Monday, June 30, 2008

Pointless Question #26

Your team of adventurers has grown in number, now including a really annoying guy who somehow wields plungers in combat with surprising skill.

How the heck do all the weapon stores know to stock bigger and more painful plungers when you get there?

Any Astronomers Reading?

This is a bit outside my expertise, so anyone with a good knowledge of the appropriate physics would be nice. Just thought of an unusual world concept to go along with all those people who dream of ringworlds, Dyson spheres, and such.

My idea: A binary planet (a pair of binary planets?), er, two masses that orbit each other, have roughly the same size and mass, and keep the same face towards each other. The potentially interesting aspect: The inhabitants of one planet build a space elevator connecting to the other one.

It's my understanding that our moon keeps the same face towards us because of its origin as a torn-out chunk of Earth. Seems to me the right circumstances could divide a planet evenly. Of course, I realize this, along with the chance of making both halves life-sustaining would be wildly improbable, but it's a big universe, and a potentially cool setting helps.

So, any difficulties to discuss? Stuff that comes to mind: 1. Even if life develops on both places, the two would be quite different. 2. The two faces might not be synchronized enough to support an elevator for long. 3. Routine eclipses might make for interesting, though potentially nasty climates.

Pointless Question #25

So, a Big Bad shows up, and it turns out the big, overly gimmicky CCG tournament you've been winning is part of some weird magical plot to feed the players' souls to some cosmic horror so it'll come out and eat the universe.

Why don't you just put down the deck, get a gun, and shoot him?

Pointless Question #24

I've turned out a couple duds in this series, but I feel better about this one:

So, you're a mad scientist with an affinity for building robot armies. They've got an arsenal of laser cannons, chainsaws for hands, and one big glowing red eye that can rotate towards the camera to glow menacingly.

Did you forget to include something for depth perception?

Random Thing

I'm feeling in a random meme mood. Might try turning this into one of those chain memes down the line. You know that whole Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot thing? I'm making something of a list of those various cool things. Over on GDL, I've got something of a potential mashup going on.

So, here's the list of what I can think of at the moment:

Ninja (Regular, Magical, and Highly Visible)
Badass Longcoat
Badass Bookworm
Badass Biker
Space Marine
Abraham Lincoln

Any additions to suggest or combinations you think would be interesting?

Rant: Cretinists

I still tend to have a particular preference for ranting about IDiots, Cretinists, and whatever else you want to call them. I've seen so much of them that I think I can distinguish all sorts of flavors I'll need to name someday. Typically, they aren't all that different from their cousins from the previous post.

Postmodernism: Just like I described in the previous rant, Creationists will use postmodernism as an excuse to dismiss evidence. They'll ramble about irrelevancies like Darwin's alleged racism, alleged rage against their stone idol, the harsh wording we use, or as an old favorite troll here did, claim that having ready stock answers to disengenuous stock questions invalidates the points made. It's all about making up random rules so that they don't have to back up anything they say.

Overt dishonesty: No matter how much we make a point to correct fundamental errors, they'll make a point of making them over and over and over again. Once a typical Cretinist leaves a forum or blog to start elsewhere, they unlearn everything ever said to them. I've never met one who demonstrates any knowledge about the debate. All Cretinists are apparently newbies to the debate.

Rant: Retro Newage Postmodernist Hippies

One step above the Earthbound/Mother series random encounter: The Retro-Newage (rhymes with sewage) Postmodernist Hippie. I imagine some literary critics are annoyed at my throwing Postmodernism into the stew, but as I'll cover in this rant, I'm generally talking about "Postmodernists" who try to apply literary analysis to science and mathematics.

First up: Retro. Newagers just love old crap. I mean "ancient wisdom." They seem to think stuff gets better by the mere fact that it's older. I wonder how long it'll take Plan 9 From Outer Space to become high art, with original reels enthroned next to all the marble statues and Renaissance paintings. When it comes to art, the best stuff tends to come to the surface as time goes on. For every award-winning novel that makes its way into required reading for English classes, there are thousands of cheap, cliche-ridden rags. Though the nostalgia filter isn't so powerful, there are lots of ancient beliefs that don't make it. The most appealing (not necessarily accurate) are the ones that have a habit of surviving. Add on all the psychological defenses the supporters throw in, and you've got a belief that makes testable claims (at least in original format) that allows believers to rationalize away all the failures despite the fact that we can objectively test their truth value.

Next: Postmodern: I'm not a lit person, so be kind about nuances I miss in my quick glossing over. Postmodernism generally involves taking a work of literature and reinterpreting it in some different frame of reference, usually taking into account the time period, the author's circumstances, and so on. I've got no problem with that sort of thing when applied to literature. Newagers, however, seem terribly eager to apply the method to science and demonstrable fact. Their identical cousins, Creationists, are often fond of talking about the racism of Darwin's time, Darwin's alleged racism, and other stuff to try to discredit the modern synthesis of evolution. As if that's going to change the observable evidence or the reasonableness of the inferences we draw from it. One of the archetypal examples I see on fictional TV, and actually once or twice on blogs is the claim that math is too "masculine" for various reasons, and thus wrong. That's the sort of crap that so much woo is built on, and I'm sick of it.

Call For Doggerel #e

I haven't been building up the index all that much lately. It's kind of hard to think of stuff I haven't already covered, though I'm sure it's out there. If you're of a medical slant, you can get an honorary Doggerel entry on 'toxins.' I've been meaning to do that one for a while.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cross Post from GDL: Avoiding the Scrappy

You all know him and hate him: That one annoying character who ruins an ensemble and makes you wish for his death. Even worse if he's the author's favorite. I confess I tend to have higher tolerances for some Scrappies than I see in other people, though I guess I wouldn't hear as much from the tolerant people. This thread is open for you to talk about all the things that make you grind your teeth, or just post flames for your least favorite characters in epic verse.

Something I find that takes the edge off a Scrappy: The rest of the cast is visibly annoyed by him and find humorous ways to express their contempt or just twitch uncomfortably as they try to get him out of their hair.

Traits that tend to add Scrappy points for me:
Team Pet: When the pet's useless, there's no point. Even worse if the pet's loud and counterproductive.
Talkative: Having a lot to say is okay, but it'd better be meaningful. Silence is golden when the situation gets serious.
Bad jokes. Especially bad puns.
Useless in a fight, but insists on coming along anyway, or worse, thinks he's the primary contributor when he isn't. Help my sympathies if they're knowingly trying to overcome their problem.
Clingy Crush: If one of these somehow ends up happening, it'll get shot down very quickly.
Not a Team Player: If the team makes a plan, there'd better be a good reason for deviation.

Discussion Thread: Reality is Unrealistic

I've seen a lot of crazy over in my stay on the internet. One of the recurring themes I've seen in woos is complaints about normal things being crazy to believe in. In other words, "Reality is Unrealistic." I mentioned this in another recent post, just as a quick mention.

One example that comes to mind other than twoofers are the people who think the moon landings were a hoax. They don't seem to know much about how things really work in vacuums, low gravity, or anything about photography. Because stars show up in sci-fi shows, regardless of camera-adjacent lighting conditions, they must show up in reality.

In the more general woo area, conspiratorial thought tends to drive people to think reality works like thin premises for action flicks.

So, open discussion.

An Interesting, if Familiar-Sounding Encounter

Between Robert Lancaster and Sylvia Browne. I need to catch up on his new stuff.

Texas is DOOMED! Yet Again

Phil Plait started that meme, and since I live in this wretched hive of scum and villainy, I should post more often about it. The latest item that's come to my attention is a state-approved exorcism.

Since PZ's post has the appropriate information and links, I'll spend some time foaming.

A kid gets mistreated, and all of the sudden it's legal because their religion teaches that it's okay to do such things. Wonder if they'll reverse it when some pro-sacrificial sect kills someone for ritual purposes. Probably cut it down to a wrist-slap, instead. Of course, if some non-Christian cult does it, I imagine they'll invent some excuse to claim that this ruling isn't relevant.

You know it's bad if you can't tell you're being a realist or maximally cynical. Whenever I read some theist troll claiming the moral high ground, it's crap like this that comes to mind first and foremost. The few times I do manage to see theists behaving themselves, it's the secular ones. The fire and brimstone theists are busy condoning torture, murder, inequality, deception, and greed. Every time I get into an argument with a persistent fundie about morality, it always, always descends into that. Non-interactive ones on the TV fall into the same trap if we give them enough rope.

This whole thing is just one more reason why I consider there to be little or no distinction between the wacko religious fundies and the wacko newagers. The two camps just argue over minutiae. Wonder if I'm going to end up having to move to Rhode Island in a reversal of a certain Family Guy episode.

Friday, June 20, 2008

89th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Ionian Enchantment.

Open thread as usual, but letting out what happens in Vegas is FORBIDDEN!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sit! Stay! Good Blog. #8

Took a look at my traffic recently and found I got some link love from a new blogger, Joshua Hall, The Idle Scientist. So far, so good. Encourage some continuing output.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dogfight #5: PZ Got Mail From This Nut

PZ gets more entertaining mail than I do. It's a long one, and I'm feeling masochistic enough to take on each little bit. I'm feeling generous, too, so I'm giving this person much more than a troll deserves. Maybe I'll pick up a troll in the process. Here comes the fold for those at the front page:

It is easy to prove to yourself that God is real. .the evidence is all around you. Here are 50 simple proofs:
Whilst agreeing that random patterns occur naturally by chance, DNA however, consists of code, which requires a designer.

How exactly do they know a designer is required, and not merely sufficient? We've got computer analogs that can generate DNA-like behavior. Also, who's more reliant on chance? Non-random natural selection is a very powerful force in evolution. Randomness just provides more raw material to work with.

How do you explain the paranormal, such as people witnessing positive or negative sightings, like ghosts or angels? I saw a ghost with a friend of mine - I am not a liar, an attention seeker. Neither was I overtired when this happened.

Oh, gee, we explain the "paranormal" all the time. We've done it so much that paranormalists are running out of ideas.
More points: 1: Even if we lack an explanation, that isn't proof. It's your job to prove it's paranormal. 2: How exactly are these proof of gods?

Try praying. What good is it when a mind is set to coincidence & disbelief regarding the positive outcome?

Ah, yes. You demand that we lower the standards of proof and act like it's a bad thing we're open-minded towards other explanations. We've done one better than what you've proposed and looked at larger prayer studies. It doesn't work.

The law of cause & effect - in order to have an effect, there has to be a cause. Everything is caused by something.

Turtles all the way down, huh? We can go all the way back to early moments of the Big Bang and say, "We don't know yet, but here are a few ideas we can try to test." We're honest that way. Creationists like you tend very heavily to label any hole in your knowledge "God". Just like your ancestors did with lightning. And worse, you strike me as exactly the type who would label something impossible and then claim your deity isn't subject to that rule.

Anyway, it may not be comfortable with the idea, but I'm not one to say that acausal events are impossible by fiat. Be really frustrating to prove it, though.

Mindless nothing cannot be responsible for complex something.

Another declaration by fiat. Hubris, much? I find the hypocrisy especially delicious in this case since it's the Creationists who typically advocate complex entities arising from nothingness. Evolution is about somethings giving rise to occasionally slightly more complex other things. The process just builds up over time.

Science can only be the detector of certain things. You cannot scientifically detect emotion, memory, thoughts etc., though scientifically we must.. These things which do not consist of matter are beyond the detection of science.

Oh, funny. More baseless assertion. Apparently this troll is utterly unaware of the field of neurology, and the nature of science. We can detect emotion, memory, and thoughts by watching behavior, for one. It's not perfect, but we can do it, and we do it every day, though a little sloppier than a scientist would in an experiment. Science isn't just a collection of scanners, despite what Hollywood will tell you.

Also, if you want to convince me that all those things are non-physical, you'll have to be the one to provide evidence.

Evolution has never been proved, which is why we call it the 'theory of evolution'. It's a fairy tale for grown ups!

Well, looks like this has likely moved into open dishonesty. Do they really think playing around with the English language instead of the evidence will make them look better? No wonder Creationism has become synonymous with dishonesty.

Atheism is a faith in that which has not been proved. The disbelievers have not witnessed anything to not believe in, whereas the believers believe because they have witnessed. There is no 'good news' to preach in atheism.

Ah, yes, the hubris of claiming personal infallibility in witnessing. Of course, atheism is about not having a belief in deities. Not witnessing deities at work is what atheism predicts. No deities means nothing to witness. Creationists, however, have to get pretty creative to explain contradicting experiences from other religions. We've already got explanations: People are fallible.

How much of the atheist's faith relies on anger with God as opposed to genuine disbelief in God?

Classic subjectivist newage (rhymes with sewage) hippieshit psychobabble. That's popular with the corporate masters at Hollywood. Does this person ever leave the basement?

Why do many atheists shake their fists & spend so much time ranting & raving about something they don't believe in? If they are no more than a fizzled out battery at the end of the day, then why don't they spend their lives partying, or getting a hobby?! Why don't they leave this 'God nonsense' alone?

Because vile people like you use religion as a tool to inflict evil on the world. Would you have us tolerate evil and spend our time on a selfish hobby instead? Heck, we're often victims ourselves. We've got both selfish and altruistic reasons to stand against you.

Knowledge gained by science is one of the best tools we have for making the world a better place and more specifically for countering your vileness.

What created God? What came first, the chicken or the egg? I am not going to deny the existence of the chicken or the egg, merely because I don't understand or know what came first. I don't care - they both exist!

Hey, you're the one positing the god hypothesis. It's your job to flesh it out and prove it.

Improbability is not the same as impossibility. You only have to look at life itself for that backup of proof.

Yup. I believe something was said about that in "Climbing Mount Improbable." Of course, you're the only one here declaring anything utterly impossible. Woos just love that word.

How could the complexity of human life possibly evolve on its own accord out of mindless cells?

Introduce random mutation. Natural selection non-randomly picks out those that do the stuff that helps them reproduce more. Rinse and repeat for illions of years.

How could the complexity of the human mind possibly evolve on its own accord out of mindless cells? Where does our consciousness come from?

Duh. Interactions of nerve cells. If you want to show it's something spooky, you'll have to prove it.

What/who knew that our hunger & thirst had to be catered for by the food & drink which we're supplied with?

Unconscious tendencies covered that before the sensations of hunger and thirst existed. Sensory input from your innards when they're running low and a triggered foraging instinct are a good combo. Creatures with a system that triggered appropriate behavior were more likely to survive. It's pretty simple.

Most of us are born with the five senses to detect our surroundings, which we're provided with.

Way more than five senses. And yeah, being able to detect the world around us is an advantage that'd be selected for. What's so weird about that?

What/who knew that had Earth been set nearer to the sun, we would burn up?

Hey, if it wasn't Earth, we'd be on some other planet Omicron Persei VIII, wondering much the same deal. You're working backwards.

What/who knew that had Earth been set any further from the sun, we would freeze up?

Hey, if it wasn't Earth, we'd be on some other planet Omicron Persei VIII, wondering much the same deal. You're working backwards.

What/who knew that had Earth been built larger or smaller, its atmosphere would be one where it would not be possible for us to breathe?

Because we evolved to live on a planet with this gravity. If the planet was bigger or smaller within tolerances for abiogenesis, the entirely different critters born/hatched/spawned there would have appropriate methods to breathe.

What/who knew that we require the oxygen of plants, just as plants require the carbon dioxide of us?

No one knew. It's just a matter of adapting and forming a symbiotic relationship.

The concept that life came about through sheer chance is as absurd & improbable as a tornado blowing through a junk yard, consequently assembling a Boeing 747!

Exactly why I find the whole deity concept silly. Life formed through non-random natural selection acting on replicators with some random mutations. Try reading up on it. It's called evolution, and its stochastic process involves far less randomness than spontaneous generation of supernatural entities.

We are willing to believe in physically unseen waves that exist through the air, operating physical forces & appliances to work, yet not supernatural God forces being responsible for the same.

More word games. "Supernatural" is meaningless. We can see and predict the effects of the invisible. Those invisible waves act according to solid rules and behave very reliably. There's no rhyme or reason behind allegedly supernatural happenings. That's why religious predictions are all over the board and no one is consistently accurate. Prove me wrong by winning a JREF-esque challenge.

Matter cannot organise itself. An uneaten tomato will not progress on its own accord to form a perfect pineapple. It will transform into mould, into disorganisation. The laws of evolution fall flat.

You think mold is disorganized? Mold is a living thing that eats the tomato to decrease its entropy and reproduce. The mold is organizing itself, even if it's not on a level not pleasing to your hubris-filled sense of aesthetics. A tomato turning into a pineapple is the sort of absurdity one would expect from a world filled with the random supernatural effects you describe.

Besides, ever watched crystalline formation? That looks like a share of self-organization to me.

Our 'inventor' of evolution, Mr. Charles Darwin had this to say to Lady Hope when he was almost bedridden for 3 months before he died; "I was a young man with unfathomed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions. wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire - people made a religion of them." Darwin then asked Lady Hope to speak to neighbours the next day. "What shall I speak about?" She asked. He replied; "Christ Jesus and his salvation. Is that not the best theme?"

1. Lady Hope was lying.
2. Science doesn't care about who came up with the theories. Darwin was no infallible god-king making unquestionable decrees. What matters is the evidence. The universe itself cries out in favor of evolution whenever we look. Your projection of your blind obedience to authority onto us is noted.
3. Darwin is dead, and to me he's just a celebrated footnote in the history of science. He has no practical importance to research, and he's very well outdated since we've refined his theory.

Where do our moral values held within our conscience come from? If the atheist is right, why then would we care about what we did?! If there is no God, then we've no-one to be accountable to.

Except each other. Hurting people makes me feel bad because it means people might hurt me back, or withhold help. Human beings care about each other because we need each other to survive. Altruism is our survival strategy, and it's worked very, very well. Besides, I have the ability to put myself in another person's place, and I wouldn't want to be hurt by me, either.

If man has evolved from an animal, why doesn't he behave like an animal? Yet man is civilised.

Animals are very diverse entities with very diverse behaviors. Civilization is one of those behaviors because it's a very, very effective survival strategy.

'Chance' isn't the cause of something. It just describes what we can't find a reason for.

Yup. Can't really argue with that. We don't know everything, but certain things follow the laws of probability. We just can't seem to get to the bottom of everything to find out why. Some people like you, however, like to pretend that they've already solved it.

Science & logic do not hold all the answers - many people are aware of forces at work which we have no understanding of & no control over.

Exactly. That's why you're so arrogant to think you have answers without evidence. You place yourself above everyone else by doing that.

Look at the date/year on our calender - 2000 years ago since what? Our historical records (other than the Bible) record evidence of Jesus' existence.

Evidence such as?

Many people have died for their faith. Would they be prepared to do this for a lie?!

If they believed the lie, yes. There are atheists out there with the same passion necessary to die for their ideals. Better to die for that, than some concept of personal infallibility at the core of "Faith".

Much of the Bible deals with eyewitness accounts, written only 40 years after Jesus died. When the books in the New Testament were first around, there would have been confusion & anger if the books were not true.

1. Eyewitness accounts rank very low on the scale of evidence.
2. There was confusion and anger. It continues to this very day. Such is the way with any religion.

From as early as 2000 BC, there is archaological evidence to confirm many details we're provided with in the Bible.

Evidence such as?

Not one single Biblical prediction can be shown as false, and the Bible contains hundreds.

Oh, really? You haven't done much reading, have you?

The evidence from liturature & historical studies claim that Biblical statements are reliable details of genuine events.

What historical studies?

From the birth of science through to today, there is no evidence to claim that Christianity & science are in opposition. Many first scientists were Christians; Francis Bacon, Issaac Newton, Robert Boyle, to name a few, along with the many who stand by their work & faith today.

And yet, there are still Christians who claim disease is caused by evil spirits. The science of medicine is in contradiction with this. Not to mention so many other fields of science that Christians typically reject. As for the other scientists, well, it's entirely possible to be a part-time woo and still contribute to science.

Science can explain 'how' something works, but not 'why' something works.

Newage (rhymes with sewage) word games.

Science is constantly recorrecting its findings. Past theories contradict certain beliefs which are held today. Our present 'discoveries' may change again in the future to rediscover how we originally came into existence.

Yup. Because we're fallible, we recognize the need for correction. Somehow, though, I doubt germs will suddenly stop causing disease when we discover evil spirits. We've been wrong before, but science is a process of becoming less wrong as time goes on. The world isn't flat, and it isn't a sphere. That doesn't mean a person who says it's a sphere is exactly as wrong as a Flat Earther.

Evolution describes the way life possibly started, yet doesn't explain what made life start & why. Scientific questions fail to do that. Even if evolution were proved, it would still not disprove God.

1. Evolution is what life does. Abiogenesis takes over, and it's a growing field.
2. For the illionth time: IT'S YOUR JOB TO PROVE GOD! It's not our job to disprove every unicorn, fairy, werewolf, and other miscellaneous supernatural entities.

The two people who discovered Jesus' empty tomb were women. Women were so low on the social scale in first century Palestine, so in order to make the story fit, it would have made far more sense to claim that it were male disciples who had entered the tomb. But it wasn't - we're left with the historical & Biblical truth.

1. It depends on which version of the story you're reading.
2. I'm not one to claim it's a deliberate hoax. Kind of pointless to make this argument to someone who has a hard time believing any detail of the event happened. To me, the whole thing spawns in the way that urban legends spawn about purely fictional events.

Think about Near Death Experiences. It's naive to believe that they all are induced by chemicals or drugs. How do we account for a blind person having this experience, coming back to describe what they had never before seen, a person telling the Doctor that there is a blue paperclip on top of the high cabinet, which they couldn't have otherwise known, an african man being dead in his coffin for 3 days, coming back to life to tell of much the same events which took place as those of many others? We never hear of the witnesses describing "a dream". We're not silly - we know the difference between even the most vivid of dreams to that of reality.

1. Why's it naive? Consciousness itself is induced through electrochemical signals.
2. Show me evidence of these tales, and urban legend chain emails don't count. We don't need to explain events if they never happened.
3. There goes that hubris again, thinking you've got an infallible sense of reality. Stop worshiping yourself and these alleged people. It's embarrassing.

There are many skeptics who didn't believe in Jesus before his crucifixion, and who were opposed to Christianity, yet turned to the Christian faith after the death of Jesus. Just as the many who continue to do so today.

Yeah, and there are many Christians who turn into skeptics. Why should I believe the word of an alleged ex-skeptic without evidence? It's meaningless to talk of conversions of others. Show us the evidence.

Albert Einstein said; "A legitimate conflict between science & religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind".

Einstein didn't use conventional definitions for "religion" and "god". Chances are, he'd call you childish and egotistical.

A speaker in Hyde Park who was attacking belief in God, claimed that the world just happened. As he spoke, a soft tomato was thrown at him. "Who threw that?" He said angrily. A cockney from the back of the crowd replied; "No-one threw it - it threw itself!"

More urban legendry combined with straw men. You don't get out much, do you?

It is easier to believe that God created something out of nothing than it is to believe that nothing created something out of nothing.

There's not a lot of difference from what I can see. You'd have to believe that nothing can create God from nothing for the former. I don't see much reason to believe in creation ex nihilo. The way I see it: Somethings came together and interacted to create new somethings, which created more somethings and so on. There's never a nothing involved, except for possibly virtual particles and such. I'll consult my QM friends if it gets down to that.

Stephen Hawkins has admitted; "Science may solve the problem of how the universe began, but it cannot answer the question: why does the universe bother to exist?"

Namedropping without any explanation. I find the latter question meaningless.

We cannot confuse God with man. With God in the equation, all things, including miracles are possible. If God is God, he is Creator of all, inclusive of scientific law. He is Creator of matter & spirit.

Convenient for you to define him as such. Must be nice to prove something by definition, rather than collection of evidence.

If we are the product of evolution - by sheer accident, chance, then we are still evolving. Does it just so happen that we exist here today with everything so finely tuned for our living. as we now have it?

Chance didn't have all that much to do with it, remember? Non-random natural selection, remember? The critters who couldn't make it in this world died off while the ones who had the upper hand flourished.

Could it possibly be that the missing link does not exist?!

Which missing links, where? We don't need a complete record of every critter who had offspring to make inferences. You're asking us to go against common sense and take it on your word that some critters similar to earlier critters just popped into existence.

God has proved himself to us in numerous ways, all around us. The atheist needs to put his glasses on. What more can God possibly do if man has shut his eyes to him?

Right. Declare victory by claiming it's already proven without specifying a single proof or even methods of proof. You've done nothing to show your work, and most of your arguments rely on the assumption that you and the names you drop are perfect.

Jesus Christ is either who he says he is, or he is the biggest con man history has ever known.

It's my current opinion that if anything, Jesus was a typical deluded cult leader who just happened to be successful for the same reasons urban legends are successful memes.

I have no trouble imagining him pulling off an L. Ron Hubbard, though. Humans are fallible and easily fooled. Unlike you, I recognize my shortcomings and put up the safeguards of science. Hubris and blind trust such as yours allows superstitions to perpetuate.


I don't think it takes a genius to know what I've decided. When you feel like coming out of the cookie-cutter mold all the other woos, psychics, alties, IDiots, Scientologists, etcetera, try emailing me something that hasn't been addressed over a century ago.

Doggerel #156: "Don't You Think It's Suspicious That You Spend so Much Time on This?"

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

Woos love to talk about talking about arguments. That is, they seldom address the points made in arguments, but love to talk about the presentation, presumed motives, and the people presenting the arguments. In short, they love irrelevant trivia and pointless speculation.

In this particular instance, they seem to think that simply presenting a well-thought out argument is evidence of sinister motives. Of course, it never seems to occur to woos that people are capable of caring about the truth enough to do proper research or even just be on watch for logical fallacies. It's my guess that woos are just too cynical to have a high opinion of people. Throw in martyr complexes, ignorance of Hanlon's Razor, with loads of hubris, and a woo can make any perceived opposition into a malicious conspiracy.

Skeptics like me have a natural drive to spread knowledge and correct errors. Science works by error correction. Woos often frustrate or amuse me because they pull subject changes in order to avoid anything to suggest that they're fallible. The most direct route I can think of to deal with an argument is to address it head on. If the skeptic says there's no good evidence for your position, you provide good evidence. (No, anecdotes still don't count. Pay attention to why next time.) Instead, woos try to turn something irrelevant about the argument into some kind of emotional point. With this particular doggerel, they try to make passion and diligence into unpardonable sins.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Love TV Tropes

Those of you who read GDL have probably noticed I like TV Tropes to a potentially unhealthy level. Just found a new (to me) entry with an example I've ridiculed a lot: "Efficient Displacement" and how 9/11 Twoofers often invoke the trope, expecting a 747 to make a 747 cutout in the Pentagon.

It's funny when that sort of thing happens.

Observation: Woos and Humor

My brother and I were treating our parents for a Father's Day dinner this evening, and the topic drifted to a very poor parody written by an IDiot he read. That reminded me of something I've long thought about posting: As far as I've been able to determine, woos have no sense of humor.

When they attempt parody or satire, it tends to involve overt lying, usually in the form of straw men. Those forms of humor require at least a grain of truth. Exaggeration's fine, but I don't see any of them doing that.

One of the things that helps me deal with the absurdities of this world is humor. It's cliche, but if you don't laugh, you'll cry. Humor is a very strange thing to me, but I understand it on some levels. I've compared it to an incomplete knowledge of chemistry at one point: It's like knowing that two hydrogens and an oxygen make water without knowing why these two gases would come together as a liquid. (I know now.) Often, humor involves telling the audience about something horrible and expressing your outrage, and yet, do it in the right manner, picking the right moment to point out a contradiction, and you get laughter.

That just doesn't seem like something woos are capable of doing or appreciating. They seem to think simple insults pass as humor. Take the woo and skeptic approach to the standard 'basement dweller' insult and the premises I typically see between the lines.

First, the typical woo angle: "You obviously live in your mom's basement because you're angry and have been on the internet long enough to argue with me for X number of posts."

This only ends up funny in a reversed, unintentional manner because the woo in question has also been arguing in the manner described, and is apparently unaware of the hypocrisy.

Next the skeptic angle, and some of the specific angle I tend to use: "You obviously live in your mom's basement because you've based your entire worldview on one inherently flawed data point, speak out against the very idea of going out into the world and studying a subject, have no knowledge whatsoever about your opponents' views or arguments, and have psychologically barricaded yourself against anything new entering your world by setting up several knee-jerk defense mechanisms."

It doesn't tickle my funnybone at all when stated like that, but given the right timing and more succinct phrasing, there's potential, and it has a grain of truth (or more) to it, which is key in observational humor.

And yet, somehow, Hollywood thinks we're the humorless zombies.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Series Like Mine

It seems I've inspired someone to start a new series on his blog. I was checking links to the Doggerel Index and stumbled on Secundum Artem's Abused Vocabulary series, dealing with a medical slant. I haven't looked at all the stuff there, and the Abused Vocabulary series is only two entries, but everything so far is promising. He's thrown some links my way, so I'm reciprocating.

Foamin' Again: Anti-vaxxers

Some of you know that anti-vaxxers press a lot of my buttons. Their lies and deceptive half-truths endanger children (and not just their own) and risk derailing legitimate autism research. But one of the things that really sticks in my craw is that they're like Creationists in that they'll repeat fallacies over and over and over again. It's especially irritating that so many drive-by trolls of theirs don't even bother keeping up with the latest alleged causes. Of course, there's also the conspiracy nut angle that gets perpetuated like any other urban legend.

Whenever I see the typical anti-vaxxer troll, I feel like I'm debating someone who still thinks Mikey from those LIFE cereal commercials died from eating Pop Rocks and soda. The conspiracies they posit are so outlandish, the alchemy of their "mercury" downright crazy, and their understanding of the scientific method comes straight out of television ads. What they've done is no different than the typical chemical scare, only they're turning it into a political movement.

Like all woo, there are common threads with other varieties. Anecdotes about conspiracies, conspiracies as defense mechanisms, poor understanding of grade school science, flip-flopping on "everything governments say is true/false" to form arguments from false authority, and they're not afraid of lobbing irrelevant political views in there. I've been accused of a lot of things in my days as a outspoken skeptic. On one end, IDiots call me a dope-smoking liberal hippie, and on the other, all sorts of alties and twoofers call me a right wing Bush crony. These people have apparently allowed themselves to be so polarized, cynical, and arrogant that they can't imagine anyone honestly disagreeing with them. Woos are so destructive.

Goodbye, Cruel Blogosphere

I have it on very good authority (feel free to snigger) via the King of Ferrets that the world is going to start blowing up via nukes sometime today.

Things I wish I could have seen:

That last Star Trek movie. Life hasn't been easy without a new Star Trek series or movie on the horizon. I'm a Picard man, but I'm so glad I was able to experience a moment when I "got" Kirk.

D&D 4th Edition: Got some understandable complaints but it's looking reasonably good so far. I would have liked to at least seen some later PHB Editions to round off the class list.

Doctor Who: I love the new series, but I would have liked to have seen the classic episodes, to find out what all you long-time fans go on about.

My Untitled Platformer: Would have been cool if I made it as a successful indie game.

The Dark Knight: They did a decent job rebooting Batman.

Well, I'll be blogging until life on Earth ends, and I'm forced to return to my homeworld. I'll be seeing you as soon as I figure out how I could possibly get a drop on a Time Lord, steal his TARDIS, and prevent the whole thing. But I doubt that'll be happening.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Do Over! History Channel Edition

Okay, so the Doctor tells you saving mankind in the distant future entails doing the History Channel right, so he takes you for a spin in the TARDIS and manages to give you absolute control over the network so that you can take out all those crazy shows about alien conspiracies... oh, wait...

All right, I didn't think my premise through. But you've been given the chance to redo the History Channel from the ground up and prevent the network decay we see today. What would you do?

Some of my ideas:

1. Don't get "The Hitler Network" nickname: Yes, WWII was a very important chunk of history and is still fresh in the current generations' collective mind. Yes, it's very well documented. But it's not the whole of history.

2. None of this "Ice Road Truckers" stuff: My first question when I saw that was "What does this have to do with history?" I could maybe understand a one-shot special about the significance of freight in those regions, whatever it may be, but I don't see a series.

3. Dump the woo. No aliens, no endless specials about mythology. I remember some special on angels with some woman commenting on how conflicting the lore on angels was. So's the lore on werewolves. That's because they're fictional and not subject to historical science. Leave the mythology to how it affects the real world, i.e. who got inspired to do what atrocity.

4. Make specials on how historians actually do stuff. History is a science, and more science education in the media would be appreciated. Too many woos out there seem to think that just having something in print makes it true.

5. Keep some of the geek stuff: I'm talking about some of the specials they had on the history of sci-fi and "Superheroes Unmasked." They put the entertainment in historical context, so we could see how life imitated art and vice-versa. There is, of course, a limit.

6. Do some shows on other parts of the world. Mostly I see stuff that's America- and Euro-centric. I'd like to see some shows on the history of other regions, and sometimes deeper into their past than their cool parts. From some shows I've seen, you'd think Japan sprang into existence sometime in the Edo period. I could also use some enlightenment in the area of Africa's history, too.

At the Mall

I saw an Asian guy with a set of massage tables (not sure what the term is: Padded with a face hole), some pictures of feet with lots of pointers, and a kanji-peppered picture of a person. He's got a little booth with $12, $15, and $20 dollar prices for whatever.

Any suggestions for how I should mess with this highly probable woo?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Quote of the Time Being #17

Orac recognizes that Prometheus is made of Awesome. That quote does a good job of covering exactly why we're struggling against anti-vaxxers. This is about the big picture in protecting people. A lot of woos out there are just so selfish and unappreciative of odds.

Here it is for replication's sake:

Re: "Green Vaccines"

One of the things that the "Greens" are in favor of is biological diversity and protecting endangered species. This dovetails nicely with the "Green Vaccine" movement, since it is clear to me that they (the "Vaccine Greens") are simply trying to prevent the loss of valuable biological diversity.

Not too long ago, in 1977, one viral species (Variola or "smallpox") was made nearly extinct. It now no longer exists in its natural habitat, being reduced to a few specimens kept in captivity. This near-extinction was due solely to human activity, in the form of vaccines.

More recently, another virus (poliovirus) was brought to the brink of extinction before it was saved by the valiant efforts of a combined team of anti-vaccinationists and religious wack-jobs. Now, it is thriving again in Nigeria, Namibia and Yemen and is expected to make a complete recovery.

The virus that causes measles was never listed as endangered, although it had largely disappeared from its habitat in the US, UK and Europe, suggesting that governments in those regions were actively conspiring to bring about its extinction. Fortunately, by the tireless efforts of anti-vaccinationists and shameless medical opportunists, it has been re-introduced into large areas of its former range and is expected to thrive there.

So you see, the "Vaccine Greens" are just doing their part to prevent human-caused species loss and to maintain global biodiversity.

General Gamer Geekery

Well, I've been busy posting a lot at GDL, but thought I'd ask some general goers about videogame tropes, and what they think about them. Some are really annoying. Some are fun. Still others are fun to subvert to throw players off. Here's a big list I'd like some opinions on:

Absurdly Spacious Sewer/Air Vent Escape: I know they're not that big in the real world, but having alternate routes of sneakiness is good.
Already Done For You: Handy reminder that you're not the only person/team out to save the world. Might have a scene where your characters go through a puzzle dungeon that's already solved and getting creeped out.
Artificial Stupidity: Any people with knowledge about how to avoid common pitfalls with these in 2D platformers?
Block Puzzle: Clever new models and justifications for them would be nice.
Cutscene Drop: It's annoying when playing a 2D platformer with cutscenes that require the characters to jump or walk onto their marks. Sometimes fun to force a character to jump the length of the screen to get in proper discussion after beating the boss.
Dodongo Dislikes Smoke: Lot of bosses out there seem to like swallowing explosives.
Everything Breaks: How destructible do you like your environment?
Fake Difficulty: What makes you tear your hair out?
Light and Mirrors Puzzle: Any new twist you can think of?
Malevolent Architecture: How malevolent can an architect get without stretching your credulity?
Only Smart People May Pass: One of my favorite lines from Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction went something like this, said by a deadpan computer voice: "The library is protected by puzzles so devious they will fuse your neural net should you even attempt them."
Platform Hell: Sometime I need to get the full version of I Wanna Be the Guy. I don't plan on making one of those, though.
Videogame Geography: Some of the classic problems need to get fixed.

Still in Business + Wild Thread

Well, my brother's got a lot to be angry over, since he's been following the news on Texas education. First new post. Second new post. Feel free to vent your frustrations here. This thread is hereby WILD!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Doggerel #155: "Cameras are Magic!"

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

This entry is a bit unusual in that it's a phrase woos won't say it outright in those words, but it does seem to be a popular sentiment to put between the lines. Cameras are wonderful things. They let us record images from a particular moment and allow us to metaphorically return to that time. But to a woo, a camera is more than that. In a lot of fantasy entertainment, it's popular to have mystical creatures and such not show up on camera. In the woo world, it's popular to have the reverse: Magic shows up because of the camera.

It reminds me of a spam message I got a while back for some spray that would allegedly make the user's license plate unreadable on camera. I wondered if it was opaque spray paint, but no: They expected me to believe it was some magic substance that would scatter light for cameras but not for human eyes. Cameras aren't all that special because they work on the same principles as eyes: Light goes in, is focused by a lens, gets flipped over in the process, and the image shines on sensitive receivers. A camera is a mechanical eye. It may rely on different chemicals or on electrical signals than the human eye, but it's the same fundamental process.

If you can fool the eye, you can fool the camera. Cameras are just more reliable overall because they leave harder memories, but they can still be tricked. That's why you've got "orbs," "rods," and camera straps showing up a lot. Those things get significant when you throw in things like shutter speed, focal distance, and lack of binocular depth perception. Organic eyes have their troubles, but so do mechanical cameras, especially since squishy organic eyes often have compensating software behind them we take for granted, constantly adjusting two eyes to get a better look, and cultural software to make shortcuts in interpreting the resulting images. Cameras don't have that mixed blessing.

Another sentiment popular among woos, especially twoofers from what I've seen, is that photographic evidence trumps everything, and that visual interpretation of grainy images is superior to all other forms of evidence, or that unlikely interpretations outweigh gross logical failings of that interpretation.

Cameras are wonderful, but they aren't infallible. Never put blind trust in any one piece of evidence.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dream Thread

One of the most annoying things I hate about dreams is that I have so much trouble remembering the details I want to. Was taking a nap that ended up being formatted like a History Channel show on superstition (according to my DVR's listings, there was a show on about superstitions and rituals, and I did have the TV on History International). Had some woo apparently making a point along the lines of "because we're all superstitious, there must be something to it" as well as another point I can't remember. Don't know if it was actually in the show, but in my dream he deserved the stinging rebuttal and getting his face machine gun punched into the wall. (Normally in my dreams, I'm on the receiving end of violence when it happens.)

If I remember what blog-worthy post I was going to put up in response, you'll see it, possibly as a Doggerel entry. For now, this is an open thread about dreams.