Tuesday, September 30, 2008
...with a few birds in flight
Three moons as well. Can you spot them all?
...with a few birds in flight
Three moons as well. Can you spot them all?
Apologies in advance to my non-cat-loving or non-cute-loving users, but yeah, this is a cat post.
My cat Junior used to do this. We'd play peek-a-boo and chase sometimes. As soon as he'd sneak around the corner to get me I'd jump out at him and he'd run away. Only to come back in curiosity when I peeked out at him again.
I miss him.
Originally seen on PodBlack.
Last week I was out to lunch with some of my co-workers and I couldn't help but notice there was another group there moving from table to table. At one point they took the table next to us and moved it to another part of the restaurant. But that wasn't why I noticed them. One of the members of the group was wearing a t-shirt zig-zagged with the words, "Where Will You Be When Reality Strikes?" and then in large letters, "Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames".
The juxtaposition of reality with heaven and hell just set my mind reeling. To me reality is the world we experience around us, not some nebulous afterlife that no one can agree on because no one living has experienced it.
I was curious enough to look up more information about the t-shirt when I got home, which is probably part of the reason for the clash of words. It turns out that Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames is a play that is popular in evangelical churches. I found a promotional video for it on You Tube. I also came across a post at LeavingFundamentalism.org by David Rattigan which gives more information about it.
David was involved in the play before he left fundamentalism and calls it, "the perfect recipe for creating an atmosphere conducive to emotional, psychological and spiritual manipulation." Yeah, that pisses me off as much as it pisses off David. I was involved in these kinds of dramatic altar calls as a kid. The Assemblies of God church where I went to school had several special events featuring movie nights about the Apocalypse (predating the Left Behind series), documentaries on the evils of Rock and Roll music that were filled with outright lies and inaccuracies, and Christian music concerts with stories about how the band members had been bad but they made their lives good when they came to Christ. I'm ashamed to think about how easily I was pushed and prodded through the religious paces with events like this.
But reality? Really?
How many Christians believe in a literal hell? Or is it just something that's good to use as a scare tactic for the sinners? Hell with a devil that has horns and brimstone and fire? How can you take that concept and attach the word reality to it?
Not that I don't believe there are people who believe in a literal hell. Hey, I believed it once too. But I also believed in a literal seven day creation and demon possession. I was taught to mistrust my own thoughts because they were likely to be influenced by demons. And those are the people that are claiming to know reality. It's mind boggling.
And it's all for the altar call. To these people salvation is a war and it's about saving souls no matter what the cost - even emotional manipulation and self-delusion. It's largely about control. If you can make a person turn his life over to God and keep him there, then buddy, you have a soul going to heaven. And you'll be rewarded when you get to heaven.
But people can't really live like that, under complete control, suspect of their own thoughts. So dramas like this come in to reinforce how important it is to keep on the straight and narrow. But, the only reality they portray is the reality of scaring people into submission.
Oh yeah, and some really shitty acting.
You'll remember a few weeks ago I did the Alphabetized Meme stolen from Venjanz.
Kendric emailed his list to me and also a list sorting only by song name. So here's my list by song name. I think Ridger might have also done the same as well.
#: 93 Million Miles - 30 Seconds to Mars
A: Abandoned Masquerade - Diana Krall
B: Baby Blue - Emilinia Torrini
C: C*********k - Roy Zimmerman
D: Daddy - Jewel
E: Ease Back - Amos Lee
F: F-Stop Blues - Jack Johnson
G: Galaxy of Emptiness - Beth Orton
H: H. - Tool
I: I'd Love You - Sonya Kitchell
J: Jack and The Ripper - Michael Kamen And The Los Angeles Rock And Roll Ensemble Featuring Buckethead
K: Karma Police - Radiohead
L: L'Organiste / 7 Pièces en mi bémol majeur et mi bémol mineur - 1. Andantino poco Allegretto - Andres Segovia
M: M1 A1 - Gorrillaz
N: Naked If I Want To - Cat Power
O: O' Sailor - Fiona Apple
P: The Package - A Perfect Circle
Q: Queer - Garbage
R: R-Evolve - 30 Seconds to Mars
S: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath - The Cardigans
T: T.B.D. - Live
U: Ugly Side - Blue October
V: Valerie - Dario Marianelli
W: Wachet Auf From Cantata No 140 - Billy McLaughlin
X: X-Girlfriend - Bush
Y: Yeah - Kelly Clarkson
Z: Zombie Eaters - Faith No More
Saved by Saturday evening...
Halfway through the first chapter I wondered why I had never heard of this book before. By the second chapter I was liking it so much that I wondered why I had never read it before. But once the heavy theological arguments had been established, I realized that I didn't love everything about this book. Still, it was enjoyable. I identified very strongly with Peter's deconversion experience, even if mine took a much less cerebral path.
In a surprising bit of coincidence James Randi spoke at Dragon Con about Martin Gardner and his religious beliefs. I had no idea it was the same Martin Gardner until after I was halfway into the book and also editing part of the recordings I had from the convention.
I'm of two minds about Gardner's final evolution of belief. In one sense his belief in some kind of unknowable god is inoffensive. His beliefs don't negatively influence his ethics - in my thinking anyway - and they're as close to PZ's desire for a knitting club as you can get. There are plenty of things that I believe in that I probably only believe because they make me feel good. People enjoy reading my blog. One day I'm going to retire in relative comfort. My cat actually cares that I'm around. But none of those beliefs actually impact anyone else.
My own fundamentalist beliefs took a brief turn to deism, as a formless, unknowing, unidentified something-out-there, but it was too nebulous to be important to me. It didn't give me any more comfort than nothing. So I eventually dropped the idea of a nebulous something.
I see an unknowable god as completely meaningless. I won't deny that it's possible that there's something out there that can't be understood and had something to do with us being here, but if it's so far beyond me that I can't comprehend whatever it is, what does it matter in my day-to-day life? Why would it even care that I gave it a moment's thought? I don't find myself obsessing over whether or not the microbes my body give me any thought.
Thus, believing in something that I will never interact with became meaningless in itself and quickly dissolved into more of a "what does it matter?" philosophy and eventually into an "I want to see the proof" skeptical outlook that I have today. (Mostly after hearing the nebulous god or goalpost-moving god arguments so many times that I was motivated to find arguments against both.)
But again, personal beliefs in a god or great spirit or supreme being don't bother me any more than the belief that the Democratic Congress is going to grow a spine one day or that the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl again. (Well, statistically one or the other will happen one day, right?.. yeah, right.)
And for some reason throughout the book I kept envisioning Homer, the ever persuasive guide, as The Exterminator. I don't think Ex would have been half as patient though. I could just hear him going off f’Chrissake at some point during the Barthian analysis. Despite that, the image held. Sorry, Ex. Maybe you were only acting as my sub-conscious owl in there.
Dragon*Con was a lot of fun, as it always is. With it being the first official year of Skeptrack, I immersed myself into one track rather than visiting many several different tracks and missed a lot of other things going on at the convention. I kind of regret it, but at the same time I really enjoyed that panels I attended. Maybe next year I'll balance it a little more and spend more time on science fiction. The Independent Film track was great, as always.
Skeptrack had two overriding themes this year. The first was what it means to be skeptical, including keeping an open mind about everything. It's easy to dismiss claims that seem radical like Big Foot (a big joke due to the recent Big Foot hoax) or psychic powers, but rejecting all claims out of hand that don't meet your world view doesn't make you a skeptic. It makes you dogmatic.
The other major theme was skepticism and atheism. There were requests to keep them separate from some people and requests to not draw the line of skepticism at religious belief. I think having both groups there made a good balance. I was especially happy to hear Lori Lipman Brown and DJ Grothe speaking as atheists.
I, of course, think that people should be skeptical of their beliefs as much as anything else in their lives.
High points of the weekend
* Meeting podblack (Kylie) and seeing how passionate she is about education and just life in general.
* Meeting Evan from the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.
* Having A. compliment me on my hair. I got the hair cut from hell just before I left for Dragon Con and I was freaking out about how short it is. And A. made me feel much, much better.
* Meeting Dale and Meg.
* Attending the Skeptics 101 and Future of Skepticism panels.
* Admiring all the time and effort people put into some incredible costumes.
* Attending to the The Other White Meat panel in the Independent Film track.
Low point of the weekend
Man, that's a fat foot!
I have about six posts in my head that I haven't been able to get out in writing. But, I'll be back to blogging soon. In the meantime I heard Zoe Keating on Radio Lab a couple of weeks ago (on my way to Dragon Con as a matter of fact). I hope you enjoy this piece.
Mostly cloudy skies this week...
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I wasn't able to do much reading at D*C.
Read in August
A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons - Robert Saplosky
The Forever War - Joe Haldeman (reread)
Shadow Play (Shadowmarch Vol. II) - Tad Williams
Fulgrim (The Horus Heresy) - Graham McNeill
The Flight of Peter Fromm - Martin Gardner (Nonbelieving Literati)
Coming Up Next
The Android's Dream - John Scalzi
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science - Natalie Angier
A lot of photos this week were taking from my flights across the Eastern half of the US. Sorry, Evo. You'll just have to deal with the monotony.
It was difficult to get pictures of the sun at the convention because I was inside most of the time. It was too freaking hot to be outside. So, those are not very interesting. Hopefully you'll still enjoy the pictures I was able to get.
I completely ruined my camera at the convention by dropping it off my lap at one panel. Now the battery door won't close. It stays closed enough to get the camera to turn on most of the time, but I think the camera is living on borrowed time. It'll be at least a month before I can buy a new one, but maybe I can afford a DLSR. Any suggestions on models?
Here are the films (all shorts) I saw at Dragon*Con and how I would rate them from best to worst.
Leave You In Me
A Break in the Monotony
By Appointment Only
And I brought a copy of Vegan Cannibals' Findings home that I hope to enjoy soon.
I really enjoyed the zombie/cannibal/ghoul discussion with the panelists too. I'd never heard about Cannibal Holocaust before. I agree, it's no longer art when it isn't fiction and becomes reality.
I started the day with wandering through the shops, something I haven't had much time to do this time around. The shops area pretty much always the same, so unless there's something I'm especially looking for, then I skip a lot of the shops. The t-shirt shops are usually pretty fun and some of the woo-ist shops (or woo-woo-ist as Randi would say).
The first panel I went to was the live recording of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The video clips they filmed at the convention with Superman, a Klingon, and other assorted costumed people were a lot of fun. James Randi, Derek Colanduno, and Pamela Gay were guests on the show.
Then the Skpetic Zone, formally the Skeptic Tank or the TANK vodcast had their live podcast. Ginger Campbell and Phil Plait were guests.
Later in the day I went to another panel by Lori Lipman Brown about Pastafarian? Zoroastrian? Atheist? Monothiest? Can't we all just get along?. She brought up a good point about allies. If atheists are going to get past discrimination we're going to have to have allies that aren't atheists, since we are still a small percentage of the world (or America). She encouraged people who don't consider themselves non-theists to stand up for the rights of non-theists.
Jeff Wagg presented a discussion about Skepticism vs Dogma about as true skeptics we can never be 100% confident in anything. Even if we draw good conclusions from the evidence presented, new evidence should make people re-evaluate their positions. I agree to an extent. Being skeptical means that I have to evaluate all evidence, even if it means re-visiting topics I feel confident about. However, no one can live life without making decisions and judgments. My decisions and judgments may be wrong, but that's why I have other skeptics around to challenge me.
Finally there was a panel on The Future of Skepticism - Where Do We Go From Here? with James Randi, George Hrab, Jeff Wagg, DJ Grothe, Lori Lipman Brown, Ben Radford, and Karen Stollznow. It turned into a discuss of atheism and skepticism, with Jeff stating they should stay separate. I'm not convinced. I'm not going to criticize someone's personal belief as long as social policy and ethics are based on reality. I still agree with DJ who said that traditionally skeptics have stayed away from religion, because science cannot speak to religion because it is not material. But that when people are using religion to impede science, knowledge, and to actively discriminate, then we need to focus on those areas as skeptics, whether believer or non-believer.
Then I headed off to a zombie film festival. One of the shorts was really good, but unfortunately I can't remember the name of it. I'll find out and try to post a link to it later on. I bought a bottle of wine and smuggled it in and I'm not sure if the first festival started out with some uninteresting shorts or if they just got better as I got more inebriated. The wine made everything a bit surreal.
Unfortunately I fell down a stair (very embarrassing) in my rush to get food between a couple of sessions and sprained my ankle - though, not badly. It didn't really bother me yesterday, but it throbbed last night and although it's just stiff and a little sore it's tough to walk on. So I'm going to miss any sessions today. My flight isn't until 4:00 and I have to check out at 11:00. I'm not sure what I'm going to do for the next 6 hours, but it will not include lugging my suitcase along with me. Maybe I should just get a cab to the airport and spend the time waiting for my flight.. or get an earlier flight.
I'll post a wrap-up of Dragon Con sometime in the next week as well as some clips of a few of the sessions in the next couple of weeks.