This Weeks Reader March 16, 2008  

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Funerals Make Me Glad to Be an Atheist
This is why I’m glad to be an atheist. Because I know that, when I go, there won’t be some asshole up at a podium using my death to push his agenda. Instead, my family will be there, remembering me for the life I actually lived and the things I actually did. That’s how I want it to be. That’s how it should be.

Blog Against Theocracy 2008 - Details
1. Write a post in support of our United States Constitution, specifically regarding the separation of Church and State. You can write your post anytime, but the blogswarm takes place Easter Weekend, March 21-23. Your post will be linked at the Blog Against Theocracy website during and just after that weekend.


The Bad News at the Pump
Nothing similar is likely to happen now. For the present surge in prices — crude oil costs have risen by 74% over the past year — no such easy solution is in sight. To begin with, we face not a sudden spike, but the results of a steady, relentless climb that began in 2002 and shows no signs of abating; nor can this rise be attributed to a single, chaos-causing factor in the energy business or in global politics. It is instead the product of multiple factors endemic to energy production and characteristic of the current era. There is no prospect of their vanishing any time soon.

Raising California: The rights of a parent
Like any position of power, the power of parenting brings with it a responsibility to use it only when necessary. Children are people too. This may seem a tired statement--this is certainly not the first time you've heard it--but it is rarely recognized for what it really means. No person is the property of another person, and since children of all ages are persons, this includes them. But many parents are eager to make the jump from "My kids are my responsibility," to, "My kids are mine." Since children are too young to make important decisions for themselves, legal responsibilties are often passed on to the parents. This further promotes the idea that they are our property: we have to sign release papers in order for anyone else to use them. But responsibility for a person does not mean that you own them and are free to control their lives in any way you see fit.

Oklahoma’s Proposed “Religious Freedom” Law
The purpose of the bill is clear - to open the door for religious views not only in schools but in the classroom, on homework assignments and on tests. Such a law is an abomination of religious freedom, not a protection of it. It violates the Constitutional provision for separation of church and state, and is also degrades the quality of student education. I suspect that the promoters of the law wish, if nothing else, to make the teaching of certain topics, like evolution, as controversial as possible, hampered by legal landmines. That way teachers and schools are likely just to avoid it altogether, and textbook manufacturers will be motivated to avoid it lest their book sales suffer. This strategy has been unfortunately successful over the last century, creating an American public that is largely scientifically illiterate concerning one of the fundamental pillars of modern science.

Patents on video game mechanics to strangle innovation, fun
We've already seen the danger of these patents. Sega owns patent no. 6,200,138, which is entitled "Game display method, moving direction indicating method, game apparatus and drive simulating apparatus." What this means is that Sega has a lock on the idea of driving a car around a city with an arrow pointing towards the next destination; it's a patent on Crazy Taxi, more or less.

Simpson's Road Rage was a game that featured Simpsons characters driving around a city, picking up customers, and dropping them off in other locations, all with an arrow pointing towards the next destination. When the game came out, Sega promptly sued Fox Entertainment, EA, and Radical Games. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Don't expect to see many arrows in your driving games, unless they've been cleared by a number of lawyers making sure they're not close to Sega's idea of what an arrow can or should point to.

Video game designed to help paralysis patients
Once again proving that video games can be used for more than entertainment, Today's Zaman is reporting that engineers from the Middle East Technical University Technopolis are working on a video game designed to rehabilitate patients who have been paralyzed. The game itself is called "Çiftlik” (Turkish for "Farm"), and can be played with an optical remote control instead of a mouse and keyboard.

Nintendo not allowing holocaust game in North America
The New York Times recently reported on a game by British developer Luc Bernard, entitled Imagination is the Only Escape, which follows the story of a young boy living during the Nazi occupation of France. The game's world is based upon a fantasy land that the boy creates to escape the horrors he has to live through, similar to the film Pan's Labyrinth. Bernard hopes to use the game as a platform to educate children about the Holocaust. "I hope that young children will play it," he explained.

Slate editorial bashes D&D, but we know the truth
Yesterday, writer Erik Sofge wrote a rebuttal to the many touching tributes and comics and remembrances of Gygax that have spread across the web. Erik doesn't think Dungeons and Dragons was a very good game, but it seems very few people are agreeing with him. In fact, many corners of the Internet are calling his piece nothing more than a thinly-disguised troll, a way to get the geeks and Internet people riled up, visiting the site, and generating ad revenue. That could be, but I don't think so. The more I read his piece, the more I'm convinced something even worse is at play here. I thought long and hard about whether to give Sofge's piece yet more publicity, but then I thought it would be good if we used it as a warning, as a worst-case scenario. Even as an apology. See, I think I know what happened to the young man who wrote this piece.

Gibson suing Activision over Guitar Hero guitars
Activision, maker of the Guitar Hero franchise, is being sued for violating a patent by Gibson Guitars, whose products the Guitar Hero controllers have been modeled on. The lawsuit stems from a patent issued to Gibson in 1999, which involves "a system for electronically simulating participation by a user in a pre-recorded musical performance."

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War -- Soulstorm (PC)
Soulstorm is an unfortunate way for an incredible game to sail into the sunset. It shows flashes of its former brilliance through two new races that are full of personality and are a lot of fun to play with, but falls flat through a lackluster single-player campaign, mediocre (at best) new air units and two devastating bugs that will kill the multiplayer scene until Relic issues an eventual patch. The Sisters and the Dark Eldar could really reinvigorate multiplayer games, but until a patch is released the Dawn of War faithful deserved a better expansion.

The post in which I continue to attack the damn libertarians
The second idiocy here is that the type of medicine under a universal health system will hopefully be fundamentally different than what we have now. Currently, doctors are essentially penalized for providing more care, and rewarded by insurance companies for providing less care. There is also completely inadequate support for preventative medicine. Despite these measures to reduce cost we still manage to spend more per capita on healthcare than any other nation, are ranked almost dead last among industrialized nations for provision of care (mostly due to access problems), and have over 40 million uninsured. These facts make a prima facie case for the need to reform our medical delivery system. The current system is unjustifiably stupid economically, and the restructuring of healthcare delivery has the potential to gear medicine more towards better disease prevention, screening, and overall increased quality of care as people are less fearful of being dinged by their insurance company for the crime of getting sick or being diagnosed with a disease.

Scary Science That Humans Have Foolishly Embraced
Roman historian Pliny the Elder notes that asbestos in clothing "affords
protection against all spells, especially those of the Magi." If that’s not handy enough, the Romans also discover that asbestos is a strong building material, and that it can make tablecloths flame retardant. (Simply burn off the food to clean them!)

Curiously, Pliny also warns against purchasing slaves who’ve worked in asbestos quarries. He writes, "They die young."

Life Stories
Ten Years Ago Today
And thus it was, standing in the living room of a cheap apartment that we were being shown in Leesburg, Virginia, I had what I expect was the lowest moment of my adult life. I was standing in the living room with gray walls, gray carpet and gray window blinds, on an overcast day, listening to my wife ask about the much reduced amenities relative to the apartment we lived in at the time, and it felt like my life had hit some sort of rewind — that I had managed to come so far, and now this was the bend in the curve, where things started their downturn.

Go Outside and Watch Some Birds
At about three o’clock, a red-shouldered hawk landed on an extremely thin branch of a naked sycamore near the back of my house. He was relatively small for the species: a male, no doubt. He widened his tail and pumped it up and down a few times, trying to catch his balance, while the other birds, suddenly confronted with the possibility of a swift and unexpected death, flew into the thicket, a short but safe distance away. The bravest of the cardinals and goldfinches peeked out from time to time to see what the hawk was up to. Not much, as it happened. After a few minutes of watching the ground — waiting hopefully for some rodent to come for the spilled seed, although none did — he coursed away.

Miles to go
It seems to me that I have spent most of my life "going places". On the road. In boats, planes, motorhomes, buses. I learned to walk on the train crossing Canada, they told me. And I am still wandering. There is so much to see, so much to do; there is always something new and interesting around that next corner. I rejoice in the feel of a highway unfolding ahead of me, the mystery of where it will lead, the scent of future discoveries.

Watching Pictures In The Clouds

Another Goddamned Podcast #6: March 6, 2008
St. Patrick’s Day falls during Holy Week this year. OH NO! We toast one another with green beer while throwing this non-controversy right in the Papal face. But then we find a topic we really disagree on. Lifeguard wants to be Aquaman. Which superheroes would the other Herd members choose? And who can kick whose ass?

McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam
On February 26, McCain appeared at a campaign rally in Cincinnati with the Reverend Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, a supersize Pentecostal institution that features a 5,200-seat sanctuary, a television studio (where Parsley tapes a weekly show), and a 122,000-square-foot Ministry Activity Center. That day, a week before the Ohio primary, Parsley praised the Republican presidential front-runner as a "strong, true, consistent conservative." The endorsement was important for McCain, who at the time was trying to put an end to the lingering challenge from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a favorite among Christian evangelicals. A politically influential figure in Ohio, Parsley could also play a key role in McCain's effort to win this bellwether state in the general election. McCain, with Parsley by his side at the Cincinnati rally, called the evangelical minister a "spiritual guide."

By contrast, religion is a system of thought notably lacking in mechanisms for self-correction. The vast majority of religious beliefs do the exact opposite - assume that all significant truth was handed down at that religion's founding, perfect and complete, and that nothing of significance remains to be learned. There is no reward in religion for those who introduce new beliefs into the system or argue against old dogmas. In fact, most religions are set up specifically to discourage that possibility, with some going so far as to pronounce curses and divine wrath on anyone who tries it. There is no system of voting or other means by which the lay believers can express their discontent or call for a change of direction. And in many religions, there is an oligarchical elite of clergy who choose their own successors, shutting ordinary followers out of the decision-making process altogether.

Letting go of Jesus
Within the treatise, Hume, like a good Scotsman, appealed to common sense: You have never seen a brick suspended in the air. Wood will burn and fire will be extinguished by water. Food does not multiply by itself with a snap of my fingers. Water does not turn into wine. And in a deceptive opening sentence, he says, “...and what is more probable than that all men shall die.” In fact, “nothing I call a miracle has ever happened in the ordinary course of events.” It’s not a miracle if a man who seems to be in good health drops dead. It is a miracle if a dead man comes back to life—because this has never been witnessed by any of us. We only have reports, and even these can be challenged by the ordinary laws of evidence: How old are these reports? What is the reliability of the reporter? Under what circumstances were they written? Within what social, cultural and intellectual conditions did these reports originate? Hume’s conclusion is so simple and so elegant that I sometimes wish it, and not the Ten Commandments, were what Americans in Pascagoula were asking to be posted on classroom walls:

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish...

If You Support Gay Rights, I’m Ditching Class
Silence isn’t the issue. It’s pure, simple bigotry. And to tell children to stay home from school because of… well, I can’t exactly figure out what they’re staying home from… isn’t just damaging to their education, it takes away their ability to see other perspectives, discuss those beliefs, and even voice their disagreement.

Mortal Sins Expansion Pack
o how better then, if the old sins aren't doing it, to make new ones? Brilliant, I say! That Vatican knows how to maintain marketability but I REALLY have to question the choices for the new seven, especially when it's guilty of at least 3 of them. That seems odd. I wish they had called me first. I could give them some ideas. They might not like them, but they'd go over a lot better. For instance what about molesting children? And add aiding and abetting those who molest children? I'm sure others here could suggest a few more. Hell, anyone could have suggested ones that you're not guilty of yourself. I mean, duh!

An Avalanche on Mars

False Memories in the Courtroom and Elsewhere
The issue is of very practical importance in the courtroom. Eyewitness testimony is still commonly relied upon as key evidence in trial, including murder trials. This is despite the fact that for years there has been evidence from memory researchers that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Now another assumption of the courtroom regarding memory has apparently fallen. New research suggests that the testimony of children may be more accurate than that of adults - the exact opposite of prior assumptions in the courtroom.

Magical Thinking
The article explores the human tendency toward magical thinking, and examines several examples. Hutson challenges, “Even if you’re a hard-core atheist who walks under ladders and pronounces ‘new-age’ like ‘sewage’, you believe in magic.”

Robots with Delusions Are Better
The concept of free will is regarded as shaky at best among the scientific and skeptical community, however, the implications go largely undiscussed. For example, the defense that people aren’t responsible for their actions won’t work in the courtroom.

Brain Enhancement Is Wrong, Right?
“We worship at the altar of progress, and to the demigod of choice,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “Both are very strong undercurrents in the culture and the way this is likely to be framed is: ‘Look, we want smart people to be as productive as possible to make everybody’s lives better. We want people performing at the max, and if that means using these medicines, then great, then we should be free to choose what we want as long as we’re not harming someone.’ I’m not taking that position, but we have this winner-take-all culture and that is the way it is likely to go.”

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