Archive for April 2014

“Both Sides” Fallacy Crumbles Again

One thing that has been in the news over the past few weeks is the Bundy standoff: A rancher in Nevada is freeloading off of federal land. He has not paid grazing fees. His armed militia thinks the feds are acting like tyrants. I always thought a tyrant would haul people off in secret in the middle of the night, not fight them in court for a couple of decades.

At first, a lot of Republicans and Libertarians flocked to his side, saying Bundy was a “true patriot”, and a “real American”.

Then he decided to tell what he knows about the Negro.

First off: What is it with conservatives telling us what they know about other people? I have heard a lot of christians make statements about atheists and why people are atheists and what atheists think, and I have heard a lot of Republicans and conservatives make statements about what liberals think and why we think it. And they are almost always wrong. Yet these same people get very upset when anyone talks about them or their motivations. So much for consistency.

Anyway, he said that maybe blacks were better off as slaves. Then a lot of the people who supported him said they didn’t support him. Some of them said they thought he was still correct in his land dispute. He is not. But it’s hard to distance yourself from someone when you say they are the best thing since slice bread.

Then there is Donald Sterling. A guy who is has a half-black, half-Mexican mistress, owns a basketball team, yet hates black people. He got in trouble because he told his mistress he did not want her bringing any black people to an NBA game.

First off, if you do not like black people, perhaps you should find another sport to be involved in.

A lot of conservatives tried to say that Sterling was a Democrat since he donated to a few Democrats in the past 20 years. Then it turned out he is a registered Republican.

Why do people keep trying this “both sides” nonsense? Maybe this is not quite the same as the usual “both sides” stories I have commented on.

As I started writing this piece, it occurred to me there is another interesting parallel: The Sterling case is another example of conservatives trying to define liberals, and failing badly again in the process. Democrats were not lining up in support of this guy. And nobody was forcing anyone to speak out in support of Cliven Bundy.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

 

Looking For A New Broker

Lately I have been thinking about going with a different broker.

One reason is security. So far there have been no problems, but you can never be too careful. There have been a lot of articles about security after the discovery of the Heartbleed bug. I read a article/comment/post from someone who said the passwords for one of his financial providers was case-insensitive. Some do not allow non-alphanumeric characters for passwords. Some have low character limits.

I also found out that Scottrade has what they call FRIP, Flexible Reinvestment Program. It is sort of like a DRIP. With a DRIP, dividends from a stock are re-invested in that stock. With a FRIP, you can re-invest dividends commission-free in upto five stocks. It does not have to be the same stock that paid the dividend.

When I was looking at brokers, I did not go with Scottrade because they did not allow you to buy fractional shares. If they had the FRIP back then, I probably would have gone with Scottrade.

I am currently reinvesting all the dividends from the stocks I own back into themselves. I think with a FRIP, I could reach my goal of getting some of my stocks up to 100 shares a bit more quickly; have all the stocks feed into one, then when it gets to 100 shares, pick another. I might be buying high if the market keeps rising, but if I keep doing what I am doing I will be buying high anyway. Plus now that I am looking at the FRIP, the idea of fractional shares seems unnecessarily complicated.

The downside is that I would pay a lot in commissions to sell at my current broker, and buy at Scottrade. Another broker offered 50 free trades for new accounts, but I did not see that at Scottrade. I have read comments on other dividend sites that they might offer it if you ask. Plus I would be giving up some dividend income for a couple of weeks. We shall see.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

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Thoughts On Skepticism And Atheism

In this article, “the skeptic movement” and “skepticism” refer to scientific skepticism. Broadly, this means using science to test claims. It does not mean being skeptical of science, or about its claims or methods. Many people who claim to be “climate change skeptics” are in fact climate change deniers.

Over a year ago, there was an email from a skeptics group that I attended a few times. The leader said she did not want the group to be too identified with atheism. She wanted the group to stay focused on broader, scientific, testable topics. She said atheist groups tend to talk about one topic.

True.

But I have a few things to say from the other side, and I see a few things I don’t quite agree with about the skeptic movement. And I would like to see more cooperation between the two movements.

While the skeptic movements seems to have larger numbers, I think that skeptics tend to talk about topics that are irrelevant to larger society. A lot of skeptics seem to shy away from the topic of religion altogether, and are not willing to combat its influence in society. A lot of skeptics do not like to say they are atheists, which I find kind of odd.

Despite what the Religious Right would have people believe, religion has not always been a major influence in American society. If the Founding Fathers really wanted this to be a Christian nation, oddly it slipped their minds to every state that clearly. In the 1912 election, all four major candidates supported evolution.  Even in the 1960s/1970s, when the skeptic movement started, religion was not the big force it is today.

Skeptic groups tend to talk about less consequential topics: astrology, alternative medicine, homeopathy, big foot, anti-vaxers, card tricks Randi did in the 1970s. It is amazing to me that skeptics go on about logic, evidence and critical thinking, yet they have ignored this huge political and cultural shift in our society. And why not look at issues that affect people?

And religion should be tackled in a meaningful way. As some have pointed out, atheist groups win lawsuits against prayer in schools, the Wall Street/Bible Belt circus is passing legislation that is making life worse for just about everybody. Sometimes even people who claim to be for this stuff.

I honestly think some Dominionists want to line up all skeptics and atheists and have us all shot. Homeopaths don’t seem that aggressive.

Some skeptics think that atheist groups are a bunch of jerks for filing lawsuits about prayer in schools. At least atheist groups are taking some action, and counteracting a negative force in our society. Sure, skeptics got PowerBand taken off the market in Australia. As the Mocking Maori would say, “You rock.”

Religion is used to justify a lot of bad policy, and infects everything: birth control, justification for not paying teachers more, energy and climate change (jesus will come back before the oil runs out). Granted, the anti-vaxers are causing deadly diseases to come back. However, that seems to be all they are doing. Religion affects and infects pretty much everything.

Have you ever heard an argument against gay marriage that was not religious? Are astrologers trying to stop science from being taught in schools? And if they are, I don’t see bills about astrology being brought up in multiple states simultaneously, as you do with creationism. Or creation science. Or intelligent design. Or “academic freedom”. Or whatever they will call it next time. Are Big Foot Truthers taking over school boards? We have Representative Paul Broun saying evolution is a lie from the pit of hell. (How can you be a doctor and not accept evolution?) Alabama state senator Shadrack McGill said that teachers should not get a pay raise since teaching is a “calling”, and paying them a decent salary is unbiblical. Illinois Representative John Shimkus says climate change is real and happening, but we should not do anything about it because god promised not to destroy the world by flood again.

A lot of conservative politicians go on and on about this being a “christian nation”. When a bunch of elected officials say we are a Vedic Nation, get back to me.

Plus, skeptics are pro-science, pro-women’s equality, and generally pro-gay rights. We already like the things religious people hate. Other forms of pseudoscience are not trying to set policy in so many areas. Why pat yourself on the back for using logic, evidence and critical thinking to combat minor forms of pseudoscience, when you are ignoring the major one?

Perhaps advocating science education and promoting scientific literacy will help us make progress on a lot of issues. I just think that the two movements should work together more. And I think the two groups should become more politically active, even if all they do is contribute money to candidates and/or organizations. I think other ways are to fund scholarships and contribute to endowing university chairs/professorships.

Don’t think that pushing science won’t put you on the radar of religious folk. Look at the reaction to Cosmos. When people who see the world in black and white are against you, you have to deal with them whether you want to or not.

One thing throwing a wrench into the works (at least here in Austin) is the status of the Center For Inquiry. I guess a major donor stopped donating money, and a lot of their activities might get scaled back. So some of us in Austin are trying to decide if we should wait for CFI to figure things out, or do something on our own. There is the Texas Theocracy Watch and the Secular Texas group. One guy wants to raise enough to buy a building, and have enough left over to run it off the interest.

It will be a lot of work to educate the public. There is a group for women here in Austin called Secular Suzies. I heard that one woman signed up because she thought “secular” meant “religious”. I guess that is the way things are in Texas: If people don’t know what something is, they assume it’s Jesus.

Now to the other point: Are skeptics atheists?

Some do not want to call themselves atheists because the term “atheism” has a bad image. But by avoiding it, aren’t you compounding that problem?

Why do people say that skepticism does not equal atheism? You have to have a double standard: be skeptical of other religions besides your own.

I am okay with equating the two. (Although I have met a few atheists who say they believe in UFOs). So maybe not all atheists are skeptics, but I think that all skeptics are atheists. At least from a functional, pragmatic point of view.

Can I prove that no god exists? I guess not. But the ones I have heard about so far have not been too convincing. So I am okay with saying there are none. Let’s be precise about something else.

I find it odd when some skeptics say there might be some other god out there that we have not encountered, so we really cannot say there are none.

Most skeptics reject all religious/supernatural claims, so why insist that you cannot say there is no god? What god are you holding out for? This god-who-might-exist would have to be different than any conception of god anyone has ever had, or any god any human has ever believed in. A god who is not involved in events, or creation of world, or who interacts with people in any way. Which means you have to change the definition of god. Some people might call that “sophisticated theology”. I do not have a problem rejecting what you cannot define.

First image from LOLtheists, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Second image from My Confined Space, assumed allowed under Fair Use, frequently NSFW

2014-03 Dividend Income Report

It’s a few days late, but not a dollar short.

Here is the dividend income report for March, 2014.

The monthly dividend income came out to $437.87. The yearly income total for 2014 through the end of the month was $934.15.

The income for March, 2013 was $360.85, and the yearly income total up through that month was $719.36.

I think I broke $400 in December, 2013. There was a special dividend that month. Some stocks do not pay every three months, which can make comparisons between months difficult. Eaton changed from February (in 2012) to March (in 2013) and in 2012 paid its November dividend in October. Still, I think that a milestone has been reached. I think that for some months I will be making more than $400 on a regular basis.

I also got $71.99 from COP. That is the most I have gotten from one stock. My goal is to get all of my stocks up to 100 shares.

I have a few open orders on some stocks. So far none of them have been filled. The market is now up about 10% from when I placed them a month ago. As John Maynard Keynes pointed out, markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. I am not insolvent, but it does seem like nothing can stop the stock market from going higher, not even invasion.

There are a few stocks with P/E ratios lower than 12 or so that I am looking at: AFL, CB, FDO, maybe VZ. They might go down in the summer, as stocks used to do before the Great Recession.

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for March, 2014:

  • AFLAC Inc: $19.52
  • American States Water Co: $21.81
  • Black Hills Corp: $13.41
  • Bemis Co Inc: $26.74
  • ConocoPhillips: $71.99
  • Vectren Corp: $19.99
  • Chevron: $22.27
  • Emerson Electric Co: $22.76
  • Sonoco Products Co: $20.31
  • Questar Corp: $9.68
  • Exxon Mobil Corp: $36.75
  • Johnson & Johnson: $22.11
  • 3M Co: $11.12
  • Walgreen Co: $17.70
  • Archer-Daniels-Midland Co: $15.25
  • Valspar Corp: $14.98
  • Consolidated Edison Inc: $18.22
  • RLI Corp: $19.01
  • Eaton Corporation: $25.70
  • Dover Corp: $8.55

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use