Monday, November 30, 2009

The Specter of Race

In conversations that I have had with friends regarding race I have asserted often that in modern America race plays no significant factor in any facet of public life, be it within the criminal justice system, politics, business, or education. Read any of Larry Elder's books to get the gist of my stance on the issue. The more liberal among them respond to the assertion with shock and horror, while reflexively spouting off facts and statistics rapid fire that they believe show otherwise. I'm well aware of the inequities that exist along racial boundaries in our society, I just reject the notions that A) racial distinctions are necessary, meaningful distinctions to make and B) that the inequities that do exist can be linked to any current racism (rather than to residual effects of racism from the past.) Given this I believe the appropriate action to take with regard to these inequities is to do precisely nothing, because doing anything requires regression into a mode of treating race as though it were in any way relevant or meaningful, when it is not.

We have long since eliminated all traces of officially sanctioned racism from our Constitution and laws, as well as from every aspect of public life. In the eyes of the law we are all equal. And that is all that anyone is owed; equal rights and equal protection under the law. Our job as citizens on the issue of race is completed. That doesn't mean we don't need to be vigilant against any racism that rears it's ugly head within the system. But that is a matter of simply holding individuals responsible for their racist actions or words, especially when they intrude into the public sector. And that's a fight that has no conceivable end game. But our job as it relates to public policy and law is complete. To go a step even further, even in our application of the law our job is very near to being as complete as can be achieved (other than, as I said, remaining vigilant in calling out individual acts of racism). Of course, when you have fallible humans in positions of power and responsibility who have to make judgement calls (such as judges and police officers), there is no way to foolproof the system. But the evidence that exists (viewed in the proper context) with regard to sentencing and arrests, for example, shows a highly color blind justice system. A justice system with a rigorous set of checks and balances on itself in place.

In response to this people will often bring up cases of various laws that 'target' minorities, and use this as evidence of racism within the system. Such as mandatory, harsher penalties for certain types of drugs (drugs that are more often associated with other types of crime, and therefore more prevalent in inner cities, therefor more prevalent amongst the poor, therefore more prevalent amongst minorities), or harsher penalties for selling drugs within certain proximity to schools (when schools more densely populate urban areas where there are more minorities). But this is not racism. The socioeconomic and geographic maldistribution of races is a product of past racism. This is the specter of institutionalized racism. And as a society we have no duty, responsibility or capability to fight against specters.

You might correctly state that whites have a greater share of the resources (due to past racism) and thus an 'unfair advantage'. Such a statement makes a few faulty assumptions. First that blacks and whites have monolithic goals and interests, which they don't. And second that it is even a good idea to inspect who holds a greater percentage of resources along racial lines, which it is not. We should no sooner inspect whether or not there's a "maldistribution of resources" along the lines of skin color than we should inspect the issue along the lines of eye or hair color. Even if an 'inequity' exists there is nothing that can or should be done about it. It's impossible to delineate precisely between resources that were justly earned and ones that were inherited from some type of privelege that is tied to unjust acts of our ancestors. America makes no promises, nor should it, about granting equal access to resources, equal social status at birth or anything of the sort. Only equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and equal opportunity. All of which has been achieved.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Infinite Jest - Half Way review

I'm about half way through Infinite Jest and considering what a behemoth the thing is I figure I should review the first half, because by the time I finish this thing I may well have forgotten a lot of the first half. In fact, the fact that I haven't forgotten the stuff I started reading a month+ ago (i.e. the beginning of the book) is a testimony to the solid plotting and structure of the narrative. Despite the dense and complex prose the narrative builds well. And takes us into a near-future world quite like our own, but slightly different.

I was worried that, being such a notoriously difficult piece to get through, specifically the narrative would be just as dense and complex as the language that's used to deliver it, but it really isn't. Given the avant-garde reputation of the novel, again, I was worried that disparate story pieces might remain separate, but again, so far they haven't. Each narrative piece that is introduced does seem to be, initially, completely isolated from each other piece. We have the story of a tennis player named Hal, who is also a language-savant, applying for admission to a university; the story of his family (the Incandenzas) who own and run a Tennis academy; the story of a heroin fiend on the streets of Boston; the story of a Muslim man watching a mysterious video cartridge (which is really more about the cartridge than about the man) and dying; the story of a wheelchair-bound Quebecois separatist (to the North American union that has been formed between Canada-USA-Mexico), and the cross-dressing spy undercover 'reporter'; the story of Madame Psychosis; and, introduced pretty late in the first 50%, AA member Don Gately. Just to name a few of the major ones. And as each storyline is introduced you kind of feel like you're starting all over, fresh, without any back story because they seem so unrelated at first. If you stick with it you will be rewarded. Every story I've mentioned has intersected with every other one in various important, interesting ways, though it did take a while before the inter-relatedness took full shape. And when they do there is clarification as to the purpose of the story thread in the first place. Now, I'm only half way through the book, so just because the stories intertwine and cross each other doesn't necessarily mean there will be a traditional pay off or resolution of these various story elements. All I'm saying is that it's not so abstract and arty that the story lines don't even relate at all, or that they relate in some obtuse, uninteresting way. The narrative, thus far, has a structure that is not unfamiliar.

All that being said the composition of the sentences and paragraphs themselves is almost wholly alien. Wallace has a style all to himself. He floods you with massive amounts of information, details, history, technical jargon (some real, some fictional), foreign acronyms, made-up words, fictional colloquiallisms and slang, real slang etc. and delivers them in run-on sentences with really unconventional structure and phrasing. Often before you even have a basis for understanding much of any of it. Not to mention the POV from which the story gets told often switches from one person to another, and thus the style changes with it.

Another unconventional technique he uses are footnotes. Of course nonfiction employs the use of footnotes all the time, but Wallace uses it not only as a fictional use of a nonfiction device, but also embeds lengthy narrative elements, often deserving of chapters unto themselves, into the footnotes. This adds to the disconnected, nonlinear nature of the story. Reading this book on my Kindle makes the footnotes easier to deal with though, as whenever you come to one you just click it and it whips you to the spot in the 'back' of the book, and brings you right back when you're done.

I have been finding the book exceedingly interesting because many of the details, and subplots relate to interests of mine. It deals with, among many other things, applied game-theory mathematics to geopolitical situations (in a hilarious way), philosophy, economics, politics in general, film theory, language etc.

The last thing I will mention is that the style the story is written in, though at times maddening, does serve a purpose. When you read it you can almost feel your brain tingling. And in order to get through the book at all you have to have certain obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and the way the book is written and structured brings these tendencies out. And since the book is mostly about human nature specifically as it relates to things such as addiction and compulsion, then if you get through the book, you get an idea of what exactly the book is talking about. Obsessive-compulsive content, written in an obsessive-compulsive manner, by an obsessive-compulsive mind requiring obsessive-compulsive tendencies to read and relate.

An extra word about the first chapter. In reading it the first time I was pretty blown away. It's a really awesome chapter even though the first time you're reading it you're not exactly sure what's going on. It features a brilliant switch-over moment that is one of the best I've ever encountered in fiction. And the moment is intense and awesome even the first time through. But looking back on the chapter in retrospect you see it in different light as the story progresses (as you do of most of the material that is presented early on), and when you realize what was going on there, that is awesome also.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amazon Kindle

With Christmas gift-buying season approaching I thought I'd share my love of this product. I feel like an Amazon spokesperson, but I got Kindle as a gift (thank you, dear) and it's awesome. I was always a big reader, but Kindle simplified reading and ignited a flame turning me to a reading nut.

Amazon has a wireless network (no monthly fee or anything to access), which enables you to shop for books on the Kindle from wherever. Buying and downloading content is a near-instant process, extremely easy. You can also shop online normally and with 1-click buy a book and it will send it to your Kindle the next time you turn it on. Navigating your library, or navigating within a book, is pretty simple. There's an internal dictionary so that if you come across a word you don't know, just scroll to it and it will define it. Highlighting passages and making notes is simple as well. When you do make a note in a book it adds all notes/highlights to a separate file called 'my clippings' (highly useful, I'll often highlight things in a real book then just never pick it up again). Of course the 'digital paper' non-backlit screen is easy on the eyes. It has a text-to-speech feature available for a lot of releases (though I don't use it). There's a bunch of free-to-super cheap content available, mostly public domain type stuff (i.e. all the works of Mark Twain, all of Dostoyevsky, all of Dickens, the Constitution, all the works of Thomas Paine etc.) Battery life is good with the wireless turned on, but insane nutty AWESOME w/ the wireless function off (which most of the time you don't need on).

Few drawbacks:

* Not all books are currently available. Virtually all new releases seem to be (from my experience). And they're constantly getting more stuff converted for the format. But they only have 2 books by Cormac McCarthy, nothing by Saul Bellow, nothing by Pynchon etc. But the majority of books I've ever wanted or looked for have been available in the format.

* It has a 'sync to furthest page read' feature which is sometimes useful. But the feature only works when wireless is turned on and I don't see why they can't just have that feature work through the software w/o connecting wirelessly. Small issue though

* Pricing for new books is kind of steep... they're always cheaper than the paperback real versions, but I think they should be even cheaper. 99% of new releases (or anything contemporary) are $9.99.

Also, my Kindle love COULD simply be a digital-reader love that applies just as much to the Sony one or the Barnes and Noble one, which i haven't really been able to test drive.

Anyway, if you like reading already or think you might like reading were it not for those darn bulky books with all their pages that require turning, and cause paper cuts, then buy one.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christian Cynic - Oxymoron?

Is it possible to be both a Christian and a cynic? I find my natural disposition to be rather cynical, though with the future hope offered by Christianity, and the fact that the Christian message is one of GOOD news, it doesn't seem to lend itself to a cynical worldview. But let's clarify what we mean by cynic.

cyn·ic (sĭn'ĭk)
1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.

If we are using the first definition then there is no apparent contradiction. Indeed, this definition congeals nicely with a Christian worldview. Selfishness is the sin underlying all sin, and as fallen, sinful humanity, it is inherent to our nature. Interesting to note that this point of view on the nature of man is more or less shared by most naturalists and atheists. One of the main driving forces behind evolution being self-interest and self-preservation (i.e. 'The Selfish Gene'). Anyhow, selfishness being a central motivator of people generally is not incompatible with a Christian worldview. Of course, if the definition is taken as an absolute i.e. all people are motivated by selfishness at all times and in every action they take, then that is, I think, incompatible with a Christian worldview, and this extremism gives way to the second definition.

The second definition is the one that is more difficult to reconcile with a Christian worldview. Negativity as a default disposition or outlook is not what I mean by cynicism. The sense of the word that I'm using is more the first definition, with a hint of the second. Though I think this might be the more commonly used sense of the word, and thus, the reason that the idea of being a Christian cynic seems to be an inherent contradiction, on it's face.

What I meant by cynicism, prior to looking at the definition, was: a default disposition of suspicion w/r/t people's motives in whatever actions they take or words that they say, not accepting things at face value, due to the selfish nature of humanity. Given this definition I think it's pretty reasonable to be a cynic, indeed, nearly imperative to be one, Christian or not.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Top 10 Films of the Decade

1. There Will be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson
2. No Country for Old Men - The Coen Brothers
3. Children of Men - Alfonso Cuaron
4. City of God - Fernando Mierelles
5. Matrix Reloaded - The Wachowski Brothers
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry
7. Memento - Christopher Nolan
8. Requiem for a Dream - Darren Aronofsky
9. The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky
10. Old Boy - Chan-wook Park

Approximately in that order

honorable mention: The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Snatch, LOTR trilogy, Inglourious Basterds, 40 Y.O. Virgin, The Departed, Once, Royal Tenenbaums, Adaptation, Watchmen and probably some I'm forgetting

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Year of Evolution

I'm most of the way through Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth, and while I don't take issue with most of the content that's presented, the way in which it's presented is often disingenuous and misleading.

First Dawkins' opening chapter declares evolution as a fact. And to the extent that biological evolution factually occurs, that it has occured, evolution as process, is a fact. Dawkins goes on throughout the book to conflate (or intentionally obfuscate) the fact of evolution-as-process with the non-fact of the entire evolutionary paradigm. The key point where I diverge from the evolutionary paradigm is on common descent, and the evidence presented for it is paltry and utilizes complete non-sequiturs. The argument is made (inferentially) in this form:

1. Evolution occurs
2. We can trace the lineage of various animals to various common ancestors
3. We all share a single common ancestor

Clearly this conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises, and is only arrived at via assumption of metaphysical naturalism. The actual evidence is at least as compatible (if not more compatible) with the creation paradigm. That is, multiple common ancestors are at least just as likely, if not more likely. In response to evidence for this (i.e. Cambrian explosion), he simply postulates that pre-Cambrian animals didn't yet have hard skeletons, thus didn't fossilize. Which is fine to postulate, but the sudden appearance of diverse life during the Cambrian features the instant (in terms of geological time) appearance of not only hard-skeleton creatures, but the instant indepedent appearances of them along different evolutionary lines, at vastly different sizes, with already-intact predation relationships etc. No possible widespread environmental or predation stress can explain the sudden appearance of such hard skeletons and such relationships in such a short period of time. Indeed, he doesn't even postulate a possible pressure that could have resulted in hard skeletons appearing everywhere at once (again 'at once' in geological time, over 10s of thousands of years, but relatively very short).

The remaining evidence for common descent is relegated to homology in genetics. And specifically homology extending beyond the apparent functional parts of the genome, to the apparently useless parts. The argument (again, inferentially) being 'why would a creator create junk DNA AND make that useless DNA similar in different species?' The same main argument that theistic evolutionists make. Homology in genetics itself is easily explained by a creator using a certain design template that is similar from species to species. And the similarity of junk DNA can be explained in that it's only seemingly junk, and indeed, the more we discover, the more apparent junk is revealed as functional. Not only in DNA itself, but also in our own morphological features. In humans the adenoids, tonsils, S-shaped backbone, appendix etc. were all once thought to be useless evolutionary byproduct, and have all since been revealed to have specific, necessary functions.

Now the vast majority of the book doesn't even purport to defend common descent, but merely 'evolution'. Thus I don't take issue with the vast majority of the book, more with what it doesn't contain, and what the evidence doesn't actually support.

I enjoyed the section on the Lenski team experiment, which is fascinating stuff. Dawkins' tone during that section is that of a giddy fanboy. Which is fine, I suppose passion about your field is a good thing. Though, again, the evidence as it relates to the evolutionary paradigm, only supports much of which we already knew to be true. And the new information that the experiment DOES provide strongly suggests that evolution occurs and is highly historically contingent, which is a problem for the evolutionary paradigm on the whole, not a support for it.

The following is more of a stylistic issue, but it's funny how Dawkins can not help himself. At the beginning of the book he says that the book isn't about God, religion, evolution-vs-religion etc., but simply the evidence for evolution. Then throughout the book he brings up creationists (almost exclusively young-Earth creationists specifically without ever making that distinction explicitly) often, and in so doing, never adds anything to his evidence for evolution. Seemingly just pandering to his anti-God audience, tossing red meat to his followers for no other reason than to sell books. Or possibly to keep lay people interested in the potentially complicated and/or dull material.

Another stylistic thing, but his conscious attempt to create memes is hilarious. He's just so bad at it. I believe in one of his earlier books he created the useless term 'quote-mining', which is just another name for taking a quote out of context, really. In this one he attempts to encapsulate anti-evolutionists in the most catchy, derisive way possible and this is the 6-syllable term he came up with: 'history-deniers'. LOL.

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

(For all intents and purposes read as 'Top 10 RAP Albums of the Decade', as I know nothing else)

1. Float - Aesop Rock
2. The Cold Vein - Cannibal Ox
3. Labor Days - Aesop Rock
4. Shadows on the Sun - Brother Ali
5. Supreme Clientele - Ghostface Killah
6. The Lost Tapes - Nas
7. Madvillainy - Madvillain (MF Doom + Madlib)
8. Stillmatic - Nas
9. Lucy Ford - Atmosphere
10. The Blueprint - Jay-z

Honorable Mention: I Phantom - Mr. Lif, Fantastic Damage - El-p, ISWYD - El-p, MM FOOD - MF Doom, Marshal Mathers LP - Eminem, MOP - Warriorz, Common - Be, Clipse - Lord Willin, The Black Album - Jay-z, APOS - Cunninlynguists, The Offering - Killah Priest, Stankonia - Outkast, Saul Williams - Amethyst Rockstar, None Shall Pass - Aesop Rock, and probably some I'm forgetting

Monday, November 16, 2009

"God of the Gaps"

If you've ever been involved in, or witnessed a debate between a theist and an atheist on the issue of God's existence, you may have encountered the 'God of the Gaps' argument. The argument usually takes the form of this:

1. Ancient peoples often attributed explanations of physical phenomena to direct interactions by God or gods. i.e. Rainbows occur because the god of rainbows shoot them out of his belly
2. As scientific knowledge increases explanations for the mechanisms behind these physical phenomena are discovered. i.e. rainbows occur due to refraction of the light spectrum when passing through water molecules (or something like that)
3. God's explanatory role is diminished, and his existence becomes progressively less likely. God retreats into gaps of understanding, once the gaps are filled, he is forced to retreat further and further.

Sam Harris is a popular atheist who often make this argument (his professional atheist contemporaries don't make it nearly as often as he does). Stressing the strengths of modernity, and the idea that religion is a 'failed science'.

The key problem with this argument is right in the title. "God of the gaps". Clearly, if we look at the argument in the form presented God himself does not have a diminished role, God himself is not forced to retreat, God himself is completely unaffected by the increase in information. If God exists, then he exists in exactly the same form that he did prior to the increase in information. If God does not exist, then he didn't exist prior to the increase in information and still doesn't.

The only thing that is affected by the increased information is people's perception of God (or gods) and how He interacts with his creation. Clearly these advances in knowledge and understanding have the capacity to falsify a particular belief about the specific manner in which God behaves. Clearly God doesn't shoot Rainbows out of his belly. Clearly God doesn't physically grasp the 'edge' of the Earth and shake it to cause an Earthquake. So any person who believed these things, was wrong, and their false conception of God's nature is forced to retreat.

Also notice that the argument does nothing to decrease the likelihood that God is ultimately behind, and ultimately responsible for any particular physical phenomena. If the ancient person said 'God created rainbows' rather than 'God makes rainbows BY shooting them out of his belly', then the ancient person is just as likely to be correct once we understand the physical mechanisms involved in making rainbows as he was before we did. God is still just as likely to have created rainbows (or created the mechanisms that cause rainbows) before and after our increase in understanding. The likelihood that he exists, and the likelihood that he created rainbows, is exactly the same before and after. The only thing that is falsified are claims that God created rainbows using some specific methodology that has been shown to be false.

That pretty much completely neutralizes the argument. The argument is more appropriately titled "people's-conception-of-God-of-the-gaps". And yes, admittedly, as the limited beings that we are, our conception of God and how he works is always changing, always incomplete, and often flat out wrong. This is not evidence against his existence, however. Merely evidence of our own shortcomings.

Back to Back Deep Sunday Million Runs

Tournament Poker is such a beast. I love tournaments and I've worked on my game quite a bit, and I think I'm playing extremely well currently and making very few mistakes. My confidence was already high but then I won a tournament. I got first (out of 1450 entrants) in a $109 tourney for $25,000. I had won tournaments before but always at lower buy-ins, or in smaller fields, and never for more than $8000.

But tournaments can be frustrating and discouraging. By their nature you will play many in a row where you bust out, or win a very small amount, even if you're playing very well, and have no big scores for very long periods of time. Here's where things get odd though. Those periods don't bother me at all. I can weather them fine, know that I'm playing well, and not think much of it. Tournament poker is the most frustrating when you DO get pretty large scores, but fall short of the epic score.

The last 2 weeks that I played the Sunday Million I made deep runs both times. The Sunday million always features a first place of over $200,000, and the final table always makes at least $10,000. The first time I got 41st out of ~8000 players for about $3000. This wasn't too hard for me to swallow. But it was discouraging to think that you don't get that far in that big of a field very often, so it probably would be a while before I had another chance like that. Well, I was wrong, I got another shot the very next week.

And this time it was the largest Sunday Million field OF ALL-TIME. Pokerstars added $1 million to the guarantee of the prizepool, and in so doing attracted 10,000 more players than their usual 7500-8000. Resulting in a MASSIVE field of 18,000 with a total prize pool of $3.6 million. With a first place of $360,000, 2nd place being $292,000, everyone in the top 5 making at least $125,000, and making at least $20,000 if you make the final table, it was an exciting tournament. But at the start very daunting. With that big of a field the odds are stacked against anyone making it deep, even when they're playing well.

Well I managed to make it deep, somehow. I was rather fortunate in a lot of spots to pick up pair over pair where I had the bigger pair late in the tournament, or to win some coinflips. However it wasn't all smooth sailing; i flopped a set late in the tournament and lost a big pot to a gut shot, my AKs lost to JTo all in preflop, and my AQs lost a big coinflip early on. Overall though, my luck was definitely above average. And I was playing very well, making very good decisions.

As we were getting down to around 100 left, and the large prize money getting tantalizingly close, I began to look at some of my opponents results on As might be expected in a field this large most of them were very inexperienced, most were losing players, and very few were tournament regulars who played often. Watching how they played confirmed that this was the case. With me having a very healthy stack for the majority of the tournament, I really loved my chances of making a really big score.

Down to 42 and I had an average stack of 3.3 million with blinds at 80k/160k. I find pocket tens in early position and raise to 2.5 times the big blind to 400k from early position. My standard raise. A player who I had searched earlier, who was a losing player, and pretty inexperienced as far as number of tournies played, had been playing extremely loose and aggressive the last few rounds. Either he was getting hit by the deck, or he was doing a lot of bluffing. Anyways, it folds to this player who re-raises me small. I found the size of the re-raise troubling; weak and/or inexperienced players often re-raise small when they have a monster hand. Better players will re-raise small with both big hands, AND bluffs, making them less scary from good players. But since I knew this guy wasn't good, I was troubled. However, with him playing SO many hands, and with me only having 20 big blinds, I believe the correct play is to shove all-in. So that's what i did and unfortunately he had QQ making me a 4-1 underdog. Sigh.

Wait! The flop is Td 8c 7d! I am now a monster favorite to win a 7 million chip pot, and be one of the chipleaders with 42 left, with an extremely good chance to make $100,000! Turn is 2d. YIKES! He can now catch any diamond or any Queen to beat me. NO DIAMOND PLEASE! The river... is a diamond.

Now this is not a bad beat. My opponent had the best hand when the money went in, which is all that counts, and he won. It was a brutal psychological hit though. This hand combined with the fact that this was the largest Sunday million prize pool ever and it was pretty devastating to be one card away from a huge stack and very solid chance at a huge score only to see the diamond peel off. I have no regrets with the decisions I made in the hand. And I did make $4500. But it was one of the more painful bustouts I've ever had to deal with. Much, MUCH worse than when I busted the previous week. And although I had an extremely profitable two weeks at poker (not just in tournaments but in cash games also), I can't help but feel more like I lost $20,000-$100,000, rather than like I won ~$8000.

Abortion - From a Materialist/Secularist Perspective

As a Christian I find it rarely makes sense to try to convince a non-believer of some religious, spiritual principle, if they do not share the same foundation for establishing truth. However, when it comes to extremely important issues, issues that effect life and death, issues that effect public policy and legislation, which in turn affect us all, Christians understandably want to reach non-believers with their message. When this is the case Christians need to resist the urge to say that 'The Bible says ____', because, as it relates to public policy, and as it relates to convincing non-believers, what it says is not going to be relevant from their perspective.

Thankfully God has made many truths accessible even to those who do not believe. The most obvious way is through authoring the human conscience. However some issues are murky even to those of us who possess a conscience. Our conscience can tell us that ending a human life is wrong, for example, but our conscience can't tell us whether or not a just-conceived embryo constitutes a 'human life'. Luckily, modern science (i.e. embryology) can.

Since the pro-choice position is more prevalent among non-religious people, one would expect that the argument against abortion to be at least partially grounded in supernatural, religious presupposition and dogma. This turns out to not be the case. What we actually find is that the Christian argument against abortion is not contingent upon any specific scriptures (though it is often supplemented by them), or commands from God, and is an argument that can be made completely independent of any belief in any particular God. Though the Christian argument is often made with reference to the soul, and to various scriptures suggesting the soul is present at conception, it is not necessary to posit a soul at any point in order to show that abortion is wrong.
You need only to assert that the wanton destruction of a unique, innocent, human life is wrong (a point virtually all secularists and humanists will grant you), and that a just-conceived embryo is all of these things (which is almost just as obvious, but will take a little more to convince them of). Which, per the definition of each adjective, it factually is.

Thanks to modern science we know that conception is the point at which we become 'unique' (that is, when our own DNA is formed). Just before conception the unfertilized egg and the sperm are still parts of the person they came from, and, as such, the destruction of either the unfertilized egg or the acting sperm would not represent the destruction of a unique, individual entity. The secularist should grant 'unique' without any difficulty, I only mention this to preemptively counter slippery slope arguments such as 'well then is contraception/masturbation murder also?' No, they aren't, for the reasons stated.

'Innocent' should be no problem for the secularist to concede. That one is actually a more interesting debate among and between believers, rather than when dealing with non-believers.

'Human' should be fairly intuitive. The embryo has human DNA, not duck DNA, or platypus DNA, or pterodactyl DNA. This also should be granted readily, and if it isn't then whoever you are trying to convince is probably conflating 'Human' with the philosophical issue of 'personhood', which is not what this is about, because we are arguing the issue from a strictly materialist perspective. It's simply about which particular mammalian species we are discussing.

'Life' might be the only slight sticking point, though it simply is biologically, factually, just that. Biology recognizes single-celled organisms as life, and an embryo consists of many thousands (possibly millions? Biology experts help me out) times more than a single cell.

Thus, if you are against the wanton destruction of unique, innocent, human life, you must be against abortion.

Also, as an addendum, the secularist will often appeal to the social benefits of abortion in arguments that they make, however, even if there are many, I submit that IF we know that an embryo is a human life with rights, then whatever social ills (or benefits) that come from it existing are moot. There are many social benefits to be derived from euthanasia and genocide as well, but few would make the argument that those benefits make euthanasia or genocide justifiable.

Lastly the secularist will appeal to the rights of the mother. And in situations where the life of the mother is in danger, then this becomes relevant. Other than that though, your rights end where the rights of another begin, and the right to life trumps the right to choose.

I've always found it peculiar that the abortion issue is often fought along religious lines, or is at least perceived to be. Pro-life, anti-abortionists should be able to find allies in all walks of life, and across spiritual divides. I think this fact is illustrated well in Christopher Hitchens. He is of course a militant atheist, fervently anti- all things God, but he believes that abortion is wrong on materialist grounds (presumably arriving at that conclusion using some line of reasoning similar to what I have presented).

Naturalism: Self-refuting - Nihilism: At least it's coherent

If you have witnessed (or taken part in) a debate between a religious person and an atheist the religious person will often make the assertion that atheism is a belief system as well, or that atheism is a 'faith'. The atheist will usually reject this notion and assert that atheism is merely a singular disbelief in God, not a belief system. The atheist is technically right; atheism in and of itself is not a worldview just as theism is not. However every atheist HAS a belief system or worldview or 'faith', of which atheism is one of the tenets of that worldview. For example there are nihilists and secular humanists. Both are worldviews that have atheism as a fundamental principle.

This being the case, while one can't rightly say that atheism is a belief system, one can say that atheists HAVE belief systems, and it can then be examined which of these belief systems is the most internally consistent, given atheism as the fundamental premise. That is, starting with the assumption that atheists (specifically naturalists) make which is 'the natural world is all that exists', we can determine which worldview best conforms with this assumption. And if an atheist's worldview is not consistent with the consequences of this assumption, the atheist will be forced to either reject his current worldview in favor of either a coherent atheistic worldview, or for a theistic worldview.

"You can not get an 'ought' from an 'is'"

David Hume expressed this notion that one can not derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. Essentially that you can not derive morality from facts and data. Since then some have tried to refute this argument (Searle), but unsuccessfully. You indeed can not derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. This is problematic for any naturalist who also claims to have a belief in morality. If the natural world is all that exists, then all that exists are 'is's. The naturalist claims that empirical observation of the natural world is the only method of determining truth. If this is the case, then a naturalist can not affirm any belief in morality (as anything other than arbitrary human delusion) without being inconsistent with his own beleifs. We know what the physical world IS and we have broken in down to it's most basic elements. If atomic particles and energy are all that there IS, then it is of course to absurd to state that atomic particles 'ought' to go left, or they 'ought' to go right. That electrical currents 'ought' to go up or 'ought' to go down. And humans, in the eyes of the naturalist, at our most basic level, are nothing other than atomic particles and electrical currents going up or down, left or right.

If the universe is a chain of undirected causal events, then 'oughts' can have no meaning. The nihilist recognizes this, and therefore rejects all notions of morality. While I disagree with the nihilist that the natural world is all that exists, if we grant him this premise, then his worldview is AT LEAST internally consistent. Just as if you grant the Christian the premise that Jesus Christ is God's only son, then pretty much all the rest of the Christian's beliefs will be internally consistent. The vast majority of atheists however are not nihilists, they are mostly affirmed secular humanists, secular humanists who don't self-describe at such but who hold the same beliefs, or some third worldview that is often very similar to secular humanism in the most relevant ways. And, unlike nihilism or Christianity, even if we grant the secular humanist his fundamental assumption (the natural world is all that exists), we find that this system of beliefs is NOT internally coherent or consistent. Because secular humanism also affirms the existence of things such as justice, morality, goodness, evil etc. Despite having no foundation from which to derive such concepts.

Therefore the naturalist must reject notions of justice, good, morality etc. as nothing more than human abstractions with no real use or purpose, if he is to be consistent, and adopt a nihilistic world view. Or reject metaphysical naturalism altogether. Now, the naturalist will likely respond that what we call morality is important biologically because it's based on self-preservation and survival. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that self-preservation, survival, propagation of the species etc. are inherently good, desirable goals. Which is a reasonable assumption, but not one that can be shown to be true through empirical observation, which they claim is the only way to know anything. Thus the naturalist who affirms belief in morality (as something other than arbitrary delusion), has a self-refuting world view.