Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Occultism

You've probably seen a growing trend of me comparing fundies with the types of woos who think they can actually perform magic. I've seen things that way for a long time, and it helped move me to where I am today. In internet groups, I met some generally nice Wiccans/neo-pagans/whatever (though I wonder if they'd go nasty if I mentioned Randi) who responded to accusations of witchcraft by saying spells weren't any different from prayer. I guess they didn't quite expect that to work both ways with me. So, anyway, onto the meme I'm thinking about:

Non-fundie Christians: I know I can be pretty harsh on the debate table, but I think we can agree the fundies who emphasize ritual over virtue, ancient superstition over obvious fact, and bureaucracy over justice deserve to be ridiculed and minimized when possible. I'm trying to think of a quick term to made into a meme. I'm leaning towards calling them something like "Hoodoo-Voodoo Christians" instead of simple "fundies," in an effort to get it in their heads how outdated and arcane they look in the face of the real, modern world.

We really need to equate exorcism, faith healing, and the like with witchcraft.

Random Geek Thought

Recently, I saw a TV Tropes entry: "Absurdly Sharp Blade" and the Kill Bill example with the Hattori Hanzo sword made for the Bride: "I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut."

And then I thought of something else I recently saw: A video of the ending of Final Fantasy Legend, where the final boss is the Creator of the universe. Due to a programming error, the chainsaw in the game has reverse effectiveness: Early enemies are nearly immune to its insta-kill power, and it has a 100% chance of working on the Creator. When you succeed on the attack, the game text is "[Target] was cut."

I think there's meme potential in combining those, if someone hasn't done it already.

On an Emotional/Subconscious Level

Usually, when we talk about woos, we've done it on a conscious level, pointing out fallacies, lack of evidence, and so forth. One thing I'm curious about for this thread: How do you think about them on an emotional level? What mental associations have you developed?

I've gotten to think of some generic crystal-waver sort, stuck in linear, robotic lines of thought and prone to what I call 'categorical thinking' which leaves them particular vulnerable to things like false dichotomies and unable to understand fuzzy logic or the idea that human labels are constructs.

This thread is WILD and thus not subject to most of my comment rules.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wood and Upholstry

Well, I may need to buy furniture later this year, since I may be getting my own place. My mother recommended West Elm for some of the modern stuff I like, but I'm always up for better prices. I can go for this dresser in chocolate, but I'll be needing a couch, and maybe a chair or two to go with my glass. In other words, a dark blue.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Captain Disillusion!

He's back after an absence. I like how he handles Holly.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Expertise and Badassery

[Motivational Poster goes here when I find the one I'm looking for]

Truth Surge posted a rant recently, and made a comparison between expertise and badassery: If you have to do something to claim it, you probably don't have it. For example, when Dr. "I'm a neurosurgeon!" Egnor makes a series of fallacious arguments based on century-old canards faces off against a skeptic who points out those fallacies and points to evidence, fulfilled scientific predictions, and so forth, well, who are you going to trust more?

Well, I imagine a sensible person would trust the guy backing up what he's saying, rather than someone trying argument by letters after his name. Unfortunately, there aren't as many sensible people out there as I'd like there to be. An expert is someone who knows the field, can find evidence, and so forth. In short, an expert can get results in academic matters, just like a badass gets results in action movie matters. Vocabulary and lab coats don't define a scientist anymore than gimmicks define a badass.

Science is a field where your standing is determined by the sorts of results you can get: You make predictions based on a hypothesis or theory, and you get results. If the results support the hypothesis, yay, now get someone else to replicate/confirm the results. If the results falsify the hypothesis, well, time to refine or throw out the hypothesis.

Old School Versus New School

My latest Pointless Question ventured into unexpected, but related territory: Old School games versus New School. I tend towards the old guard, but I recognize new potential at times. So anyway, direct all your rants here. Some suggested topics:

New School Sins:
  • Rated "M" for Mindless Gorn.
  • Bonus Content already hidden on the disk for people willing to spend more $$$.
Old School Virtues:
New School Virtues:
  • Endless customization and creation.
  • Player on player interactivity... not that kind. Well, maybe a little.
Old School Sins:
  • Fake Difficulty
  • Excuse Plot

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

D&Dify Some Thoughts

Well, I need a few NPC and monster ideas to work a campaign out of. Summary of the setting: A seemingly immortal Big Bad rules three islands in the middle of nowhere. Since he can't do everything he wants just by threatening to club the entire population, he's set up some administration, headed by shugenja (in 3.X D&D, spontaneous divine casters with elemental focus, for 4th, I'll retool classes like the upcoming primal Shaman class) who perform magic by channeling or commanding elemental spirits. The big bad picks out the talented members of the class to serve directly under him. He likes to have one of each element, but can break the tradition depending on the presence or absence of skilled casters. Anyway, I've got a couple of them conceptualized. Could use some elementals and such to fight alongside them. Campaign level's going to be around 6-10, theme's quasi-Japanese, with some possible shout-outs to Bleach.

Fire-type caster: Head of the island's police, and the Dragon of the campaign. She's generally self-interested and got to her position by skillful backstabbing. Going to be a slightly retooled Invoker (Divine Controller/Artillery class). Regular evil.

Water-type caster: The islands' mad scientist. Essentially invented some drugs to turn test subjects into sahuagin, statistically speaking. Fond of experimental surgery, especially brain surgery. Talented but twisted healer. Adapted Shaman (Primal Leader class) with a large air-swimming fish as his summoned spirit. Chaotic evil, and hated by nearly everyone. Big Bad tolerates him for the sake of his R&D.

Earth-type: ?

Air-type: ?

Might extend to include metal and wood as other elements. Suggestions for monsters to fight alongside all of these would be appreciated.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pointless Question #47

Okay, so you've got Super Popular Game for Cool Kids Red version, Green version, Blue, Yellow, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Pearl, Diamond, and Crystal. What's next?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Profanity

Well, you already know my opinion on profanity's role in arguments. Which is pretty well in line with The 2% Co's. For everything else, I finally found the TV Trope that fits. Overall, I like saving the really big profanity for emphasis.

IRL, I'm a little loose with "dammit," but I'm pretty well reserved otherwise. I like it in comedy when something knocks everyone speechless except for the prim and proper guy, who suddenly drops an F-bomb.

And of course, one thing I'd like to do sometime is, with a group who knows me for being quiet and speaking mild, proper English is drop a cluster F-bomb on some truly deserving jerk. One handicap is that I'm not terribly creative with extended curses. If life was more like TV, I could just angrily shout, spray spittle, and release a looooong high-pitched tone.

So, any favorite Precision F-Strikes?

The Sun Also Rises

To point out the blatantly obvious, my readers probably know by now that I really have a hard time taking Creationism seriously. It's less predictive than random chance, for one thing. But seriously, let's think about how theism impacts the universe. Will the sun rise tomorrow?

To the best of our scientific knowledge, the answer is "very probably yes" with a few minor footnotes about what we mean by "sun rise." So far, all the data we have on our world and our sun suggests that the Earth will keep on spinning, the sun will continue to shine, and those two facts will lead to the sun appearing on the horizon and raising up from our visual perspective. There are some possible events that could change that, like a catastrophic impact that destroys the Earth or coincidentally knocks our rotation off so that it matches our orbit around the sun. These are staggeringly unlikely, but still within the realm of possibility. Hence, we get that "very probably yes."

When you've got a universe that contains an omnipotent, incomprehensible deity, all bets are off. It did some crazy stuff, if the book is to be believed, and there's nothing stopping him from starting back up. Could have all the weird multifaced, chimeric angels decide it's time for Third Impact and turn the moon into blood or whatever. And it could happen at any time. Or said deity could turn the sun into a duck because he thought it'd be funny. Anything could happen at any time if you're around an omnipotent, incomprehensible being.

I, for one, favor the view that the universe is orderly and predictable.

On Randomness

I suspect this might get deeper in philosophy than I'm used to, but I'll go ahead and lay out my ideas: I think "random" is pretty much just an admission of ignorance. When I roll a die, the result isn't "random" because there's some metaphysical principle coming up with utterly unpredictable numbers. It's "random" because I didn't bother to collect detailed data on the die and my throwing technique necessary to predict the outcome beforehand. It's "random" because of a lack of data.

If I were to hand the die to Lt. Commander Data, he could probably weigh the die, feel the variation in density, and perform enough fine motor control to roll whatever he wanted. In fact, he did so in one episode at a craps table. The result is no longer random because he has all the information he needs to predict the roll under different circumstances and use his fine motor control to pick out the result he wants by matching the circumstances.

That's pretty well why I've been getting vocal about calling Creationism for what it is: Randomness. Whenever we find something that wouldn't make sense for an intelligent designer to do, they start making claims that we can't possibly know anything about the stone idol behind it all, and thus can't make predictions about its behavior.

Sounds just like the randomness I described.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Why Don't We Pick Up Each Other's Thoughts?"

It's a question I've heard that sometimes comes up with dualists, and they tend to act as if it's a problem for materialism and neuroscience. I think I caught Nick asking something like this before I shifted the debate. (Feel free to pick it up over here.) Quite frankly, I see it as one of a myriad questions dualists have to answer. Neon Genesis Evangelion answered it with the completely fictional "AT Field" that kept people from turning into orange Tang until that trippy movie. But mostly bent space into a nearly indestructible forcefield in the series. Or something. NGE's weird.

The reason I can't read your thoughts is pretty much the same reason why my laptop doesn't pick up Armored Core data from my CD/DVD/Blu Ray shelves, memory cards, or my PS3's harddrive. They aren't connected. There's no Playstation memory card slot on my computer. The disks are on the shelves, not in my drive. My PS3 and laptop aren't configured to talk to one another.

And until we get up to Ghost in the Shell, with our brains in robot bodies (with chainsaws for hands! Bzzzzz!), my brain doesn't have any hardware to connect with yours. For now, we have to settle for very indirect communications, like text and speech. And there's a lot of interpretation layers to get past. I process information differently than you. I reject anecdotes as "silver bullets" in an argument, for example. I do this because I know there are more reliable forms of evidence that produce more consistent results.

But back to the point: This bizarre argument is a problem for dualism, not materialism. Dualists are still in dire need of a description of the soul, and they need it to explain why there's no data leaking between souls. My computer isn't playing Samurai Champloo right now because the DVD's too far away and not aligned with the laser in my laptop's drive. I'm not reading your thoughts because there are no neurotransmitters or whatever relaying information between our brains. Undetectable, undefined souls, well, you dualists out there still need to explain.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Woo and Conformist Thought

Last time I ranted about it, I did so quite anviliciously. I'm going to try being more descriptive in this post about the conformist themes I tend to see in woos.

First, I've seen no shortage of woos who consider the very idea of questioning their religion, magic, or whatever as forbidden.

"You just have to respect my beliefs!"
"You're just rude [for asking honest questions]!"
"Don't force your views on us [by merely talking about the issue]!"
"Who are you to criticize someone's belief?"

It just really irritates me that people who are so eager to shoot down the very idea of debate turn around and try to claim the high ground with talk of being "open-minded." One honest question can get these people to reveal their true colors. The message: Don't rock the boat. Stay within the lines. Don't ask questions. Obey the authority.

And yet, these people think they have what it takes to call themselves mavericks or whatever. Insert McCain/Palin joke. They often seem to think anything that's popular automatically deserves respect. They seem to think that passion makes a belief more worthy of consideration (unless you're a skeptic). Just do what everybody else is doing. That saves you the trouble of actually debating, researching, and experimenting to find what works best. Just follow The Leader. It doesn't matter if it's likely hurting anyone.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Covering an Annoyance

I've already done a few doggerel entries on this sort of thing, and should do a better job of directing woos there. But I'm going to consolidate a theme that just get so irritating to hear.

Methodological materialism, practiced by science, is an inherently INCLUSIVE philosophy. I don't know where "natural" and "supernatural" started in definitions, but science covers a definition of natural/material/physical that grows whenever we find something new. It wouldn't work otherwise. We look at anything that has effects on the universe. We look at anything that does stuff. That's why we don't bother with invisible, intangible dragons that breathe heatless fire. If something doesn't leave any evidence, why would you believe in it at all?

Take a look at the history of science and its advancement: Then-exotic forms of radiation, bizarre particles, invisible dark matter that can only be "seen" by its gravity, models of space and time that curve or change relative to the observer, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. There were all radical ideas that are taken for granted today. They were things that would have predictable effects, and when those predictions came true, they were accepted into the mainstream.

The reason we don't accept psychic powers, astrology, universe-designing gnomes, or evil alien overlords isn't just because they're weird. Weirdness doesn't put them in some other realm where Mr. Spock's tricorder can't pick them up. What gets us is that they don't have any supporting evidence. Alleged psychics fail to bend spoons with their minds when watched closely. Astrological predictions don't come true, or are too vague to be worth heeding. Hypotheses about universe designers don't explain anything or make predictions. Evil alien overlords never left behind any bits of metal with abnormal isotopic concentrations or whatever.

"Supernatural" claims that are supposed to actually mean something aren't beyond science, and you can't get us to pidgeonhole something as expansive as science into whatever artificial constrants you like to add to the definition.

105th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at It's the Thought That Counts.

Open thread as usual, but purple prose doth be FORBIDDEN!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Question for Creationists

What's new in Creationism?

Cue knowing laughter from my fellow skeptics. I haven't heard many new arguments from Creationists, and the new ones I do hear tend to be most absurd, such as ice being magnetic (which apparently, is supposed to be why the north and south pole are magnetic), or water dissolving every single chemical bond there is (Umbrellas are useless!), therefore abiogenesis is impossible.

Personally, I take the lack of newness as a sign that the field is dead. Just like "parapsychology" is dead. All the Creationist canards are centuries old and supposedly designed to discredit evolution without providing evidence for any sort of deity. (They seem to forget that there's no shortage of other creation myths that are no better grounded than theirs.) There's no laboratory experiments, no collection of evidence from the field, no predictions to test. What it boils down to is the Creationists are a bunch of naysayers forever chanting, "Nuh-uh!" whenever science marches along.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gaming Thread: Metroidvanias

Well, thought I'd get some opinions on Metroidvanias, those platforming games where you explore areas, gaining new abilities that expand the territory you can reach. Metroid and Castlevania are, naturally, the trope namers for providing quality examples of the genre. Sometime I should try out the Castlevania side of that. Anyway, over at GDL, I'm trying to pick up some pace with making an Untitled Platformer that will dip into Metroidvania as well as more traditional sorts along with RPG. So, anyway, I'm asking for examples of stuff you love or hate to see in these games.

Some of my thoughts:

I hate obstacles that only exist so that you can destroy them with a particular weapon. If you need the heat ray to open red doors and the ice beam to open blue ones, that's a sign of lazy design. You can get away with some of that when it makes some physical sense, like drilling into cracked walls, but too much of that can get old. I especially hate it when color swapping an obstacle means you have to upgrade.

A map is a must. I needed a guide for Metroid 1 to get anywhere, and most of my Metroid 2 time was eaten up by wandering back and forth trying to figure out whether or not a particular path was one I had been down, or a new one that was a copy-paste job. When they added the map to Metroid 3, I was ecstatic.

Some obstacles don't have to make sense. In the Metroid Prime series, I liked a number of the morph ball puzzles enough to not care about fridge logic and accept the crazy explanations of the mechanisms for moving spheres about.

Tap into Survival Horror: Early in a new Metroid game, I'm very cautious. When you're still weak, an enemy or trap popping out from behind a corner can be terrifying. Surviving a series of narrow scrapes or finding a safe spot brings satisfying relief, and an urge to brag the first few times you accomplish the feat... Especially if you end up having to do it without all your stuff. Space pirates are much scarier when you're naked.

Sometimes, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your players: Not every location needs enemies or traps. Sometimes you can drive a "narrative" just by setting a tone with an empty region to navigate. Silence can be scarier. And of course, when you finally do spring something on your players, well, you might want to leave Eversion's start up warning on the game: "Not recommended for children or those with a nervous condition."

Forget block puzzles. Unless it's particularly clever, the game isn't about solving arbitrary puzzles, it's about finding new areas with your expanding list of abilities.

Forget endurance bosses. I don't think Metroidvania bosses should be about simply outlasting the boss. You should have to be clever to reliably avoid his attacks and strike his weak spots. I recommend looking at some bosses from An Untitled Story... Maybe a bit easier. Sometime I need to beat that game. I've made it to the Dark Castle.

Darwin Day, Darwin Day, Goody-Goody Hip-Hooray!

Well, it's that day again, and for a nice round number, too: It's #200. My opinion about Darwin isn't much different than it was for #199. Darwin was a great guy who planted some of the seeds for our best explanation for life's diversity.

But that's it. He's not a saint to me. He's not a prophet. He's just a guy who came up with a useful idea and did some of the legwork to demonstrate its truth. The same's true of Newton, Einstein, Copernicus, and all the great scientists. They're people just like us. They're fallible, but they and their successors checked their work and actively tried to shoot down the ideas as they ended up standing firm when the evidence kept going their way.

Darwin could easily have been wrong. If heredity turned out to be continuous instead of made of discrete genes, for example, his idea would have been on much shakier ground, and possibly outright falsified. We wouldn't be celebrating his memory today in that instance. All the time, people come up with ideas that are simple, elegant, direct, and, unfortunately, wrong. Those who do the tests necessary to find out that they're wrong deserve a bit of respect for giving it an honest go. Darwin was one of the lucky (and, of course, smart) people who's turned out to be right.

Of course, Darwin wasn't right by virtue of being Darwin. It's the accumulation of evidence that says he was right about natural selection. Of course, he had some inaccuracies that have been and are still being ironed out by modern scientists, who are continually tweaking the details to get an ever more accurate picture. So, we celebrate him as a guy who got us started on a right track, not some magical gnome who poofed us to the destination.

Meanwhile, Darwin's and our chief opponents, IDiots, are having about as much success as psychics.

So Much for Keith

Orac's got the story. It seems Keith Olbermann let himself get played by the antivaxxers. He let his hatred for Rupert Murdoch override any critical thought he might have had. I liked some gems of his I saw on YouTube, which were generally limited to denouncing obvious evils, but if he's so vulnerable to genetic fallacies, I think I'll be ignoring him from now on.

This antivaxxer manufactroversy is a science matter. You go with scientific consensus and use the scientific method to debate it if you want to know what's really going on. There's no other rational way to look at it. It doesn't particularly matter what other journalists say on the matter, unless they've really looked at the matter scientifically.

So, unless Olbermann really shapes up and admit the full depth of this failure, I think I'd be inclined to favor something like Orac's view. This story makes him into another Bill O'Reilly, only in a different spot on the political spectrum.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What's Up With Apocalypse Movies?

Downloaded some trailers on my PS3 and saw some TV commercials.

Got some movie called "Knowing" where it seems some numerologist finds a list of numbers and finds it lists the casualties of various disasters, and predicts the end of the world based on the remaining numbers.

Got "2012", which you can already guess. Trailer I downloaded featured some Tibetan mountaintop monks urgently ringing some bells, followed by an enormous tsunami rolling completely over the mountains and washing away the monastery. Another commercial implied that the world's governments won't try to help, and encouraged you to "learn the truth" at the movie's website.

And I think the third one was called "Angels and Demons" and had more DaVinci Code conspiracies. Don't know if it was really apocalyptic, but I groaned anyway.

And I just now saw History Channel (ugh) starting a show on some new Nostradamus predictions about 2012.

What the hell is it with woo-prophecized Armageddon? Hell, I don't really understand the deal with disaster movies in general. With woo prophecy, however, my suspension of disbelief is broken right away. With that 2012 super-tsunami, it was pretty well shattered before I got anywhere near the theater. Where'd all that water come from? Magic?

Personally, one thing I'd like to see sometime: Take the apparent premise of "Knowing" with a numerologist who predicts the end of the world. He predicts the end down to the day. Nothing happens. He thinks he forgot to carry the one, and calculates the "real" time. Nothing happens. Rinse and repeat right up to the credits rolling, with the lead getting more disheveled as time progresses. Wonder if that'd plant any possible seeds of skepticism.

Illuminati plot with a twist: It turns out it's just twelve guys sending codes to one another as an in-joke inflated into a hobby, having fun pretending they have an influence on world events. When the "hero" confronts them, they laugh derisively and point out the impracticalities of worldwide conspiracies, especially if anyone of average intelligence like him could break their code.

Monday, February 09, 2009

This is Relevant to My Interests

Reading comments to one of PZ's posts, and I'm curious about one of them:
Bertrand Russell once wrote an article about the differences between ex-Christian atheists who had formerly been Catholics and ex-Christian atheists who had formerly been Protestants. (I think it might have been called "Catholic and Protestant Atheists" or something similarly unrelated to its content. I know it was published, and probably still is, in the compendium with the title essay "Why I Am Not a Christian.")
I think my brother has that book, so I can't read the bit myself right now. Anyway, I don't recall hearing much comparison, aside from some ex-Catholics commenting on having a hard time breaking from habitual rituals. (Hey, that rhymes!) Anyway, I probably don't qualify intensely as Protestant, since my family was relatively liberal and secular. So, any discussion on how being a deconvertee from something affects what sort of atheist you are?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Getting a Resolution Started

Well, I talked about getting somewhere with my Untitled Platformer this year beyond conceptual work. The big hurdle is that I don't have anything more than very simple, outdated programming experience. Well, I did twiddle a little Python for a class, but not much.

Anyway, just thought I'd get a feel for who out here has programming experience. JackalMage talked with me about doing something with some Xbox Live course he took, but I don't hear much from him these days.

For those who haven't signed up for GDL, my UP looks like it's going to be a "2 1/2D" platformer: 3D graphics, mostly 2D gameplay. For those who deal with physics engines, I'd like to say that in UP, the world exists to make many videogame tropes possible, even for average people, so bear that in mind. I'll be starting up a thread over there for some discussion.

Friday, February 06, 2009

o/~ Jingo Bells, Jingo Bells o/~

Just a quick request, since I'm not particularly inspired at the moment, or a song writer, but I have a concept for a song sung to the tune of Jingle Bells. That is, of course, Jingo Bells. The direction I was thinking of taking it is a bit more precise than making fun of "America, Fuck Yeah!" type people, but woos who seem to think science and medicine are practiced only in America, and thus it (whatever it is) is all a conspiracy by a few American corporations to cover up stuff, and that there aren't organizations elsewhere that would have an interest in finding consumer-friendly truths.

Maybe I should see about asking that Cuttlefish guy who posts a lot at Pharyngula.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pointless Fun Final (But Not Really)

Felt like making another single-game PF post. This edition's star is White Butterfly, a slightly abstracted shmup. You've got a selection of five ships (one requiring beating the game to unlock) with a variety of weapons. Your attack power increases as you use the various weapons, but your overall power is determined by your weakest weapon, so you have to use all three of your ship's weapons equally.

First ship is the titular White Butterfly. It's the most straightforward. Weapon one is a dual rapid fire blaster, two is a charged cannon, and three is homing shots. If you press Fire 1 while charging with Fire 2, you get homing shots in a spray, rather than one at a time. Kind of weak from my experience, especially the homing shots.

Second is the Anemone, which has a slow firing front cannon, a short range, powerful energy blade that spins around the ship, and a slower, weaker long range blade. Takes a bit of getting used to, and it comes in handy that all the ships don't take damage from collisions with enemies so you can get all up in their face and blade from the inside as long as you don't sit on top when they fire shots.

Third is Spinneret, which I hate, but have been able to beat Normal on. First weapon is some threads that slowly extend upwards, but form a solid wall of shot that'll hit enemies that cross it. Downside is that they cut the thread short when they do, so that can limit its range. Second weapon from pressing both fire buttons is a wide spray of orb shots. Good for dealing with lots of small enemies. Third weapon is a bit awkward: A pair of reloading bombs. They're short range, and there's a delay in detonation. Good thing they've got a decent punch.

Fourth is my personal favorite for innovation is the Hand of Xom. The first weapon is a pair of cannons that sweep left and right. The second and third weapon are the "hand" orb. There's a circle a little ahead of the ship that locks onto enemies, causing the hand to chase them down. That's the closed hand. The third weapon is the open hand, which stops the orb in place and inflicts high damage. Trick with this ship is that you have to be brave enough to get in enemy's faces to lock on. It often takes having an intuitive sense of what path the hand'll take between enemies. It was the first ship I beat Normal with.

Fifth is Chaos Squid, which takes a bit of getting used to (and it's a bit more vicious now that I know I can fly inside enemies). Launching, controlling, and retrieving its orb can be a hassle. First weapon is a forward spray of shots you fire when the orb is docked. Second weapon is a pair of orb-seeking shots that travel in weird ways depending on the "gravity" of the orb when they pass it. The third weapon is direct orb damage: Either launched into an enemy, or from the two rings of orbiting energy balls around your ship when you've got the orb docked. This is pretty powerful when you're inside an enemy. Just now beat Normal with it.

Anyway, I thought this was a well done shooter, and I think I'll be looking at some of the author's other work, soon.

And When I was Getting Slightly Less Cynical

I was getting a tiny bit of hope from the fixed science standards. Then PZ drops this on me. A teacher's gotten suspended for being accused of being an atheist and "too liberal." Texas: Back to being DOOMED, already.

One thing that really annoys me about this is that it reminds me of a bit of high school experience. When I was in high school, some students put together a little artsy/newspaper thing called Scrum. Had dueling religious letters, miscellaneous poetry, weird student surveys with silly answers, and some bits of straight school news.

After I graduated and when my brother was attending, the new principal canceled it for being "too liberal," about the same time he instituted a dress code that didn't seem to apply to white students. If I recall, my brother went around in non-compliant flip-flops, leaving them exposed, daring them to enforce the code equally. I don't think he got anything beyond looks.

What's happening to this teacher's obviously worse, but it still strikes close to home for me. So, that's why I'm foamy right now.

Thread for Nick

I took a break from that post over at the mostly-dead hornets' nest, and MWChase is getting a bit of fatigue, himself. The comments are getting pretty long individually, and I figure I might as well see about moving it over here where more people will see it. I recommend we clear the debate table of the various threads and start with one central point of Nick's choice and cover that thoroughly, minimizing tangents.

One of the points I'd personally go for: Is the existence of a god a scientific claim? I'd say so, because if he has effects on the universe, that makes him natural/material/scientifically measurable by definition.

Random Recall #7: Fundie Edition

God is for Suckers featured a post on burning churches, and I was suddenly reminded of an old movie I saw in High School in some film appreciation class. I can't remember the title. It was black and white, and about an evangelist couple.

They end up getting inspired into doing big traveling revivals in circus tents. Revivals get bigger and bigger to a point that a fire marshal ends up giving them warnings that if a fire breaks out, people won't be able to escape. They manage to avoid shutting the events down, despite those problems. Think part of it entails holding the revivals outside city limits.

The lead woman ends up inventing faith healing. They face criticism from a newspaper writer who essentially says the people who go end up wailing and vowing to change, but don't follow through, so they're just selling false highs. The climax happens when they stop by a big city and get confronted by the mayor, the local fire marshal, and said newspaper critic. They "win" by interrogating the critic about whether or not he believes Jesus was divine, and once out of the room, congratulating themselves on how badly they owned him because he stumbled, stuttered, and didn't answer.

Anyway, the show goes on, fire breaks out, kills the male lead and presumably many attendees, just like the fire marshals had been warning. Female lead vows to carry on with more shows, and somehow, we're supposed to think the whole thing is inspiring. Or at least that's what I thought the filmmakers were going for.

Anyway, I think this movie played a big part in convincing me that charisma does not go with religion.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

White Crows

MrFreeThinker finally showed back up, and left some stupid in his wake. And he did seem to respond when I predicted he wouldn't show up to answer the flood of criticism for his efforts to shift the burden of proof. So, here I go with a main post about an example I gave in the comment thread. Let's get started. Observation: All the crows I have seen so far in my life are black. All the crows I have read about are black. Null hypothesis: There are no non-black crows.

Going by MrFreeThinker's apparent "logic," the burden is on me to prove that non-black crows are "metaphysically" impossible. This would require me to study the crow genome to show that it'd be impossible to get non-black pigments, that albinism is untenable in the species, etcetera. I'd also have to develop perfect knowledge of development to prove that congenital conditions and such can't produce anything other than a black crow. I might also have to cover the bases by somehow proving that crows are immune to bleaching, painting, and dying, er, the application of dye.

Of course, by real world logic, the burden is on MrFreeThinker: If he claims to have seen a white crow, all he needs to do is show it to me under proper observing circumstances.

So, when all the minds I've observed require complex mechanisms to produce their complex behavior, and he says he knows about a mind that doesn't require those systems, it's up to him to demonstrate that it's possible. I don't need to study the whole of philosophy of the mind, neuroscience, and search the entire universe, past, present, and future to fail to observe a simple mind producing complex behavior. He just needs to demonstrate one such entity.

It's the exact same reason we don't believe in psychic powers, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, unicorns, leprechauns, Russel's Teapot, and so on and so forth. It's also why people like me apply our heads to our keyboards whenever someone tries to shift the burden of proof by demanding that we prove their pet woo impossible, instead of just rounding up one solid, verifiable example of it.

Random Recall #6

Really crappy 80's movie I saw on TV, this time. I can't remember the name, but I remember the premise.

So, got some CIA group that gets young geniuses to make spy gizmos. Teenage girl invents some process to disrupt electric currents in a manner that pretty much lets her remotely control any sort of electronic device. They get her to disguise the unit as a TV remote because there's nothing suspicious about an agent carrying around a television remote, rather than, say, a pocket calculator.

Anyway, turns out the spy group's rogue and wants to use the device for eeeee-ville, so the girl escapes with the prototype. She ends up teaming up with a pair of mimbo (male bimbo) truck driving brothers who have to get the girl to the real government agency while still making good time on a delivery. Anyway, she gets to safety with their help, and they notice they accidentally fouled up the "foul-up clock" that's counting down how much time they have to make their delivery they'll get fired for if they miss. So, she lets them have the remote and gives them the code for changing red lights green. Problem is that they didn't hear the last digit as they drive away, endangering people as they run reds trying to find the number by process of elimination. I don't remember if they make it.

Anyone ever see that?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Doggerel #176: "Low-Hanging Fruit"

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

For every woo that believes there might be people able to telekinetically move a penny, there's some genuine nutbar who thinks Egyptians built pyramids with their minds. The former is embarrassed by the latter, and that's quite understandable. They don't want to be associated with those extra-crazies, and complain whenever a skeptic deals with one of them, saying that we're just going for low-hanging fruit.

Of course, it wouldn't be woo if there was high-hanging fruit. It's always some form of fallacious thinking, lack of evidence, or similar fundamental problems. If they can address those problems, we'll readily accept it. Of course, complaining about us getting a little snarky about a particularly absurd chunk of their woo isn't going to help them out. If you want to present a good argument, present a good argument. Explain your position well and defend it with good evidence.

One similar complaint has been dubbed "The Courtier's Reply," where the religious claim that "real" religious people believe in subtler, more elaborate, more sensible things than the witch hunters and brimstone fundies. Of course, that doesn't help the lack of evidence for their deity, or erase the fallacies they employ. As with the more general sort of woo, they still need to provide good arguments and evidence, not whining.

Among conspiracy theorists, other conspiracy theorists are regarded as low-hanging fruit planted by government disinformation agencies. I've seen it with 9/11 twoofers when I care to laugh at them. Rather than substantiate their claims, they're typically content to bash their equally silly counterparts and admonish us for wasting our time on them.

It really shouldn't be necessary for me to post this entry. If you don't want to be associated with silly people, ignore them and defend your claims. If you've got a defensible theory, it won't matter.

104th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Space City Skeptics.

Open thread as usual, but complaining about me being too busy playing with cards all weekend to put up such a simple post is FORBIDDEN!