I was right! (about Denzel Washington)

I wrote a review of Flight last month, in which I suggested that Denzel Washington keeps tricking me into watching religious movies.  Quote (arguably spoilery):

But I think this is the second time in a row Denzel Washington has tricked me into watching a religious movie.  I mean, the commercials made it clear that this movie had a lot to do with alcoholism.  They did not make it at all clear, though, that it was about the struggle between drug abuse and salvation through God.  It was basically an ad for AA.

Well, Xan Brooks interviewed Washington for the Guardian, where he explained that he does, in fact, seek out particularly moralistic movies in service of a religious goal.

Sometimes he wonders if there is still more he can do. "I remember some years ago asking my pastor: 'Do you think I'm supposed to be a preacher?' And he said: 'Well, you are. You have a pulpit of your own.'" Washington gulps at his coffee. "That's not to say that I'm preaching, necessarily. I don't want to tell you what you need to do. I mean, I'm not turning it up to 10 when it comes to being correct, I'm not that guy, I like my wine."

He does, however, have a firm moral stance on the roles that he takes. Washington rejigged his Oscar-winning role as damned, dastardly Alonzo Harris in Training Day so that the character's come-uppance was more severe and admits that he tried to do the same with Whip in Flight. The film, he feels, lets Whip off too lightly.

It's a pretty good article, and I do still really like his movies.  It's nice to know in advance now, though, that if I go to see anything starring Denzel Washington, I can expect a lot of God, too.

Petition to reclassify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group

Boing Boing reports on a Huffington Post report about three petitions on whitehouse.gov's "We The People" platform, which allows Americans to create petitions to the government.  The website's rules require the US government administration to promptly respond to the demands made by any petition that reaches 25 thousand signatures within 30 days. All three of the petitions in question have met that requirement -- though the website's FAQ points out that the administration may choose to write one response that covers the administration's position on multiple, similar petitions, so we can probably only expect one response about this issue.

The first petition in question, Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, is according to the Huffington Post the most popular petition in We The People's history, at over 275 thousand signatures at the time I'm writing.

The second, Revoke the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, covers the overlap in ground between the other two petitions, asking for both terms to be met.  The petition points out that "By granting their tax exemption we are FUNDING THEIR HATE." (Capitalization copied from the source.)  As of writing, they are at over 60 thousand signatures.

The third, which is probably the least inflammatory, but easily the most genuinely threatening to the WBC, is called Remove the Westboro Baptist Church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive.  It is at almost 45 thousand signatures.

I'm going to sign all three of these petitions.  I'm against tax exempt status for religions in general, but I don't think it's hypocritical to take the opportunity to support one particular removal from the exemption, especially one of the worst ones.  It's a foot in the door for the government to begin responding reasonably to the difference between allowing free speech and endorsing organized hate.  I hope the Obama Administration responds to this popular outcry by throwing everything they have at the WBC.

Opinion vs. fact

There's an article on Theconversation.edu.au called No, you're not entitled to your opinion. It's a great piece, and I recommend all of it. But this part in particular stuck out to me, and I want to talk about it.

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

First of all, it's a well-established fact that I strongly dislike Plato.  But moving on from that,

I don't think that the fact/opinion dichotomy is as worthy of dichotomy status as we treat it.  I think, rather, that opinions are a type of fact.  Specifically, opinions are facts about an individual's preferences.  Opinions have truth-value, just like every other kind of fact.  The problem is, most of the time we phrase statements that should be opinion statements as metaphysical claims.

If I say "Strawberry ice cream is good," I'm wrong.  I'm not saying I'm wrong because there's no one who likes strawberry ice cream.  I like strawberry ice cream.  I'm wrong because strawberry ice cream does not posses intrinsic metaphysical value.  It is not good, people just like it.

If I say "I dislike strawberry ice cream," I'm still wrong.  Or, I'm lying.  This time it's phrased as an opinion statement, but the statement I'm making is a lie about the fact of my experience.

To use a more common manifestation of this argument, let's try this with God.

  • "God is real" is not an opinion.  It's a fact-claim.  Its truth or falsehood is external to individual beliefs.  (Unless you believe in a fairly complicated metaphysics, but it's still not an opinion.)
  • "I believe in God" is not an opinion.  It's a statement about your internal set of presumed fact-claims.
  • "I love God" is an opinion.  Now, we're talking about your emotional relationship to something external. Just like I can say "I love Batman" as easily as I can say "I love Terry Pratchett," whether God is real or not doesn't affect your ability to have feelings relating to that concept.

So, yeah.  That's how I feel about all that.

Nessie disproves evolution

I've been hearing about this story all day, so I give up.  I have to say something.  A text book distributed at private schools in the US asserts that the loch ness monster (a.) exists, and (b.) therefore disproves evolution. SourceFed's story on it downplays the WTF element.  And I can respect that -- they work hard to be fair and balanced[1. FOX lol etc.] and they downplay its importance on the basis that it's not every textbook, that it's private schools, and they concede that it's incredibly goofy.

But, seriously.  This isn't just crossing the line.  This is looking back at the line, laughing, then pointing out that it's unconstitutional to expect them to adhere to an interpretation of spacetime that includes measurement, and therefore lines, then getting on a flying motorcycle made of the corpse of the personified line they murdered to get this far.

Private schools should be able to teach whatever they want.  But graduating from those private schools shouldn't subsequently be acknowledged as an education.  Because it obviously isn't.