believe the fairer question to you is how did G_d originate?

Prove there is no G_d!

Proving the non-existence of anything is absolutely impossible. Period. End of story. I rather think the burden of proof is on the theist, not the atheist. The only reason no one says “Prove there is a G_d!” is because there are lots more people who believe in a supreme being than there are people that don’t.

I don’t know for sure who reads the blog (apart from Dan and Kevin, and I’m not sure about the former), but before I get lots of angry comments/e-mails to the account I never check, I am not challenging your or anyone else’s faith. There are prominent atheists who suggest I should (Richard Dawkins is an excellent example). On the whole, I’m not sure whether or not religion was/is/will be a boon or curse for mankind. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions have died on account of religion, but there instances where people’s lives have been genuinely improved by religion or religionists. My only request is that people don’t consider atheism a disease to be cured; there are plenty of those to worry about without making up new ones.

Jianhong Still Continues To Be The Greatest

It’s interesting how people rate things on a scale of which body parts they would be willing to live without in order to get that thing*. If I were to rate my lady-friend on this scale, she’d easily be worth, say, my left ankle.

Two weeks ago on Monday, I was warming up for fencing, doing some laps around the hall, when I landed on my ankle. It hurt but I was able to continue on (like an idiot guy who’s too tough to give in to some measley pain), and I went through an hour and a half of ankle pain. The next day, even though I couldn’t really walk, I still went to Constitutional Economics and the Freiburg market. Outside of skipping badminton, I basically didn’t change my schedule at all, even though my ankle was still messed up.

Then, on Friday, I was playing table tennis and, while trying to jump to my left to get a ball, landed on my ankle. This time I heard a pop. Over the next couple of days, it swelled up rather badly and walking was even worse. I decided to give it some rest and didn’t do anything on Sunday and Monday, and only went to the grocery store yesterday. I figured that it’s a soft tissue sprain and will go away, but now it’s Wednesday and it’s still there. The pain has decreased and the discoloration is gone, but the swelling is still there somewhat and, most weirdly, I can’t see the bone which protrudes from the ankle. I’m not sure if it’s entirely covered by swelling or if there’s something more sinister going on (it is my left foot, after all), so I figured that I would go to see a doctor today.

Jianhong enters into it here. Knowing my dislike of talking to anybody—especially people I don’t know and over the phone—she took it upon herself to call up a couple of clinics for me and tried to argue her way into getting a timeslot for me at the first clinic after the receptionist said that there won’t be any openings for the next two weeks. It didn’t really work well, but hey, at least she’s doing stuff that I wouldn’t have done.

So this post is to explain one more of the many ways in which Jianhong is the greatest at pretty much everything that I’m not the greatest** at.

Update:  I went to the doctor today and found out that I have a partial ligament tear, so I’m in an aircast and have to go back next week to see if there’s anything else that has to be done.  I officially feel like Brian R. Hunter now.  At least I’m not Brian L. Hunter… Continue reading

Did you miss me?

The Penguatroll has returned from a trip to his hatching grounds. Kevin, I must ask you to curtail your anti-shark agenda. If hammerhead sharks can produce asexually, it would make them almost evolutionary perfect — except for the whole not being able to walk on land thing. I, for one, welcome our shark overlords.

Dan, I ask you, think for somebody else! Stop thinking for yourself! There is one person you should not think for, and that’s you!

I have learned of a job opportunity, or as I like to call it, a jobortunity. In the coming weeks, I shall inform you, my dear readers, of my attempts to acquire cash, which I’ve heard good things about. Apparently, you can exchange it for goods, services, and combinations of goods and services!

A Look At real (Still Not My Capitalization)

I went shopping with a friend of mine today.  It is the day after a local holiday, so the store was packed.

Here are some quick impressions of the change from Wal-Mart to real—in list form!:

  •  real seems bigger than Wal-Mart.  Even though the two occupy the same physical space, real seems to have more stuff.  This might be an optical illusion, however, but I believe part of the reason it seems so is that they dropped/slimmed a couple of sections (books, clothing, and automotive accessories) to make room for more of other things (sports paraphanelia and drinks being the first things that come to mind).
  • real is more expensive than Wal-Mart when it comes to pop.  Coke products were more expensive than anywhere else.  Pepsi products are about the same price.  Dr Pepper and 7-Up seem to have disappeared, sadly.
  • real is better-designed than Wal-Mart.  The logical flow actually makes more sense at real.  With Wal-Mart it sometimes seemed like they didn’t have room to put something anyplace else, so they put it in one section one day and just never did any renovation.  Spontaneous order works well with societies, but not with grocery store product placements.
  • real still carries some strange American products.  You can purchase Fluff here.  Seriously.  It’s right next to the Nutella, which, I suppose, is exactly where it belongs.  Fluff, Tony, is a marshmallow spread.  No, I don’t eat it.  No, I don’t know who does.  Well, Pat does, so I do know one person who partakes in such delicacies.
  • All in all, prices seem slightly higher at real, but for most of my purchases, they’re roughly the same.  From what I had heard, meat was very inexpensive, but that appears to only be true for pork and beef.  Turkey is about the same price, and I didn’t know about chicken because when we went, it was all gone and needed to be restocked.

At any rate, we made it through and got to the checkout lines with two baskets full of stuff.  I found a line which seemed short, as all of them had lots of people waiting to check out.  At this point in time, I thought to myself, “The shortest line inevitably is full of idiots.”  Well, when we went to check out, I turned out to be the idiot.  I purchased some bananas so as to make milkshakes and apparently needed to print out a stupid label, and I guess the person at the register either couldn’t do it or was too lazy to, so she sent me to a little produce scanner to print the appropriate sticker.  I, however, had no clue what she was talking about, so played the game of “Walk three steps, turn around, have her motion me forward” for roughly 30 feet, until I finally saw the thing and a light bulb went off in my head.  I printed the sticker out (86 cents, by the way) and brought it back.  I’m surprised she didn’t give me a gold star or a Special Olympic medal for my feat of intellectual triumph…