Friday, July 31, 2009

Herding Cats

That's what organizing the atheist community is often compared to. Given that PZ's going to be part of a rather large crowd at that Creationist "Museum," I thought it might be appropriate to have a thread about how to make sure everyone in an atheist group behaves themselves. We're not magically immune to attracting the odd troublemakers, after all.

The Other Problem of Evil

Given my experience with apologetics, I can safely say that many apologists don't know much of anything about your typical atheist. Or at least those like me. I've seen a LOT of them listing the primary suspected reason for atheism as the Problem of Evil: If their deity's good and all powerful, why is there still evil? Though this is a legitimate question, it is pretty much independent of my belief in gods.

Given relatively literal readings of the Bible and a number of common beliefs, God is very much evil. Human sacrifices, genocide, slavery, strange and arbitrary rules, purposeless torment in a lake of fire, and so on: Some things are simply inexcusable. Though many atheists will often give a stock answer that they don't hate God because he's fictional, I will say I have no trouble hating fictional characters who deserve the emotion for the actions they perform in their fictional world. Or would perform if they were in the real world.

That, however, is not what I base my disbelief on. I do not disbelieve out of spite, but out of a lack of evidence, or even a decent definition of evidence to look for. If I had evidence of the typical fundie's god, I wouldn't be an atheist anymore. I'd be looking for the gates of Heaven and an army of concerned and morally upright citizens to storm them and overthrow the sadist, regardless of power differences.

I don't believe in gods because they're a slippery concept. Some are chimeric mishmashes of contradicting characteristics. Some are described as chiseled stone idols carrying thunderbolts and hopping around on clouds, and are only disbelieved because they've mastered the art of hiding where we aren't looking at any given moment. Others are so amorphous, described with words like "transcendental" and "infinite" that they can hardly be described as the vapor of a germ of an idea. If they can't even get consistent with what they're talking about, how can we expect to know what evidence to look for? If we can't figure out what to look for, how can we find it? If we can find no evidence, how are we supposed to believe in any version whatsoever, much less a particular one?


Last night, I picked up Fat Princess for PS3. Essentially a fun little CTF game, where you make your "flag" heavier and harder to carry by feeding her cake. Of course, you've got some standard stuff: Capturing outposts, collecting resources for upgrades, and organizing assaults to capture/rescue princesses.

The AI substitutes are pretty stupid, in my experience, though they have a few funny names. In one match, I saw "Solid Cake," "Liquid Cake," and "Cake Eater." I'm on PSN as BronzeDog, in case anyone's interested in forming a team or clan or guild, or whatever online gamers are calling it these days.

The Prince of Egypt: Alternate Interpretation

A while back, an animated movie came out called "The Prince of Egypt". I mostly went for what I thought was some good animation, rather than the story. (And looking at IMDB, probably Patrick Stewart, too.) I was in a vague "spiritual but not religious" spot at the time, so I was a bit on the cynical side in regards to the religion angle. I didn't expect for the story to strike a chord with me, though it's probably one the producers didn't intend. Note that I only saw it once in the theater, so my memories are likely colored by time and personal biases. I may post an update if I end up seeing it again. So, with that background, on with the alternate character interpretations.

Seti, Moses's adoptive (grand?)father, older Pharoh: He was prompted to perform the mass infanticide Moses escaped by a fear of rebellion: If the Hebrews grew too numerous, they could tear apart Egypt. When Moses asked for a justification, he characterized it as a sacrifice for the "greater good," meaning, in his case, a stable civilization where his family could continue. The tone of voice he spoke in told me that he knew it was wrong, but a justified hard decision for the sake of civilization. I could hate him because he was too cowardly, too afraid of the risks to consider pushing for equal rights between Hebrews and Egyptians. He was resigned to the violence inherent in the system and lacked the will for reform.

Rameses, Moses's adoptive brother, inherits the title of Pharoh after Seti's death: Unlike Seti, Rameses is essentially too innocent to do evil by intention. He cares deeply for his brother, and doesn't understand his behavior: Moses feels guilt after killing one of the whip-cracking slavemasters, but Rameses only thinks to use his power in the royal family for a pardon, initially thinking Moses was afraid of being punished, and is confused when Moses reacts negatively to the suggestion. For Rameses, his friends and family are the only real people. Those in the lower stations are just the things that prop them up in their privileged lifestyle. Having wealth and political power since birth served to make him compartmentalize his morality to just those he cares about. He is a villain not for amusement or ambition, but out of thoughtless habit. We can sympathize with him for his fraternal love, which shows some fundamental goodness in his character. Mostly, we can pity him for the fear, stubbornness, and confusion he experiences when Moses's actions undermine his way of life in the ivory tower.

Cthulhu God: An amoral, alien force who uses Moses as a symbol and focus of its power. It sends forth horrible plagues to get Rameses to allow the Hebrews to leave. It does this not because it cares about the suffering they experience, but for it's own amusement. If suffering were a concern for God, it would have done something along the lines of teleporting the Hebrews to a nice, peaceful location where they could live. Instead, it torments the Egyptian people, innocent or otherwise, to push Rameses's buttons. This god doesn't care about morality, only "winning" and humiliating its helpless, chosen opponent.

Moses: Much like Rameses, Moses was adopted into the wealthy royal family and grew up in a life of ease and leisure. The critical difference was that Moses didn't have a complete mental block preventing his moral myopia: He saw past class lines and recognized that the little people had their own lives, worries, and people to care about. Once he saw that, he recognized that he was bound to be moral towards everyone. When his actions resulted in a death, he felt obligated to be punished for his actions. He was eventually able to forgive himself and find the resolve Seti lacked: An end to the cycle of violence. For this, he made an alliance with a being that appeared to share his goals, and would grant him the power to see it through. Unfortunately, this devil he made a deal with was far worse than anything he could imagine, sending forth plagues to kill innocents. Unable to hold back the force he unwittingly unleashed, he pleaded with his brother to let the Hebrew slaves go, so that he and the Egyptian people would be spared of suffering anything more than a collectively bruised ego. The Hebrews were free, but such a terrible cost in life, it merely looked to be yet another part of the violent cycle.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

116th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at White Coat Tales.

Open thread as usual, except rebuilding the patients to be faster, stronger, better than they were before is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Doggerel #188: "THEM!"

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

Whether it's the Illuminati, the government, the corporations, or whoever, shallow thinkers always have allegedly monolithic groups to blame for their lack of evidence. Unfortunately for them, even if these groups were as evil as claimed, they wouldn't have the logistics to perform such a cover up.

Put simply, science works, regardless of where you are or who you are. Too often, to name a government example, I've had alties claiming their treatments' evidence was being suppressed by the US government, despite the fact that any other nation in the world can perform the appropriate experiments.

On top of that, the fact that they speak as if these organizations were monolithic is telling: Everyone has their own interests, and in fact, most organizations rely on having opposing parts. It'd be bad for a pharmaceutical company's long term goals if a dangerous product got out. That's why they tolerate government-mandated tests, and even if such regulations didn't exist, you can bet there'd be some whistleblowers pushing for them anyway, out of the kindness in their hearts: Some people get into the medical business specifically to help others, after all.

The world is made up of many, many individuals with differing interests. As much as some leaders wish they could have hordes of mindless drones, they can't. This plays to science's strength: Evidence cannot be suppressed so easily.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've gotten something of an odd gaming desire show up. It showed up shortly after I read about Boatmurdered, a Let's Play of Dwarf Fortress that didn't end well. The DF wiki mentioned fans of the game thinking of kobolds as cute little buttmonkeys of the DF world.

So, I suddenly get an urge to play some kind of fortress simulator along the general lines of DF where you play as the kobolds, goblins, or whatever race: Something small, weak, sneaky, and evil misunderstood. Anyone know a game like that?

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Age, Pronounced "New Wage"

My regular readers have no doubt noticed I'm fairly consistent at typing "newage (rhymes with sewage)" when I type about the trendy, fluffy woo. Not long ago, I saw a comment talking about the marketability of woo, and one of the other memes about the name: Calling it "New Wage" for the commercialization of it all. What struck me to eventually write this post was a comment about Native American shamans and their view of the New Wage phenomena: Apparently many of them like to describe the popular gurus who allegedly derive from them as "plastic shamans."

That just struck me as a very compact way of putting it. The last time I heard the use of "plastic" in that manner was to describe the "phony" people of Hollywood: Detached from the outside world by the fame and luxury, usually involved in some way or another in the act of selling pretentious, shallow fantasy while claiming to be innovative.

That's what much of the New Wage is: It's the theme park version of ancient quackery and mysticism, sanitized for the average American consumer. All the icky, unappealing parts are removed, supernatural entities are transformed into exotic guardian spirits, and just about any form of extensive footwork is removed so that it can be toned down into a hobby. After all, they want you to keep buying more books, overpriced bundles of material components, and herbal concoctions shredded up and compacted into mass produced pill format.

The quackery end is probably responsible for a large number of diet fads: Take these herbal pills full of ancient wisdom, and you won't need to cut down on sweets, like your "allopathic" doctor tells you to with increasing urgency. You shouldn't trust a doctor who tells you to eat more fruits, vegetables, and sources of fiber because you know mainstream doctors don't know anything about nutrition. Here, buy some herbal vitamin supplements balanced specifically for your blood type and aura color.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Doggerel #187: "[Scientist] Recanted on His Deathbed!"

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

There's no shortage of these urban legends, and always a shortage of evidence to back them up. That, however, is a complete red herring that develops from the delusion that scientists are more authoritative than evidence.

Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur are frequent victims of this doggerel. The problem is that the theories they birthed aren't confined to them. The success of a scientific theory is its explanatory and predictive power. Evolution is still the only way to look at biology that ties it all together. It's grown beyond Darwin's knowledge. The same is true with the Louis Pasteur's germ theory of disease: We not only know that germs cause various diseases, we know the various types of germs, how and why many cause disease, and how to combat and contain these diseases. The "alternatives" pitched by the people who tell these stories typically rely heavily on coincidence, or simply don't bother to explain or predict the myriad details the mainline theories do.

That's why deathbed recantations, even if they did happen, are completely worthless. The ultimate authority in science is the evidence. Either a theory works or it doesn't. Theories are not proclamations from on high that can be revoked by royal decree. The only thing that can tear down a theory is evidence that contradicts its predictions. To find that, you have to understand the theory and what it explains.

Pointless Question #64

If Rule 34 is, well, you know, what are Rules #1-33?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Skeptic as a Blithe Spirit

Since having a hotlink to TV Tropes is too much of a temptation for some of my readers, I'll skip it and give the gist of it: A Blithe Spirit is a person, usually the main character of a story, who ends up changing everything by being a free spirit in a stuffy environment and proud of it. That's how I've started viewing the skeptic versus woo battle: We're a force of creative chaos made to disrupt stagnant order.

Really. Although the woos like to pretend they're the innovators, everything they do seems to include all sorts of mechanisms designed to prevent anyone from questioning them. Unfalsifiable beliefs mean never having to say, "I was wrong." For a skeptic, being wrong is an opportunity: It means there's more to the universe than we thought. That means there's a mystery begging to be solved.

That's not how it is for the woo: For them, being wrong is a personal failing. If someone takes a prudent course, doing everything logically, and ends up having to change his opinion when unexpected evidence comes in, it's something to rub in their face. Of course, the whole problem with woo is that they do everything recklessly: They prefer their biases over clarity, which is why they embrace so many fallacies, especially ones founded on an idea of being infallible. Because of this attitude, a skeptic's curiosity is something to be vehemently opposed and shot down. That's why they react so negatively when we ask fundamental questions.

If you're careful and logical about how you think and what you believe as a result, being wrong and changing your mind when new evidence comes forth is nothing to be ashamed of. Being right on what boils down to a basis of luck is nothing to be proud of, either. We know science isn't magical or perfect. It's the best answer we could think of for dealing with the fact that we aren't perfect. Despite this keen awareness of our flaws as mere mortals, we remain optimistic about the process: With enough careful evidence gathering and communication, we can make steady progress into understanding the world around us and use that understanding to help one another. Being wrong and making mistakes is an inherent part of that process.

From my experience with woos, they're much more cynical and homeostatic. They don't accept the scientific method because they can't accept the risk of being wrong about their favorite topics. Many of the fallacies they employ are designed to protect their beliefs in the face of logic and contradicting evidence. That's why every failure is accompanied with an ad hoc hypothesis to explain it away. The natural result of this is that all woos are stuck in an eternal rut, and why I display such passion for getting them out of it, along with no small amount of frustration when they spout doggerel to resist even the tiniest bit of introspection.

A side effect of this is a climate I often perceive among the newage (rhymes with sewage) crowd: If there's a point of disagreement, they'll just agree to disagree, rather than debate the merits of their position. When scientists disagree on a subject, they get adversarial. This is because the truth is easier to find when everyone's willing to find weakspots in various theories. If our best ideas are wrong, that means we have to find out what weird thing is deviating from the expected, and figure it out. Science is not a field for those with easily bruised egos. Without this no-holds barred approach, woos can't expand beyond their inflated egos. They usually don't debate amongst themselves because they've learned to protect their feelings by not rocking the boat.

So I try to rock it for them.

Viva La [Civilization] Revolution!

My brother and I have been playing some games of Civilization: Revolutions on our PS3s. It's fun. One annoyance I have: The AI's usually not much of a challenge in the long run. About the only problems I have with 'em is maintaining some defenses in the early game while the computer sends in legion armies. I've heard it gets them for free at times.

So, anyway, my PSN ID is BronzeDog (no space). Feel free to drop friend requests. We can also talk other multiplayer games if you like. Of course, we also have Civ4 on our laptops, though fair warning: My brother's tends to overheat and shut off. He's got bad luck with laptops.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Something of Interest

Got this from a commenter named "Celestial" over at NeuroLogica: It's a post about some psychological quirks marketers can use for manipulation. Of course, these techniques can be used to inform and encourage good things as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Dave Mabus Thread

Since I saw a few spammers on other blogs, I decided what the heck: Dave Mabus, if you're going to spam my blog, spam here. If, for example, you want to claim Randi owes you the million, try posting a copy of your application. If you want to thumb your nose at PZ and "the atheist movement," how about you stay and discuss the philosophy, rather than post links to a non-discussion area?

You should note that I've never deleted your spam, and only repeatedly invited you for discussion, which you've shied away from. It's far more amusing to laugh at desperation than it is to delete the annoyance. That's why an even formerly "banned" troll like WoMI still had lots and lots of comments after I "banned" him: When he wasn't flooding with copy-paste insults that made my browser worry he set up an infinite loop, he was just too hilarious to delete. Of course, if you actually have something cogent to say, you shouldn't care whether we laugh at you or not.

Something I Saw Yesterday

I figure if I've got insomnia tonight, might as well catch up on my blogging. One guy I sometimes watch on YouTube was going on about Florida license plates. You've probably seen PZ cover the issue enough. Being from Texas, I expressed sympathy in the comments, since we're dealing with all the BOE crap, lately. I got a little reciprocation. Afterward, I made a trip to the grocery store and saw something that just covers Texas's problems so well:

I was behind a blue pickup truck with a bumper sticker roughly like this:

Texas Educators
One Voice, One (garbled) (garbled) Vote

Something had dented the sticker right in the middle, rendering much of it illegible.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Work Time Fun?!

I have little to say about this, other than it's worked its way up to the top of my "That is Some Messed Up Shit" list.

I posted that a bit quickly. Here's another one that's twisted on a more individual level that happened to MarkCC of Good Math, Bad Math. Another one worthy of a high rank.

115th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Effort Sisyphus.

Open thread as usual, except selling timeshares on Risa is FORBIDDEN!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Barking Up the Right Tree #1: Population

Welcome to a new series of mine, dealing with specific points I think skeptics should focus on when making arguments. Today's entry: It's populations of organisms that evolve, not individuals.

Yeah, animations of organisms changing over time are a nice way to show the history of a lineage, but possibly thanks to Hollywood, comic books, and so forth, (alongside Creationists using such instead of textbooks in their inane arguments) there's a lot of Creationists who think evolution is about magical transformations randomly happening to individuals. This, of course, is complete bumpkis.

Those animations? It's better to think of it as the net averaging of a lineage over the course of generations. Mutations and combinations that result in a big difference are pretty rare. Usually, evolution takes the form of very small differences: For example, a gene that makes teeth a little bit longer shows up and is beneficial. The slightly longer-toothed individual has more kids than average, who have more kids than average, and so on until that gene is commonplace in the species. From that changed population, a new, different trait may take root, and so on. New traits may make old, previously neutral ones more beneficial than usual, so those propagate, etcetera.

Nowhere is the process directed or able to foresee the future. Steps don't have to occur in a particular order. Older "models" of a species can stick around for extended times if they're isolated and/or still competitive enough. Nowhere is there a requirement for a "wonder monkey" that shows up as a paragon of momentous change, like they do in the comic books. Sorry, X-Men hopefuls, it's an incremental process, and advantages will generally be small.

Metaphor time, since Creationists are fond of bogus probability: A species's evolution from one form to another isn't settled in a single pull on a big slot machine. It's more like some of those videogame slot machines that allow you to lock individual wheels. Now imagine you've got millions of people playing the same game, and when one locks a beneficial wheel, that benefit spreads to the other players. To add to that, there's several ways to win the jackpot. There's no individual wildly improbable act being done. When you've got millions of players, one of them getting a favorable turn of the wheel is hardly extraordinary. When those small successes are allowed to persist and spread over generations, progress is expected.

So, to summarize: An individual organism getting a big improbable change is the stuff of comic books, not evolution. I think any Creationist who makes such an argument should be ridiculed for not knowing the difference between the beliefs of Magneto and real world scientists.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Just Hit Me

It has been a whole month since I've eaten fast food.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Woo Enthymemes #3: "Words are More 'Real' Than the Things They Describe"

This enthymeme particularly bugs me, and most often comes up with Creationists: Many seem to think that a species can't change, like there's some barrier that trims out any mutations beyond some arbitrary limit to diversity. The problem is that "species" is a loose label humans invented for convenience.
Let's take horses, for example. If you were to introduce a person without preconceptions to a horse and a zebra, it probably wouldn't be surprising if he thought they were the same species, just with different fur patterns. They are in the same genus, so they do have a lot of similarity. But they are different species, since they can't produce fertile offspring. Take dogs as well: Thanks to human breeding efforts, they come in a vast variety of forms, but many can interbreed. Naturally, with that variety, it's not hard to convince some people that some breeds aren't dogs at all.

Given what humans have been able to do with canines, just how flexible is this "species barrier?" And where's the magical stop sign that prevents anything from going outside it? Or is there some magically unalterable "species" DNA that isn't subject to nonlethal mutations? The problem isn't finding these things: It's that many Creationists don't understand that our labels are based on convenience, not on immutable laws or some quintessence a particular group of critters are supposed to have. Life is a moving target, and is not tethered down by squiggles on a page or patterns of sound issuing from a human's mouth. Truename Magic does not exist.

There are a bunch of living things out there. We just lump them into categories to make it easier to talk about. Mr. Ed is a horse. Fido is a dog. We know Ed's DNA is compatible with these other things we call "horses" because they contain the same characteristics we use to define him as a "horse." Just because we invented a word to describe this compatibility doesn't mean the horses are now obligated to conform in every way. With enough time, some horses might lose some of those characteristics (but not all, since, say, becoming a protostome instead of a deuterostome would kill the offspring) and become incompatible, necessitating a new species or genus name.

The objects we describe are real. The words we use to describe them are a convenience. If something defies description, it's the description that's the problem.

Framing Wild Thread

I've had some time to groan over various comments from concern trolls over "framing." Yes, I know messages often need adjustment for the audience. There's no shortage of people who point that out. The big problem I have with those people is that they generally don't give constructive advice: Too often, they tell us to shut up, not what angles of approach we should use. Worse, many of them speak to my inspirations and role models as if it were impossible for them to have a positive impact on me. I tend to emulate those bloggers because they convinced me they were right, and that I could contribute to the blogosphere.

So, feel free to drop comments, preferably about good strategies for different audiences.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Creationist Invitational

Welcome to a comment thread where I have invited a Creationist. Or possibly several, if the first one ends up not accepting my invitation.

Drop any questions you have for me, and tell me how Creationism answers them. Expect evolution's/abiogenesis's/cosmology's answers and followup questions to Creationism's answers. (Usually asking for elaboration).

Going Over My Log...

Loading BronzeDog.exe...

Executing Plugin(SN00ze[0])...

Executing Plugin(SN00ze[1])...

Searching for Room(8ath)... Found!

Executing Plugin(SN00ze[2])

Error: Room(8ath) has been moved or overwritten.
Searching for Room(8ath)... Found!
Checking Sheets[0]... OKAY!
Checking Sheets[1]... OKAY!
Checking Spreadsheet... OKAY!

Loading Skins...
Error: Skins[00] to [1F] have been corrupted. Attempt recovery now (Y/N)? N

Searching for Room(Kchn)... Found!
Executing Plugin(SN00ze[3])
Error: This plugin has performed an unscheduled or illegal operation and has been shut down.

Loading Mi1k.dll... done.
#Include H3rsh3y.dll... done.
Integrating .DLL files... done.
Searching for M3DS.fix... Found! 23 Left.
Voices GOTO(Away)... Verified.

LOGON DVR.30.109.014... Connected!
- Gundam00[1]
- Gundam00[0]
- Colbert~[0]
- DailySh~[0]
- Transfo~[E]

Continue (Y/N/Continuous)? N

LOGON BronzeHive/SuddenLink... Connected before you even thought to ask!


Quote of the Time Being #23

Provided by Scott, over at Orac's place:

RJ's comment #30 reminds me of a joke I heard recently which is actually quite on-point.
Two Taliban fighters are talking in Afghanistan. One of them comments, "Those American Marines are such incompetents, their marksmanship is pathetic!" The other one asks, "How do you know that?" And the first replies, "Well, I've talked to a bunch of our guys who were shot at by them - the Marines missed every time!"
If you don't see the connection, think about it for a bit. Hint: Selection effects.

Monday, July 06, 2009

What the Soul Means

As you will no doubt find out from the rest of this foamy post, I've ended up in a terribly, terribly cynical mood. And on my birthday. (Though I am glad I managed to regain my idealism after writing the first part.)

To a person like me, the soul is a convenient metaphor for all the intellectual and emotional complexities of a person. The part of a person that experiences joy and passion. The intellect that forms plans and watches for opportunities. The determination that allows them to grasp for a desired future and victory over adversity. An ideal society is one that allows every person the means to follow these. Even though such a society is more than likely impossible to achieve or maintain, I seek such an ideal. If it ever is achieved, we can only hope that we have such diverse souls of varied interests to maintain such a world logistically.

A farmer plants and grows his crop not only to provide for himself, but also to experience the joy of seeing his hard labor bring forth delicious, nourishing fruit. He can also take pride in knowing that by performing this task, he has allowed his fellow beings more time to pursue their passions, since they no longer have to perform a labor they may not enjoy as he does. Because specialized laborers can provide the basic necessities of life, other people can pursue other passions. Scientists can study increasingly subtle aspects of reality and tease out useful applications others can use. Artists can look at the world and use the tools available to society to present problems in such a way to motivate others to think of solutions or they can bring forth entertaining displays of color and sound to brighten other people's lives and expand their horizons. Police and government officials enforce laws so that individuals can feel safe and waste less time and effort engaging in security measures. Civilization is the tool we invented to make this possible, even if only imperfectly. The civilized world is a place where a soul is best able to express itself and find satisfaction. As social animals, we have an inherent desire for cooperative lifestyles such as this. By helping one another, we can enjoy greater and greater levels of freedom.

That is the basis for morality. Altruism manifests in those myriad forms. The farmer takes pride in knowing he can provide the necessity of food for his people. The scientist swells with joy when his discoveries provide new tools and insights that make life easier for others or makes the formerly impossible within another's grasp. The artist smiles when his work raises another's awareness of the world around them. The police officer gains satisfaction knowing that his vigilance helps us sleep soundly at night. A humble bureaucrat can smile if his good record keeping has prevented confusion between his fellows. Even someone who tries to produce something and fails can express his deepest gratitude for all those who provided the resources and opportunities he needed to explore his ideas, and society, in turn, can acknowledge even this person's honest efforts and intentions. Even if luck was unfavorable to him, his actions were centered around helping his fellow souls, and therefore worthy of praise. We all see farther when we stand on one another's shoulder's.

There are many people out there who despise this order the ideals it is founded upon. They are the fundamentalists, the alties, the frauds, and, to cover them all in a single word, the woos. They bite the hand of the farmer, saying we need to return to the ancient ways of parasite-ridden foods and scrounging for precious scraps of land to grow low-yield crops. They spit in the eye of the scientist, claiming their idle certainty and brief, careless glances are worth more than the insights built on the blood, sweat, and loving precision of generations. They spurn the artist who sees beauty in another soul's work and presents the quintessential truth of it so that others may be inspired to learn more and expand upon it. They ridicule and censor the writer for feeling the compassion and determination it takes to raise awareness of a problem and encourage others to seek solutions. They whine about the laws enforced by our protectors because those rights and liberties prevent them from doing harm to satisfy their selfish greed and hubris. They marginalize the bureaucrat, believing their biased memories to be more reliable than any records and their haphazard technique more perfect than procedures created to prevent confusion and discord. They mock the dreamer by claiming everything is known, and there is no room for new things. They stone the lovers for finding the comfort and joy they bring to each other more important than the production of offspring. They persecute the peacemakers, community builders, and teachers, for they believe the enrichment of these things we call souls is a meaningless endeavor in the face of hollow, efemeral pleasures.

The woo, and in particular, the fundamentalist, sees no value in the richness and depth of the soul. They crave the shallow and the empty, so they seek to suppress anything that might ignite a person's passion. They reject the social, secular world as a result. They seek to eliminate our social nature, replacing it with something akin to that of an insectine robot. Sameness is a virtue in their eyes, conformity the law. If they cannot enforce conformity on the world, they isolate themselves from it, forming insular tribes. Children are indoctrinated in tribalist ways, and taught that exposure to the outside world will turn them savage, so that they turn vicious towards peacemakers and foreign ideas instead of thinking about them. Foreign heroes are recast as villains, not based on the deeds they do, but are punished for meaningless technicalities like the genetics of the people they help or trifling details about the mechanisms behind their abilities. Love, being based on things beyond mechanical reproduction or the enforcement of random and arbitrary laws is treated as inferior to the conditional praise given for rigid obedience or the carnal lust for one's designated reproductive partner(s).

For us, a soul may only be temporary, but we seek to carry on parts of it to be remembered for generations. We feel sorrow for the loss of a loved one, and may hope they continue on in some as yet unknown fashion, but we can not allow our sorrow to lead to the sloth of believing our wishful thinking is true and absolute. Seeking out what truth really is will be far more useful to us than gambling.

When a fundamentalist speaks of the soul, however, they do not speak of the sum of a person. They speak only of an everlasting receptor of pain or pleasure. When one follows the arbitrary laws and believes in the random tenets of the faith, this receptor is sent to a place that pumps pleasure into it. It feels no sorrow for those who didn't make it because it is incapable of loving another. They speak of how our receptor will receive only pain, but even if we believed them, we would not embrace their beliefs: The joys of enriching ourselves and each other hold far more value to us than the empty promise of eternal carnal pleasure. We're not so cowardly that we would give up what we value most to appease the purposeless anger of a nihilistic stone idol.

These locusts grow fat on the labor of others. They enjoy the benefits science has brought to society in the form of tools everyone else uses in their craft, but they detest the discipline when it's personally inconvenient for them. They use the laws and bureaucracy established for the common good for their personal protection, but seek to rob others of those same protections with arbitrary, nonsensical exceptions. They attempt to conflate our restrained and perfectly legal responses to their hate and irrationality with their worst efforts to censor and bully us into submission. They harm others and yet claim to be the victims.

That is why I lay my heart and soul out on this blog for all to see.

What a Wonderful Present

I didn't want to wake up in the morning to read this on my B. I will very much embrace the meme of calling her "Cynthia Dumbar," even though it's not a terribly clever way to play on her name. I may change if someone figures out a better tweak. Either way, it looks like Texas could be heading into even deeper states of doominess than McLeroy could dream of.

One thing that strikes me about theocrats like her is how unpatriotic and ungrateful they are. They have no loyalty whatsoever to the founding principles of our nation or any of the similar ideals other developed nations have embraced. Her primitive mode of thought more readily belongs in one of those unfortunate third world countries filled with Lilliputian strife over which end of an egg you crack.

One particular aspect that sickens me is that she's being groomed to head public education, and yet apparently believes children are the property of parents, who are free to deny them the equality of opportunity public education is supposed to aim for. The implied newage (rhymes with sewage) subjectivism involved in denying them access to outside ideas and scientific consensus also strikes me as rather hypocritical: Lots of fundies like to make a big show about how they believe there's an objective truth out there, but whenever science illuminates it for everyone, suddenly they want the system to cater to every superstition out there. Because their random theory of randomness can't survive even the barest bit of scrutiny, they have to remove all sources that could cast doubt on chaos.

It leaves me to wonder if her brand of homeschooler wants to do away with human nature as social animals: Only meet the opposite sex to acquire a mate, reproduce, jealously guard offspring from any outside idea competition from your fellow species until they're old enough to mate and too old and isolated to consider there's something more to life than the rat race.

I'd rather be an intelligent social animal than just another mindless insect bot. My home state is DOOMED.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

We've Always Been at War With Oceania

Imagine it's a few centuries ago, before the scientific revolution in medicine. Acupuncturists start complaining about chiropractors and the unearned popularity they have. They start emphasizing the strokes caused by chiropractors in their marketing campaign. Their campaign also emphasizes how relatively painless gently putting needles into a person's skin is, and how it doesn't cause side effects. All the while, just like the chiropractors, they neglect to demonstrate any actual effect though the scientific method. Instead, they, again, just like the chiropractors, rely entirely on anecdotal "trial and error" to determine what "works" without regard for observer biases. The acupuncturists' campaign is successful enough to wipe out chiropractic from serious consideration, and even set it up as an archetypal example of ridiculous quackery.

Now imagine it's centuries later. Acupuncture is still around. And they call aspirin "chiropractic medicine." They call chemotherapy "chiropractic medicine." They call surgery "chiropractic medicine." And they call vaccination by injection "chiropractic stealing ideas from acupuncture" because it involves a needle.

Welcome to the skeptics world in regard to the dead pseudoscience of "allopathy." One woo faction squabbled with a slightly worse but temporarily more popular woo faction and played a big part in killing them off. Once they killed off the enemy, they needed another enemy they could attempt to discredit to make themselves look good. Thus, homeopaths invented a tenuous connection between scientific medicine and homeopathy's slightly-more-evil twin, allopathy. Threatened by the genuine effectiveness of medicine coupled with the watchdog organizations that enforce that effectiveness, other woos jumped onto the propaganda bandwagon.

Really Annoying

Just a pointless meatspace complaint: My place is having a really hot summer. Finally got some rain today, which mostly only made it humid. Thankfully, my dad informed me that it's going to be absolutely frigid on Monday: A high of 83°F.

Naturally, a part of my brain wants to complain about global warming, but of course, not being a meteorologist, or even an informed layman about the topic, I know I should be wary about equating a heatwave (weather) with climate.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Worst Kind of Woo

Now that the warm fuzzies I got from the fireworks display have worn off, I have a foamy rant to get out.

Saw a (supposed) swarm of trolls at a thread about chiropractors earlier today. A number spouted "get a life" and variants of that doggerel near the front of their comments. I couldn't see straight enough to read the rest. In fact, I'm surprised I was able to write calmly for the corresponding Doggerel entry: One of the few things I hate more than evildoers are people who demand I be unemotional about injustice and ridicule us skeptics for displaying even the slightest bit of compassion.

These people have somehow accomplished the contradiction of being militantly apathetic.

It's bad enough when they laugh at me for caring about people who are cheated out of large sums of money by psychic frauds, the topic of this thread was alternative medicine. People have died needlessly at the hands of chiropractors who ended up causing strokes. Worse still, previous commentators had mentioned babies and children who were "treated" by chiropractors.

Sometimes I wonder if they point and laugh when people cry at funerals.

We criticize because we actually give a shit about what happens to our fellow sapient beings. We're capable of sympathy. When someone is deceived for another's profit and receives no benefit, we feel sorry for the victim. We're fallible, just like they are, and we can conceive of the same happening to us. We're in the same boat, and we want everyone to have the same protections, whether it means watchdog organizations doing detailed, transparent examinations or giving everyone we can reach a lesson in critical thought. The latter is the whole fucking point behind our blogging about these topics.

These sociopathic fuckers couldn't care less about that. They're just in the trolling business for shits and giggles. Other people's emotions are nothing but their playthings to inflate their ego.

We tear down bad ideas because that's how science works: Come up with lots of ideas and tear down the ones that don't get evidence in their favor or have logical flaws. Whatever remains standing is likely to be true, and thus we can use that knowledge to better ourselves and help other people. Truth-filled ridicule is a tool to increase a person's awareness of logical fallacies.

For the nihilists, tearing everything down is its own purpose. Ridicule is its own end, and it consists only of hollow laughter directed towards anyone who expresses anything other than indifference.

So, to those of you who tell me to "get a life," I say this:


*The soul I speak of is, of course, only a metaphor for all the physically-based mental and emotional complexities of a person.

Happy Fireworks!

I'm going to be seeing the local fireworks display tonight with my dad, who always brings his camera.

My birthday's on Monday, and I'm thinking about celebrating by having them over at my new place to view the wonder that is Hayao Miyazaki.

The Problem With Big Pharma Conspiracies

A while back, Orac introduced me to this cartoon. A generic pharmaceutical company tests a drug on rats and find no effects whatsoever, wasting the eight million dollars spent on research and development. So the marketing department sells it as an altie med product. I think that cartoon pretty well describes the medicine versus quackery battle just so well.

Pharmaceuticals have to do a very extensive song and dance to get approval from institutions like the FDA in the US, and analogous institutions overseas. They have to test on models, animals, and eventually, with even greater scrutiny and regulation, humans. These regulations exist because of scientific and ethical necessity. Those who understand the principles science and have a desire to help people demand watchdogs to keep an eye on the procedure.

In contrast, woos typically demand (and get) special exemptions from this oversight, often claiming that they're too poor and decrepit to actually bother testing their products before unleashing them on the public, therefore, they should have the right to haphazardly experiment directly on their consumers and cherrypick testimonials for marketing purposes. Of course, the only prep work they typically have to do for this consists of having an idea pop into their head. Then they can directly proceed to unregulated human experimentation. And being an altie means never having to say you're sorry.

So, given that state of the world, why would pharmaceutical companies bother with spending potential profits on the whole experimental phase that often ends in failure or recalls from unforeseen effects? If they were only after money, the altie situation would be much better. Take a look at homeopathy: Water, alcohol, or sugar pills and profit margin for nothing.

Speedy Q&A #4

Q. What is a "Scientific Fundamentalist"?

A. No matter what you say, I will NEVER stop doubting myself and relying on the sacred testimony of experimental data as a means of self-correction!

A Sagan of Skeptics' Circles

I missed a few:

#112 is up at Cheshire. No creepy smiles.
#113 is up at The Uncredible Hallq's place. No green body paint or shirt ripping.
#114 is up at Homologous Legs. No dirty commentary involving a play on the adjective.