Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pointless Question #23

You're a member of a cold, emotionless species that is spreading across the universe in a wave of conquest for reasons that aren't adequately explained. If you're emotionless, why do you even care enough about galactic domination to get up in the morning?


I'm sure many of you have seen this guy's stuff on YouTube. I saw the first one of a series, "Why do people laugh at Creationists?" and found it to be pretty good. I'll be looking at all of them when I have the time. You can go ahead, though.

GDL Posting Will Resume

It's been a little over a month since I last posted on my Game Development Limbo blog. I will try to have a couple more posts up tonight. If you'd like an invitation, send me your email address so I can send it. I think Gmail addresses are the ones that involve the least amount of trouble to sign in.

My address:

ERV, Gone and Back

I'm still fuzzy on the details, but ERV's old blog got taken down, forcing a move to ScienceBlogs. The new place is here. Restoration and transfer of the old stuff is underway. I haven't been following all that closely, so I don't know the details, other than it appearing to be more than just some random error. I think you can guess my suspicions.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pointless Question #22

You're the king of a sprawling nation threatened by the darkest of all evils, whose name cannot be uttered. You took a fifteen year old who killed a slime to your throne room, hand him a rusty sword and some padded armor and ask him to slay the fiend. He runs screaming, leaving behind a trail of urine.

What did you expect?

Pointless Question #21

So, you've got a big military budget. Why'd you spend it on a whole bunch of humongous mecha with beam sabers and oversized handguns instead of a bunch of cruise missiles?

Well, duh answer #1: Because it's really cool.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Is it just me, or are most "modern" religions no different from all the "primitive" ones? Well, maybe one difference is a bunch of theologians end up adding a bunch of fluff until it's all empty gibberish.

Meh, I've thought of that before, but I guess I'm posting it as a main post, rather than a comment.

Doggerel #153: "Sense"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

There are a lot of methods for finding out more about the world around us. Those generally qualify as the proper use of the word. Humans have the 'main' five senses and a lot more, some of which have been the result of scientific inventions. A forgivable misuse of the term is when people get a feeling from multiple sources of sensory data to form hypotheses. That's what's called intuition and cognition. For woos, however, the word apparently means something else.

A fair share of Star Trek fans might feel compelled to make some sort of joke about Deanna Troi right now. Real world "psychics" generally don't make themselves any more useful. The things they "sense" tend to be vague to start with, and change as the person being read gives more information. That's one reason why transcripts and recordings are important. The same often happens with alties who do "energy medicine". All the scientific methods of detection have to be reasonably consistent to be useful. Apparently woo senses don't need any consistency whatsoever.

Don Don-Don Don-Don!

Well, I've gotten addicted to a nice, cheap game I got for $20: Patapon for PSP. It's an odd mix of the rhythm and strategy genres. The patapons are a race of cute little monochrome eyeballs, and you're contracted to be their god, to lead them to Earthend to see IT. The controls consist of drumming the buttons to guide the patapons into different actions. You'll get drums and songs for marching, attacking, defending, retreating, etcetera. You have to maintain the beat if you want the benefits of Fever Mode.

Outfitting your patapons is where some of the strategy comes from. You start out with Yaripons (spear throwers), and over the course of the game pick up tatepons (melee fighters), yumipons (archers), kibapons (cavalry), and a couple others I haven't gotten to see myself just yet. Pick up weapons, helms, and shields from zigotons (enemy eyeballs), as well as the occasional big monster. Create new patapons with resources you gather and the equivalent of money: Ka-ching. Annoyance I've had a bit of, though: You've got minigames where you can get resources, but not so much for ka-ching. Suppose a few hunting trips are to be expected, though. They move faster now that I can maintain a fever pace, though.

Anyway, I've gotten my $20 worth so far, and I'm curious enough about what IT is to keep playing. For those who haven't played: Thread is open to speculation about what IT is, and why the zigotons portend the end of the world or whatever if the patapons reach IT again. Before the doomsaying, my initial thought was that IT is the ocean, since it's supposed to be at Earthend, and reaching an ocean is one way of knowing you've conquered the known world.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pointless Question #20

You know when you're living in a world full of imported alien phlebotinum, the crime syndicates always gets involved. But why is it when they start buying alien contraband, it's always laser guns? Wouldn't it be easier to buy a teleporter and just beam the cash out of the bank vaults?

Doggerel #152: "Even if I Showed You the Evidence, You Wouldn't Believe It!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

It's been my experience that woos are really, really, cynical people. There are few ways they express that cynicism more completely than to assume we won't respond to evidence. What I think throws them off is that we express greater curiosity than they did when they heard the evidence: The skeptics I know have seen a lot, investigated properly, and know a thing or two about science. Most of us would be ecstatic if you proved magic, alien spacecraft, or The Force existed. The problem is that we've already looked at a LOT of claims about that, and know alternate explanations for weird stuff.

That's why we ask questions: We're trying to eliminate all those alternate explanations. People are fooled much more easily than the average person thinks. We're the sort who doesn't want to be fooled into believing falsities. Besides, as cool as all the stuff in my D&D books is, it'd be infinitely cooler if it really, verifiably existed. (Though it might not be a net good, it'd still be cool.) All the magic of woo claims would be useful, nifty, or whatever if they were true, but that's only if the evidence is good enough. That's why we ask questions about the evidence. If you aren't willing or able to answer them, we have no idea how good it is, or even if it tells us anything at all.

What's the point of withholding the evidence anyway? If you won't tell us anything because you're convinced we're blind naysayers, showing off your bigotry and foregone conclusions isn't going to score any points with us or the peanut gallery.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Doggerel #151: "Godless"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Fundies love this word. They've used it so much that the average person has attached all sorts of sinister connotations to it, despite the fact that you generally don't hear anything about godless people doing anything nasty. Other than having pushes for fairness and the rule of law depicted as such by them.

I quite frankly fail to see how they can be so idiotic. They've needlessly attached everything good to their deity, like love, beauty, and all that, despite the fact that materialists like me are quite capable of experiencing the full gamut of sentient emotions. I've seen fundies claim we can't be moral, and yet in the same breath claim that they have the criminal mindset of "anything I can get away with," as if believing in an omnipotent cop over your shoulder makes them a better person on the inside.

They just have to face it: Their god and bizarre god- and supernatural-related rules are irrelevant to how an atheist lives. We don't arbitrarily label stuff we experience as magically different. Love and such are parts of this universe, just very difficult to define in the ultra-precise language of the hardest of sciences.

85th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Andrea's Buzzing About.

Open thread as usual, but buzzing about my room like those endlessly respawning moths is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some Good News

I don't see good news as often as I'd like, but some anti-vaxxer thuggery got shot down.

Foamin' and Flamin'

PZ's got a more complete post on the subject. This will largely be a rant on my part. The quick summary: A teacher, to "instruct" students in electricity branded them with a device that left crosses in their skin. They apparently hurt for a long time. One set of religious parents feared bringing the issue up because they expected retaliation.

Seriously. What the hell is wrong with the world? If he branded students with pentagrams, he'd be treated like a psychopath (which, by the way, seems quite appropriate). If he branded them with atheist A's, he'd be treated like a Nazi. If he did it with any other religious symbol, you'd have fundies going crazy, claiming that this is a Christian nation and other people don't have the right to do that sort of thing if they aren't Christian. And yet, instead of going directly to court, followed immediately by prison, this guy is allowed to keep teaching (but hopefully not for much longer), all because he's a Christian fundie.

When did fundies start thinking that the rule of law amounts to persecution? The law should treat people the same, regardless of religion. But apparently people like me, who believe in the rule of law, or more simply, fairness, are demonized for it. Fucking anarchists. And by "fucking anarchists," I generally refer to people who believe law should be abolished because it lets them get away with more. I respect the intentions (if not necessarily intelligence) of real anarchists who just believe government is an unnecessary evil. I think much of it is a necessary evil to prevent worse, unnecessary ones. I can't respect fucking anarchists who see law and order designed for the common good as something to be opposed for being personally inconvenient to them.

I should really start calling fundies who demand special treatment and double standards fucking anarchists more often. Whenever I see a fundie commit a crime and gets protection from the fundie masses because he's a fundie, and not because he's innocent, that's exactly what I think of them: They're fucking anarchists who want to tear down the common good and the rights of the minorities for the sake of their own selfishness.

Fucking anarchists.

Doggerel #150: "Purpose"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I'm behind on my dead tree reading: I'm only now working my way through The God Delusion, but I've gotten to a chunk of it that's relevant to this Doggerel Entry. People naturally think in terms of intention for complex systems. It's a time saver in many cases: We know a rock can roll down a hill, and most of us (I hope) don't assign any intention on its part. If it's coming in our general direction, we can make reasonable guesses about where to move to get out of its way. It's not quite the same with, to use Dawkins's example, a tiger. We'd likely be eaten by the time we got ready to examine its brain in one of our clever devices. So, rather than predict which neurons will fire, stimulating which muscles, we can just go ahead and assume it'll chase and eat us, and that we should go ahead and get to safety.

One side effect of this time saving measure is that we tend to assign motive and purpose to any complex system we have a hard time predicting. Especially if it seems out to get us. I admit it, I've yelled at a few traffic lights and videogame enemies. The ancients did the same with weather, agriculture, the stars, and all sorts of things. Science has done a lot to show us these things act under predictable physical law (though we're still working on weather to some extent).

Natural phenomena follow natural law. That's it. Intention and purpose only come into the picture when some of those natural phenomena (you and me, for example) get smart enough to have intentions. There are some natural, unintelligent phenomena that can mimic the work of intelligent, purpose-driven agents, like evolution and (artificial, but natural in that they're bound by the same laws) genetic algorithms in computers. About the only time you can be sure something has a purpose is when you can trace it back to an intelligence to come up with the purpose. So far, it's still looking like the universe as a whole is purposeless. Thinking critters like us are thus far the only creators of purpose.

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River...

...With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she's gone.


Well, I saw Lucy last weekend. It was generally cool. I knew she was small, but I didn't quite expect her to be that small. If you're interested in seeing her in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you'll need to hurry up. Think she moves on after this weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Difference Between Evolution and IDiocy

There are lots of things I don't know about evolution. There are lots of things we as a civilization still don't know about it. I could ask a question about some metabolic process in some obscure worm species evolved, and there's a reasonable chance a scientist could give me an answer. Or apply for a grant to find out. There's always more to be found out, and too much for any one person to know it all.

"Intelligent Design," on the other hand, is quite different on that front. It seems I know pretty much everything civilization knows about ID. I haven't seen anything new on the ID front in all the time I spent looking at it or asking questions about it. Whenever I ask a question about the underlying logic, I never get a straight answer, only predictable fallacies. Whenever I ask a question about some feature, the answer's always "Magic man done it!" and no one ever knows how or why the designer allegedly did it, or how they reached that conclusion. When we're looking for new things, ID never tells us what we can expect to find.

Evolution, on the other hand, can give us an idea of what kinds of fossils we'll find where, and how deep. If we don't know how a feature evolved, we can use the principles to form a hypothesis and look for information to verify or refute the hypotheses we form. With Intelligent Design, anything that comes out sloppy or wrong is met with "the designer meant to do that." ID can explain any result, or predict anything. Therefore it can predict nothing. It's like cases of "psychics" predicting a good outcome for someone with a terminal disease: If they make it, they can take credit. If they die, they just say they saw them being fine in heaven or wherever. One "prediction" can explain two opposite results and be considered a "success."

That's why ID is worthless. It has the hubris to pretend to understand everything, and offers nothing new to learn.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Let the Foam Wash Away This Horrid Taste

Just saw this on Pharyngula. Ugh. Stories of people surviving disasters where innocents perish, followed by attributing their survival to divine intervention are nothing new, but this one just sticks in my craw more than others for some reason I'm currently trying to parse.

These days, it seems like the word "miracle" is getting more and more devalued. Apparently, at one time, you had to perform mass hydrokinesis or summon Outsider-types with flaming swords to get stuff deemed a miracle. That'd be really cool, and much more convincing than what passes as a miracle these days. Apparently looking at a cheese danish at an odd angle to form a face qualifies. And with the linked example, merely being a lucky survivor with a big ego for rolling a 20 on your Reflex save apparently counts, too. I mean, gee, what do you think would be more beneficial? Some egotistical missionaries survive while several innocents are crushed, or some archangel flying in and safely setting the plane on the ground? If you're not one for theatrics, how about the miracle being planes everywhere never crashing, no matter the odds?

It seems to me that the god of these missionaries is overly fond of breaking eggs, instead of simply snapping his fingers to poof an omelette into existence. If you're omnipotent, you could just snap your fingers to create the greater good, rather than force unnecessary sacrifices from unwilling people. Instead of just doing the right thing and using his power for good, this sort of god has to do everything in a convoluted way that would put Light Yagami to shame. I'm so glad there's no evidence of this god's existence. It's bad enough that physics and probability can cause suffering without thinking about it, they have to posit an all-powerful being who deliberately causes unnecessary suffering.

I'm suddenly reminded of a mine disaster where the rescue was credited as a miracle. I was particularly irate when I read a declaration of that after I had watched a program detailing every step of the rescue and the human knowledge, effort, and heart that went into it, as well as the safety measures implemented in anticipation of a future disaster. I'll go with a saying I heard in Neon Genesis Evangelion: "Determined action is better than a miracle."

It's Still Funny

Expelled is doing all sorts of whining, and it keeps getting funnier. Now they're complaining about skeptical efforts at "Google bombing" to raise one of the central places for critiques of the movie in the search rankings. Apparently our right to free speech is such a horrible imposition on them. After all, what right do we have to expose lies to the public and make a big show about it? Leaves me to wonder just how close Ben Stein and crew are to calling for a ban on free speech and an amendment to repeal the First Amendment.

It seems Expelled is allergic to real publicity. Sure, they put up a big bluff to try to claim any notoriety they can, but whenever they do something morally and ethically wrong, they whine about us talking about it. They flip-flop between an apparent stance that there's no such thing as bad publicity and cries of horror about how wrong it is for us to give them publicity. They've been running scared for a long time. First, they ran away from PZ's publicized challenge for them to post a copy of his whole interview (only a minute or two of which were used in the film itself) as bonus content (Anyone got a link? My archive search isn't working out). Then they expelled PZ from a showing for reasons that change on a daily basis, and now they whine about us giving them public exposure. Someone's chicken:

Premise Media has also learned of grass root efforts that are underway to try to influence the ranking of internet searches regarding Expelled by those wanting to learn about the film. Their stated goal is an attempt to counter-site those searchers to other websites that criticize the themes in the movie.

We are not surprised that opponents of our film are attempting to interfere with its important message.

Horror of horrors! A lot of people are posting links to a criticism of the movie! How dare they! How dare people expose curious web searchers to criticism of something they're looking for? How dare the skeptics provide handy references to quality information!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sit! Stay! Good Blog. #7

Took a look at my blog traffic today (about half of my previous average, probably thanks to irregular posting), and noticed King of Ferrets has a place of his own, now. I haven't known him for that long, but saw him doing a lot of commenting over at Skeptico. It's good to have more young skeptics about. Hope he does well in the blogosphere.

Open Thread: Science is Cool Because...

I remember one period during my stay at the JREF forums that floody troll (who I believe got banned, eventually) "Killik" started bashing science in general, claiming it to be useless or something like that. I didn't see the post that inspired the reply, but someone decided to stick something in Killik's craw (and very effectively, if I recall his responses correctly) by posting a thread entitled, "Science is really cool because..." which encouraged people to post all the wonderful things science has found, made possible, and so forth. I feel like starting something like that here. What's science done to make your life cooler? It can be anything from making PSP possible all the way to merely finding out something nifty about an obscure particle. This thread is wide open.

Doggerel #149: "Why Do You Ask So Many Questions?"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos love to call us skeptics "closed-minded." Probably because they've been indoctrinated by Hollywood and elder woos as to what they expect. It should be no surprise, then, that they're very commonly caught off-guard by us expressing one of the critical drives behind open-mindedness: Curiosity. If someone is claiming knowledge about something, you ask questions. Few things frustrate a woo faster than asking a question that they never thought to ask themselves.

When a skeptic is asked a question he doesn't know the answer to, he will commonly A) admit his lack of knowledge on that particular issue, B) form a hypothesis that appears reasonable and note it's his spur-of-the-moment response, rather than a researched answer, C) get the answer from someone with more expertise, D) look it up at an online resource and use their answer, or E) any combination of the above.

I don't see woos doing much of that, except for uncommon instances of admitting ignorance, usually followed by statements of being completely incurious about the matter. I typically find that they'll berate the questioner, claim that the answer is forever unknowable, or just generally being very unhelpful and pessimistic in our quest for knowledge.

We ask questions because we want to know more about the world around us. Science has repeatedly shown us how cool the universe is, and often how it can exceed our imagination. It's that simple. Far too often, I've seen woos act appalled that anyone would care about discovering the universe around them, whether we're trying to learn out of simple wondrous curiosity about some obscure particle, or if some drug treatment would help those we care about. Too often, woos supply authoritarianism and calls to conformity where answers would be much more satisfying.

84th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Archaeoporn.

Open thread as usual, but speculation on what I was doing last week at an undisclosed location is FORBIDDEN.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Anti-Vaxxer Thuggery

I'm very foamy right now, so I'll just give you a few links to people saying what I would, only more coherently:

Neurodiversity, Respectful Insolence, Pharyngula, Denialism, Pure Pedantry, Overlawyered.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I've Found My Savior

I traveled across the blogosphere. From the ruins of abandoned blogspots, to the degree mills of the ID crowds, right across the deep pits of Scienceblogs. And everywhere I went I saw people just like you, living as slaves, blind to it all! But if I became a legend then that's wrong, because my name isn't important. There's someone else. The man who sent me out here, the man who told me to walk the Internet. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I've seen him, I know him... I love him... And I know what he can do.

And his name is The Doctor.