Saturday, March 30, 2013

Learning Arma III alpha

Arma III - 1st person, closeup

I just couldn't resist Arma III. Now, I've never played any of the other Arma games, and I'm not into military sims. I can't tell one gun from another, and I don't care enough to try. And I don't, normally, play multiplayer games.

But this game is just so neat that I had to get it. Even though it's not really my thing, even though I don't have friends who play computer games (Arma III would clearly be great to play with friends), even though I knew I'd be terrible at it,... it's still so impressive that I just had to buy it. :)

And right now, while it's still in alpha, it's only about $33. The game is very playable, even this early in development, and you'll get the beta version, and then the final version of the game, when they're released, too.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine that this game is just in alpha, since there's so much to it. But I guess that island of Stratis, which seems so huge when you're traveling around on it, is just a tiny part of what will become available in the game later.

Arma III in 3rd person

Anyway, if you've never heard of Arma III (you might want to check out some YouTube videos, here, for example, or here), it's a very detailed military simulation, which can be played as a single-player game, but is really designed for multiplayer - either team-based player-vs-player or co-op games against the computer AI.

(How detailed, how realistic, is this military sim? Two employees of the game developer were arrested by Greece for military espionage. They were imprisoned for four months before even being allowed to post bail.)

I'd seen videos of the previous game, Arma II, and I was tempted by that one, too, but mostly because of the Day Z zombie apocalypse mod. (And here's a video of that, if you're wondering. Yeah, it did look like fun.) The base game seemed very clunky, but it was also mod-friendly. And so is this new game. Already, most of the multiplayer games online seem to be of player-created mods.

In fact, the whole point of the game seems to be that fans will create, if not complete mods, then single-player scenarios and multiplayer missions, alike. The game gives you the tools and the setting, but it's mostly a wide-open sandbox, where you can play whatever you - or someone else - dreams up.

Arma III speedboat

As I say, check out those YouTube 'Let's Plays' if you're curious about the gameplay. Here, I want to tell you how you can play this game if, like me, you haven't played the previous Arma games and you're trying to figure this out from scratch. (There might be a tutorial in the full game, but this is still in alpha, so the instructions are rather sketchy right now.)

When I got the game, there were four "showcases" to play - basically just single-player scenarios to show off various parts of the game. The Infantry Showcase was fine (indeed, you might want to dive right in and try it out, as I did), but it's really hard to figure out what you're doing when you're being shot at. And the game doesn't wait for you, not even when you open a map or a help file.

Luckily, I stumbled across this video. Mostly, that explains how to adjust your video settings, if you're having problems or if you're just interested in that sort of thing. But the game works fine for me on the default settings. What I needed was the information at the very beginning of that, which I'll explain to you now:

When you start the game, instead of clicking on "Play," select "Editor." Then you'll have a chance to choose which map, but since there's only one map in this alpha version of the game, just click "Continue."

At the map, double-click somewhere (pretty much anywhere on land), which will let you insert a unit into that world. Don't bother reading your options, for now. Just clicking "OK" will give you a rifleman, which is fine. Then click on "Preview," at the top of the screen, and that will put you into the game as that rifleman.

Well, it will put you on the island of Stratis, at least. There won't actually be a "game" there, exactly, since the island will be empty except for you. But it will let you practice movement and shooting all you want (until you run out of ammunition, at least), without worrying about anything else.

It's still in alpha, so expect some bugs

Movement is much like any other game (w, a, s, d), but there are a lot of options for taking cover. When you start the game, your character will be standing up. Press 'x' and you'll crouch. Press 'x' again and you'll stand back up.

Press 'z' and you'll lie down in a prone position. If you press 'z' again, you'll stand up (not something you usually want to do in combat), but if you press 'x' you'll rise up into a crouch, instead. But that's only the beginning. From a crouch, press Ctrl-w (hold the Ctrl key and press 'w') to stand up a bit straighter (to see over a rock, for example, or out a window, or press Ctrl-s to crouch down even further.

There are three steps both above and below the default crouch. The lowest 'crouch' will find your character sitting on the ground in a stable firing position. You can't actually move from that position, but you can press 'x' to go back into crouch again or Ctrl-w to straighten up slightly (staying crouched as far as you can go while still being able to move).

As you can tell, there's a lot to this. But you can experiment with everything while in the Editor, without people trying to kill you as you're learning. :)

Push the 'Enter' key on your numpad to toggle third person view. Sometimes (like when you're hiding behind a rock), that will let you see who's shooting at you without making a target of yourself. When practicing, it will also let you see what your key presses are doing.

Experiment with shooting, too. Try throwing a grenade (the 'g' key). Roll your mouse wheel to see other options. In this particular case, as a rifleman, you can switch to a pistol (use the spacebar to choose a selection). But when you've had enough of that rifleman ('Esc' will always get you back to where you were), try different soldiers in that initial window where you insert a unit onto the map.

In particular, try a grenadier, then push 'f' twice to get the grenade-launcher attachment on his rifle. Those are tricky to aim. You have to press '[' or ']' to adjust the range first. Try it out. That's one of the options in that Infantry Showcase, too, but it's easier to experiment in the Editor.

Arma III quadbike

Or, instead of a man, choose a vehicle. Try a quadbike. It will come with a driver, too, and if that's the first unit you place on the map, that will be your character. Click on "Preview" and go for a ride. It's a big island, isn't it? If you want to exit the bike - I recommend stopping first - roll your mouse wheel and press the spacebar on that option. To mount it again, walk up to the bike and roll your mouse wheel again. Many things in the game are like that.

At any point, you can hit 'Esc' and select the Field Manual to read the help documents. There's a lot to learn, and you won't remember it all, not at first. But you can learn the basics first, and then more details later. As I say, it's a lot easier to do this when people aren't shooting at you!

Whenever you want, exit the Editor and click 'Play.' Try the showcases, first. Infantry is most of the game, so you definitely want to learn that. (I still can't figure out how to fly a helicopter, but I suppose I just need to practice that in the Editor, too.)

You can download single-player scenarios (here, for example, or at the forum). There's not much available yet, and sometimes you'll have the wrong version of the game (many people play the developmental version, not the one Steam installs by default). Note that there are two Co-op missions which come with the game. They're in the multiplayer section, but you can play them by yourself, if you want.

This is really a multiplayer game, and there's already a thriving community of gamers, most of whom were active with Arma II as well. But for me, it's been really hard to find a co-op game that's not highly modded, password-protected, and/or completely unsuitable for beginners.

Honestly, this is the kind of game you really want to play with friends. At my age, I don't know anyone who plays computer games - not this kind, at least - and I haven't had much luck in finding good co-op games at random. But that's OK. Frankly, I never expected otherwise. As I say, I just couldn't resist buying Arma III.

I'm not particularly interested in wargames (or in the military at all), and I normally prefer single-player games. But I'm fascinated by the potential of sandbox games, where players can write their own stories. In so many ways, this is not really my kind of game. But in that one respect, it is.

___
Note: Check here for my comments on other games.

Liz Cheney's bug-eyed right-wing paranoia

I keep pointing out the complete insanity on the right, but, admittedly, Glenn Beck is low-hanging fruit. So, lest you think this is just on the fringe of the Republican Party, let me present Liz Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney and a State Department deputy assistant during the Bush administration.

From Jonathan Chait:
Even after four years of bug-eyed right-wing paranoia, Cheney’s op-ed [in the Wall Street Journal, of course] stands out for its utter dearth of the slightest whiff of perspective or factual grounding. President Obama, she tells us, “is the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office.” He has “launched a war on Americans' Second Amendment rights.” He does not want the economy to grow. (“He believes in greater redistribution of a much smaller pie.”) Obama “seems unaware that the free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system devised by man” — which is odd, because Obama is always saying things like “business, and not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there.” The best approximations of America’s future under Obama are tiny European nations that lack control of their own currency. (“If you're unsure of what this America would look like, Google ‘Cyprus’ or ‘Greece.’”)

One might charitably attribute Cheney’s crazed rants on domestic policy to her attempting to opine on matters outside her field of expertise. Yet her litany of foreign-policy accusations is actually even more unhinged. Obama, she argues, has not only weakened America, he wants to weaken America’s world standing in the same way he wants to shrink its economy (“there is no longer a question of whether this was his intent”). He wants to “pre-emptively disarm the United States.”

She fears that we will somehow lack the nuclear capacity to deter foes that might obtain the tiniest fraction of our nuclear strength. (Obama “advocates slashing our nuclear arsenal even as the North Koreans threaten us and the Iranians close in on their own nuclear weapon.”) She believes “Al Qaeda is resurgent across the Middle East” and that Obama “stood by and did nothing” in the face of the attack in Libya, an especially bizarre belief considering Obama’s specific responses to the attack in Libya and general four-year record of endless drone strikes and, well, you know.

Yeah, this sounds a lot like Matthew Staver, but Liz Cheney is as mainstream as you get in the Republican Party. Her father was vice-president, for chrissake! And she, too, had an important position in the Bush administration. If she's just... insane, so is the rest of the GOP.

The Wall Street Journal editorial pages specialize in wild-eyed rants, especially now that it's owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the parent company of Fox 'News.' But that's not the fringe of the Republican Party, either. That is the Republican Party these days.

And how could anyone sane, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Obama administration and the events of the past four years, come up with conclusions this divorced from reality? That rant wouldn't surprise me from Rush Limbaugh, because Limbaugh makes a living being as outrageous as possible. That's his whole act as a media figure.

But this? Has the entire GOP become unhinged from reality? (In a word,... yes.) Is it just because they've lost the last two presidential elections, or is it because they lost to a black man? There's got to be more than just politics here, don't you think? How else can you explain complete insanity like this?

There's more, but I'll let Steve Benen tell this part:
It's a truly ridiculous tirade with all the sophistication and accuracy of a Breitbart comments section. But there's also an unintentionally amusing part -- Cheney's unhinged rant includes this Ronald Reagan quote from 1961:
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well-taught lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don't do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

This is, to be sure, a popular quote on the right, and if it seems familiar to long-time readers, it's because I've written about it several times before. ...

"This" was referring to preventing the creation of Medicare. Reagan warned Americans in 1961 that Medicare, if approved, would turn the United States into a dystopian nightmare. In the same recording Cheney quoted, Reagan argued that if Medicare became law, we'd see federal officials empowered to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, he warned that if Medicare passed, there was a real possibility that the federal government would control where Americans go and what we do for a living.

And so, freedom-loving Americans had to stop Medicare or we "may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

We now know, with the benefit of hindsight, that Reagan's paranoid rant was wrong, and hysterically so. His predictions didn't come true, and Medicare did not destroy American freedom. Those who are actually in their sunset years are delighted with Medicare, and are not sitting around, longing wistfully for an America where seniors seeking medical care were forced into poverty.

Cheney, either out of confusion, negligence, ignorance, or willful disregard of the truth, thinks Reagan's warnings from a half-century ago "still ring true." They do? How? What is Cheney talking about?

As Chait added, far-right paranoia seems to be bequeathed from one generation of deranged conservatives to the next. Social Security was going to destroy America, they said. When that didn't happen, it was Medicare that would crush our way of life, they said. When that didn't happen either, it was the Affordable Care Act -- the dreaded "Obamcare" -- that threatened everything Americans hold dear.

The delusions, like Cheney's op-ed, are laughable.

I don't know. Ronald Reagan was certainly paranoid on the subject of Medicare, but I don't know if we've ever seen the complete insanity we see today among Republicans. Has it always been this bad? Really? No, it can't have been, or America would never have made it this far.

Here in Nebraska, the same seniors who love their Medicare tend to approve of Saint Reagan's quote, without having the slightest idea that he was actually talking about... Medicare. Cheney must know that - she certainly should - but it doesn't seem to register with her. Or maybe she's just cynical enough to use it for partisan political purposes, anyway.

Of course, Republicans are still trying to end Medicare. They're still trying to turn it into a voucher system, making seniors try to find their own insurance - if they can. They exempt their own elderly supporters, of course, because seniors would bury them if they tried to mess with Medicare for themselves.

I don't know. The whole thing is Completely. Batshit. Crazy!  Republican leaders, shaken by last November's election, keep talking about changing their messaging, as if their only problem is how they phrase their arguments, or the specific words they use. But the real problem is their mindset.

In their notorious 'Southern strategy,' Republican leaders thought to use crazy people to advance their own agenda. But insanity must be catching, don't you think? Certainly, the entire party seems to have gone nuts these days.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tim Minchin's Thank You God



Just in time for Easter, too - isn't that nice! :)

I'm sure believers feel offended by this kind of thing, and it's certainly true that Tim Minchin makes no attempt to spare your feelings! Just the reverse, in fact.

But if you wonder why we find such things so ridiculous, try listening to the words of this song.

True believers can - and do - say anything to persuade other people into believing as they do. (You recognize that when it comes to other religions, don't you?) Obviously, I don't know if that guy was lying about his mother's miraculous cure, but people lie about such things every day.

Careful scientific research about the power of prayer shows nothing. It's been studied many times. And there are plenty of other - natural - explanations, even if this did happen.

But even if it were true, even if that prayer worked, what then? Think about what a dick your God would be if this were actually true. Don't give me any of that 'God works in mysterious ways' crap. If you're willing to use your brain at all, you must see what a cop-out that is.

And you're using your brain - if not very well - when you believe in your religion in the first place. So don't tell me you can't actually use it in cases like this.

If you're reading this, I don't particularly want to offend you. Indeed, I'm always happy to discuss these things politely, and I don't really worship Satan or eat babies. Leave me a polite comment and I'll respond similarly. I like comments from people who disagree with me.

But I like Tim Minchin, as well. Sometimes, people need to be shaken from their comforting illusions. Will this do it? I don't know. (Probably not. But, sometimes, atheists need to laugh, too.) As I say, there's a serious message in this song. But he's a comedian, so he delivers it with humor.

And a very catchy tune, don't you think?

The perils of gay marriage



I thought Jon Stewart did a good job with this. Of course, it's everywhere in the news right now (Stephen Colbert covered it last night, too - here, here, and here), but I thought this was particularly funny,... and informative.

The right-wing simply has no rational argument with which to oppose equal rights for homosexuals, not one. They've got nothing. In a rational America, this would be a slam-dunk at the Supreme Court.

But thanks to past Republican presidents, our Supreme Court has been packed with far right-wing ideologues. There are five Republicans on the court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy - who joined with his fellow Republicans to create such terrible decisions as Citizens United - is the only one who seems like he might be sane enough to look past his own political and religious leanings to see the justice in this case.

Republicans have already lost on this issue. Public opinion is changing dramatically, such that even Bill O'Reilly is throwing in the towel. Well, Fox 'News' is concerned about nothing more than electing Republicans, and this is becoming a losing issue for them.

So the word at Fox has come down from on high (not God, but near enough). Sorry, social conservatives, but when you cease to be useful in getting tax cuts for the rich, you'll be thrown under the bus. Well, it couldn't happen to a more deserving people, huh?

But this Supreme Court decision is still important. Indeed, future Supreme Court decisions will likely be critical in this issue, too (as those clips from The Colbert Report point out), since any decision in this case is likely to leave a messy situation. And although the right-wing has already lost, they can still do a lot of damage to innocent Americans.

Hmm,... that kind of sounds like the Republican Party in general, doesn't it? They've been thoroughly repudiated by the American people, but they can still do a lot of damage before they end up in the dustbin of history. And they seem more determined than ever to continue doing that damage, right until the bitter end.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Racism, alive and well in America



According to Matthew Staver, Barack Obama is "for the first time in our history, a president who does not love America." Wow! How's that for racism? (The other loon here is Matt Barber.)

Can you imagine that being said about any other president? But some people will just never accept a black man as president, no matter what.

FYI, this is from the "Faith and Freedom" broadcast of Liberty Counsel, a law firm and Christian ministry (how's that for a combination?) affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Yeah, these are the cream of the crop, so to speak, among batshit crazy.

I blogged about these RightWingWatch videos the other day and told you they were completely insane. Do you believe me now? :)

Man-goat love


Funny, isn't it? But I'm not so sure about that goat. How can a goat give its informed consent?

Or maybe I just can't imagine anything liking Bill O'Reilly!

"Goat, this is Bill. Billy,... goat." :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jim Carrey's Cold Dead Hand



Oddly enough, Fox 'News' isn't too happy about that video. :)

I don't normally like Jim Carrey much myself, thanks to his anti-vaccine idiocy, but pissing off Fox 'News' makes up for a lot, don't you think? And this is certainly a catchy little song...

Here's TYT:



A year as an atheist


From Religion News Service:
This Easter, Teresa MacBain will mark an anniversary that’s uncommon for an ordained minister — her first year as an atheist.

Last March, MacBain, now 45, stood at a podium before hundreds of people in a Maryland hotel ballroom at the national convention of American Atheists and told them that, after a lifetime as a Christian and 15 years as a pulpit pastor, she had lost her faith. ...

If there are any pastors there who find themselves perched on the edge of going public with their own loss of faith as she did, she will have some advice to give them.

“Go for it, but be prepared,” MacBain said from her home in Tallahassee, Fla. “They should be prepared for unexpected love and acceptance from the freethought community and they should be prepared for the worst from friends and family and people you would have never imagined. ...

“The freethought community just wrapped its arms around us,” she said. “Not just me, but my whole family.”

That includes her two adult sons and her husband, who is still a Christian and stood by MacBain through her change of heart. He has become a regular at weekly freethought meetings where she said his beliefs are respected. ...

For almost every gain, there has been a loss. The biggest, for her, has been the many friendships she lost, some decades long.

“I don’t think anybody is ever prepared for that,” she said. “It is something I still deal with. When you care for somebody, the caring doesn’t go away because they have removed themselves from your life. That does not happen. Those have been very hard things for me.”

Another low: the emails, messages and phone calls from people who wish her harm. Anonymous people have threatened her with violence and rape.

“I had to shut down one of my email accounts because I could not stand to open it anymore,” she said. “I was a mess.”

Just imagine that. Not every atheist is a good person, and certainly not every Christian threatens violence against people they disagree with, but I have to think of all the people who tell me we can't be moral without God. Ha!

And you know, it's not just the threats of violence and rape, either. I don't know a single atheist who'd abandon a friend because they became religious, not one. But non-believers commonly lose friends when they come out of the closet, and sometimes lose their families, as well.

It's not everyone, of course. Her own husband is still a Christian. But just try to tell me how we can't be moral without 'God'!

PS. I've blogged about Teresa MacBain before. Here, for example, is her talk at the Oklahoma Freethought Convention last year. It's quite interesting.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dear Scalia: Y.O.L.O.


From TPM:
My vote for most iconic sign outside the Supreme Court this morning goes to “DEAR SCALIA: Y.O.L.O. #scotusyoloO.” ...

I suspect most people posted outside the Supreme Court Tuesday who saw the sign knew what it meant, and thus knew without asking where Andrew Damron (the man who made it) stood on the issue.

At the same time, I suspect if someone were to ask Antonin Scalia if he knows what YOLO means, he’d fly spectacularly off the handle into full-scale, get-off-my-lawn crank mode.

I feel a little silly writing it out, but in this telling — based on my evidence-free assumptions — the population that doesn’t know what YOLO means is a proxy for the older, whiter, segment of the population that still opposes gay marriage, still wields great political power, but all of a sudden finds itself pretty clearly out of step with the country.

That, I suspect, is why Scalia’s been so contemptuous — contemptuous, even for him — of the fight for marriage equality. It’s not just a deeply held disgust for gay people, though that’s certainly a big part of it. It’s that he and his cohort are losing control, and the people wresting it from them aren’t just indifferent about who’s gay and who isn’t, but are also strange creatures from the future who seem to speak an entirely different language.

That was an insightful comment, don't you think?

I'm in that "older, whiter segment of the population," though I've got little political power here in Nebraska and I do support gay marriage. But I had to think for a bit before I could remember what YOLO stands for. (Carpe diem I would have instantly understood.)

But what's been remarkable about the gay rights movement is how quickly everything is changing. I guess I can understand why elderly conservatives are confused, given the pace of this. Heck, racial civil rights took far longer. For the most part, the older generation had to die off first.

Even then, the election of our first black president has really brought out the racists. And have you noticed how we're still debating birth control? Not to mention that evolution - evolution - still stirs controversy after 150 years!

So I've been astonished - pleased, but astonished - at how quickly attitudes about gay rights have changed. (Will we see the same sea change when it comes to the acceptance of atheists? I really doubt it, but... who knows? It seems to have happened in Britain - indeed, in much of Europe - very quickly.)

Remember Future Shock? This might be the ultimate example of that, don't you think? Future Shock was first published in 1970, when gay rights weren't even on the radar in most of the country. There were just as many gay people back then, but all of them, virtually, were in the closet.

Now they're getting married - not everywhere, but in more and more states. Gay people - gay couples - are living openly. I'm proud of my country that we've managed such an incredible change in such a short period of time, but I'm sure that elderly conservatives are simply bewildered by it all.

And if they don't have someone in their own family coming out, they don't seem to be able to find the empathy or the common sense to see the justice in... just leaving people alone. This is one case where your personal life doesn't affect anyone else. Even if homosexuality were a matter of choice - which it's not - it wouldn't be any of your business.

Well, Scalia certainly won't get this message. But maybe other justices on the Supreme Court will.

Tea Partiers boycotting Fox 'News'

Yeah, Fox 'News' has apparently become too liberal for some people! Read on:
The Tea Party boycotted Fox News for the second time this month, saying the cable network is too liberal.

Tea Party members organized the second boycott of Fox News from Thursday, March 21 at 6 a.m. through Sunday, March 24 at 6 a.m. because they say the channel "turned Left," according to the blog Benghazi Truth.

The blog alleges that the Obama administration organized a media-supported "cover-up" of the events surrounding the 2012 attacks on an American diplomatic mission at Benghazi in Libya. ...

Stan Hjerleid of Fort Collins, Colo. posted a "Guest Daily Memo" on Benghazi Truth on Mar. 13 explaining why Tea Party supporters like himself are boycotting Fox News.

Hjerleid’s blog post alleges that media outlets are using techniques "used by Hitler" in order to "indoctrinate the masses." ...

Hjerleid writes that "we need to be careful what we see and hear" on the news.

"If we keep silent about (Fox News') shortcomings, then they can get away with shading their coverage further Left," Hjerleid writes. "I for one oppose that. They can make adjustments or I will get my news elsewhere."

Hmm,... you have to wonder where they're going to go to get their news with even more of a right-wing slant than Fox, don't you?

But I'll bet that Fox 'News' is loving this! I'm not kidding. Getting criticized for being too liberal just helps them pretend to be 'fair and balanced.'  See, we must be right in the middle if we're being criticized from both sides.

And Benghazi Truth is loving the attention, of course. They note that "Newsweek, Salon and the like are sending many thousands of opinionated liberal readers here every day." (They also explain that they delete liberal comments, because, well,... liberals censor conservatives, too! Heh, heh.)

What they don't do is link to any of the articles written about them. Oh, they're very pleased with the attention, and they proudly note articles in Newsweek and other bastions of liberalism. They even show a very tiny section of a screenshot as their way of quoting an article.

But they don't provide a link to any of them. After all, they wouldn't want their readers tempted to step out of the right-wing echo chamber, would they?

And it's really a right-wing echo chamber, too. These people are still unrepentant Birthers, in fact. Yeah, President Obama's long-form birth certificate isn't going to fool them!

Sure, this is funny - hilarious, even - but it's not good news for sane people. As I noted, the very fact that Fox News is getting criticized for being too liberal will help them deceive ordinary Americans.

People who are completely clueless about this stuff - and there are a lot of those people in America - will see this as just confirming the lies Fox News says about itself, that it's actually 'fair and balanced.' Well, why else would they be getting criticism from both sides?

And note the recent Pew poll which found that a majority of Republicans don't think that the U.S. Supreme Court is conservative. Only 15% of Republicans think that the current Supreme Court is conservative - and less than half of Democrats, too! Incredible, isn't it?

As TPM points out, this Supreme Court is the most conservative we've seen since the 1930s:
The median justice during the Roberts Court is more conservative than at any time during the last 75 years, according to a statistical method developed by legal scholars Andrew Martin of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.

When he was appointed in 1975 by President Ford, Justice John Paul Stevens was considered one of the court’s more conservative members. By the time he retired in 2010, he was heralded as its liberal lion.

The high court’s rightward trajectory mirrors the broader national shift over the last several decades. President Bush sealed a five-member conservative majority by appointing Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

By contrast, justices appointed by Democratic presidents have grown less liberal, with President Obama’s two picks shifting the court further to the right, according to Martin and Quinn.

Five of the 10 most conservative justices since 1937 serve today, according to a separate 2008 study by judge Richard Posner and law professor William Landes.

Barack Obama's two picks have been more moderate than liberal, and that's only caused the court to become even more conservative on average. (Not that "average" counts much. Most decisions these days are 5 to 4, with the five right-wing Republicans on the court in the majority. In a case like that, I don't suppose it would matter how liberal the minority was.)

But no matter who Obama picks, Republicans scream about how liberal they are. And the media tend to report what 'both sides' say, without commenting on the reality of those claims. So claiming that the Supreme Court is liberal, even when that's laughably ridiculous, will convince many people that it must be, at least, moderate.

Most Americans simply don't pay much attention - and not at all, often enough, until a few weeks before election time. This has been disastrous for our country in the last few decades, as PR flaks have become better and better at using the vast sums of money flooding into our political system (even before Citizens United really opened the floodgates).

So, although I still laugh at stuff like this, it might actually benefit the right-wing. Sure, these people are obviously crazy. But, in comparison, that might make other crazy people on the right seem relatively sane.

They're not. And if we start thinking that Fox 'News' is in the middle, we'll really be in trouble. If we start thinking that the far-right loons on the Supreme Court are moderates, what's next (especially since today's Republicans can't stand moderates)?

It seems like our nation has lurched so far to the right that we can't even recognize the middle anymore. Now that's scary!

Creeping Sharia mops


Be afraid, be very afraid. Muslims are infiltrating everywhere in America. Even our mops are turning Muslim:
Building managers and legislative staffers have sought to reassure some concerned Tennessee lawmakers that recent renovations at the state Capitol did not install special facilities for Muslims to wash their feet before praying.

“I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men’s restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use,” Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley wrote in an email. “It is, in layman’s terms, a mop sink.”

Who were the patriotic Americans who alerted us to this new threat? It seems that we can thank Republican legislators Bill Ketron and Judd Matheny, although the latter can't actually remember it. ("It's not ringing a bell.")

Apparently, he's been a Republican so long that there's nothing left in his head but a vast, empty, echo chamber of right-wing slogans.

But this isn't the first time they've taken a principled stand against freedom of religion:
Matheny and Ketron were the main sponsors of a 2011 bill that sought to make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah law.

Hundreds of Muslims came to the Legislature to express fears the measure would outlaw central tenets of Islam, such as praying five times a day toward Mecca, abstaining from alcohol or fasting for Ramadan.

Aren't we lucky to have such brave political leaders who are willing to fight against the Constitution of the United States like that? Not since the Confederacy have we seen such patriotism!

But now that our janitorial supplies have been infiltrated by the Muslim menace, good, God-fearing Republicans are not even safe in their closets. Oh, Jebus, help us!

Monday, March 25, 2013

It works, bitches



Clearly, Richard Dawkins has a sense of humor!

Although, did he really say that, "if you base medicine on science, you kill people"? I'm not sure that's what he meant to say. :)

[Edit: In comments at YouTube, they say it's actually "you cure people" in Dawkins' British accent. Still sounds like "you kill people" to me, but that would make a lot more sense, huh?]

Oh, and that phrase is from xkcd, I think (here and here).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The war on Easter



Easter eggs are a "Judeo-Christian tradition"? Really? I didn't realize that Easter was a big holiday for Jews. And did I miss the part about the Easter Bunny in the Bible?

For Bill O'Reilly and his elderly viewers, though, "Judeo-Christian tradition" is everything they did when they were kids. OK, fine. I have nothing against tradition, assuming that it's not something like slavery. Or wife-beating. But who is waging a war on Easter, anyway?

The fact is, I'd be willing to surrender immediately in this "war on Easter" - especially since I didn't actually realize I was fighting it - if the right-wing would only agree to shut up about it! As it is, I suppose we can be thankful that Fox News "won" the war on Christmas, huh? I assume that means they'll stop talking about it? Heh, heh. Yeah, right.

But actually,... I take it all back. No surrender! This stuff is much too funny. It's so funny that I don't want them to shut up about it. Just the reverse, in fact. So, on with the war! Set up your chocolate bunnies and I'll mow them down. :)

PS. It's also funny that O'Reilly seems desperate to keep the right to "criticize minorities," isn't it? He's just terrified that he won't be able to do that anymore (in some mythical future America, at least). Well, he knows his audience, doesn't he? All those old white racists are pretty concerned about stereotyping minorities, and they don't want to pussyfoot around when it comes to their language, either.

But what's really, really funny is that the Republican Party is currently trying to change its "messaging" to minorities (not its actual policies, of course) as a result of the last election. And that's happening at the exact same time Fox 'News' - the propaganda arm of the Republican Party - is waging a war to be allowed to say whatever nasty thing they want!

Heh, heh. How dumb do they think minorities are? How do they think that 'outreach' is going to go, when Fox 'News' is busy scaring the party faithful about political correctness at the same time other party leaders are pretending (to minorities) to be inclusive?

Oh, well. The debacle should be fun to watch, anyway, don't you think?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Glenn Beck connects the dots



Guns, marijuana, soda pop, Cyprus, and the Nazi Party - I'll bet you never realized how those all tie together, did you?

"Cyprus is the answer." Of course it is, Glenn. And who could imagine that people would mock you for things like this. :)

But I wanted to post this mainly to point out the YouTube channel of RightWingWatch.org. It's just chock full of short little video clips (at more than 2 minutes, this is the longest one I've see) of the craziest people in America saying the craziest things.

Here, for example, is another clip of Glenn Beck, this time urging people to hoard cash, because ATMs stopped working "the last time the progressives tried a utopia."

Here is Pat Robertson explaining how environmentalists don't care if "a couple billion people around the globe die from starvation." And here he warns people - he really does - against "scamsters in religious garb, quoting the Bible." Well, I can't argue with him there!

And speaking of which, here's John Hagee explaining how Sodom and Gomorrah was just God practicing his response to the "homosexual society."

Here's white-haired old Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, ranting about young people. Fischer thinks that the Republican Party should forget about appealing to young people and just stick with old white men like himself. (I hope the GOP follows his advice.)

Ben Shapiro's advice to the Republican Party is a little different (maybe because he's much younger?). He thinks that they've just been too nice to Barack Obama. Liberal bullies have been pushing Republicans around, and the right-wing, never one to make a scene, has been far too civil in response. When will the GOP start criticizing Obama?

Oh, there's lots, lots more there. There's Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert and Jim DeMint,... and on and on.  If you want crazy, RightWingWatch has the greatest hits on video.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bridgeway Funds semi-annual report

I don't often blog about investing, but I was reading the latest semi-annual report from the Bridgeway Funds, and a few things caught my attention - this graph, for example:

(click to embiggen)

The top line graphs the price per book value (one of many valuation metrics) of the U.S. stock market, going back to 1972. The bottom line is the price/book of just high yield dividend-paying stocks.

The point of this was to demonstrate that high yield stocks have generally been valued less than the market as a whole, but how that has changed recently:
On the basis of one measure of valuation, “price to book value”, they are the most expensive, relative to other stocks, we have seen at any time in our data history going back to 1972. On this measure, the price of these stocks has already been bid up on a relative basis. For the first time in at least four decades, high yield large cap stocks are actually more expensive than the broader market. Buyer beware.

That's interesting enough, for some of us, so I'll elaborate (and if you're not interested in this kind of thing, you might as well stop reading now).

Stocks which pay a high yield in dividends might be, for example, government-regulated utilities which make a reliable profit (since they can raise rates to cover costs), but will never make an excessive profit (because regulators won't let them gouge their customers too much).

Others might just be large companies in mature industries. They make a good profit, but there's usually not much growth potential, so the company is not valued as highly as other companies.

These days, most companies don't pay out much in dividends, because they want to use that money to grow. You see, a bigger company benefits the people who run it (and the people who make these decisions), and wealthy investors don't need the cash and don't want to pay taxes on a distribution.

Now, if you're a retiree on a fixed income, you probably want a steady stream of cash. But unless you own enough stock that you don't actually need the money yourself, you're not going to have much influence in any of this. Technically-speaking, you might 'own' part of a company, but you don't control it.

So most retired investors tend to own a lot of bonds. Besides, they're normally safer than stock (safer and less volatile). But after the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, bonds yield hardly anything at all, and cash is even worse. So retirees have been searching for higher yield (and taking on more risk in doing so, though some of them may not realize that).

This is just basic supply and demand. More people are searching for yield, so they've bid up the price on these high yield dividend-paying stocks. Now, they're very expensive, compared to other stocks, by historical standards.

Please note: this doesn't necessarily mean they're too expensive. It doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't buy them. It doesn't even mean they won't hold up better if the market crashes. It's just, well,... buyer beware. It's seldom a good investment if you pay too much for it. (How much is too much? I have no idea.)

But take a look at that graph again, this time at the general market (the top line). Look at the late 1990's. Look at that peak in 2000 and at what happened afterwards. Trying to pick the short-term moves of the stock market is a fool's game,... but why wouldn't everyone have been worried about valuations like that?

For the most part, though, it was just the reverse. That was a time of irrational exuberance. The stock market was screaming upward and it would never drop again! Supposedly. (And suppose you saw how expensive it was and got out in 1997 or 1998. The market continued to scream upward after that, for another couple of years, anyway. And everyone but you would be making money.)

That graph even understates it, because some parts of the market were still dirt cheap back then. At work, they switched our 401-k plan at the very peak of the market, dumping the boring old funds they'd had previously and loading up on the go-go growth funds which had been climbing ever higher.

I remember going to a meeting of plan participants and asking for just one small-cap value fund in our investment plan, just one. But the 'experts' who were providing this plan to us (not our HR department, but the investment professionals they'd hired) explained that "no one" wanted to invest in small-cap value funds anymore.

Within a few months, the collapse came. Note that this wasn't like 2008, where everything dropped. No, this collapse was focused on those particular go-go growth stocks, and especially on tiny internet stocks with massive valuations and no revenue. Those small-cap value stocks I'd wanted did extremely well then.

But just for an idea of how things went with the more speculative investments, here are the results of the NASDAQ Telecommunications Index: Up 103% in 1999, Down 54% in 2000, Down 49% in 2001, Down 54% in 2002. I knew a guy who'd bought at the peak, when our company 401-k was switched into this kind of stuff, and finally got out at the bottom, three years later, just as the market was ready to turn around again.

Last I heard from him, he was wondering about finally getting back into the market again. This was not long before the 2008 crash. After all, everyone else had been making money for four or five years by then...

Anyway, there are many things I like about the Bridgeway Funds (including their rule that the CEO can't be paid more than 7 times as much as their lowest-paid full-time worker - compared to the more typical corporation where the CEO might get 300 or 400 times as much as the average worker), but this post is too long, already.

I do, however, want to point out how much fun it is to look back at the annual returns of their funds, since this report also indicates whether they did better or worse than their primary benchmark (which varies, depending on the fund). Take the Ultra-Small Company Fund, which was the first fund I bought from them, many years ago.

This fund invests in very, very small companies, and it's... unbelievably volatile (it dropped 46% in 2008, which was actually a little better than its category). The first years I owned it, it just blew the lights out. I didn't have much money in it back then, but it was certainly an incredible fund. Then came that crash I've been talking about at the end of the 1990s.

In 2000, the S&P 500 dropped 10% and the NASDAQ, which contained more of those high-flying growth stocks, dropped 39%. The Bridgeway Ultra-Small Company Fund gained almost 5%, beating its benchmark. (Remember how I said that not everything had dropped?)

2001 was a little different, though. Thanks largely to the 9/11 attacks, the overall market was down again, and this time, the Ultra-Small Company Fund did worse than its benchmark index. However, it still went up 34%. Yes, if I remember correctly, the average small-cap value fund was up almost 40% that year. And this is when those growth stocks were still crashing.

In 2002, the Ultra-Small Company Fund again beat its benchmark, with a gain of 4%. But the overall market did very badly that year. For most indexes, it was the worst of three very bad years. So what would you do then? You win the prize if you said, "Buy!" because 2003 was a very good year indeed!

True, my fund failed to outperform its benchmark, but with a gain of almost 89% that year, it's hard to complain much about that!

Note that this fund hasn't done as well recently (although it had a good year last year). But you can't buy it, anyway, since it's closed to new investors. Indeed, even current investors can't add to their holdings, since Bridgeway wants to keep this fund very small. (At the bottom of the market, in early 2009, I was able to put a bit more money into it, but that opportunity didn't last long.)

In fact, that's why I'm mentioning it here. You see, I don't want to give investment advice, even by implication. I'm not qualified to give investment advice, so please don't think that any of this is a suggestion of what you should be doing. I just think this stuff is interesting, so I wanted to talk about it. That's all.

Well, there's lots more I could say, but I think we've all had enough, haven't we? :)

A billion active users of YouTube

Have you noticed that I tend to post a lot of YouTube videos here? :)

From Reuters (at Yahoo Finance):
Google Inc's YouTube said 1 billion unique users were now visiting the video-sharing website every month, or nearly one out of every two people on the Internet.

"If YouTube were a country, we'd be the third largest in the world after China and India," YouTube said in a blog post on Wednesday. (http://r.reuters.com/dev76t)

Expanding high-speed data networks across the world and increased availability of internet-enabled smartphones have helped to connect billions of people to the Internet, fuelling growth in social media and video-sharing websites.

I believe it. And if I were a television executive, I'd be absolutely terrified of YouTube. Certainly, I spend a lot more time watching YouTube videos than watching television. It's not even close.

Then there's this:
YouTube was an instant success after its founding by three former PayPal employees in 2005, adding millions of users in its first year. Google bought it for $1.65 billion in 2006.

The fast-growing video site, which had about 800 million unique monthly users a year ago, now represents one of Google's key opportunities to generate new sources of revenue outside of its traditional internet search advertising business.

Google does not break out revenue from advertising on YouTube, which is a free site, but its contribution in terms of Google's overall revenue is relatively small.

How would you like to create a company and then sell it - one year later - for 1.65 billion dollars? Not a bad investment, huh?

Of course, like any corporation, Google's interest is entirely in making as much money as it can. And a free YouTube doesn't seem to be doing that, despite the huge user-base.
AdAge reported in January that Google planned to offer paid subscriptions to some content later this year.

YouTube had reached out to several video producers, asking them to submit applications to create for-pay "channels," AdAge said, adding that the first such channels could be available by the second quarter for between $1 and $5 a month.

That's fine (though just another thing for television producers to worry about), but what then? If YouTube has paid channels, then all those free videos will be competition to them.

Right now, those free videos attract customers and make Google some money from advertising revenue (if not as much money as they'd like). But what happens when those free videos turn into unwelcome competition for their new paid channels?

How long will Google even tolerate free videos after that? What happens with even a grudging tolerance? Will users see more and more restrictions?

Will Google kill the goose that laid the not-quite-golden-enough egg? I guess we'll see, huh? Meanwhile, maybe we should enjoy YouTube while we can.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shack Tactical



I don't normally play war games (although I did buy the Arma III alpha just recently). In fact, I don't even know what game this is (edit: apparently, it's Arma II: Operation Arrowhead), but I thought it was neat.

It's a night mission, of course - which is why most of it looks black and white - but I really liked seeing the teamwork here. This is where multiplayer games shine. They're not for me, but I can see how you could get hooked on them.

Lawrence Krauss - we provide our own meaning



Nice, isn't it? "We have to force our ideas to conform to the evidence of reality, rather than the other way around."

Is reality not exactly as you'd wish it? Tough! We live three or four times as long, on average, as our ancestors, and you want to whine about it?

Christians often tell me that they don't care what the truth is, because they want to believe what they want to believe. I don't get it. How can you not care about the truth of what you believe? Don't you feel like a complete coward?

And besides, does it actually feel better to think you were designed for the sole purpose of praising some ridiculously insecure deity for eternity? What kind of purpose is that? I'd pass on that kind of everlasting life, myself.

As Christopher Hitchens used to say, at least you can die to escape North Korea!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

White supremacists at CPAC



I thought I'd post this, not just because it's kind of funny, but because I hear a lot of this kind of thing, myself.

Yes, it's a "short political memory" - or a complete ignorance of history - and political opportunism, both. Certainly, today's Democratic Party is not the party of 100 years ago, let alone the party of 150 years ago!

I often talk about the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy,' because it's so important in understanding why the GOP has become what it has. After all, the South (white Southerners, at least) had been solidly Democratic for more than a century, though increasingly unhappy with that.

Heck, in 1948, the Dixiecrats ran Strom Thurmond as their own segregationist candidate for president and almost cost Harry S. Truman the election - not because he took many states, but because all of those electoral college votes would have normally been a lock for the Democratic candidate. Republicans had no power at all in the South.

That's completely upside down now. After the Democratic Party decided to support equal rights for racial minorities - doing the right thing, even when it was going to hurt them politically - the Republican Party deliberately set out to woo racists and took the entire South for themselves. The South went from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, just like that.

African Americans, who used to support "the party of Lincoln" (when they were allowed to vote at all), left the GOP in droves. Well, what else would you expect? But the idea that 90-some percent of African Americans support the "KKK party" is just asinine. I mean, how could you even imagine something so stupid?

Oh, well. The Republican Party wooed racists just like they wooed Christian fundamentalists (often the same people) and for the same reason: political power. They wanted to use those people in order to give tax cuts to the rich. But those people became the GOP base, and they weren't willing to settle for rhetoric.

Well, now that America is changing, Republican leaders want to do the same thing with Hispanics (in particular) and other racial minorities. They don't want to change their policies, of course. They just want to persuade them to vote Republican, so the GOP can get the political power to continue supporting the wealthy.

After all, they're pretty shaken up. In the last election, they discovered that money is not a complete substitute for votes.

Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead


Yeah, instead of doing my taxes - or anything else productive - I decided to play Cataclysm again. :)

I blogged about the game last summer, but this is a new version. The original developer moved on to new things, and a group of fans have been adding to the game. Now it's called Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.

It's still free (a Windows version is here, or try this) and still lots of fun, though I worry about the whole 'designed by committee' thing (that it might get too cluttered, with everything under the sun, I mean). There's no graphics pack for this one, not yet, so it's just ASCII. And it's still under intense development, so it's quite buggy. But if you like games,... you really have to try this thing!

When you start the game, you can set various options by choosing 'Help,' then pressing '2.' You can enlarge the window there, for one thing, although there's no full-screen option. And that does nothing to make the fonts bigger. So, rather than changing my screen resolution every time I want to run the game, I just use the Windows 7 Magnifier to double the size of my whole screen. That works fine.

Another option, the static spawn option, is turned off by default, but I really should explain that one. Normally, as described in my earlier post, you start the game at 8 AM, but zombies don't start to appear until 9:30. (Child zombies, which are something new to this version, might still be around, I don't know. Wild animals certainly are.)

So a typical tactic, given that you start with almost nothing, would be to look at the map, identify the closest sporting goods store, hardware store, gun store, or other useful buildings, and run off to loot them as fast as possible.

You can only carry one item in your hands, and maybe a few small items in your jeans pocket, so a backpack or something similar (even a purse or two) is always your first concern. But without zombies, you can smash windows to loot almost anything, if you make it quick (most doors are locked).

At 9:30, when zombies start to appear, they're just the ordinary zombies, at first. They're slow and weak, though deadly in numbers. However, at that point you really want to watch the noise. Noise will not just attract existing zombies, it will cause more zombies to spawn nearby, too - especially loud noises (like smashing down a door or firing off a shotgun).

Special types of zombies, very dangerous types, will start to appear as well. And for the rest of the game, zombies will be virtually unlimited in number. No matter how many you kill in a town, more will spawn - especially if you're noisy about it.

So, with a normal start, your tactic will almost always be to loot the nearest city, then get out before things get too tough. Assuming that zombies don't follow you out of town (more on that later), you'll be reasonably safe in your evac shelter, with a nice assortment of equipment to get you started. (Note that there are plenty of dangers outside the towns, too, but you don't usually have to worry about zombies there.)

With the static spawn option, though - which is what I've been playing - the entire game is different. You start the game with every zombie - including the very dangerous types - already infesting the towns. Entering the center of a city during the day is simply suicide. You still start with nothing, pretty much, and you've got no easy way to get anything, either.

On the other hand, zombies won't continue to spawn. You can even clear out a town, if you're tough enough to take on the specials. Zombies are still infinite in number, because the world is infinitely large and some might always wander in from other cities. However, I like the sense of accomplishment with this option, knowing when I kill a zombie that it really is one less zombie. :)

It's a lot harder to start, though, and your tactics have to be completely different. I highly recommend starting with one point in mechanics skill, so you can make a crowbar right off the bat. Grab a rock from right outside the evac shelter, smash a locker to get a pipe (the shelter will normally be far enough from town that the noise won't attract zombies), then beat the pipe into a crude crowbar.

With a crowbar, you can pry open doors without making too much noise. Then you need to loot isolated homes in small towns, where you can hope to avoid zombies or, at least, not attract anything really tough. You probably won't find military surplus gear, but a couple of purses will help you hold loot, and there's usually food and drink there, at least at the start of the game.

Almost everything you find is useful, and with the static spawn option, I find that I'm just absurdly grateful for all of it. A purse? How wonderful! :)

I started my first game,... and walked out of the evac shelter to immediately discover a cougar which thought I looked like lunch! I didn't have anything but a rock I picked up from the ground, so I turned around and ran back to the shelter, hoping that the NPC inside would help me out.

Sure enough, as I got close - already bleeding - he shot his .44 pistol through the window at the cougar. Unfortunately, he missed the cat and hit me, in the head, instead - critical hit, 135 pts. of damage, game over. That was the shortest game of Cataclysm I've ever played!

My next character had a similar experience, though I'd given him the Animal Empathy trait, and the cougar was a long way off, so I hoped it would ignore me. I'd created a crowbar, too, so I wasn't completely helpless. I headed east, away from the cat and towards the nearest, rather isolated, house.

Unfortunately, the big cat followed me - not immediately hostile, but 'tracking.' I got around to the other side of the house and pried open the front door - all without seeing any zombies - and was able to close it, while I looted the home. There were a few useful things inside, but no weapons. And the cougar was camped at the front door.

I didn't realize at the time that I could open windows from inside a house, without smashing them, and leave quietly that way, so I tried to lure the cougar inside - inside an interior room, too - where I might be able to shut the door on him. But, as luck would have it, my first completely-unskilled swing with the crowbar accomplished a critical hit on the cougar's head, and he dropped dead in the doorway.

I hadn't found a knife, not yet, so I couldn't butcher the carcass for meat and pelt, but it was certainly an encouraging start. Unfortunately, I ran into a nasty bug after awhile, so I had to start a new character on a new map. Or maybe that wasn't so unfortunate, since I really love my current map!

As I noted, I've been playing with the static spawn option turned on, so cities are a deathtrap - in the daytime. Oh, they're plenty dangerous at night, too, but my character has the Night Vision trait, which lets him see just one square further than normal, and the Light Step trait, which means that he walks very quietly, too. So it's not actually suicidal to raid cities at night (just very, very dangerous).

(Note that the Light Step trait came in very handy in my second game, too, where I never saw a rabbit, a squirrel, or a deer, but there were dirt mounds all over the place.)

My character still smells like a human being, though, and zombies aren't just attracted by airborne scent, they can also trail a person almost like a dog can. If you're curious, here's a video which shows exactly how that works in the game.

Basically, if you hang around in one spot, your scent will spread, attracting more zombies. If you move quickly through an area, you'll leave only a thin scent trail. You'll still end up with a bunch of zombies on your trail, but if you've designed a fast character (and you're not injured or sick), you can outrun most things. It's still really dangerous, and you don't want to lead them back to your home base, but it makes raiding possible.

In my first nighttime raid on a nearby city, I tried to get to the gun shop and to the military surplus store, but both were packed with zombies - including some of the specials. But I took off running, around this big expanse of bomb craters I'd discovered (since rough ground will slow zombies, and injure them, too) and got far enough ahead that they lost my trail.

Then, when I looped back to the military surplus store, it was clear enough that I could quickly loot it and get away again. Apparently, I'd drawn off the zombies with my initial dash through the area.

I tried that again on another night, still trying - and failing - to get into the gun store, and ended up with another big pack of specials, plus a huge, poisonous wasp, right on my heels.

I couldn't accomplish anything that night, but I did get away (accomplishment enough, huh?) by lighting and then throwing a Molotov cocktail on the ground next to my closest pursuers. I don't know if I killed any of them, but fire works great for disrupting a scent trail. So at night, with my Light Step perk and no scent trail to follow, they couldn't follow me any further.

(Note that zombies aren't smart enough to avoid fire, either. I once lured a brute - a bigger than usual zombie, especially good at melee fighting - into lava, and then did the same thing with a shocker zombie, a little later.)

My biggest problem in my current game is that I've caught a cold. Funny, huh? But my character feels lousy, plus he coughs frequently - nothing you want to do when you're trying to avoid zombies. I still don't have a good weapon, since I've found guns but no ammunition (and without a silencer, I probably wouldn't want to use them, anyway).

But I've got a crossbow I took from a trap (a squirrel set off the trap for me), and I can make wooden bolts for it. It's silent, but it's also very slow to reload. So I can shoot it once in a fight, but then I need to wield something else.

For most things - and for the rabbits and squirrels that keep me fed - throwing rocks works just fine. Rocks are pretty much everywhere, and even when I miss, I train my throwing skill, a bit.

Still, I'd feel a lot better with a gun, if only to train my skill in firearms. I need a shovel, too. And a hacksaw. Well, there's a lot of stuff I need. It's funny, but I had a heck of a time just finding a cigarette lighter, which is absolutely essential for starting fires. (With a fire, and a pot, I can boil the water I get from broken toilets, and other less-than-sanitary sources, to keep my character from puking his guts out.)

Cougars and wolves aren't a problem now, nor are ordinary zombies, provided I can deal with them one at a time. But those are the least of the dangers in the zombie apocalypse. And most things aren't considerate enough to attack one at a time, either. :)

PS. For complete beginners, if you're wondering, this is the character build I'm using right now: strength 8, dexterity 8, intelligence 12, perception 9. Negative traits: Glass Jaw, Trigger Happy, Weak Stomach, Wool Allergy, HP Ignorant, Truth Teller, Ugly. Positive traits: Fleet-footed, Quick, Light Step, Night Vision, Fast Reader, Animal Empathy, Optimist. Skills: Mechanics 1.
___
Note: You can find more of my posts about specific games here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Anything but an atheist



My brother sent me this. Nice, isn't it? Why is atheism so threatening?

When it comes to religion, no matter what you believe, it's a minority belief, worldwide. Face it, whatever your beliefs, the majority of human beings disagree with you. But that doesn't seem to bother most modern believers, not when it's some other religion. Not having a religion at all? That's a problem.

You can be a Muslim, a Mormon, or a Moonie, and the Boy Scouts will welcome you with open arms. You can worship Kali, Thor, Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, and they won't have any problem with you. But don't believe in a god at all? That's not allowed, not in the Boy Scouts.

Why are atheists so threatening, but Hindus aren't? At a time of virtual holy war in the Middle East, when Muslim terrorists have struck at innocent Americans and vow to do so again, why are Muslims still more accepted - far more - than atheists?

Don't get me wrong, I think Muslims also have a right to their beliefs. I think they're wrong, but that's OK, since they think I'm wrong, too. We can agree to disagree. I certainly don't assume that they're all terrorists. But many people do,... and still they fear atheists more.

Funny, isn't it? Why is it OK to believe in any religion you want, but not OK if you don't believe in any of them? If you're Christian, members of all those other religions disagree with you. Heck, even within Christianity itself, there's little agreement. But it's generally only atheists you fear and hate.

Why is that? Is it because you think we're right? Maybe you don't fear all those other religions, because you know they're just superstition. You're never going to join the Scientologists, the Sikhs, or the Buddhists anyway, so they're no real threat. But atheism is a threat, because you just might decide to face reality someday?

Is that it? I don't know. But what else could it be?

Friday, March 15, 2013

K.D. Lang sings Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah



Nothing new, but I got this from Mario Piperni's website, and I just had to pass it on. Beautiful, isn't it?

I have no idea what the song means, if it means anything. With its religious imagery, it probably wouldn't be anything an atheist could embrace, but so what? It's still beautiful.

That incredible thing Bush said

Last night - in a dream, of course - I was sitting on the couch in George W. Bush's house listening to a well-known journalist interview our former president.

I don't know why I was there. It's not as though George and I are best buds. Heck, I haven't even met the guy - and I don't know any journalists, either.

But during the interview, Bush said something so incredible, so noteworthy, so newsworthy that I had to make a note of it. So I dug out my little dogeared notebook, the one I use for shopping lists, and started to write it down, verbatim.

Bush had left the room by then, but that reporter tried to see what I was writing, so I decided to scribble even worse than usual, so he couldn't read it. But,... I couldn't remember the line I wanted to write down!

You know how bad your memory is in dreams? Well, my memory, at least. I don't know about you, but I can't remember anything in dreams. I leave a party and I can't remember where I parked my truck, or how I got there at all. I try to remember the details of a point I'm trying to make, and it's like wading through a fog.

I'm introduced to someone and I can't remember her name. (OK, that always happens when I'm awake, too.) But even things that happened earlier in that same dream seem completely out of reach, no matter how hard I try to remember.

In this case, I could remember the gist of the sentence,... but even that faded as I struggled to remember the exact wording of it.

And it was so important, too! It shed such light on our former president's mindset! It explained so much about the nonstop disaster that was the George W. Bush administration! It would have made such a great blog post!

But I guess you'll have to make do with this, instead. :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Science vs feelings



I especially like this: "So if there's one thing that separates the scientists from the junk science 'feelie,' it's the battle of observation, measurement, and calculation against feelings, belief, and guesswork."

This video really struck me because I'm always hearing similar things from Christians. In fact, I just had an interesting, and rather pertinent, discussion with a believer which started from a YouTube comment.

I don't want to pick on him/her, because most Christians quickly run away from even discussing this stuff, and I respect anyone who cares enough about the truth to debate it. (Most of the time, I hear "Well, I don't care if it's true or not, because I wouldn't want to live in your world.")

But this guy (for convenience, I'll assume he's a guy) said he had "a lot" of good reasons for believing in God. I asked him for his best reason, because a million bad reasons would still be useless, while one really good reason would probably be sufficient.

What he gave me was several ways he thought science was wrong - mostly having to do with cosmology, but some arguments against evolution, too. But here's the deal: he's not a scientist. He just felt that those things couldn't be true. Oh, he had arguments. Indeed, he claimed that "scientific principles" proved he was right.

But why would you think that you'd just... idly thought of something that the entire scientific community had missed - indeed, a bunch of things they'd missed? If it were really that simple to disprove established science, don't you think that scientists would have already demonstrated that? After all, the best way to make a name for yourself in science is to show that other scientists are wrong.

Now, you might 'feel' that scientists are wrong, and you might even be able to justify that feeling to yourself. But science isn't based on feelings. It's based on observation, measurement, and calculation.

I'm not a scientist either, but even I could tell that he'd misunderstood the science in most of the examples he gave. Well, I've heard many Christian apologists misrepresent science to their flock. And to be charitable, maybe they're not actually lying, but are just really ignorant, themselves.

But heck, why would you think you knew enough to disprove science, especially when it's not even your field of expertise? Why would it even occur to you that you knew enough about it? Don't you know that science is based on demonstrable evidence from research which is confirmed by independent investigators? How do your feelings stack up against something like that?

Feelings aren't what scientists use to determine what's real and what isn't. They use evidence - evidence they can clearly demonstrate to other scientists. So if it really were this easy to show they were wrong, don't you think scientists would be the first to notice that?

Of course, as a proof for God, this was useless even if it had all been true. Scientists could be wrong about everything, and it still wouldn't get believers one step closer to evidence that a god exists.

'God' isn't the default. 'God' isn't the answer you get when you can't think of anything else. If you could somehow disprove evolution, or the Big Bang theory, or anything else in science, the best you could say would be "I don't know." Evidence that science is wrong is not evidence that a god did it.

To rationally believe in a god, you need to show evidence that that god exists, not that scientists are wrong about something. Indeed, I'm sure that scientists are wrong about some things. So what? Scientists never claim they can't be mistaken. But how is that evidence for a god? Even if you can't think of an alternative, that's still an argument from ignorance.

Getting back to the video, this shows how feelings mean nothing (well, not in this domain, at least). If you've got real evidence that scientists are wrong, you need to present that evidence to them in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If you don't have the education and the scientific background for that, then what makes you think you're qualified to argue against the scientific consensus in the first place?

After all, anyone can claim anything, especially if it's on the basis of feelings. But why should we give their feelings about how the world must work any consideration at all without evidence? Most likely, they're just ignorant about science and/or too eager to believe what they want to believe.

This video clip demonstrates that pretty well, I'd say.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lie Witless News



Funny, isn't it?

I don't know if this is real (most likely, they're all actors) - or if it is real, how many people they had to interview to get these responses - but it is pretty funny.

One YouTube commenter, BailiffQuimby, says, "I wouldn't necessarily say all these people are stupid. I suspect they are just desperate to sound informed of current events or a little ashamed that they are not."

Yeah, that makes sense to me. If someone with a news camera asks you a question on the street, you don't want to seem ignorant. You might pay no attention to the news, or simply haven't been paying attention lately. Either way, you hate to admit it. But even if it wasn't a scam, followup questions are liable to get you into trouble.

Let's face it, if you're a devout Catholic, you're likely to say that the pope is doing a good job, no matter what. If you're an atheist, like me, you'll likely say he's doing a terrible job, because you know any new pope is likely to follow the policies of the old one (popes appoint the cardinals who choose their successor, so you're unlikely to see big changes).

In either case, admitting your ignorance is probably wise, but not always easy to do. Ah, human nature! Where would comedy be without it?