Blogroll Update V  

Monday, March 31, 2008

It's been a while since I've updated my blog roll. These blogs definitely deserved to be mentioned sooner.

(((Billy))) the atheist
The king of parenthesis, (((Billy))) is an atheist goofball (but I only say that in a good way), (so don't take it as a bad thing).

Another Goddamned Podcast
Yes, yes, another plug for the podcast I'm jointly producing with a bunch of other atheist oddballs. Our next podcast should be up tomorrow.. or tonight if I really get a jump on things.

APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) isn't really a blog, but it's a great resource for astronomy events and pictures.

Daylight Atheism
Well, you know, how can you be an atheist blogger and not read Daylight Atheism?

Friendly Atheist
I read too many posts referring to Hermant and finally I had to look into his blog. He's well-written, and well, maybe friendlier than I would be, but hey, is that such a bad thing?

Ars Technica Gaming
My first love was always video games. I'm still searching for a 30 minute weekly podcast purely reporting news and reviews - PC preferred. But you know, utopia hasn't happened either. Meanwhile, Ars Technica gives me most of that in a day.

La Vie Quotidienne
I stumbled upon Shefaly via Paul. Posts are largely about life, society, business, politics, and culture, but they're always interesting.

Sam's Spot
I surfed by Sam's place after she posted on my Blog Against Theocracy post from last year. I love her header picture and her stories about life in the countryside.

Splendid Elles
What more can I say about Elles other than she's splendid? Well, let's see, from her most recent post:

“What, that Elles girl? I think that she’s a total twatbitchcuntwhorestreisand. If she were of legal age, I’d say fuck her!”
Really, you have to read the site to understand.

Such Lovely Freckles's
Ute's new home.

Very Special Monkeys
I found this blog via Ex and I'm happy I did. While he hasn't kept up with his posting commitment lately *nudgenudge* his older posts are definitely worth reading.

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This Weeks Reader March 30, 2008  

Sunday, March 30, 2008

American Atheists in the Mini-apple
Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, kicked things off with a rousing and impassioned speech on political action, mainly addressing the fact that secular voters do represent a major voting block which should not be allowed to be ignored by politicians. She called for solidarity and strength, urging atheists to remain engaged rather than giving up, especially in the face of flagrant constitutional violations, and to resist caving to our frustrations.

Zombie Jesus Day
What we see, through Zombie Jesus, is perhaps the worst thing a zombie can do, and that's found a religion. Now this may seem to have nothing to do with zombies desiring to eat your brains, but in fact is quite an ingenious scheme to devour the brains of countless millions, and having them voluntarily, often happily, offer their brains for sacrifice. Yes, that Jesus Zombie is a clever bastard. Every day it feeds on brains.

Microsoft punishes Gamerscore cheaters with public branding
With the battle for high scores comes a high probability of cheating. When it comes to buffing one's Gamerscore on the Xbox 360, though, Microsoft has drawn a line in the sand. Microsoft's Major Nelson has documented the punishment for players caught cheating and it's surprisingly public. Following a recent round of "serious offender" identification, the company has come forth with a set of documented penalties.

Second Life lawsuit over purloined naughty bits settled
The not-nearly-as-sordid-as-you-might-think story goes like this. 19-year-old Robert Leatherwood allegedly stole scripts written by Florida-based Eros, LLC that gave people's avatars lifelike naughty bits and enabled them to engage in kinky, virtual sex. He then resold them without permission, which sparked a lawsuit from Eros founder Kevin Alderman over copyright violations last July. That was apparently when Leatherwood decided to stop selling the scripts, according to the Associated Press, and was likely part of the reason Eros decided to settle.

WoW bot maker sued after home visit from Vivendi attorney
However, Donnelly's bot is particularly powerful. While many popular bots, such as the infamous Fishing bot from Final Fantasy XI or the crafting macro-botting of Star Wars Galaxies, are limited to a single task, Glider can automate the majority of the game. "Glider works a lot like a regular player. It looks at your health, mana, energy, etc. It moves the mouse around and pushes keys on the keyboard," the software's web site explains. "You tell it about your character, where you want to kill things, and what to kill. Then it kills for you, automatically. You can do something else, like eat dinner or go to a movie, and when you return, you'll have a lot more experience and loot."

Rockstar and Amazon bring digital music distribution to GTA4
Citing the success of downloadable music sales as implemented in Rock Band as an inspiration, but boasting the ability to take songs outside of the game, Amazon and Rockstar are looking for similar results from players of Grand Theft Auto 4. "Music has long played an integral part of the game playing experience," said Ronn Werre, executive vice president of EMI Music's Sales, Licensing and Synchronization unit, in a statement. "We think giving players the ability to identify and buy their favorite tracks from Grand Theft Auto IV's popular radio stations is a great new music discovery tool for fans and an innovative new revenue stream for artists."

Grandma, grandpa get owned by Illinois' failed gaming law
The way the legal fees were paid has been an ongoing concern. In May of 2007 we discovered that the governor raided funds throughout state government to pay for the litigation. Some of the areas money was taken from included the public health department, the state's welfare agency, and economic development department. If you had cash, you gave your funds to pay for the failed legislation, whether or not the department had anything at all to do with the law itself.

Indian 'witch' tied to tree, beaten by mob
"I was appalled at what I saw because people should be more socially responsible than to do this," Tiwari said.

North Platte, Nebraska, to Salt Lake City, Utah
Taking I-80 through Nebraska is not very exiting. Nebraska is rather flat, the road is rather straight, the scenery is mile after mile of irrigation rigs and the occasional old-fashioned windmill-powered well pump with a few cows standing around. Wyoming offers little improvement at first, but as you head west you begin to see more hills which roll higher and higher until the snow-streaked mountains come into view. By the time you reach Western Wyoming, every bend in the road, every vantage point over every hill is more awe-inspiring than the last. Following a thin ribbon of highway down into one valley, then up and out gives one an understanding of the phrase "wide-open spaces". I considered taking some pictures, but realized that my camera's lens would only flatten the image into a narrow slice of depth-less frame that could not possibly convey the awesomeness of the sight. It was a partly-cloudy day, cold, and large patches of snow were still on the ground. In some places massive snow drifts had become isolated and were slowly disappearing allong fences or in gullies. The whole world as far as I could see was blue and white sky, brown and green scruff, covered with large patches of white, mottled like a cow's hide. In the mid-afternoon sun, the high cirrus clouds and the lower, heavier clouds in the distance helped cast a cool, bluish-white glow on the entire landscape. It looked cold.

Three Objections to Objectivism
This sounds very compassionate of her - until you remember that Ayn Rand believes that the free market is, by definition, infallible (see last point). In Objectivist philosophy, if you succeed it's because you deserve to succeed, and if you're poor it's because you deserve to be poor. Combined with Rand's repeated expressions of fierce disdain for "parasites" and "looters" and "moochers", it seems hard to escape the conclusion that a consistent Objectivist would never give any money or other assistance to others. After all, if they were deserving of your help, they wouldn't need it; they'd have already achieved success and security on their own through hard work and persistence. To an Objectivist, the way you prove you're worthy of help is by proving you don't need help. And the reason Rand was so upset about the starving citizens of the USSR wasn't because they were starving; it was because they were starving under the wrong ideology. In an Objectivist society, people might still starve, but we can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they must have deserved it.

Reason: The Gold Standard of Politics (A Girl Can Dream)
What bothered me as I watched the speech live, streaming over, was not the emotional presentation and delivery (which I believe is genuine—I have no reason to believe otherwise); it was not the nearly perfect linguistic structure or perfectly situated word choice. No. It’s that in the 21st century, Obama still embraces a dogma (i.e, Christianity) and the physical representation of that dogma (i.e., Wright) that propagate nonsensical beliefs, superstitious drivel, blatant gobbledygook, and vacuous platitudes. These purposely distort information; they produce disinformation. They are exploitative and downright wrong.

Can a Christian accept natural selection as true?
I think that nobody is purely rational, not even cephalodesque Elder Deities that eat creationists at movie premieres. So I am unable to say that my theist friends are compartmentalising their beliefs any more than, say, I do when I contemplate quantum mechanics and hold to a classical view of causation at the macro level. But there is a problem with Providence, taken literally. If God wants so many organisms to die horribly, or refuses to act to resolve it (Fall or no Fall) then He is not a providential deity. So maybe Providence has some other meaning. Not for me to say. Good luck to those trying to come to an accommodation. I merely point out that formally NS is not a special problem for theists - reality is.

You’re Welcome
Everyday during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we would shout over the table at each other about evolution. Goodness, it was loads of fun in retrospect, but I don’t think any creationist has raised my blood pressure so much since James. We would pick apart the arguments that were infecting his mind, pick them apart, but he would stubbornly change to something else like the start of the universe. It seemed entirely hopeless.

Praying parents' other 3 kids removed
Madeline Neumann, 11, died Sunday the Weston home of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes as her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, prayed for her to get better. Her mother said she never expected her daughter, whom she called Kara, to die.

Any way you slice it - I'm OLD
But – now that Orrorin (said to be about 6 million years old) has been tagged as an “upright walker”, where does that leave the hypothesis? As the video makes clear, bipedalism would likely have come at the cost of considerable time. Are we talking about 7 million years (or more) since the split? I think it’s possible we will be hearing this in coming years.

Saturn and Titan from Cassini

Spoil-Proofing Elections
When Ralph Nader recently announced he was entering the 2008 presidential race, many Democrats groaned. It was his fault, they say, that George Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000. But Nader retorted that the Democratic Party has only itself to blame for the loss in 2000.

Mathematicians offer a different perspective. The problem, they say, doesn't lie with Nader or with the Democrats. It lies with our voting system.

Across the Universe
How far can you see? Even the faintest stars visible to the eye are merely hundreds or thousands of light-years distant, all well within our own Milky Way Galaxy. Of course, if you know where to look you can also spot the Andromeda Galaxy as a pale, fuzzy cloud, around 2.5 million light-years away. But staring toward the northern constellation Bootes on March 19th, even without binoculars or telescope you still could have witnessed a faint, brief, flash of light from a gamma-ray burst. The source of that burst has been discovered to lie over halfway across the Universe at a distance of about 7.5 billion light-years. Now holding the distinction of the most distant object that could be seen by the unaided eye and the intrinsically brightest object ever detected, the cosmic explosion is estimated to have been over 2.5 million times more luminous than the brightest known supernova. The monster burst was identified and located by the orbiting Swift satellite, enabling rapid distance measurements and follow-up observations by large ground-based telescopes. The fading afterglow of the gamma-ray burster, cataloged as GRB080319B, is shown in these two panels in X-rays (left) and ultraviolet light (right).

Steelers explain Wilson's release, Rooney clarifies statements
"I know many are asking the question of [why] we released Wilson and Harrison we kept," Rooney said. "The circumstances -- I know of the incidents, they are completely different. In fact, when I say we don't condone these things, we don't, but we do have to look at the circumstances that are involved with other players and things like that, so they're not all the same."

In Harrison's case, Rooney said the player was trying to take his son to be baptized.

"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," Rooney said of Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."

From Crib to Cubicle, A Familiar Voice -- Our Own -- Reassures
Carli Entin, an associate magazine editor, loves talking to herself whether it's "appearing" as a panelist on "Meet the Press," narrating her imaginary cooking show ("replace some of the water with coffee for a tastier cupcake"), or blogging.

At work, even when a colleague told her she stopped listening, that didn't stop Ms. Entin's side of the conversation or the fun she had engaging in it. Besides, her self-chatter can be efficient. "By acting out the conversation," she says, "I no longer need to have it."

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Psychic Ballots  

Friday, March 28, 2008

Several years ago, during my woo years I joined the PRS (Psychic Research Society). As a member I've received ballots for quite a few years until eventually my non-involvement caused me to fall off the list.

I saved one of the ballots I received and just recently found it again.

Notice that there is only one choice for President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer and there are four choices for the Board, but you must select four. Who says they're not psychic?

*Last names were removed to protect the gullible.

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Thursday Music - Fiona Apple  

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm not yet ready with my next post on PTL, so I thought I'd give you some music as an intermission. Enjoy!

Fiona Apple - River, stay away from my door

Fiona Apple - Across the Universe

Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine

And live

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Status Meme  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mamacita Chilena tagged me for this meme. I believe I've seen something like this floating around indicating that it tells you the type of status or class you grew up in. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but I'm game to play along.

The premise is that you "bold" all the statements that are true. The more bold lines one has, the more privileged one's formative years were.

Please note: The list is based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. The exercise developers ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright.


Father went to college

Father finished college - by finished are we talking 2 year, 4 year, doctorate? My father finished a couple of 2 year degrees.

Mother went to college

Mother finished college

Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor

Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers - both true and false depending on the teacher

Had more than 50 books in your childhood home

Had more than 500 books in your childhood home - I was really the only one who read, so doubtful.. though now my parents read a lot of apocalyptic fiction

Were read children’s books by a parent - until I started taking the books away from my mom because I wanted to read for myself

Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18

Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively

Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18

Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs

Went to a private high school - Yay PTL!

Went to summer camp

Had a private tutor before you turned 18

Family vacations involved staying at hotels - we slept in our van.. seriously my dad thought it was a good idea to camp out in our van.. the first night it got so stuffy that my mom threw open all of the windows and doors to the scream of, "I can't breathe!".. we were consumed by the mosquitoes.. after that we had an air conditioner in the back window that would run off the electricity in the camp ground.. we were stylin'!

Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 - I had jeans with plastic pockets and those plastic floaty fish in it.. hand-me-downs of course

Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them - I didn't get a hand-me-down car at all.. I had to buy my own car

There was original art in your house when you were a child - only if you count the art we made as original

Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 - only because we lived in a 4 room home and my parents got tired of me walking into their bedroom unannounced.. to some very embarrassing moments.. they also installed a lock

You and your family lived in a single family house

Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course - I took the PSAT in 10th grade, if that counts

Had your own TV in your room in High School - I had the b&w my parents won by visiting a timeshare.. because no one wanted it

Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College

Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16

Went on a cruise with your family

Went on more than one cruise with your family

Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up - occasionally.. we did see the Ramses exhibit when it came around and we visited a lot of historical sites

You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family


Although I have an idea from reading the questions, I wish I knew what type of conclusions the psychologists would draw from my response. I suppose I'll have to look it up. :)

I'm going to tag whoever reads this and wants to to do it.

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A Week of Sunrises Mar 19 - 25, 2008  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wednesday: Overcast

Thursday: Clear sky and a bird in flight

Friday: Wispy sunrise

Saturday: Pale clouds

Golden sunset

Sunday: Ominous clouds at my mother-in-law's place

And a sunset

Monday: Sunrise and a jet trail

Tuesday: Pink and gold

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Praise the Lord!  

Monday, March 24, 2008

I recently received an email from a member of The Herd about Jim Bakker preaching again on television. It generated a lot of emotions in me and brought back a lot of memories.

The article made me wonder what had happened to the place. I remember trying to visit after college, but I was turned away at the guard station. Searching on the internet I came across Standing But Not Operating,* a website documenting abandoned parks. The pictures were familiar and disturbing. Since then haven't been able to get the place out of my mind. I've dreamed about it several nights.

So I thought, for therapy, maybe I should post a little about my experience. I have no idea where this is going. I just feel the need to write about it.

My parents moved to Charlotte, NC when I was five to be involved in the Praise the Lord ministries. Off and on it was a large part of my childhood. I went to school there. My mom worked for them in a couple of different capacities. I worked at Heritage USA when I was in high school. Some of the best times I had were days I spent working in Recreation Village.

Mom worked in the mail room right after our move. She read letters and collected donations from viewers. The office building was at the site of Billy Graham's childhood home. Later, when I worked for IBM when I was in college I worked in the same office building. There was a plaque dedicated to Graham outside, but the house had been moved or demolished long before the office building was built.

Thinking about my mom working there seems odd. What did she think about when she was reading the letters and receiving the donations? I know she believed in the ministry, but were there ever any doubts? Did she ever feel odd about it? I might have to ask for her side of the story sometime soon.

Later the ministry moved to the Heritage USA property. I think they set up in the back lot or maybe the barn. I'm not clear. Because my mom was an employee we were able to attend school for free, or maybe there was some kind of discount. I was in first grade and I don't remember all of the details. Yet another thing to bring up with my mom when I see her next.

Both my brothers, my sister, and I all attended the school out at the Heritage USA property in cabins (much like this cabin), which would eventually become Recreation Village. My cabin was shared between kindergarten and the first grade. We had a divider down the middle of the cabin. There were only 10 or so students per grade.

I loved my teacher. Our class was divided into groups and we'd rotate between subjects - Math, English (reading and penmanship), and social studies. Our class also learned French while the kindergarten class learned Spanish. I don't remember any of the French. We might have been in some sort of PACE program because I remember finishing the first grade Math text and the teacher let me work in the second grade text.

The swimming pool was right next to our cabin, but I never remember swimming in it. I'm not sure where we went for lunch. We must have eaten packed lunches in our classrooms or outside on the picnic tables on nice days.

The picture above is from Tommy and James Home Page. Click the picture to go to their site. The cabin I had class in is just to the right, not shown. We used to play on the shuffle board. I'm not sure if the miniature golf course was installed at that time.

Mostly I remember being happy. It was typical for me to be in a small school and I had a best friend who I shared everything with. It was a beautiful setting and I didn't think too much about what the place stood for.

After first grade we went back to public school. I'm not sure why exactly we didn't continue in the school. Maybe it was shut down due to funding or maybe my mom changed jobs and it was no longer cheap. It was a long drive from our house, so maybe logistically it just didn't work out.

PTL would not factor in my life again for a few years.

*All of the pictures linked are from the Standing But Not Operating website. And they tell the tale of abandonment much better than I ever could. Next time I visit my parents I might try to stop by if they allow visitors in any capacity and see if I can document more clearly my memories.

P.S. This is my 500th post!

Update April 26: I found this picture on the HeritageUSA Yahoo message board. The cabin on the right at the far end (farthest away) is where I went to first grade, as far as I can remember anyway.

Read the other parts of the my story

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This Weeks Reader March 23, 2008  

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On The Amazingness of Atheists... And Why It's Doomed
The recent debate here about the morality of atheists and believers is what reminded me of this, what made me decide to finally write about it instead of just musing about it in my head. See, I think this is part of the reason some atheists are inclined to think that atheist morality is more mature than theistic morality. Because right now, the atheist community is largely made up of people with a very mature, well-thought-out sense of morality and ethics. We've had to be. The assumption that morality comes from religion is very deeply ingrained in our culture, and those of us who've rejected religion have had to think long and hard and carefully about what our morality is and why. (Many theists have also thought about this carefully -- in the same way that many straight people in the 80's and 90's had a thoughtful and perceptive understanding of gender -- but coming out as an atheist today means having that thoughtfulness thrust upon you.)

garfield minus garfield
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.

Why Math Matters
"You need to know it," I said, "because it's the core of the physical sciences. Because it's the closest we are able to come to understanding how the world works." I spent some time talking about e and natural logs and Golden Rectangles and nautilus shells and such.

I was clearly losing her. Blah blah blah. I re-grouped.

"You need to know this because science education in our society is dismal. Because there are people out there who want to control you, and who will use the fact that Americans know virtually nothing about science to exercise that control. So when you go in to get birth control, someone will deny it because they think it's the same thing as abortion, which it clearly isn't."

How to fix co-op gaming
The result of their brainstorming session resulted in what Vrignaud has labeled The Co-op Gaming Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is divided into two sections, one for things which could easily be implemented in current games and one discussing potential—and much more challenging—design possibilities. While some of the suggestions don't seem all that likely, one that is easy to get enthused about is the following: "A game that allows co-op online play should also support co-op play locally, either through LAN or split-screen (ideally both). An online subscription should not be required to play co-op locally on a LAN."

Game Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Rings of Fate (DS)
The addition of some pretty hardcore platforming elements makes the entire experience much more engaging, as players will not only be allowed to stray from the pack but at certain points will be required to do so. As a result, the game's many dungeons are extremely varied. The platforming adds some interesting environmental puzzles to the game, which range from jumping puzzles to some interesting challenges that involve picking up and throwing each other to reach previously unreachable spots. At the core of the game play, though, is still the timeless hack-and-slash, mob-looting, boss-killing action that fans of the genre will enjoy—all with the added Square-Enix shine.

Game Review: God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP)
But we can only drool over the graphics for so long; the question is whether or not the game is fun. It is, because God of War is fun. This game takes the mechanics, attacks, and style of God of War 1 and 2 and uses them in a new adventure. It doesn't push the series in any major new directions, but it didn't need to: as a prequel to the first two games, this explores who Kratos is and the lengths he will to go to do what he has to do. There is a scene later in the game that involves tapping the O button during a cinema where you're actually asked not only to watch Kratos giving up more of his humanity, but to participate in it. By the end of the game I was more than satisfied with the story and the experience, and also more than ready for the inevitable PlayStation 3 release that is teased about on the game's instruction manual.

PC game developer has radical message: ignore the pirates
"The reason why we don't put copy protection on our games isn't because we're nice guys. We do it because the people who actually buy games don't like to mess with it. Our customers make the rules, not the pirates. Pirates don't count," Wardell argues. "When Sins popped up as the #1 best selling game at retail a couple weeks ago, a game that has no copy protect whatsoever, that should tell you that piracy is not the primary issue."

Bush says White House 'on top of the situation'
Bush said “our financial institutions are strong” and “our capital markets are functioning efficiently and effectively.” He praised Paulson for working with the Fed and showing “the country and the world that the United States is on top of the situation.”

Investment Banks Are Liars And Thieves, According To Investment Banks Enabled By The Bush Government
That’s the Republican version of the free market. Use taxpayer money to save the butts of rich people who chose to take risks in the financial markets. Whatever happened to the Republican mantras of personal responsibility? Of being accountable for your actions? Apparently those only apply to racial minorities and working class white people and non-Republicans, but not to rich Republicans, and certainly not to Republicans in Congress and the Administration.

Joseph Story’s Unitarianism
In other words, orthodox Trinitarian Christians, who didn’t believe Unitarianism to be “real Christianity” were ignorant bigots. But in any event, according to the men who wrote and expounded upon the text of the First Amendment in the Founding era, if “Christianity” were to have any special rights or organic connection to civil government, this (what the orthodox regard as) false, heretical system of “liberal unitarian Christianity” had at least equal rights with orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. Indeed, arguably unitarianism was more important than Trinitarianism because unitarinianism more meaningfully connects to the ideas of America’s Declaration and Constitution than does orthodox Trinitarianism.

Are (or were) Meghalaya and Kerala matriarchal societies?
One wonders however if the change to patriarchy which is the ‘modern’ way will affect the status of women in a bad way. It may not happen in Meghalaya as the state is surrounded by other other states where women are relatively free and heinous crimes against women are not practiced, but Kerala is surrounded by strongly patriarchal societies. In fact even within the state of Kerala itself, amongst the present population, the communities that used to practice matriliny are in a minority.

Another point I wanted to make: If women in patriarchal societies get a raw deal, then men in a hypothetical matriarchal society would get a raw deal too. I guess the men are lucky that there aren’t any matriarchal societies around!

The Great Tantra Challenge!
Sharma didn’t think this through, since they challenged him to come back that evening. The best part of all this was that India TV, the channel that showed this, got huge ratings and promoted this as “The Great Tantra Challenge.” And when, of course, Sharma did nothing except amuse Edamaruku that night, ripping up peieces of paper with Edamaruku’s name on it and burning them, throwing mustard seeds into the fire and burning an effigy of Edamaruku made of wheat flour (really), millions of people watched him make a fool of himself — which is probably better than the murder rap he might have faced if he’d succeeded.

Facilitated Testimony in the Courtroom
A recent case in Oakland Colorado shows all of the folly of using FC in the courtroom, and elsewhere. The parents of a 14 year old autistic girl were lead to believe that FC had unlocked their daughter’s hidden inner mental life. That, of course, is the allure of FC - what parent of a non-communicative child would not want to learn that their child is vibrant and intelligent after all? But the parents, victimized by the promoters of FC into this false hope and illusion, were then doubly victimized when a new teacher’s aid at their daughter’s school, Cindi Scarsella, after two hours of FC training, immediately began to “discover” that the girl had been raped by her father for that past eight years while the mother knowingly allowed it.

Massachusetts lawmakers debate ill-advised video game law
You'll recall that this new definition mirrors a law passed in Louisiana, where a Jack Thompson-helmed piece of legislature used very similar language to define what made some games harmful to minors. Federal Judge James Brady disagreed, striking down the bill as unconstitutional.

In fact, every such piece of legislation aimed at making it a crime to sell games to minors has failed in the courts, often at a very high price to taxpayers. The considerable powers of the gaming industry are also beginning to mobilize to fight the Massachusetts bill, as the Electronic Consumers Association has sent out an alert urging its members to get involved and to contact the Massachusetts government to stop the bill.

Nonbelieving Literati
Reading an average book is not the end of the world
The reader is presented with a fundamentalist pastor of a mega-church based loosely on Pat Robertson who goes off the deep end and contrives his own mini-apocalypse by purchasing nuclear weapons to detonate off the coast of California in the hopes of inducing a tidal wave of biblical proportions that will wash away the evils of the Hollywood culture, while simultaneously convincing America that this was an act of the vengeful god of the Old Testament and which said pastor has prophesied. Apparently, doing so will renew and revitalize our country’s love and respect for this “likeable” mythological character. I suppose that Brookemyre can see that this would be a bit of a stretch, even for a billionaire pastor, so he gives him the help of a far right wing militia group which helps him purchase the nuclear weapons and has assassinated 5 scientists who could have led the FBI on a hot trail back to Pastor Evil.

Slam, Bam, Say "Goddamn!"
For those of you who may find yourself wondering about my imagery here, I guess I should mention that one of the main characters in the book is a recently retired, freethinking, porno actress, the modern version of the “whore with a heart of gold.” That sounds more appealing than it turns out to be once you get a closer look. Still, the story might have been far better if someone like her had actually written it — as a year’s worth of daily blogpost dalliances, each one fleeting and forgetable.

Lynch-Mob Morality
So what is it about sex that religion seems to be both attracted to and repulsed by? Why is it that religion finds the pleasure of sex as “an unfortunate side effect that we’d eradicate if we could (and with female circumcision we’re halfway there).” And it’s not just Christianity, but almost all religions (though the Hindus seem to be on the right track with the Kama Sutra). Why does the mob care who we have sex with, when we have sex, what position we have sex in, where we have sex, and whether we’re married at the time? Why are we so afraid of a frank and open discourse on the subject? Why do our children have so little real information about it, while being constantly bombarded with images of it, and why are they the ones who suffer the most from the repercussions of ignorance? And why does our society sit back and allow it all to happen? It seems that all of those concerns are almost always posed in the context of a religious discussion.

gazes also: not the end of the world
When staring at the abyss, at all of those things in life that don't make sense, the abyss does sometimes gaze back at us. But what does it see? And how do we respond? For me Not the End of the World, raised some really interesting questions about how we deal with the world around us and the potential consequences of a world view that sacrifices our very human faculties of reason and skepticism in favor of the "certainty" of belief. Ironically, the certainty itself turns out to be an illusion which creates fertile ground for extremism and the abdication of one's humanity. When one doesn't know how to think for him or her self, they put themselves at the mercy of anyone who claims to make sense out of the abyss.

Nonbelieving Literati: Not the End of the World
But there were some fun interjections by the author throughout the book that made it readable. And while his caricatures largely ruined the book for me, I think there was potential for a good story in there. And I'm not too unhappy about the atheists saving the day.

He’s No James Bond
What’s wrong with this book? The characters for one thing. The villains are all religious kooks. The villains’ disciples are all kooky religious dupes. The heroes are all atheists whose experiences with religion have been unremittingly negative. The primary villain, Rev. St. John was - surprise, surprise - raised by his sexually dysfunctional mother. The secondary hero, or heroine (is that term still acceptable?), porn star Madeleine Witherson, was - surprise, surprise - sexually abused by her father, who is - surprise, surprise - a hypocritical Republican in the United States Senate. And, just in case you haven’t guessed it already, the hypocritical Republican Senator is a good friend of the right-wing religious fanatic villain, who is, in turn, a supporter of the Republican Senator. Good God! Brookmyre compounds his sin of religious stereotyping with that of political stereotyping! Did I miss Wal-Mart’s three-for-one special on cardboard characters? Brookmyre obviously didn’t.

NL: Not the End of the World
We all know the "lying for Jesus" ploy. It's common among certain kinds of Christians (and, if you substitute other deities' names, among all certain kinds of all religious, I'm sure). At its most benign (which still isn't particularly good) it involves lying to people about what others believe (or don't) to keep them "safe" inside the fold. Mind, I'm not talking about people who actually believe the lies - they're dangerous, of course, because if you believe that God will punish the community for the sins of some, then you're likely to take out those some. But they're not lying, just deluded (can I still use that word?). "Lying for Jesus" gets worse, too. At its height, it's "bringing people to God" by any means possible, because as long as they get to God, it's justified.

Nonbelieving Literati: Not the End of the World
I know it can be hard for the best of liberals to entirely shake off the complex, powerful memes that surround sex for long enough to perceive the best way for people to enjoy their lives. Heck, I, for one, have had to concede with regard to my own feelings that sexual repression is not just a weird disease they had in the fifties. Finding the best way to view a sexual issue can take time and thought, and even then you won't always be sure you're right. I'd be more inclined to cut Christopher Brookmyre some slack if he wasn't so obviously wanking to the messed-up ideas that he blithely subscribes to.

Another two-for-one
I enjoyed this book because it was the opposite of The Plague: even if the story wasn’t particularly realistic (which didn’t bother me one bit), it didn’t hold back. There are “sexual deviants,” a bloody explosion, the grieving of a husband and wife, and plenty of expletives. I’m not going to ever read it again, or recommend it to anyone with high standards, but I had fun with it.

Nonbelieving Literati Sidetrack
Initially “The Source” was ambiguous; it could be either natural or supernatural. The way it was initially described changed depending on the character experiencing or using it. However as the story progressed through the trilogy, the magical and supernatural aspects of it and the characters became clear. I was a little disappointed by this. The traditional viral explanation for zombieism always left the genre in the category of extremely-unlikely-but-ever-so-slightly-possible and made it that much more intriguing. While I appreciate the twists of the genre to create something new to explore, I still wanted there to be logical explanations, even if the explanations weren’t apparent to the character.

Sunset: Planet Earth

Separation of Church & State
Article. VI. Clause 3 of the constitution of the United States states: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." and while no religious test has any constitutional sanction we certainly do have a defacto religious test, and it's become standard operating procedure for candidates to play the faith card.

You're Lucky That It Wasn't Podcast #7(A)
The speech was a combination of a lot of things, but it was mostly -- and I think we'd both agree about this -- an attempt by Obama to extricate himself from a sticky situation. I'm saying that (1) if he weren't so taken with religion and trying to prove how tight he is with Jesus, he wouldn't have been in the sticky situation in the first place; (2) he attempted to minimize the impact of what he had been listening to for years in church by playing on the worst stereotype of happy darkies losing themselves in the lawd; and (3) he threw around the phrase "the Constitution," but the whole underlying rationale of his speech is, to me anyway, clearly in opposition to one of its key principles: the separation of church and state. The speech marries church and state and sends them off on a honeymoon together. I fear that the same thing will happen if Obama is elected.

Anonymous vs. Scientology
Also, the idea of thousands of people protesting in Guy Fawkes masks under a code name of “Anonymous” is appealing and exciting, and it sends a very strong message about Scientology’s tactics. But, would it be a stronger statement to take off the masks and show a lack of fear? The Scientologists send photographers to the protests to try to identify people — what would they do with an overabundance of information? How could they possibly track down and harass thousands of people with no identifiable leaders? I’m reminded of the uproar caused by the Danish cartoons of Mohammad. One media outlet printing the pictures is a target for ignorant hoards, but hundreds of media outlets would send a statement of solidarity and strength.

Former Religious Right Leaders Recant
And not on their deathbeds but while still alive. Rob Boston has an interesting article about three former religious right leaders - Frankie Schaeffer, John Whitehead and Cal Thomas - who have rejected the religious right that they helped to build. And these guys are not bit players. Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer, the most influential theologian among the American Christian right by far. Cal Thomas was the vice president of the Moral Majority. John Whitehead founded the Council on National Policy, perhaps the most powerful behind-the-scenes group among the religious right. Some of the quotes from Schaeffer's new book are priceless.

Subtle sexism in science?
An individual woman ought be able to be ambitious, pushy, vain, and focused and succeed in science without her approach being considered in conflict with her gender. It isn't. Similarly, an individual male researcher can be considerate and giving and helpful without betraying his sex. I want women to succeed in science because I don't want anyone to be hindered in their careers by the imposition of stereotypes, and let's not have women graduate students walk into a lab under the shadow of an expectation that they have to be the liberal nurturers of the research group, the ones who'll be interested in art and music more than the nerdy males. It's a nice reputation to have, I'm sure, but it's also an imposition of an unfair expectation on women that we don't place on men.

In many areas, but especially in sex, this irrational attitude of fearmongering and enforced ignorance has infected society's discourse. Atheists and freethinkers, whose minds are not blinded by dogma, can act as the antidote. We need to de-mystify subjects like sex - that is to say, we need to take the mysticism out of them and treat them with the maturity and reason they deserve.

An end to war?
I'm inclined to agree that people would rather avoid war, and that ending resource scarcity (which I'm not convinced that science can do) would reduce the incidence of war, but I think the article ignores one central source of conflict: ideology. Baboons and bonobos don't seem to have it, but we do, and it can trigger wars for that other resource, human minds. We want people on our side. The Thirty Years War, the American Civil War, the Cold War … were those fought because one side wanted the other side's food or land or minerals? Or over the spread of ideas that weren't satisfied by science?

Am I raising 'atheist children'?
Most young children accept what their parents tell them as true, whether it is the existence of Santa Claus or Jesus Christ. It is important that children understand what their parents believe, but it is also important for children to know about all the options out there. This is tricky if a parent is a true believer of a religion and feels that her way is the only path. But how can children question openly when they are taught that there are absolute truths in belief?

Golden Rule
What comes from the loss of understanding of others in the positive Golden Rule is the actions of its adherents becoming trespasses and impositions upon others, possibly even harming them and taken to it's extreme can be grounds for a most insidious form of tyranny, one where the tyrant is unaware of his tyranny. In fact, such a tyrant will no doubt believe that his tyranny is a gift, a favor, a blessing if you will bestowed upon another out of love. Because of this I see nothing positive coming from the positive variant of the Golden Rule, nor do I even feel comfortable in letting it share the title of "Golden Rule" for its flawed basis carries the potential, often manifested, to run counter to the original Golden Rule in that it leads to harm for others. It is this very disconnect that I see as the primary divisive force between secularists and evangelicals in America and why we will ALWAYS have to battle the encroachments of the evangelicals into both public and private lives. The problem is all their trespasses, they believe, are for our sake, for our greater benefit. Prayer in school? Well of course we NEED that since they feel it's necessary, what with morality being based on their bible. They simply can't fathom our objections because they can't see why we don't want what they want since what they want, they believe, is good. There simply can't be any respect without understanding and as long as they hold true to a philosophy like this that disregards understanding, they will never respect others.

There Goes the Neighborhood
More importantly this shows that homosexuality is actually good for civilization. There are some behaviors that are destructive of civilization and homosexuality (its behavioral elements; homosexuality has both orientation and behavioral elements) is not one of them. Certain types of risky promiscuous sex are dangerous and not good for one’s health — like smoking. But smoking doesn’t destroy civilization. Some types of behaviors are bad for civilization — for instance out of wedlock births by minor teens whose circumstance prevents them from finishing their education. Go and look at the housing prices/levels of civilization in those neighborhoods. And compare and contrast that with gay friendly neighborhoods and you see the polar opposite.

The Skeptologists
Announcing a new skeptical reality TV show - The Skeptologists. At this point the show is being produced as a pilot, and has not been picked up by any network, but we can always hope. The concept of the show is similar to other paranormal investigation shows, except with actual skeptics who will do real science - not kids with fancy toys and no idea what they are doing. It will be a cross between Mythbusters (with fewer explosions) and a family friendly version of Bullshit (with fewer naked breasts). I know how much everyone loves explosions and naked breasts, but we will make up for it with humor and fun.

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Friday Music - Andres Segovia  

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm off of work today for Good Friday. Yes, they even give it off for atheists like me. So, instead of doing anything serious on the web I'm going to meet some friends across town for lunch.

Have a great weekend, everyone. But first, here's a slightly different pace when it comes to music for me. I've always loved the way acoustic guitar sounds. I could listen to it for hours, especially when it's like this:

Andres Segovia - Asturias

Ana Vidovic - Asturias

And thanks to encephalophone, who probably doesn't understand my fascination. :)

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Empathy for Non-Humans?  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Watch the video above of the Big Dog balancing on rough terrain. Don't skimp. Go ahead and watch then entire video.

What did you feel when it was over?

I felt concern and a little bit of sadness. That's right, I was feeling empathy for a machine. When the "dog" stumbled on the ice and was kicked I felt bad. I know it doesn't have the capacity to feel pain, but I had these unreasonable emotions. It just moved too much like a dog - though it has none of the cuteness factor of a real dog - for me to separate the rational part of my mind from my emotions.

I've felt this way before from something much less real. In games I've grown attached to characters and pets. Who didn't try to protect Dogmeat in Fallout or the Companion Cube in Portal? It's ingrained in us to put human emotions on things that are non-human. Our perceptions of our world color our view and sometimes makes us act irrationally.

But what it really got me thinking about is a comment I heard on the SGU podcast a few weeks ago. If we develop machines and program them to "feel" emotions, when do they develop sentience and how do we determine their sentience? Do we assume because they're programmed that they aren't really alive or aware? When is it cruel to shut them off or "hurt" them? And is artificial programming any different than the programming we've received through nature? If there's no duality and thus no spirit where do we draw the line between us and artificial life? Even if they're not human, and they never will be human, what are the ramifications of creating intelligent creatures that feel emotions?

And, of course, that also spawns thoughts about animals and emotions and our treatment of them. Many people have argued that animals can't act rationality, which I disagree with. But even though our perception may be flawed and in my case I may be attributing my own explanations of animal behavior based on my human perception, I see no way to deny that animals feel emotions, feel hurt, and have intelligence. Will our creations, if we ever reach that level, equate the same to us as animals, creatures that are not really "ours" in any way. Should we have more responsibility or less? And is it time that re-evaluate our attitude towards animals as we approach the reality that we might one day create some sort of artificial sentience?

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Religion and Nature  

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I picked up a new book last week titled The Sun due to my recent fascination with the sun as a result of my weekly photographs. It's beautifully done and features many impressive photos of the sun and everything sun-like. Each chapter contains a brief summary of the types of photographs that will follow. Chapter four is largely about auroras. As I was reading the summary one paragraph struck me:
Humans have at times seen a lot more in the heavens than just a brilliant light show. Folklore from China and Europe describes auroras as great dragons or serpents in the skies; some researchers now speculate that the dragon faced down by Britain's patron Saint George was in fact the aurora swirling over Scotland. In Scandinavia, Iceland, and Greenland, auroras were often seen as great burning archways by which the gods traveled from heaven to Earth. Some Native American tribes pictured spirits carrying lanterns as they sought the souls of dead hunters, while the Inuit envisioned souls at play. p.116

It's the religion slant. I realize that before we knew that auroras were caused by solar winds, we tried to explain it and looking back we can see those explanations as silly. But it's the Saint George legend that really gets me.

Saint George was a Roman soldier that is venerated as a saint due to his martyrdom. In his English veneration he supposedly slew a dragon and saved a princess. The dragon really being an aurora only pinpoints the arrogance of the legend. To think that a person could dispel the aurora is just ridiculous to think about. Now perhaps that's not the origination of the legend, but it brings the idea home to me.

Religion is all about claiming humans have power over nature. And I'm not just talking about plants and husbandry, but about ecosystems, the sun and moon, and indeed the entire universe. And it's so damn arrogant. We can't even harness the power of the sun and yet religionists want to claim they have the whole cosmos figured out.

We're such a small speck in the vastness of the universe, and yet religionists want to claim that we're the center of creation. They fear the thought that this world wasn't created especially for them. They'd rather deny the truth than face our true nature.

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A Week of Sunrises Mar 12 - 18, 2008  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wednesday: Jupiter was bright in the sky, but didn't show up on film

Thursday: Early sky with interesting clouds

Later the sun shines gold

Friday: Fog caught in the flash

Saturday: Just a peek of sun at sunset

Sunday: Too many clouds block the sun to see it at sunset

Monday: Cool and dreary - the single point of light is a raindrop

Tuesday: Another dreary, foggy day

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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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Nonbelieving Literati: Not the End of the World  

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Almost from the beginning this book reminded me of Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. The themes were similar. My problem with Snow Crash was that the characters were two-dimensional and were always the best at whatever they did. Hiro was the best hacker, YT was the best Kourier, Juanita was the best at expressions, Raven was the best badass, etc. In Not the End of the World, the characters are divided into the good guys (atheists) and the bad guys (Christians) or heroes and sheep. And other than a few brief stereotypes, that's all you get in the story.

The book would have been better overall if the characters had been more real - in my opinion anyway. But then I tend to go for more realism these days in the world of fantasy, which is in its own way a dichotomy. I find more and more that the stories I read moves the characters along too fortuitously, but maybe I'm just nit picking.

Not the End of the World shared not just the same two dimensionalism of characters with Snow Crash, but the same theme. A loony man seeks to take over the world by causing an apocalypse. But Snow Crash gave me something to think about afterwards.

My issues with Not the End of the World started with Maddy's sacrifice. There's no way that the police would go along with it (unless it was going to be fake from the beginning). There's no way that the public at large would believe that they would. The bomber was left with a perfect scenario that was far, far from perfect. I just couldn't continue to buy the book after that scenario unfolded. As much as I liked Maddy, and to some extent Steff, I couldn't see them as heroes. It was like setting up a cardboard cutout and expecting me to believe they were actors in a play.

But there were some fun interjections by the author throughout the book that made it readable. And while his caricatures largely ruined the book for me, I think there was potential for a good story in there. And I'm not too unhappy about the atheists saving the day.

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