Saturday, June 30, 2007

Funny Searches: June 2007

Another month, another collection of teh sillies. Of course, I'm typing this at the start of the month and saving as a draft, so we'll see if the list is up to expectations.

who do we call for the cardiac thingy: I don't know. Maybe those, uh, guys with the stethoscopes.

psychics say one thing and horoscope says something different: I'm surprised the psychics would agree on something.

science vs magic: Real world: Science wins by default: Magic is a no-show. My D&D campaigns: They're one and the same.

snickers kitty porn: This one involves non-brand name snickers, at least for me.

what happens if someone swallows spunk?: You've got spunk, kid. I hate spunk.

new age vibrations theory: They vary from moment to moment... The 'theories,' not the vibrations.

bronze has more fun: The silver and gold may be more successful, but we have fun doing our stuff.

autism ninja: I have a feeling there's an anime or manga out there with that premise.

prescription for cyberphobia: Don't look now, but you're running an Internet search... three times over the course of the month.

how to get heat vision: Travel back in time, get your mother laid by a kryptonian, and use your flight and super speed to spin the Earth backwards to travel back in time, get your mother laid by a kryptonian...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Today is a Good Day For Everyone Else to Eloquently Express My Opinions

Seems there's a lot of inspiration going around the skeptical portion of the blog-o-sphere at the moment. Must be synchronisity or something. I'm really grateful for the internet, blogs, and so forth, because it lets me know that I'm not alone in being an atheist, I can talk candidly, and just all around warm fuzzies when my fur doesn't suffice.

Anyway, here's some linkdom:

PZ covers exactly why atheists shouldn't shut up, "framing" be damned.

Skeptico shows a YouTube video of an Australian show I should see about importing. Today's target: The Secret.

You Mac people out there: Tell me how fun this is. Feel free to post examples. I'd like to see some Christian Fundie screed translated to newage(rhymes with sewage)ism.

If I wasn't afraid of the cost of replacing car windows, I'd get one of these.

Tom Foss covers some of the wonderful commenting he's been doing, lately.

And just for reiteration, here's that 2% Co. link.

Just in: PZ covers the problem with some gun nuttery in the wake of Virginia Tech.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus, Buddha, Everybody, and Me

The 2% Company extracts my thoughts, down to the colorful language I would resist typing. Denialism covered the affair earlier, and the first two sentences enough to send my brother off on a rant for a bit over my new cellphone, since he first introduced the thing to me. (He's taking something of break again to find his blogging self.) Here's a bit of humor to calm down those prone to turning into a giant green monster whenever their First Amendment rights are diminished. Should help a little.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

That 8 Fact Meme

We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

I'm not going to tag anyone, since just about everyone I know has already gotten tagged.

1. I prefer my food plain. I don't go for fancy chip flavors, and I avoid ketchup, gravy, and so forth. The toppings I do use are pretty much just salt, pepper, and chocolate syrup.

2. I've got a heightened tolerance for a lot of annoying characters, to the point that sometimes I don't notice them being annoying. Cait Sith from FF7 is not included in that list. "What purpose does this creature serve?" Wesley Crusher somehow managed to stay under my radar for a long time. Now he grates on my psyche whenever he shows up.

3. Remember that Monty Python skit "It's the Mind" where they had the announcer introducing an episode on déjà vu and it kept resetting with him being aware of it? I found that to be Twilight Zone creepy, not funny after the first few resets.

4. Remember that cane sugar Dr Pepper I didn't like? I think I know what happened with it: It got left in the sun for too long. Got a whole case of regular Dr Pepper at the office today that got left in the summer heat and it tastes exactly the same.

5. I often prefer my music to not have lyrics in a language I can understand or no lyrics at all.

6. I'm better at Duck Hunt with my left paw.

7. I was extremely skeptical about the Wii's controller when I first heard about it. I'm glad I was wrong, for it doth rock.

8. I once pirated a piece of software because registering and activating my legitimate copy was too hard on the company's server and it solved my problem faster than customer service would.

Hollywood Skeptics, Conversion Narratives, and Ninjas

Well, PZ's weighed in on the corruption of Scooby-Doo, and I followed some links from there. Whenever I get off on a rant, my regular readers know there's a fair chance of me mentioning the "Hollywood skeptic" stereotype: The denialist who disbelieves in the monster right up until it eats him. In the conversion narrative Hollywood is fond of, the depressed skeptic doesn't believe right up until the monster almost eats him, survives to the happy ending, and somehow becomes magically happier as a result of becoming a woo.

I've never been much of a horror fan, but it does seem to happen a lot there. Either the skeptic gets eaten, so all the woos can cheer at his foolish demise, or he gets converted, so that the woos can feel inspired to go out and evangelize to us skeptics, showing us that we can believe in "something more" (a phrase that merits a doggerel entry, coming soon).

One problem I see with having a skeptic in a world that features supernatural stuff is that he's usually an exaggerated version of skeptics from the real world. In a supernatural world, I would think skeptics, and by extension, the events in such horror films, would be more like Ghostbusters: If supernatural things existed, we would have studied them in detail and devised countermeasures. If something has effects, it can be studied scientifically, "supernatural" or not. There'd be no way to keep this stuff secret, since that'd require massive cover ups with outrageous administrative costs. About the only scenario I can think of that would result otherwise would be if the supernatural was very rare, or if the horror movie was the result of the first supernatural event anyone was around to care about. No doubt this'll get sorted out in some of the comments.

Anyway, one thing you almost never see in Hollywood is the reverse conversion: from woo to skeptic. I guess it's just not all that ratings-friendly.

But that won't stop me from trying to come up with one:

Setting: Samurai and Ninjaful Japan, inside a key fortification currently under siege. After the assassination of some high-ranking officers and sabotage performed by the enemy's ninjas, morale is low, and supplies are running short. Thankfully, allies manage to squeeze past the besieging army and bring in vital supplies, reinforcements, and most importantly, a renowned general known for his practicality and success on the battlefield: A skeptic.

The remaining officers begin briefing the general on what's been going on, to tell him what sort of supernatural horrors to expect when his assassination attempt comes, and bring in guards who encountered the ninjas who begin to tell their stories, complete with wire-fu flashbacks.

Flashback #1: Guard describes encountering a ninja with a long black scarf and tassels hanging from the handles of his kunai knives after assassinating one of the officers in a poorly lit hallway. The ninja starts attacking the guard, seeming to jump around, magically attacking from multiple angles, forcing the guard to remain on the defensive until the footsteps of more guards coming encourages him to escape, leaving a bewildered and demoralized guard behind. The arriving soldiers come in time to see the ninja turning a corner into an unlit hallway and seeming to melt into the darkness. They pursue and see only a long, empty hall.

Flashback #2: A ninja wearing a cloak drops from a ceiling onto an officer and his guards. He manages to kill his target during the surprise attack and quickly jumps away to avoid getting surrounded. He manages to parry a few blows from the guards, swings his cloak around, and in a puff of smoke, turns into a vicious wolf who charges the surprised guards. Flash forward: They show the general the dead wolf body and move to the next flashback, delivered by an injured officer who just barely managed to survive.

Flashback #3: Another officer being escorted by guards, turning past a noblewoman toward a dark hall. A sound comes from the distance, causing the guards to rush to the front and hold up their lanterns to light the darkness. As they do, a shadow rushes past them, followed by the noblewoman screaming: The officer has a knife in his back and he falls over.

Flash forward: The general looks grimly, and points to a scar on his neck, "If I had believed stories like that, the ninja who once attacked me may have been able to finish his job on the second attempt. Ninja are masters of deception, not sorcery."

Revised Flashback #1: The ninja with the scarf and tassels doesn't teleport around the guard to attack from multiple angles. Instead, he waves the various objects in front of the guard's eyes in time with his movement. (Flash forward) "This technique is called (insert cool-sounding Japanese phrase). If he could move as you describe, why are you still alive? He wasn't trying to kill you..." (flashback) "...he was buying time for his allies." While the guard is being distracted, two other ninjas rush out, one even briefly aiding the attack to make the 'jump around' effect more convincing. The two hidden ninja manage to escape, followed shortly by the third after the extra guards start becoming audible. When they see him turn the corner and look down the dark hall, the camera pans up to show the ninja hiding in the rafters.

Revised Flashback #2: Shown from behind the ninja, he throws his cloak around, obscuring himself from the guards as he throws down a smoke bomb. He pulls out a dog whistle as he runs into the smoke, and in comes the wolf, attacking the guards while the ninja escapes.

Flashforward plus an anachronism: The general asks to see the knife that went into the surviving officer's back and dusts it for fingerprints, finding two sets. He checks the guard who pulled it out to match one. He asks for them to bring in the noblewoman, who comes in and describes a ninja forming out of the shadows. The general has her fingerprints checked: They match the other set. (flashback) The noblewoman generates the noise by throwing something down the hall, causing the jumpy guards to look ahead. Their swinging lanterns generate flowing patterns of light and shadow. While they're distracted, the noblewoman plunges a knife into the officer's back. Include slow-mo scene of the officer's face as he realizes something is wrong and begins falling. The noblewoman steps back to her original position and screams at the top of her lungs.

Wrap-up: The general figures out that the noblewoman was acting as a spy, coordinating with other ninjas. General manages to foil an assassination attempt to the point of utterly embarrassing the ninja through appropriate planning, including good lighting everywhere. (Insert 'candle in the darkness' symbolism) Troop morale rises as they realize they aren't dealing with an unstoppable supernatural threat, and as a result, they are able to last through the siege until outside forces arrive.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Doggerel #106: "You're Just Being Defensive!"

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

Though relatively uncommon in my experience, this is one of the old fall back lines of woos after having their arguments torn apart. Like many, many other forms of doggerel, this one is a subject change.

Referencing psychobabble may be fun for either side (boy, do I love pointing out projection, as you may see before this post is done), but it doesn't alter the one important thing when seeking out the truth: Who's got the evidence?

One thing that I've seen far too often are people who talk about emotions about an argument, rather than the argument itself. It's like saying that poor sportsmanship on one side will affect the scoreboard, regardless of how big the difference is between the players' abilities. What's worse is that woos often don't realize that they're behaving very badly: Depending on the topic, they often condone the immoral actions of opportunistic "psychics," government-led censorship, effective inaction in the face of crippling medical conditions, etcetera. In short, the outcome of the argument is vital to knowing whether or not evil is taking place, and yet, we're often vilified or derided for even having the argument. Why shouldn't we be defensive?

Another nasty aspect of it is that woos often try to assault the wonder of the universe and science's ability to reveal it: "Don't be curious. Don't ask questions. We already know everything we can know. Don't probe into this handful of 'mysteries' and 'big' questions because we need to keep going in circles instead of solving them and moving onto the rest of the universe." Personally, I think that's what woo's really about: Protecting false mysteries because, for some bizarre reason, ignorance makes them feel better. So to defend their egos, they try to launch preemptive attacks on curiosity.

Help Make My Blog Awesomer

Just posting a general request to go along with the usual call for doggerel suggestions: If you find an image that would go along with a suggestion, please bring it to my attention. Some of you may have noticed that I've been perusing I Can Has Cheezburger? lately, and I think some 'loldogs' would make for some amusing helpful images.

Further suggestions:

If you find something silly, email it to me. I haven't been looking at too many woo sites lately, and it'd be helpful to have some that I could nail quickly in entertaining ways, and maybe attract the attention of some indignant troll.

Help me diversify: When I do a non-doggerel post, I tend to focus on Intelligent Design nonsense. Would be nice to know of some silly ufologists, crystal healers, etcetera that I could make fun of. Especially if they're known for trolling their critics.

Off-topic: I could always use more flash games, YouTube videos, and so forth to include in the Pointless Fun category. If you've been enjoying my "Building a Better (game genre)" posts, feel free to suggest other genres I could give a whack at.

I've noticed my site traffic's gone down from a surge of about 400 a day for a couple weeks down to 300. Still an improvement from one plateau I was stuck in for a while, but if there's a discernible reason for it lowering to that level, anyone know what it might be?

Any other suggestions out there?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Doggerel #105: "Who Are You to Criticize Someone's Belief?!"

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

This particular bit of doggerel is really infuriating to me. If we were debating something like whether or not some character in a movie was played by one actor or another, we'd simply call up the IMDb or watch the movie and pay attention to the credits. If we failed to find an answer through either of those methods, we could get some photos and voice samples of the relevant actors and compare with the movie. I'm sure we could come up with other methods of figuring out the answer if really hard-pressed. If we got a definitive answer, no one would go on and on about the incorrect person's right to believe he was right, or claim that we, as mere non-Hollywoodians have no right to criticize his alternative cast theory. Yet, for some bizarre reason, those very issues almost always come up with woo.

It's a very strange line in the sand that they draw. The vast majority of these complaints revolve around scientific questions, yet for unspecified reasons, we aren't allowed use the scientific method and critical thinking to find the correct answer: We're expected to just smile and nod when we see obvious flaws in someone's reasoning (or lack thereof) because some questions have been declared, for no meaningful reason, to be sacred cows.

An expression many atheists and skeptics are quite fond of is "sacred cow makes the best hamburger." That summarizes science quite well: Everything is open to criticism. Nothing can be declared unchanging dogma. If you can find good evidence and make valid arguments, anything can be overturned. Ego and tradition are not shields against efforts to correct errors. If you've made errors, you shouldn't try to hide them behind some allegedly impenetrable barrier and declare that your pet hypothesis is sacred ground that no one should intrude on.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Doggerel #104: "UR TEH GAY!!!!!111!

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.
'What sort of person,' said Salzella patiently, 'sits down and writes a maniacal laugh? And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.' -Terry Pratchett, Maskerade
For this entry, I thought I'd go ahead and pick a number of the lowest hanging fruits, and staple of the most vacuous trolls out there. It's simply amazing that some people out there seem to think that statements like "U R GAY!!!!!" will alter the course of an argument. What's more amazing is that a number of these people have graduated from grade school.

As should be obvious to those who live in a world with one objective reality, the sexual orientation of an arguer have absolutely no bearing on the validity of his arguments. Whether or not the arguer has 'gotten laid' recently has no effect on the validity of his arguments. The gender of the arguer has no effect on the validity of his or her arguments. The level of machismo exuded by an arguer has no effect on the validity of his arguments. The age of an arguer has no effect on the validity of his arguments. The geekiness of an arguer has no effect on the validity of his arguments. The laziness of an arguer has no effect on the validity of his arguments. Whether or not the arguer lives in his parents' basement has no effect on the validity of his arguments. (Though it does amuse me to think of 9/11 twoofers like that.)

Put simply, these sorts of arguments may "win" kindergarten playground arguments, political , and mainstream media debates, but they do absolutely nothing for serious arguments about truth. If you make a decision based on these lines of logic, you might as well get your tinfoil hat and start having epiphanots in your basement, preferably far away from internet and serious discussions. I prefer not to deal with mamby-pamby newage postmodern subjectivists who waffle on their opinions between sentences.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Son of Pointless Fun

Well, got a few good things to pass on, largely thanks to Nodwick.

Nodes: Simple puzzle concept: Got a bunch of movable connected objects. You have to get them to intersect all the nodes on the level. Easy at first, but I can see it adding up quickly.

Vector Tower Defense: 'nother one of these games. You may want to skip the easy maps.

Meme infection that's quickly spreading: Very Dramatic Chipmunk. First saw him at Denialism.

Tesla dipped into the woo later in life, but his good science allowed us to do this:

I'm getting one or both of these in preparation for our robot overlords... Though I don't know if I'll be watching from the front lines on July 3rd.

My keen animal instincts tell me that yesterday was International Surf Day. That would have been more useful to know in advance. It's being celebrated over at Cute Overload.

I've Gotta Make Some of These!

Via Niobe. I can certainly see the Doggerel Index going this direction. Sorry if it's a bit large. It doesn't scale down well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

63rd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Relatively Science.

Open thread as usual, except asking to stay up late just because the sun is staying up longer is FORBIDDEN! Even moreso is mentioning that I forgot to submit this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

With Great Power... Comes Heat Vision... Maybe?

Finally decided to do a little something on Scientology. I don't know much about it beyond what I saw on South Park, some of their crazy anti-psychology stuff, and a few random exposures to silliness. So I thought I'd start with "Operating Thetan" levels, since I recall hearing that people are supposed to get super powers.

From Operation Clambake's Scientology Dictionary:

OT I, (OT 1), comes after completing OT eligibility and OT preps (qv), this consists of walking about and counting people until one has a "win", and similar god-like procedures. EP (End Phenomena) is to extrovert a being, and bring about an awareness of himself in relation to others and the physical universe. Also called OT (Operating Thetan) orientation. OT I has had various incarnations over the years. BTW, there's this swamp land I've got for sale in FLA...

Well, not quite descriptive, yet. For some reason, this kind of reminds me of a Metalocalypse episode where they had a psychologist giving them banana stickers whenever they did something 'good'... until the band figured out "we can buy psychological validation", displaying a treasure chest of banana stickers.

OT II, (OT 2); consists of hundreds of boring "implants" written in Hubbard's hand like "to be or not to be", followed by "spotting the light" that accompanied the "implants." EP (End Phenomena; the final result of processing "therapy") is rehabilitation of intention and ability to project intention. With an EP like that, it can't fail! "A series of processes directed at whole track implant materials (GPMs) dealing with dichotomies and binary thinking. Available at Advanced Organizations and higher." - Jonathon Barbera.

(Implant, a hypnotic suggestion smashed into one's mind millions or billions of years ago in Hubbard's Space-Opera Scientology Cosmology. "One Implant was installed using giant movie screens.")

(Intention, a metaphysical Scientological concept of being able to project theta into physical objects and other people to exert mystical control over them. "Put your intention into that ashtray and make it do what you tell it.")

Terminology's still pretty thick. Smells like The Secret. Would be nice for Operation Clambake to provide a less cumbersome dictionary.

OT III, (OT 3); Operating Thetan (level) three, also called the wall of fire. Deals with Incident 2, Xenu, the evil galactic overlord, and the H bombs on Hawaii 76 million years ago. Hubbard said that anyone who was exposed to this level casually would "freewheel" through it, become a chronic insomniac, then get sick and die. "Locating and auditing of body thetans on Incident I (first incident in MEST universe) and Incident II (incident which caused the degradation of these beings into body thetans and clusters as caused by Xenu approximately seventy-five million years ago). Emphasis on this level is ridding the pre-OT of body thetans which are conscious enough to respond to the auditing. Available at Advanced Organizations and higher. Partially replaced by New OT V." - Jonathon Barbera. See Incident Two.

So, if I'm cutting through clearly enough, it's exorcism or something. Not quite JREFy just yet.

OT IV, (OT 4); the Operating Thetan drug rundown. New OT IV gets rid of the effects of taking drugs in past lifetimes for a few thousand dollars. You should really see this land in FLA; it is near Clearwater... "Mocking-up and unmocking implants from Clearing Course in order to prevent future implanting plus the handling and rehabilitation of past auditing. Product was supposed to be an OT Exterior. Replaced by New OT IV: handles the effects of drugs, medicine, and alcohol by addressing BTs stuck to/in drugs, medicine, and alcohol incidents. Audited by Class VIII auditors at Advanced Organizations and higher." - Jonathon Barbera."

So... running all the former King Arthurs and Cleopatras through rehab, replaced by exorcising all the demons hidden in some chemicals (drugs) but not others (food)? Trippy.

OT V, (OT 5); get rid of those damn Body Thetans! EP (End Phenomena) is cause over life. Should be cause over your debt; you'll need it. New OT 5 starts what is call New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans, NED for OTs or NOTS, reputed to be for removing BTs (Body Thetans; evil spirit infestations) that didn't respond on OT3. Physical universe familiarization, for only a few 'thou, was a part of old OT V. "A series of drills directed at the Pre-OT's handling of, and relationship to, MEST. Drills were to be done exterior. Replaced by New OT V: A series of steps directed at clearing the Pre-OTs body of body thetans with some attention on body thetans which are causing particular conditions (including health conditions, rock slams caused by the evil intentions of body thetans, PTSness caused by suppressive body thetans, etc.) Audited by Class IX auditors at Advanced Organizations and higher. 55 HCOBs." - Jonathon Barbera. Note: this level has been published on the internet at many locations, however reading it won't help to understand it much, as it is insane garbage.

So, clearing out that 0.01% left over after 99.99% got disinfected at OT3? I like the note on this one: All the labyrinthian terminology seems intentionated for obscurificationistical end phenomena.

OT VI, (OT 6); what, more body thetans? New OT 6 teaches the sucker, I mean the Pre-OT, to do NOTs, New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans, solo. OT VI is very expensive; it is easy to run up a $40,000 bill to get ready for the next step, OT VII. OT ability drills for a few 'thou more constituted old OT VI. "Drills dealing with exteriorization, emotions, and sensations. The drills were supposed to be done exterior. Replaced by New OT VI: A course which trains the Pre-OT on how to solo audit Solo NOTs. Available at FSO (Flag). 14 HCOBs." - Jonathon Barbera.


OT VII, (OT 7); and still more? On OT VII one does NOTS, New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans, solo. New OT VII is cheaper than New OT V, as only the six month C/S'ing and the final certainly check are paid for and the main work is left to the mark himself. Old OT VII was projection of intention and polish up for a few more 'thou...and you thought shouting was all you needed to project your intention. "A series of processes, drills, and training steps directed at intention. Replaced by New OT VII: the purpose of this level is the further ridding of body thetans. Done at FSO (Flag) and at home for two to three years. Product is an OT." - Jonathon Barbera.

Those nasty thetans. Stamp out one infestation and they come right back.

OT VIII, (OT 8); Rumours are that the EP of this level is to cognite that Hubbard is god. After US $360,000, Hubbard had better be god, goddamn it, otherwise you've just been royally duped! Will you gain god-like abilities yourself? Plonk down the US $360,000 or so to get to this stratospheric level, and find out...or you could rent a clue for ten cents and buy a nice house and a couple cars with the money you'd save. OT VIII is the top of the current Grade Chart - OT IX won't be released until all the present Orgs are the size of the old Saint Hill Organization in East Grinstead, England, in the '60s - not until hell freezes over, in other words. The Bridge, or Gradation Chart of Human Awareness and Abilities, tops out at OT 15, in some versions, although information is sketchy for the last few. OT 8 is a big expensive mystery, only delivered on the newspeak-named Scientology cruiseliner "Freewinds" out on the Caribbean. People who have completed this level have said that it is a review of all of the person's auditing and a verification/ nullification of discoveries the person has made about himself, that it is Route 1 and 2 from the _Creation of Human ability_ book, that it involves looking into your past auditing folders in order to spot any moments where you were being somebody else, e.g. past life identities, which you have discovered on Int Rundown or NED and any body thetans you have unleashed on OT III, OT IV, OT V, OT VI, OT VII and on Lists L10, L11 and L12, then a meter check to see if these identities are right or wrong items. At the end of this new process (New OT VIII), you will have recovered all of your own time track, supposedly. Two slightly different sets of the complete process have been posted to alt.religion.scientology, allegedly from people who have finished the level on the Freewinds. These procedures do indeed involved the 8th dynamic (god), as well as other steps, including material from _A History of Man_.

Okay, where's that stuff about burning bugs and killing with a thought?

Or am I thinking of Dune?

Guess I need better search-fu. Anyway, here's a little something I found on OC's forum. So I know that somewhere I read about super power acquiritude. Full list would be handy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Building a Better Platformer

Well, I felt like continuing the whole 'Build a Better [Genre]' while I've got gaming in my head. Plus, it's a little wearing to keep doing doggerel. Need to find a bit of skeptical inspiration. But that's for another post. Anyway, platformers are one genre where I tend to stay firmly entrenched in the mainstream: Mario Brothers, Mega Man, etcetera, so suggestions for other games would be nice. The most recent platformer I played was Super Paper Mario for Wii, and they delivered on most fronts. I'll be using it as a big yardstick, so forgive me if I miss out on something.

1. You don't have to go 3D: I firmly believe that 2D platforming is very much alive, and can still be filled with new innovations. 2D simplifies things greatly, and that's especially handy when it comes to jump puzzles. Relevant note: I enjoyed Metroid Prime in 3D, but I enjoyed Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission more. I think a 2.5D Metroid would be awesome.

2. She's got her father's eyes... and her mother's forehead ridges: I think platformers can hybridize with just about any other genre. Super Paper Mario did a great job mixing it with RPG. Hmm... Platformer and Shmup... Imagine I could think of something that already fits that description. (*smacks self* Duh. Contra, Metal Slug, etcetera.)

3. Cut down on hairline jumps: You know the kind I mean: The ones where you have to jump at the very edge of a platform to make it, otherwise you get instant death? Let's have fewer of those. I can appreciate them in Mega Man Powered Up's challenge mode, but I'd rather not face a series of them in regular places.

4. What challenge means to me: I prefer challenge to be in the form of confounding puzzles, elaborate enemy evasion, pattern anticipation and recognition, and that sort of thing. Challenge shouldn't come solely from making gaps a little bit longer, landing points smaller, and addition of insta-kill spikes.

5. Spikes & Miscellaneous Pointy Things 101: First: Can you think of some other deadly object to put there? Before you say 'lava,' make sure it matches the environment. Good example: King Arthur's World had some wizard-ruled cloud worlds. The deadly pits were filled with groping zombies (presumably animated by the evil wizard), hungry for the brains of your men. Second: Spikes hurt because you fall on the pointy-end, so with some spike arrangements, it should be possible for me to walk across. I once played an old Prince of Persia (like?) game where you could careful-walk across spike traps, or carefully lower yourself onto one from a ledge. Third: Some spikes can be atmospheric. I've seen some cases where insta-kill spikes are strictly decorative and impossible to fall on. They still make me uncomfortable.

6. Endurance, not perfection: One thing I liked about Super Paper Mario was that you had hitpoints: As long as you performed well in an overall sense, you were fine, and could get through a level. Messing up would, at most, put you at a disadvantage in the next area. In some platformers, you had to perform perfectly to get through the later levels, leading to many deaths and hair pulling. I'd prefer one very durable life over several fragile ones. Save the fragile lives for challenge modes and the like.

7. Narrative: Just like with space shooters, I like to feel that there's a relationship between levels. One thing I'm kind of annoyed at: Mega Man teleportation. It feels too artificial, especially since I can't think of it being involved in the plot anywhere. It's like it doesn't really exist in the game world, and is just shorthand for the characters walking around.

8. Customization: Those of you who've read the other two entries may have seen this coming. I like being able to tweak my characters, especially on the fly. They offered this in a number of the later main line (MM8 and Rockman & Forte) and X series, but it just didn't strike much of a chord with me.

9. Plot & Breathers: I like doing moving platform acrobatics, spike dodging, and all that. Otherwise, I wouldn't be talking about the genre, but I need some breathing time: Have some relaxed moments in a town with no deadly stuff, just some relaxed pace puzzles.

10. Does this even make sense?: In the acid-trip world of the Mushroom Kingdom, I can accept bricks hanging in the air for no reason. That's not so easy for other genres: Would it make sense for a fortress that regularly has friendly troops moving through it to have open spikes in main paths? Wouldn't sturdy, manual trap doors make more sense?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Building a Better SHMUP!

A number of you probably remember a bit of a rant about console RPGs I had a while back, which featured some good rants in the comments. Well, I don't think I'll have quite the same level of success as that post, but I'm going to do a little rant about shoot 'em ups. Just to be clear, I'm talking about all the various games where you're the lone spaceship pilot against the vast hordes of alien invaders. That sort of thing. Substitute as necessary for non-space genres. I've also got a bit of a shooter concept I'll probably go nowhere with, but I think I'll discuss a little in there.

1. I don't like Bullet Hell (yet): I'm just not all that fond of spending the game weaving my way through tiny globules of light. I wish I could be one of those uber-133t players who can play any shooter on the silly difficulty levels, but practice on rRootage has only gotten me so far. For lower difficulty levels, I prefer that the challenge comes from learning how to anticipate your enemies, making tactically sound decisions, and so forth, rather than knowing how to tip the control stick just enough.

2. Narrative: I know that the genre isn't known for deep, driving plots most of the time, but I feel the need to have some continuity. I've seen a few too many shooters where after beating a level boss, you just fly off screen and bam, you're in a new level. One of the shooters I enjoyed gave me a feeling of continuity I needed: Einhänder. When you beat a boss, you'd continue flying in an enemy-free area as you received orders for your next mission. One level would smoothly transition to another. I was disappointed in Gradius V when I'd beat a boss, fade to black, jump directly to next level.

3. Levels, levels, levels: I'd like to see more replay value in the form of several game levels and paths. I enjoyed R-Type Final for all its ship variety, but playing the same handful of levels over and over to unlock more got wearing. I'm also very keen on the idea of several branching paths. Idea: You can play on either side of the conflict. Update: Extension on the idea: At the end, it's revealed that your supposedly decisive strike at the heart of the enemy doesn't quite end the war: Your counterpart on the other side has fought through swarms of less skilled pilots and destroyed a vital part of your headquarters. Or something like that. Suppose that could unlock the 'play the evil alien versus swarms of good guys' game.

I enjoyed the final level B of R-Type Final: You and your ship are transformed into Bydo organisms and sent back to the first level, traveled in reverse, where you fight waves of R-fighters until going up against a fully-powered (and surprisingly durable) original as the final boss.

4. If you die, it's YOUR FAULT!: Kind of hard to describe how to accomplish some of it, but I'd prefer to minimize things like "There's no way that hit me!" In short, I think the player should feel responsible for his shortcomings: Enemies should telegraph their attacks ("I should have seen that coming), create situations for the player to avoid (Example: "Oh crap, I should have braved it between the big lasers. Now I'll have to dodge those sprays without leaving this little corner"), and figuring out which weapon is best for the situation.

5. Customization: It'd take a lot of playtesting to balance, but I'd like to have a hell of a lot of choices for weaponry at the start of the game. I'm thinking things like how much I want my machine guns to spread, whether or not I'm willing for my lasers to take a hit in power for the ability to punch through barriers, etcetera, as well as variety. Think it'd also be nifty to choose things like your ship's speed, level of armor/shields, hit detection size, and so forth.

6. Multiplayer: I like 2-Player simultaneous. Unfortunately, I usually don't have a second player with me in meatspace. Think in the age of online, it'd be possible to have a team of players going through different parts of of a massive level. Strategic thought might be possible. I'd also like to see some ideas of how to adapt the medium for teams of players to go up against each other.

7. Atmosphere (or lack thereof): I tend to favor horizontal scrolling games because they tend to emphasize terrain. The level itself can be your biggest enemy in some cases. Leave a few drama-building breathers here and there. (Example: Oh, no. Don't tell me I'm going to be diving into that evil toothy hole of otherworldly abominations!) It should be needless to say I'm a big fan of '2.5D' shooters. They should be required to avoid sticking in one plane, by the way. I should be worried about what's around the bend in the corridor.

8. Tell me I'm not alone: It'd like to see some support from NPC pilots and the like, even if they're only in the distant background. Again, I liked seeing all the R-fighters in R-Type Final, and the flavor of there being a massive military operation and R&D, but you don't see much of it in game itself.

9. Silly powerups: I know it's a staple of the genre, but I'm not all that fond of getting upgrades by collecting some jewel.
Einhänder at least had a little plausibility with the gunpods. I'd prefer no powerups, with your decisions being made before the level. One thing I'd like to see is your fighter returning to an allied battleship each level, where you can make modifications. Maybe have some bigger scale battles where fighters wouldn't matter as much.

10. Defense!: I like it when your fighter has some nigh-indestructible feature like the R-Type forces, or at least some method of not-dying other than dodging. Maybe have just one life, and a long life bar that you have to keep up.

11. Bosses: Yeah, they need big guns, but they also need memorable gimmicks.

12. The Finale: Gradius is a big offender here: Sometimes the final boss is just too easy and too short-lived. If I've been pulling my hair out for the last few levels, I should at least get plenty of eye candy with the last boss. I've also seen too many shmups that just end with the pilot flying off as the alien's planet blows up. Give us a bit of story and maybe something with a side of doom despite our efforts. Think it'd be nice to have multiple endings depending on how you've played, including some creepy ones.

So, since you've read all that, any shmup suggestions you'd like to give me? I know there'll always be more great ones for me to play.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Egnor Proves There's a God... Sort Of.

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it." -Voltaire
Lately, Egnor, the brain surgeon, has been demonstrating his ignorance on another issue you'd think he'd have at least a snippet of knowledge about: The brain.

A number of science bloggers have covered this in depth, like PZ. I don't think it'll take much effort for you to find others. He's dipped very far into dualism to the point of being a mirror of grand woomeister Deepak Chopra. I will not be surprised if Egnor winds up taking the title.

Egnor's dualism is standard woo: There's material stuff, and immaterial stuff. The immaterial is walled off from science, material causes can't explain it because he says so for no reason, and the brain is just a 'receiver' to some invisible signal, and damage to it causes results exactly like the much more parsimonious hypothesis that brain damage damages consciousness because the brain is the cause of consciousness. The latter requires no invisible, undetectable stuff.

Neurology is a complicated field, so naturally we don't know everything about it. Lack of knowledge in some areas is no reason to assume that we'll never know, or that our current research methods are futile.

It looks like I made a good move comparing Egnor to Homsar.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Doggerel #103: "Intelligent"

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

If there's one thing that woos love, it's the genetic fallacy: The idea that some quality of the arguer changes the validity of his arguments. One of those particularly popular with trolls is intelligence, either boasting about their own supposed genius, or our alleged retardation. Granted, we're all certainly guilty of calling a number of woos idiots, but as skeptics typically go, that, by itself, is not fallacious, just rude:

The key difference between the typical skeptic and typical woo troll is that the skeptic doesn't base his arguments off of any supposed IQ scores, while the woo typically does. "You're an idiot, therefore your argument is wrong!" is an ad homenim fallacy. "You used fallacies X, Y, and Z, therefore you're an idiot!" is a legitimate argument mixed with a non-fallacious (but irrelevant) ad homenim.

Of course, there's more to this doggerel than just the ad homenim: It's often the basis for arguments from incredulity or ignorance. As one ufology woo who stopped by here said,
"A lot of pretty intelligent people have gone on record with very unusual observances, and they all didn't mistake traffic lights in foggy conditions for flying discs, etc."
The problem is that intelligence is not a shield against all the foibles humans are subject to. Anyone can say or do stupid things. Sometimes it's a lack of knowledge that's the culprit: Astronomers are the demographic least likely to report a UFO. Why? Probably because they specialize in looking up at the sky and identifying the myriad of objects that show up there. In other cases, it's instilled belief and prejudice. If I looked up and saw some dark object zip by, I'd probably guess it's a bird or some other mundane thing, and maybe remember, falsely or otherwise, a flapping motion. An ufologist, however, would also be at risk of false memory and describe radical movements, distances, and so forth. In other cases, it's arrogance: Thinking too much of your intelligence tends to make a person assume he knows all the possibilities: If he can't identify it as something he knows, he'll assume it's an alien spacecraft by default.

That last one is the big fallacy of a famous quote:
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. -Arthur Conan Doyle
It presumes that you already know of all the possibilities, something a person who overestimates his intelligence is more likely to do, and thus, perform an argument from ignorance and/or incredulity. If you start thinking like Doyle, you'll find yourself presuming fantastic woo when "I don't know" would serve you much better and leave you open to new possibilities.


There's a fair bit of stuff I'm considering doing, and I think I need a bit of input:

1. I'd like the html for some "Digg" widgets and the like I can attach to all my posts. Imagine having those on the Doggerel Index would spread the popularity pretty well. I don't normally handle that stuff, so I don't know how that works, beyond the superficial. It'd be helpful to know which ones may be worth bothering over.

2. I've thought of this for a while, and since I'm past the 100 mark on the Doggerel series, I'm thinking of producing another index by category. It'd be annoying to update two at once, so I'd like to have a numbered list that updates automatically, if that's plausible. Suggestions for how I should lay out the category index would be appreciated.

3. I've recently created a "Pointless Fun" tag for those posts where I link to various games, videos and such. Suggestions are always appreciated, especially since I'm in the mood to create another, but I don't really have all that much right now.

4. Send me Scientology-related crap. Ryan's post is getting quite lonely being the only thing labeled accordingly, and I need to expand my woo-busting a little. I figure a few of my fellow skeptics can point me to a few good starting places.

Commence Digging! (Thanks go to Matt)

Doggerel #102: "The Government!"

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

One of the things that always annoys me is when woos bring the government into scientific discussions. It's always the genetic fallacy in one of two ways: Either the government always lies, and thus anything they say is wrong, or the government is always right, so we should accept anything it says. What's worse is that both mentalities often treat governments as if they were monolithic entities, instead of countless conflicting interests that somehow get things accomplished (on occasion).

First, those who don't trust the government: These are usually the wacky conspiracy theorists, ufologists, and some loose cannon alties. Because we happen to agree with the government that they're crazy, they assume that we just trusted the government's say-so, rather than the science that's been done: It doesn't matter who makes the argument, so long as the evidence and logic is sound. Additionally, many of these conspiracy nuts seem to think that the world ends in an eternal waterfall once you cross the US border: They don't take into account that there are other scientists in other countries who can't be controlled or silenced by the US, unless you want to buy into the administrative nightmare of a world government that monitors absolutely everything. Even if vested interests can interfere with the evidence, the rest of the good science out there would counter it. This particularly sticks in the craw of anti-vaxxers who cry 'thimerosal' despite the lack of change from Europe's earlier removal of it.

Put simply, the government recruits a lot of people who do science. Even if they try to later silence them, the results get published, and can be replicated, critiqued, disputed, and so forth, just like with non-government scientists. Skeptics don't give government-employed scientists any special treatment, which is exactly how it should be.

Next, those who blindly trust the government: I've largely seen this with psychics and 'accepted' alties like acupuncturists, therapeutic touch specialists, and homeopaths: Because the government funds something, there must be some truth to it. Sorry. Doesn't work. The government is usually run by idiots who will fund just about anything. What matters is the science: Do the experiments prove the existence of remote viewing? No. We're still waiting for a single successful remote viewer to pass the Randi Challenge. We're still waiting for meaningful clinical trials for acupuncture, TT, and homeopathy. All we have right now are failures and marginal results. It doesn't matter if some senator devotes some pork to his pet woo. Politicians are not arbiters of truth: They're just people who won popularity contests. Leave the science to the scientists, who will work things out through the scientific method, which means no special treatment for government employees.

A particularly annoying instance of excessive government trust is claims of patent, as if it was proof of effectiveness. Along the same lines are various 'FDA approved' supplements and herbal concoctions when the FDA is largely toothless on those fronts: Last I checked, 'FDA approved' for supplements means 'not poison'. Not exactly a ringing endorsement when quackery drives for deregulation and lower standards tend to pull out any teeth the FDA might otherwise have. Either way, show us the science, not the rubber stamp.

Bad science is bad science and good science is good science. Being a part of a giant institution doesn't change that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Well, This Improves My Mood

I'm in the Order of the Molly. :) Molly would be so proud.

4# !fooW

Well, the foam is rising, again. Bumped into a lot of trolls recently who pretty closely match a recent rant of mine, so it's time to get me into a good mood, again.

Here's the rundown, as usual: Ask me a question, and chances are, you'll get a silly answer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Doggerel #101: "We Can Believe Whatever We Want!"

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

Before I begin the bulk of the post, I'd like to say that yes, you can believe whatever you want. I'm very big on the First Amendment here in the U.S. and believe that you should be able to believe whatever you want without persecution.


I have the right to make fun of you, call you an idiot, and dissect, in detail, the hows and whys of your idiotry. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from criticism. Criticism is speech, and hence, it's free. If I want to make a big list of fallacies and make fun of you for using them, that's my right, too. Quite frankly, I think I rely on the freedom of speech more than the average person, especially in the current administration. Skepticism and atheism aren't popular opinions, and therefore mob rule without civil liberties would crush us, given the chance.

Of course, this bit of doggerel will come up whenever some anti-science woo gets shot down from getting a job, a grant, or whatever. The problem with this is that it's a distraction from the common reason why these people are denied science jobs: Woo relies on fallacies, a misunderstanding of the scientific method, and rhetorical tricks to avoid paying attention to evidence. I don't know about you, but if wound up in the hospital, I wouldn't want an HIV/AIDS denialist working on me, even if whatever I had wasn't related to AIDS: Such denialists have a nasty habit of ignoring evidence to go along with their pet hypotheses. That kind of attitude should be a big mark against anyone's career.

Doggerel #100: "Truth"

Welcome to a special 'big round number' edition of "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the key things that separates science from woo is that science knows how it arrived at its conclusions: Everything we know can usually be traced back to experiments that can be repeated at just about any time. With woo, however, a process almost never emerges: The vast majority of it was just made up and presumed to be "Truth" with a capital T.

Those of you who regularly read my comments on various blogs may have noticed that I talk about people 'handwaving away epistemology' lately. Epistemology, in short, is the philosophy about knowledge: "How do we know what we know?" Scientists and skeptics can track down the origin of a theory, and cite experiments that verify it (or, at the very least, fail to falsify it, depending on how deep you want to get into the philosophy of science and semantics), and, if necessary, repeat the experiments.

Woo, however, seldom deals with this issue: They will troll skeptical forums and blogs by claiming that we're resisting 'the Truth' with science, which directly measures reality, and that their 'divine revelations' that don't have to undergo any rigor at all are true: They just ignore and evade any questions that deal with how they arrived at their conclusion. Instead of walking us through their twisted 'logic', they're more often content to jump ahead to presuming that they've proven the 'Truth' and claiming that we'll be miserable, or immoral, or whatever if we don't blindly accept their 'Truth.'

To put the whole thing into soundbite size: Woos answer all the difficult philosophical questions with 'because I, in my infallibility, said so.'

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doggerel #99: "Pseudoskeptic"

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

One thing many woos are fond of calling us is 'pseudoskeptic' in an effort to make us look like denialists, rather than people who seek out evidence. Interestingly enough, this tends to come up when the skeptics are doing exactly what skeptics should do: Ask for evidence, point out fallacies, and gripe about gaping holes in experimental protocols.

One factor that probably contributes a great deal to this is that a woo doesn't know what a skeptic is. That's likely one reason why so many of them can attempt to fashion themselves as being skeptics. The proper way to deal with the whole thing is to ask for evidence (or presenting when asked), point out fallacies, and gripe about gaping holes in experimental protocols: In other words, doing exactly what skeptics should do.

If you're doing a double take, yes, that line was repeated. Logic works the same way, regardless of whether you're debating a woo, a skeptic, or a reverse-woo. Name-calling doesn't work (though it can supposedly be therapeutic), but pointing out logical fallacies and such is always a legitimate strategy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Doggerel #98: "Context"

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

There are lots of instances out there of people's quotes being taken out of context for the sake of argument. One common victim of this is Charles Darwin. It's a dishonest technique when it happens deliberately. Sometimes, however, the accusation of taking something out of context is dishonest.

I've had a number of debates where I point out unnecessarily cruel passages in the Bible, or one that contradicts a fundy's position, and one of the standard replies is that I'm taking the passage 'out of context.' This is the part where I request the larger context where the nasty passage becomes acceptable, or where the contradiction vanishes. I have yet to see the fundies follow through.

That's where the biggest problem occurs with making an accusation: For you to accuse someone of taking a quote out of context, you have to provide an example of it in context. Some people bizarrely don't require that, and will let a celebrity, political figure, woo 'authority', or religious leader effectively take back their nasty or silly quotes by claiming that they've been taken out of context. So, just what context makes their statements okay?

Doggerel #97: "Join in the Debate!"

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

One common tactic a number of woos like to employ is requesting a change in the battlefield, to get the skeptic to join them on a podcast debate or whatever. The problem with the vast majority of these is that it's a challenge to a verbal debate: One of the least honest kinds.

The problem with a verbal debate is that it artificially limits the debate to individual knowledge, and carries implicit time limits. Without being able to insert hotlinks in speech, it's hard to know if a woo is being honest about a report they're citing. Many alties who believe in the mythical link between thimerosal and autism, for example, like to claim that a Simpsonwood document proves that there's a cover-up. It doesn't, but that doesn't stop people from quote mining.

Additionally, since 'let me read that study' or 'I need to research that' doesn't go over well in such a debate, a woo can pull out any unexpected half-truth the skeptic doesn't know about in detail and make it look like a point in his favor of his pet woo when that specific skeptic doesn't know a response. Additionally, since the woo can spout out several 'anomalies' at once, he has a verbal advantage over the skeptic: A single canard takes time to debunk, especially since woos in the audience are generally uninformed about the skeptical position on any given issue.

Worse, a number of these debates have little or no moderation: Sometimes the woo will 'win' by sheer volume, an irrational moderator's insistence on focusing on an irrelevant detail, and other such absurdities.

Sometimes, though, woos will challenge a skeptic to join a typed forum. Though sometimes these can be honest, there are countless woo forums out there that will ban anyone at the slightest provocation, including merely expressing a contrary opinion. When asked why, there reply is usually silence or equating polite dissent with trollish belligerence, usually involving a double-standard.

Of course, all of this is moot if there's no reason to change the battlefield in the first place: Why not continue the debate in the forum, blog, or wherever this doggerel gets brought up?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Doggerel #96: "Why Would [Woo Pusher] Lie to Me?"

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

A lot of woos are under the mistaken impression that skeptics think that all psychics, quacks, priests, and general woo pushers are deliberate frauds out for money. Of course, that's not always the case.

Things are more complicated than that, however: There are always the conscious frauds out for money, but there are many with other motives. Some conscious frauds are only out for the thrill: There are some people out there who just enjoy manipulating people, or seeing just how long they can stretch out a lie. In those cases, it's often about power, rather than money. I suspect a number of religiosos and cult leaders fall into that category.

Going outside of deliberate fraud, there are plenty of woos who sincerely believe what they preach: They aren't lying if they believe what they say, however, that doesn't mean they're telling the truth. Some may be part of a hierarchy and trying to preach loudly in order to convince themselves. Some may believe whole-heartedly, and resist introspection. After all, a lot of quacks like to think that they're helping people. They often "KNOW" it, so why bother confirming what they already know, and what the testimonials say? Why deal with epistemology? Wanting to be the hero, or at least helpful, is something most people want. To be a hero, you have to be provably good for the world, and woos typically aren't interested in definitive tests.

Not all skeptics are cutting edge cancer researchers or whatever, but we know a thing or two about spotting fakery, false claims, and so forth. Even if we can't all contribute to expanding the base of human knowledge, we can at least do our part to keep people out of human delusion.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Quack Hunt

Last night, my brother wrote a post about a word they say we're not supposed to use (Not safe for work). As if that were worth giving a rodent's posterior over. Well, it seems that over in the Netherlands, the woos have warded off another evil word, also using legal power when they can: Quack. (Hat tip to The Amazing One)

The argument of the court was based on the connotation of the word “quack,” which was, according to the court, negative. Since Dr. Sickesz is very sincere in her business it was wrong to apply a negative sounding label to her therapy. A quack, but a very sincere one. Nowhere in the ruling was there a reference to the unproven and potentially dangerous business of orthomanual therapy. Nowhere in the ruling did the judges give any thought about the grave consequences of unproven medical treatments. It was all dictionary-based.

It appears that any person can dish up any kind of nonsense without hindrance, but as soon as their bluff is called, the court steps in and protects their scam. This may sound a bit harsh, but I certainly feel very disappointed with this ruling.

Sometimes, I think we'd be better off without slander and libel laws, and think there's a fair chance there'll be a debate about the necessity and abuses of them in the comments. Of course, there may be some connotative nuances involved but it seems the dictionary is actually on our side in this case:

With the official Dutch dictionary in front of me:

Kwakzalver (quack): 1. someone who applies useless means to cure one or other illness, or claims to have knowledge against all possible disease, usually with much noise (ophef) and offers this for sale; an unqualified practitioner of medicine. 2. someone who tells lies to the general public; a fraud.

The court judged this case fully on the second meaning of the word and then only focusing on the disqualifying words related to fraud. Now Dr. Sickesz may not be a fraud (she is sincere, so we are told) but the court totally disregarded the first meaning of the word “quack,” which was the way it was used by the Association against Quackery.

Either way, say it loud, and say it proud: Call all the altie practitioners you meet for what they are: Quacks.

Just Thinking Out Loud

It's been hard keeping track of all the suggestions in all the different doggerel-related threads, so I thought I'd consolidate some of the prospective list here for the time being, as well as gather some of my thoughts. If you're interested in doing any of these yourself, be sure tell me.

Phlegm provided one example that I may do next: "Context", specifically to refer to woos complaining about quotes we provide being 'out of context' when they aren't. Think I could also do a part on one altie statement I saw: "Homeopathy and conventional medicine each work in their own context." Of course, homeopathy doesn't seem to ever work when someone's looking very closely.

Suggestions brought in by others:

"Anything's possible!" which Ryan has done a little bit on himself.

"UnAmerican" is one that has a lot of potential to spill too far into politics, but I can see it being used stupidly. If you've got some examples, be sure to show me.

"Why would [woo pusher] lie to me?"

"You just think you're smarter than everybody else!"

"Just-so story"

"Join in the debate": Suggested by my brother. I've seen this one used, where it's a challenge to join a verbal debate, rather than continue duking it out where that doggerel shows up. Why move the battlefield to one that favors dishonesty? Verbal debates are inherently biased towards whoever can spout the most lies is the shortest amount of time.

"Something more" as in people who say the garden isn't beautiful enough without the fairies underneath it.

"Now you're just being defensive!"

"Toxin": I long planned on doing this one myself, but I'd like to do a bit of research to really nail it down.

"Artificial": To go along with "natural".

"Perfect": Fits with the IDiots out there.

"I don't have to tell you all my secrets!": For woos who try to look like they have the answers, but for some reason, don't want to show the world that they've solved a problem, but would rather imply it.

"You don't know enough to judge!": Which is why they should start handing out useful information that addresses our arguments.

"Where do you get your morals?": I've done a few rants on this, but not a Doggerel entry.

Ideas I thought of myself (Disclaimer: Sometimes I suffer from cryptomnesia)

"Mercury": Specific to anti-vaxxers who like to pretend that salt is a poisonous, metallic green gas that blows up when you drop it in water.

"The Government!": The eeeee-ville, monolithic entity run by an idiot they try to link us to.

"Controversy": When it doesn't really exist. Closely related to "Both sides."

"You don't like anything new!": Usually spouted by someone advocating an old, dead idea.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Doggerel #95: "Authority"

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

Woos, especially of the fundy variety, like to do pretend that science has a priestly hierarchy, and that it's heretical and hypocritical for us to defy 'authorities' like Darwin, Nobel Prize winners, or politicians who happen to agree with us.

The big problem with this view is that if there's anything science is inherently inimical to, it's the idea of authority. Anyone can challenge mainstream views. Science is about evidence, not people. If you conduct an experiment under proper protocols, and you get a result that goes against existing theory, well, you've likely proven the theory wrong. Just to make sure, science requires replication: If the result is the same, regardless of who follows the protocols, you've got the makings of a revolution underway. Evidence is all that matters in science.

That's what science is about. There are no divine revelations. There is no authority high enough to override what nature tells us in the form of experimental results: The evidence. Facts are facts, results are results, and a logically valid argument is a logically valid argument. The people involved are irrelevant, so there's little reason to bring them up in a scientific discussion. For woos, however, reality seems to be subjective, settled by things like letters after your name, your age, gender, or political views. "Oh, that experiment's not valid! She's just a little girl with no authority!"

One 'authority' fundies like to make a big deal about is Charles Darwin. They like to pretend that biology began and ended with him, and we all worship him. Quite frankly, if Creationists didn't waste so much effort verbally defecating on his name, I probably wouldn't bother thinking of him outside of his birthday. Darwin was a great guy who had a wonderful insight that we built on. The problem is, he's outdated. You might as well call physicists 'Newtonists' or something, even though physics has come a long, long way since Newton. The only time I care about Darwin, Newton, and so forth is if the topic is the history of science.

For the science itself, I'll continue going on what logic and the evidence says, so don't bother me with irrelevant, non-evidence-based 'arguments'.

62nd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Polite Company.

Open thread as usual, but singing the Song that Never Ends is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why You Woos Got to be Such a Downer, Maaaaan?

Heads up: This post is going to be on the foamy side.

One of the things that always irritates me about woos is their rampant hypocrisy: They're usually the ones accusing us skeptics of being limited, small-minded, and so forth. What's really annoying is that they've usually got Hollywood on their side, spouting unrealistic propaganda about skeptics, logic, intellectuals, and science.

First, what I find most annoying is that they've done everything they can to associate skepticism, materialism, science, and even knowledge intimately associated with depression. They constantly preach by implication that discovery is a bad thing. How the frell is a philosophy of constant discovery, improvement, and bravely striving into the unknown depressing? Our universe may not have The Force, 20th level wizards, and warp drive (yet), but every time we use science, we tend to find that the universe is even cooler than we initially thought. It's becoming an increasingly common occurrence for me to surf my blogs and find a new discovery that blows me away. That's a real joy. Heck, to use an example of 'stealth skeptics', there's usually something that surprises me on Mythbusters. You'll often catch me doing a joyous, sputtering laugh when such a thing happens, followed by me reporting the results to everyone in my meatspace vicinity.

And I have an entire universe of these surprises awaiting me! Instead, however, the woos would prefer that we discuss the same failed, unsurprising, uninspired, perfectly mundane, and, in short, boring canards for eternity while they scream and moan at us daring to even possess curiosity and a penchant for suggesting experiments.

Next on this list is the crazy idea that skeptics are limited. The only limits we have are those reality itself puts on us. Science works through methodological materialism. You can dispute the various definitions, but the way I see it: Anything that has an effect is by definition material. If telekinesis can bend a spoon, telekinesis would be included in materialism. If souls exist, and can communicate from wherever, or affect all those electrochemical signals bouncing around in our heads, souls would be included in materialism. In short, anything that can do stuff is included. How is such an inclusive philosophy limiting? Woos, on the other hand, are often astoundingly quick to say what known material stuff can and can't do, and then they'll refuse to discuss the evidence when we show clever things the universe can do. In the words of that great skeptic with the (material) soul of a poet:
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths." -Carl Sagan
One pair of characters that brought both amusement and irritation in the videogame, Okami, was the denialist (and most certainly not a skeptic) mother and her believing daughter. For those who haven't played the game, Okami Amaterasu (Ammy to her friends) is a goddess in the shape of a wolf. To most mortals in the game world, she appears to be just a sociable snow white wolf. Other 'supernatural' beings and humans with sufficient belief in deities, however, see Ammy's true form, covered in red markings and a divine instrument (weapon) floating over her back. The daughter can see Ammy's true form, and the mother can't. At this point, in the game, I already devised a method for proving one of Ammy's unusual characteristics. All it takes is finding another person who can see her true form: First, have the daughter draw Ammy's markings and divine instrument. Making sure there's no information leakage to the other believer, have him draw the same. If they get the same result, that's a positive mark. Replicate for other believers whenever possible. Ask Ammy to change out her invisible divine instruments between experiments to see if all the available believers produce the same instrument each time. Despite what woos try to imply, it's quite easy to prove photography to a blind man. Science is in the business of doing that sort of thing: Making the invisible visible. Too bad I couldn't put words in Issun's mouth, and Ammy can't really form words.

And that's before the mother starts demanding miracles and moving the goalposts when they occur. What's oddly amusing about the whole thing is that she sounds like a Creationist in the real world when we show just what clever methods and amazing abilities the material world has. She demands a tree sprout up right in front of her, so I make a tree sprout in front of her (through tightly arranged cobblestones in one instance!). Then she demands that it rains right after the tree sprouts, so I try the next best thing available to me: Spraying her with water from the adjacent waterway. That doesn't trigger a scene, and neither does a (mild) lightning bolt. So once I found out that some of Ammy's power have greater version, I'm off to see if her water manipulation allows for rain if I find some secret area or something. (Anyone? I decided to play the game cold, so I still won't look at gamefaqs.) Eternally moving goalposts are a pain. Give me someone who'll commit to one set of protocols per claim, like Randi demands, any day. And yet, whenever someone like that denialist mother shows up in popular media, woos pretend that we're just like their mirror opposite: Same tactics, different conclusions.

Still another annoyance that spills over into rage is that woos seem to think that the whole skepticism thing is like prudishness: That we're all just wet blankets, raining on their parade because we've got nothing better to do. The big problem with that: Woo is harmful. Woo can even kill. Worse, woo can even sometimes drive people to kill. Some of the more 'innocent' woo out there risks closing people's minds: If you didn't get into your belief through reasoning, it's often astoundingly hard to get yourself out of a wrong belief. Skepticism and science demand that there's always an escape from wrong ideas: All hypotheses and theories must be falsifiable. Woo has no such demand. Next up, are the various forms of fraud, where woo frauds demand money for their nonexistent services: They lie to people in order to make money. And the unconscious frauds who authentically believe in their power set up the atmosphere for their customers to fall for more fraud. How can we not feel anger, rage, and disgust? Lying to people for personal gain is wrong. The woos who leap to the defense of these frauds always, always avoid that issue, and act as if our disgust for immorality is a failing on our part. "Why are you so angry? Why are you so obsessed?" Should we just cease caring about people? Are we supposed to just wall off our sympathy and compassion? I refuse to. Thinking is a part of caring, and I will continue to do both.

Another horrid lie is that skeptics are dispassionate, uncaring, and without emotion. The above section should have blown that one out of the water. We seek the truth because we care about people: The first thing you need to improve reality is to know something about it. Pretending to possess knowledge while handwaving away epistemology is the best way to get stuck in a rut with your closed mind.

By fighting for truth, knowledge, and open-mindedness, we're arming ourselves with the best tools for making the world a better place, and encouraging others to do the same. Reality can be harsh, but that's why we need to put aside our biases, authorities, and egoism: We can make the world a better place. Why dream of what might be, when we can cherish what is as well as work towards finding out if those dreams are possible? A dream is only a dream until you make it happen. Woos would have us return to the unexamined slumber of the Dark Ages. If we don't return to enlightenment values, we'll be creating a Dim Age.