The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | 2016.06.01


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G’day! I’m still on the Great Courses series of lectures entitled ‘A History of India,’ on the fifth disc out of six. In last night’s lectures, the instructor discussed the conflict of 1857 and changes in British rule on the subcontinent as well as the early days of a budding Indian nationalism since then, and especially after World Wars I and II that would lead to independence as a nation in 1947. I’ll be finished with the course, at least this first viewing, within a week or maybe two, and post a full review then.

I’m anticipating the third set of Bengali quizzes this Friday, and the fortnight’s end review of flashcards combining Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil script in a single deck, itself using random shuffling of the cards via the software to keep things challenging and fun. It’s necessary to space out the learning sessions to allow for forgetting some of the material, to result in error-correction and thus more solid learning as a natural outgrowth of the process. Once I overlearn the basic script of all three languages, I’ll go on to more complex letters like Bengali consonant conjuncts not already covered in the currently reviewed study units of Complete Bengali to make reading in the syllabaries of all three languages second nature.

I’ve had previous experience learning languages from my high school and college days, but I won’t kid you as to how altogether different and difficult is it to learn three South Asian languages at my age and without a formal learning environment or professional tutoring! Not only are the scripts, rules of spelling, pronunciation and grammar radically different from anything I’ve studied prior, but only two of the languages are even in the same linguistic family.

So I have to prioritize my study periods by subject matter, and that seems to be working nicely. One day, I’ll master my subjects, but I don’t expect to finish anytime soon….

…or, as a lifelong learner, at any time in this mortal coil.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

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xkcd: World War III+

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | Mother’s Day 2016 Special


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Good morning! Things have been busy this week, as I’m working on my touch-typing skills and studying to correct my weak points in Bengali script; the incredibly graceful but difficult conjunct letters (well, difficult for foreigner Ingreji speakers like me…). These letters combine short groups of consonants in one letter, and which join in what letter are not always apparent from the conjunct’s shape. But that’s cool, because the challenge makes it interesting and fun. I’ve created two virtual decks of flashcards, and started retrieval-practice sessions to learn by testing myself on the first such deck. So far, I’ve successfully recalled 117 letters twice, and 5 letters once, so I’ll work on recalling all four times in a row before continuing with the next deck. So, on other matters, (whispers) I’ve got a surprise for the Parental Unit™ this Sunday, while trying to get the new cat to stop snubbing her–rotten little beast! Ricky still seems reclusive, only coming out of his crypt at sundown to feast on the kibble of the living…well, at least he’s adorable even though hiding through much of the day! So, as I’m going through a disc of lectures, I bid you all to have an awesome, or at least a survivable, Sunday, and a good week ahead.

Stay brilliant!


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A. R. Rahman: “Jiya Jale” (Dil Se) Berklee Indian Ensemble (cover)

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | 2016.04.26


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G’day. I’ve posted a couple of preludes to the sort of material to be found over on my atheist blog, a pair of videos by Brian Dalton of The Way of the Mister, and Mr Deity notoriety from his series The God Distraction. The second is scheduled to pop up online on the 29th of the month. I’ve also added a header to the blog’s title from my fractal “Unicron Hungers.” I’m working on the draft for the actual inaugural post for the site, though the two preceding videos will help set the tone along with it, plus supply both the funny, the succinct, and the dead-on accurate as only Mr Deity can.

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Tim Minchin’s ‘Three Minute Song’

Not for the uptight!

via the BBC‘s YouTube channel

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | A Big Question

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I was going through my collection of podcasts from earlier this year, and one of them was The Skeptic Zone Ep. 381. It was near the end of the show, when the host, Richard Saunders, was at a local Skeptics in the Pub event, and posed the question (I’ll quote him here as best I can): “If skeptics had a magic wand to make people see things our way, would we do it?” I recommend the episode, dating from February 7 of this year, for the full discussion and the responses he got at the event.

My own answer to Mr. Saunders’ question?

*Drum roll*

No. No, I would not.

It would be easy, it would be simple, and the world might even be a better place. Maybe.

But the cost?

Even if the magic wand turned everyone into better critical thinkers, and there was a true golden age of skeptical thinking encompassing the entire human race, there would be a heavy moral cost, as I am not a believer in the idea that the end justifies the means. Waving the wand would be expedient, but in no reasonable moral system I am aware of would expedience be a good gauge of moral virtue. And no, I do not consider Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics a reasonable set of ideas: it may be summed up in only five words: “It’s all mine, pathetic loser!”

There is the question of the ends being corrupted by the means used, and waving the wand would be akin to the tactics of the Mule, a character in Isaac Asimov’s novel “Foundation and Empire,” whose power was to tweak peoples’ minds to make them feel and do whatever he wants as though it were their own free will. Waving the wand, whatever the consequences (and they may not necessarily good ones despite the immediate results) would be a violation of the right to autonomy, in this case the autonomy of belief.

Also, whether power corrupts, and absolute power does so absolutely, or it is simply that power tends to attract the corruptible, I do not trust anyone with that kind of power, including myself. The ethical cost and temptation to abuse it is too great. And what if, after waving the magic wand and making everyone see things my way, what if it turns out that I’m wrong?

So my answer is no. It is too morally costly. And I can be wrong. This is something to consider when more invested in the reliability of a process of gaining knowledge than in the conclusion that results. I can be wrong, and so, at some point, has every alleged authority ever cited been. In keeping with Feynman’s dictum, I can be fooled, and so can even the most skeptical in the right context, for I, like most of humanity, am the easiest one to fool.

To just magically change someone else’s mind is inherently coercive, even if they agree with the change once it’s done. But to change another’s mind on the strength of the evidence and reasons given for it is not by any valid standard coercive, no matter the conclusion reached. Not even rejection of a particular set of formerly accepted claims. Not even acceptance of formerly rejected ones.

Evidence alone cannot coerce a change in belief as it is a matter of the subjective willingness to accept it, and the same for reason, as it must be subjectively accepted as valid to be of use. Certainly, one can say that they found the evidence for a case compelling, but it would be a fallacy of equivocation to equate that with saying that presenting evidence is somehow a violation of one’s own consent. That is simply another way of saying that the evidence and reasoning offered were sufficient to sway one’s opinion. One must value reason and evidence in order to accept them as worthy of changing one’s mind.

And not everyone does accept these things. So the process of skeptical inquiry and outreach is messy, effortful, and never quite as effective as many would like. But it is successful often enough and worth the work invested when it is done using still fallible but reliable and ethical methods.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

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Ra-Men Special With Sanal Edamaruku

AronRa chats with Indian rationalist and secularist Sanal Edamaruku, on his work combating superstition in his native country and the enemies it’s made him over the years with some very powerful people.

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | Blogcation Tremulations

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This blog has existed since late 2008, and this posting break the latest since December of 2010. The rate of traffic on the site has varied over the years, currently at around a few dozen page-views a day, on a normal posting schedule of about one per every other day.

A fair amount, I would say.

The peak traffic for this site was in 2010, at over 40,000 additional page-views for the entire year, upwards of 100+ page-views each day. I could probably continue that if I felt inclined, but I don’t.

From late 2008 to late 2010, I was involved heavily in publishing to the point of near exhaustion and neglect of my well-being.

This, of course, was a mistake. Hence, my first blogging hiatus, after posting nearly constantly for almost two years, was undertaken, inspired by that of my late friend and former fellow blogger, the pseudonymous Skeptic Cat, whose online handle was to be quickly abandoned, his blog deleted, about a year after we met via our mutual blogging hobby.

I found that to maintain my balance and to take on new projects, I could no longer post on the site at the level I did at the start. That results in periodic blogcations.

So, what do I do with days and often weeks of time not blogging?

I’m engaged in lifelong learning, and as many of you know, a small part of that involves the study of three languages of the Indian subcontinent: Bengali; Tamil; Hindi. And mellifluous tongues they are indeed.

There are other subjects of interest; math; symbolic logic; developing better study skills; critical thinking; public speaking; conversational skills; medical myths, lies, and half-truths; learning how to think like a scientist, or perhaps like Sherlock Holmes, take your pick; physical training for health and endurance in my older years — after all, I’m in my fifties and not getting any younger.

I’m rediscovering my old hobby of drawing in another series of lessons I’m taking. There are my fractals. There is occasional practice playing virtual instruments via GarageBand.

I’m still pretty bad at that last, by the way.

I’m working on developing my writing career. Each day, I write at least one page of…stuff, about 500 words of stuff, three pages of it if I can, on absolutely anything. Even if it never gets published or posted on this or other blogs. Much if it goes into a private journal, some of it here and elsewhere online. I’ve published my first book so far, and I’m currently putting the second on hold while I deal with organizing and studying from lecture notes and assignments taken from my course collection.

I’m developing my fictional universes; plot elements; historical timelines; alien species; languages, however alien or arcane; protagonists; villains; alien gods and eldritch horrors from Outside.

Only this last week I had a bunch of really cool ideas on better using such plot elements as time travel, interstellar travel, and journeys to other regions of the multiverse in one of my settings. More on that once I develop the concepts further.

It should be evident there’s no possibility of doing all this on top of life events, maintaining my treatment plan, and just doing what needs to be done day by day. There are other things I’m engaged in as well, including ongoing personal research on logical fallacies and cognitive biases.

It’s obvious from the above that I’ve a tendency to give myself too much to do, too many projects to embark on. I’ve grown too many heads on my hydra, as it were, too many tentacles on my kraken. Maybe. I’ll grant that possibility. There’s no way to finish all of these in the short-term, and in fact, no ending of it all short of my death.

But that’s the point.

When I first began blogging on my now-defunct WordPress site Troythulu’s Log on January 15, 2008, there was little in terms of off-time activities, little to do beyond routine necessities, and blogging was a good way to channel my energies into something different, challenging, and maybe even useful.

The gaming shop that I’d been visiting for decades had closed its doors earlier that same year, giving me a lot of time at home alone when not at my old volunteer work job or out with friends, and I was still recovering from my injury from 2007.

Blogging was new, and fun, and it still is, and I met a lot of interesting people, then and now. Skeptical blogging, or as I put it, skeptophrenic blogging, was a useful, and at the time, the only other way beside gaming to channel my energies into something that I enjoyed.

Now, I’ve so much else to help me stay busy, to keep striving for…what?

Does it really matter what?

I fail to see good reason to reject or dismiss the value of striving. Striving is something we humans do. We’ve been striving since before we were human, even in striving for purpose, for meaning. Striving is just what explorers do, to cross that next mountain, to ford that next river.

I’m as much for living in the present moment as any meditation advocate, and I’m a “being” person as much as a “doing” person, so I like constantly working on things, then moving on to the next project. It gives me satisfaction, as much as mindfulness practices can at times.

It contributes to meaning. It grounds me in the present, and in the enjoyment of the moment, as I make the most effective use of the time I have in this brief, precious life in an ever-changing universe.

So who cares if it’s only transitory? Even meditative states, perhaps caught up in oneness with the universe, or something else of that sort, are only transitory.

Everything is transitory, and nothing lasts, even being ever in the present, even being in the moment.

So I prefer to spend some of my waking hours in sometimes intense activity, others in relaxation, still others in routine activities that take little exertion. There’s mindfulness practice involved as well, and walks. Long walks on sunlit days.

That’s how I roll.


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xkcd: Famous Duos

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | The Rani of Stars

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G’day! I’ve finally finished  the image I’ve been working on, The Rani of Stars, and I’ve posted it below. May you all have a glorious Sunday and a happy week. I’ll try to do likewise, and of course for the cats.

It’s a cold and blustery winter here!


Rani_Of_Stars 1

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Why Does Fallout’s Nuka-Cola Quantum Glow Blue? (Because Science!)

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | 2016.01.26 | The Venting

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G’day. I was letting my thoughts wander the previous afternoon, and something suddenly popped unbidden into my head, something that I hadn’t considered before, at least not in the words that follow. Below is a paraphrasing and elaboration of something I’d posted earlier yesterday on Twitter:

I’d realized that it is nonsensical to have both causally independent free will and the threat of eternal punishment to impel obedience and submission without causing real problems in the same theology.

I’m referring here to certain branches of my former religion, Christianity, which teach of human or demonic free will, uncompelled by anything, including external causation, and the idea of an alleged afterlife of endless torture as a punishment for the thoughtcrime of unbelief.

This combination just doesn’t work. That’s because the use of threats of any kind to impel belief or compliance are by their very nature coercive, no matter how polite or subtle the threat used. It’s necessarily a violation of free choice. Even if done with a kind heart and a velvet glove. Coercion is coercion, even if veiled or only implied. The very awareness of the threat, real or not, skews the will against the freedom to choose between belief and non-belief. If you believe the threat exists.

Which I do not.

The use of threats like this is known as an ad baculum fallacy, an ‘argument from the cudgel.’ It is the use of force or even its mere threat to achieve a desired outcome in the one so threatened.

Here, compliance or conversion:

“Accept the conclusions I offer or else…”

“Repent or burn!”

Mind you, like most informal arguments, ad baculum is not always and everywhere a fallacy. There are times when it is an inductively valid (or strong) argument; it is not a fallacy when the threat issued is not used as a substitute for actual reasoning. It is not a fallacy when the threat so issued is real, justified, proportional, and relevant to the desired outcome.

And that’s just it. There is no plausible justification for infinite and hideous torture for finite, petty, and arbitrary thoughtcrimes, like believing in the ‘wrong’ god (out of a potentially infinite number that could possibly be known, including those yet to be worshipped in future religions) or not believing in any gods. There’s just no sane justice, relevance, or proportionality between the ‘crime’ and the punishment. And there’s just nothing outside of sectarian dogma to even suggest that the alleged punishment even exists.

I’ll probably be castigated by apologists and wannabe apologists for being ‘unsophisticated’ in my reasoning with this, but that’s cool. That’s because most of what passes as Sophisticated Philosophy™ in apologetic circles is pretentious moonbattery dressed up in obscurantist sophistry and absurd levels of false nuance to hide its complete lack of actual content.

If the emperor really does have no clothes, then no amount of special pleading, ad hoc reasoning, or misrepresentation used to praise the subtlety of his nonexistent elegant fabrics will change that.

But I’ve vented enough for the morning, and my cat needs someone to curl up with…


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The Fading Symphony with Tim Minchin