Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Telescope/Stupid newbie trick

My spouse gave me a Meade NGC 60 telescope for Christmas!  Since I was a girl, I've wanted a telescope and never bothered to buy one for myself.  This new blog is for me to post my observations and generally just ramble about doing amateur astronomy. 

This morning, four days after I actually got the telescope, I noticed that I had been misreading things.  What I thought was a 94mm eyepiece turns out to be a 9mm eyepiece!  Yay me for being blind!  I don't know why I kept seeing a 4 where there wasn't one but I did. 

So for the past two nights, I've been trying to get acclimated to my telescope by trying to sight in on things in the neighborhood (it's all I've got, I live in Portland, it's been cloudy every night since Tuesday) and was doing this from my balcony (which I know is sub-optimal) with way too much magnification!  At least now I know. 

I managed to figure that out and spent some time starting at a crow across the street.  Since it's cloudy again today, I'll have to do some more observing around the neighborhood. I might even take it up to Mount Tabor and look down on the city. 

Thursday, December 27, 2007

You're wrong!

On a discussion group I participate in, I had to explain to a friend why people told hym why hie is wrong about logic:

You're wrong because you hold to a world-view that says that people can be wrong. While more 'open-minded' folks hold to a more inclusive world-view where all views are right and no one is wrong, therefore you're wrong. The reason you are wrong is because your world-view is not inclusive, and therefore your world-view is wrong. If you believed that your world-view is right but that other world-views, even world-views that, if true, completely exclude yours, are also correct then you wouldn't be wrong. So, as you can see, the only people who can be wrong are those who believe that others can be wrong. Those who do not believe that others can be wrong, can't be wrong themselves.

Being Liberal

Being Liberal

What does it mean to be a liberal or, more broadly, to be of the American Left in the opening movements of the 21 st century? Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, writes, “If we shrug our shoulders at the avoidable suffering of the weak and poor, of those who are getting exploited and ripped off, or who simply do not have enough to sustain themselves at a decent level, we are not of the left. If we say that this is just the way the world is, and there is nothing we can do about it, we are not part of the left. The left wants to do something about this situation”. 1 This is a good enough sketch to be workable for initial purposes. Few, if any, of those who call themselves Progressive or Liberal would quibble the above. This argument, however, is not about the goals, broadly defined, of a Left-leaning American politics. Rather, it is about how to go about 'doing something' about those things that we are concerned about and what gets in our way.

I am going to start outright by saying that the worst enemy of the American Left, the invisible chain holding us to one spot, is not the American Right in any of its faces (Christian, Economic or Neo-Conservative) but rather the Left itself! Over the last two decades or so, the Left has embraced a dangerous and self-defeating relativism in the name of idealism. This relativism has caused otherwise thoughtful and concerned people, who truly do hunger for social justice, are genuinely aware of the force of bigotry in people's lives and strive consistently to resist and rise above, to abandon the very cognitive and social tools necessary for change. It is not uncommon to hear people who call themselves Liberal or Progressive railing against logic, rationality or science in an attempt to appeal to some particular belief or another without realizing that this very argument can and is used by those on the Right to be obstructionist of actions such as taking steps to ameliorate global warming. It is equally common to hear liberals railing against white privilege or patriarchy or racism and then, when the subject changes to some injustice taking place in another nation for those same mouths to become shut, their voices withdrawn because of a desire to not be imperialist. Yet, in doing so, it weakens the moral force of the argument against sexism or racism in the West, because it denies the universality of the wrong of racism. If all that there is is culture and culture is inviolate (instead of individual rights having this honor) then who is to say that in some cultures racism isn't a problem?

Do people really believe things like this? As startling as it might seem, the answer appears to be a resounding 'yes', although I suspect that at some level this is only an appearance. It is possible (perhaps likely)that people have not fully thought through their positions to their logical conclusions. It is possible that people simply imbibed a particular kind of ideological Kool-Aid during their college years and, because they were never really in an environment where that would challenged, have never had to actually defend their position in an arena where there would be robust and vigorous debate. If everyone around you believes that, for instance, logical problem-solving is a Western creation, 'privileged' in the West by middle- and upper-class white men and those who emulate them, then you are very unlikely to be faced with someone willing to put up a spirited defense and, at first blush, this argument will seem sound if for no other reason than that it's manifest unsoundess has not been pointed out.

1Singer, Peter. A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation. Yale University Press 2000

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sucks to be a Liberal Part 1

It sucks to be a liberal! As a unrepentant liberal, I get to say that because, despite some of the excesses I still believe in much of the liberal program. However, we liberals take some strange stances, many of which we don't realize come back to roost. Recently in a discussion group I participate in, someone made the statement that facts are subjective. Not only is this manifestly wrong and self-negating. Yet, this statement went without challenge by most people on the message board. This is the kind of excess that gets liberals in trouble.

Facts cannot be subjective if, by facts, we mean it in the ordinary sense as a proposition about the world with a high correspondence to the observable world. It is a fact that Earth occupies the third orbital position from the Sun at an average distance of 8 light minutes (93 million miles or 149, 000, 00 0 km). There is no room for subjective interpretation there. It is a fact that normal water is comprised of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. You can come up with your own list of facts about the world. Now, there one can argue that some facts are more open to the interpretation of their meanings or significance than others, but you cannot invoke a set of personal facts for your own convenience. If you do, the rest of us are no more obliged to accept your facts without evidence than we are obligated to jump off a cliff just because you say so.

What's more, liberals need facts. The kinds of things that liberals express care and concern about are, largely, evidentiary claims about the world. Either it is true that more black men are in prison than in college or it is not. If it is true, then either the justice system is prejudicial toward black men or it is not. Either women, on average, are not paid as well as men for the same work or we are. Again, this is a claim that, if true, will have evidence for its veracity left around like bear spoor in the wilderness. If what liberals want, truly desire, is for society to change and move in a direction toward greater inclusion and justice then we must admit that we are not there now, that others in society may need some convincing that change is necessary and that the path forward will be considerably smoother if we have facts on our side, with evidence and it is possible to reach some kind of consensus on what constitutes evidence. The logic of this is entirely non-remarkable and straight-forward. If I tell you that I have a ten-million dollars for you and it is yours if only you give me the deed to your house you are going to want some evidence that the money does exist before you start signing your house over to me.

My suspicion is that a lot of liberals say things like 'facts are subjective' or 'all cultures are equal and deserve respect no matter what' as reflexes without actually thinking through the consequences of those ideas. There is a noble and laudable impulse on the left to be non-judgmental, to accept people as they are and to side with the underdog. All of these I support and believe in as well. That said, this impulse does not absolve me of a responsibility to think. More about this another time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Blogging the commute

There's a woman sleeping on the train. I just sent the picture from my cell phone but can't get a wireless connection on the MAX so the text has to follow when I get to work.

The weekend is over and now it's on to work. My heart isn't in it. The rains and winds are fierce today. Oregon's oldest Sitka Spruce died last night in a high wind storm out at the coast. When I heard about it, as I was listening to the news, I had a moment of pause. This is something OLD, a few hundred years at least, and now it is gone. Yet another singular, clever arrangement of DNA snuffed from this world as all living things must eventually be.

In the meantime, Toastmaster's was really interesting. We had a whole pack of students from PCC and PSU there. This is far from normal. Normally we might have one or two as guests. Then two people from work also showed up at the behest of another co-worker of mine.

Lastly, I (obviously) have managed to get my laptop back to normal. I'm running Kubuntu 7.10 on it using KDE 3.5.8. My desktop machine has KDE4RC1 on it but it's not quite ready. The Plasma applets look insanely great but you can't position them on the screen which diminishes their usefulness.