Monday, June 30, 2014

Brandon Fibbs: Abandoning My Faith

This is one of the best of these deconversion videos, don't you think? Admittedly, I think I say that about all of them. :)

But this is just so inspiring! That someone can value the truth enough to discard their entire worldview, when they come to recognize that it's false - that's so brave, so admirable, so... inspiring, as I said.

Ken Ham: a thousand lies to defend the 'Truth'

Friday, June 27, 2014

Warfare queens

Insane, isn't it? When it comes to war, Republican leaders don't care about the cost - either in money or lives.

Well, they're not going to be fighting it, and they're not going to be paying for it, either. (You don't think they're planning to raise taxes to actually pay for a war, do you?)

In everything else, they pretend to be worried about government debt. Of course, that's only because they don't hold the presidency. They certainly didn't care about the deficit during the Bush years! But even today, war is just so much fun, they simply don't care what it will cost.

The Bush administration didn't even budget for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's how little they cared about the costs. Of course, Iraq was going to "pay for itself," remember. Hey, if it's one thing we can't pass up, it's a free war! Am I right, or am I right? (Of course, it didn't actually pay for itself, not even close, but 'truth' is whatever Republicans want to believe.)

And Afghanistan,... well, we had to get Osama bin Laden, didn't we? Not that Bush ever did get Osama bin Laden by invading Afghanistan - or any other way, either. No, that was left to Barack Obama to accomplish, ten years later. (Yet they have the gall to complain that it took Obama a year and a half after Benghazi to capture Ahmed Abu Khattala.)

Meanwhile, we're still at war in Afghanistan, with no valid exit strategy. Yeah, we're tired of that war, and we're tired of the war in Iraq, which we only started because the first one got boring, and Bush wanted to get reelected. (I've heard a lot of other excuses for Iraq, but not one that held up under scrutiny.)

But these same Republicans who vote against everything in Congress, with the argument that America is too poor to be a civilized nation these days, can't wait for the next war. They've been pushing for war with Iran for years, even trying to sabotage negotiations between our countries, so that war will seem like the only option.

(Ironically, those same Republicans have been Iran's biggest friend. Saddam Hussein was Sunni, and his Iraq was Iran's worst enemy. Now, Shiite Muslims run Iraq, as well as Iran. Republicans gave the Iranian government the best gift they possibly could, and now they help the mullahs keep control over the country by their continued talk of war.)

Of course, Iran is far from the only place Republicans want to wage war. In fact, it often seems like any war will do. Are they really that entertained by war? Are they really that scared of everything, everywhere? Or is it mostly that defense contractors make lots of money from war - money that comes back to Republican campaign coffers?

I suspect that it's all three. But we can't allow frightened and corrupt old men to push us into war, especially as they work tirelessly to destroy America from the inside. We have to stand up to these warfare queens.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

JAG in Space, continued

(cover image from

I've continued my reading of John G. Hemry's JAG in Space series with the third and fourth (and, so far, final) volumes, Rule of Evidence (2005) and Against All Enemies (2006).

These follow the same pattern I described in my review of the first two books, and that might be a problem. Oh, I enjoyed both books, but whoever named this series "JAG in Space" might have done the author a disservice.

The characters are still great, and life aboard a military spaceship seems both interesting and very realistic. But unlike similar books, these end in a courtroom trial, rather than a battle, and I wonder how many of those can really make sense.

After all, Paul Sinclair is a line officer, not a lawyer. I would love to continue following his career, but I wonder if "JAG in Space" hasn't boxed the author into a situation which simply won't work for long. Is that why there hasn't been a new volume in this series for eight years? Certainly, the fourth book doesn't read like a conclusion.

In Rule of Evidence, Sinclair's fiance is charged with sabotage and the deliberate murder of 61 of her fellow shipmates. Clearly, he has a strong interest in this court martial. And I loved her reaction to confinement. Hemry is just exceptional in his characterizations.

The book was great, but the trial itself was a bit weak. Well, the case was certainly weak, though it appeared to be enough to convict her. They didn't have any evidence against her at all, except the fact that she'd survived the explosion. Was that really enough for a court martial?

And the solution was rather weak, too. Oh, it was quite reasonable. I had no trouble buying it. But I could see it coming from a mile away, and the actual mechanics of the discovery seemed too simple, too easy, too neat.

(cover image from

Against All Enemies ends in a court martial for treason. This time, the trial was rather straightforward, and Paul Sinclair didn't have much riding on the outcome. So as a trial, it was the least interesting of the four in this series. (And I read these two books out of order, so it wasn't just that I was getting tired of the concept.)

Make no mistake, I enjoyed both of these books. I've enjoyed the whole series. But that "JAG in Space" idea seems to be locking the author into a pattern that's working less and less well with each succeeding book.

Paul Sinclair isn't a lawyer and has no intention of becoming a lawyer. In the first two books of this series, he risked his career - at the very beginning of it - to do the right thing. That worked great.

But there's a lot more to this series - and to this character - than legal issues. Unfortunately, it's JAG in Space, right? So how could Hemry write a sequel without a court martial? I did like the idea behind this, but I think he backed himself into a corner.

Of course, Hemry now writes the hugely successful Lost Fleet series under the name Jack Campbell. That's how I discovered his writing. And the Lost Fleet universe gives him a lot wider canvas than this one does.

From the beginning, the setting of JAG in Space seemed as unique as the idea behind it,... but also rather hard to imagine. Hemry kept the focus on shipboard routine, and that was great. But I had to wonder if he was also forced into that small canvas because he couldn't make the rest of his universe seem plausible.

If Against All Enemies is the last of this series, as it seems right now, that wouldn't be too surprising. There's certainly a lot to like in these books, but maybe not as much room to grow. If you're already familiar with Jack Campbell, you'll probably want to give JAG in Space a try. If not, definitely get your hands on The Lost Fleet: Dauntless.

Note: The rest of my book reviews are here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Distant Worlds - Universe

Chasing down a pirate in Distant Worlds - Universe

Distant Worlds - Universe is the latest, and apparently the last, installment in the Distant Worlds computer game franchise, but it's almost identical to Distant Worlds - Shadows, which I blogged about here.

In fact, I wasn't going to buy it, because there didn't seem to be any reason to do so. There are supposed to be improved modding capabilities in the new game, but I don't have any particular interest in using a mod.

However, the game was on sale for $10 off, plus there's another $10 off for every previous Distant Worlds game you own (note that this promotion ends August 31st), which brought my cost down to just $10.

For that low price, Distant Worlds - Universe is a great buy even for people who own all the other games. I'll get to the reasons for that in a minute, but the big advantage of this game is for newcomers to the series.

In order to play Distant Worlds - Shadows, I also had to buy the original Distant Worlds game and the two previous expansions, even though it was only the Shadows storyline that interested me. I bought it because I got the whole thing at 40% off, but that was still $70.

But Distant Worlds - Universe is different. It contains all the previous material and all the previous storylines (plus a new one), but it's now a standalone game. You don't have to buy the previous games in order to play this one. (It's not a cheap game. It lists at $60, if you don't find it on sale. But that's a lot better than it was, and I'd say the game is worth it.)

As I said, this game is virtually identical to Distant Worlds - Shadows, so you can read my posts about that, if you've never heard of the Distant Worlds games. Even my tips about playing the game should work fine, although I'll mention a few minor differences below.

One difference - an advantage, I'd say - is that the game plays on Steam now. (I resisted Steam for years, but not anymore. It's just too handy to have my games in one location, plus patches and updates happen automatically. I've become a real fan.)

There are a few other differences - all for the better. For one thing, they've nerfed the effect of low taxes on population growth. It still works as I explained here, but not nearly so dramatically. That's a good thing, because this was more of a game exploit than a feature.

Low taxes still increase a colony's happiness, which increases both its development and population growth. Keeping taxes at zero as long as possible - especially for young colonies - is still advisable. But you can't max out the population on your home planet nearly as quickly as you could previously. (Note that there are other ways to keep populations happy, too, so it's not all about taxes now. Again, that's a good thing.)

My first game of Universe. Mine is the light blue empire (the darker blue circle, NE of my colonies, is an ally).

Resources are also more scarce and more scattered. Sometimes, it's a real effort to find a needed resource, and that's another good thing. It's funny, but resources were my downfall the first time I tried to play Distant Worlds. I ran short of steel, but I couldn't build more steel mines (yes, you "mine" steel in this game) without steel to build them.

I think there was a balance issue when it came to steel specifically, and that was later fixed in a patch. But this is such a complicated game that balance issues are always going to be a concern. Resource acquisition apparently got too easy, so they tweaked it. I agree, though it didn't seem so easy when I was just starting. :)

Finally - at least, of the changes I've noticed during gameplay - they increased font sizes a bit, and there are now two windows where you can enlarge things even more. That was very welcome, since the small fonts had been a problem for me when I'd first bought Shadows.

Anyway, I've been playing the game quite a bit in the last few weeks, and it's been lots of fun. It's a very complicated game, and you might feel overwhelmed at first, but you can automate... well, everything, if you want. (Literally. You can even set the game to play itself while you just watch.)

As time goes on, you'll get more comfortable with the game and probably start controlling more things manually. But how much micromanagement you want to do is entirely your own choice. I really like that.

The screenshots above are from my first game of Distant Worlds - Universe. It was fun, but everything went a bit too well. At normal difficulty, I got so far ahead in the game that I decided to start over. So I've just started a new game where the difficulty is set to "hard" and the aggression set at "restless" (instead of "normal" for both).

I think I'm familiar enough with the game that this will be more of a challenge, but not overly difficult. We'll see. :)

Anyway, I'm playing the humans (as usual), and I started with a demoralizing leader and a scientist who was a foreign spy. Nice start, huh? I fired the leader and got a new one after awhile who's not perfect (-10% colony happiness), but is much, much better than the first.

I kept the scientist, because he was pretty good at high tech research and the only scientist I had. Besides, I was paying off the pirates (so they'd have no reason to attack me), and I didn't have any secrets to steal, anyway. But I'll probably have to get rid of him eventually.

I started with two spys of my own, but lost one of them almost immediately, when he tried to steal research from the pirates. They weren't pleased about the attempt, but I'm still paying them protection money, so they're not too unhappy. (I'm paying off two pirate factions right now, but the cost isn't too bad - see my tips on keeping the cost low here - and I couldn't fight them, anyway.)

It's still very early in the game. I just researched Warp Bubble Generators, so I've got hyperdrive now, but I haven't been outside my own solar system yet. However, we've learned a little about our immediate neighborhood, and it turns out that Sol system is right next door. So I'm going to welcome Earth into our empire just as soon as I can.

I expect them to be happy about that. They'd better be happy about that. :)

Note: My other posts about Distant Worlds, and other computer games, can be found here.

Friday, June 20, 2014


Sorry about the scarcity of blog posts lately, but I've been busy picking strawberries, cherries, and gooseberries - and then sitting for hours in the evenings watching YouTube videos as I pick through the fruit and get it ready for the freezer.

As usual, I've got a million things to blog about, and I'm still reading and playing computer games, but... something's got to give.

I did pick the last of the strawberries today. (They're really in a mess, so it's going to take me awhile to cut out the bad spots.) But I'm still picking cherries, and I've got more gooseberries to pick, and now the raspberries are ripening, too. (Luckily, raspberries are no trouble at all to freeze, because I don't have to do anything to them first.)

You know, I shouldn't be so far behind, because I had an extra day this week. I went to get a haircut yesterday, and my barber said that she had the appointment scheduled for Friday. I said, "It's not Friday?"

What can I say? I'm retired. It sure felt like Friday. In fact, for the rest of the day, it still seemed like Friday. It was like I'd gained a day, but I went and had lunch, then picked up a book when I got home and... that was it. I spent the rest of the day reading. So much for my extra day, huh?

OK, I've got to get started on those strawberries. I'm not looking forward to it, but it's got to be done. And they'll definitely be welcome this winter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mess O'Potamia

You know, our problem isn't so much that Republican Party leaders are ignorant, but that so many of the American people are ignorant enough to be taken in by these tactics.

These people were wrong about everything when it came to Iraq (and most everything else, too), but that apparently doesn't make any difference. The media never call them on it, and they've all still got a soapbox (and not just on Fox 'News,' either).

It was George W. Bush who invaded Iraq for no good reason. Yeah, now they claim that it was to 'plant the seeds of democracy,' but that's not what they said at the time. Now, they're simply trying to cover up the lies they did use to get us into Iraq.

And as Jon Stewart points out, it was George W. Bush who signed the agreement to leave Iraq without leaving troops behind. Republican leaders must know that. They're not that stupid.

But hey, if they can pass the blame to Barack Obama, that's not anything that will keep them up at night. Not if they've been able to live with everything else they've done. Whatever works, right?

But it's to our undying shame that this does work with so many Americans. For the most part, it's willful ignorance, too. And far too much apathy, as well.

Eric Cantor's legacy

TPM said it best:
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

American politics took a Game of Thrones-worthy plot twist on Tuesday as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary by a 12-point margin to Dave Brat, an underfunded right-wing challenger. ...

From day one — literally, the night of President Obama’s first inauguration — Cantor was leading the charge to not just oppose Obama, but to delegitimize him — denying him the conciliatory, bipartisan policy style he campaigned on, and turning even policy successes into the kind of grueling partisan battles that voters dislike. It was a deeply cynical maneuver, but a successful one. Cantor helped unite the Republican caucus around this scorched-earth strategy, and played a major role in the 2010 campaign that leveraged the grim results of that strategy into a new majority.

In 2011, Cantor became Majority Leader thanks in part to the winning challengers he recruited and funded. In the midst of a still-sputtering economy, he introduced a three-word mantra that would define his now-abruptly-ended time as Majority Leader: “Cut and Grow.” ...

The “Cut and Grow” strategy worked like an anvil works as a life preserver. It dragged down an economy that desperately needed rescue. ...

The 2011 debt-ceiling standoff is the height of Cantorism, a perfect illustration of big angry talk and economically counterproductive results. Republicans began to describe the routine increase in the debt ceiling as a favor to Obama, for which they needed concessions in order to “give” it to him. The debt ceiling is an accounting formality that has catastrophic results if left undone, but in one of the great acts of political spin in the past few years, Cantor called it a “leverage moment” to make President Obama capitulate to the Republican ideological agenda.

The result was a miserable summer of collapsing consumer confidence and slowed job growth. Cantor wouldn’t even stay at the table for the negotiations he forced to happen with his debt-ceiling extortion.

After months of efforts to end the (completely optional) crisis, Congress passed and the President signed the Budget Control Act, which created the pointless “supercommittee” process and eventually led to sequestration, a blunt-instrument package of cuts, including cuts to programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels. Sequestration was terrible policy - It was yet another drag on an economy - and, even after his strategy made it happen, Cantor still complained about the sequester and blamed Obama for it.

If you want to know Eric Cantor’s legacy, it’s not just about the forces that he encouraged and that backfired on him last night. It’s a political style and an ideology that actively set back the economy, time after time. His cynical advocacy of “Cut and Grow” has had real negative consequences.

He tried to ride the tiger into battle, and the tiger ate him. His loss is richly deserved and poetically just, but it comes too late.

Eric Cantor will be fine — he’ll get a lobbying job, board-of-director seats, “visiting fellow” offers at think tanks, Wall Street Journal op-eds, and of course a full Congressional pension. If only the thousands of people whose unemployment came from his policy choices could be so lucky.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The real origins of the religious right

"They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation."

It might not be clear enough to non-Americans how much the issue of race has affected our country - and still affects us in many, many ways.

Even to white Americans, that might not be evident. We rarely think of race when it comes to ourselves, because white is just... the default. It takes a deliberate act to think of things from someone else's perspective.

I've talked about this before. I keep bringing up the Republican Party's notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists, because that explains so much about how and why the GOP has gone completely off the rails - and how they've gotten the political power to cause disaster after disaster for our country in recent decades.

But there's far more to the story than that. This article, for example, explains about the real origins of the religious right:
One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. ...

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

That whole article, by Randall Balmer at Politico Magazine, is superb, and it backs up this claim with detailed evidence. I'll excerpt some of it here, to give my readers the general idea, but I really can't do it justice. I highly recommend reading the article yourself.
Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. ...

So what then were the real origins of the religious right? It turns out that the movement can trace its political roots back to a court ruling, but not Roe v. Wade.

In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.

The issue was taxes. White Southerners were free to abandon the public school system - and, thus, free to let the public schools crumble through lack of funding and support - but neither the IRS nor the federal court system would give segregated schools tax-exempt status.

Yeah, you could put your kid in an all-white private school, but you couldn't get any tax benefits from that.
Paul Weyrich, the late religious conservative political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, saw his opening.

In the decades following World War II, evangelicals, especially white evangelicals in the North, had drifted toward the Republican Party—inclined in that direction by general Cold War anxieties, vestigial suspicions of Catholicism and well-known evangelist Billy Graham’s very public friendship with Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Despite these predilections, though, evangelicals had largely stayed out of the political arena, at least in any organized way. If he could change that, Weyrich reasoned, their large numbers would constitute a formidable voting bloc—one that he could easily marshal behind conservative causes. ...

But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. ...

The Green v. Connally ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leaders, especially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”

One such school, Bob Jones University—a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.

Sound familiar? Republicans are still doing this. They might be fighting against birth control, health care, or the separation of church and state, but they claim it's about "religious freedom" - even when they're attacking the religious freedom of non-Christians.

And note that Bob Jones University had the perfect right to discriminate, it that's what they wanted to do. No one was attempting to close down the school or anything like that. The First Amendment protects even bigots.

No, what they were really angry about was the possible loss of their tax-exempt status. Even more than race, this was about money. But your own financial benefit doesn't make a very persuasive political argument to other people.
Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.

But Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale. ...

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

Interesting, isn't it? As the article concludes, "Although abortion had emerged as a rallying cry by 1980, the real roots of the religious right lie not in the defense of a fetus but in the defense of racial segregation."

They do the same thing today. Right-wing activists use people to get what they really want.

Balmer adds an interesting postscript to the story:
The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Today, five of our nine Supreme Court justices are right-wing political activists (every one a Catholic, interestingly enough). That 8-to-1 decision in 1983? We can only be thankful the same case hasn't come before this court.

That was the power the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy' gave them. It might be waning now, with increasing numbers of minority voters and with younger people being less racist than their elders, but that's just making the right-wing more and more extreme.

They may not have the power to pass legislation, but they certainly have the power to block it - to block everything, pretty much. And they still control the Supreme Court. They can still do a lot of damage to our country even if they don't retake the White House in 2016.

Note: My thanks to Jim Harris for the link.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sye Ten Bruggencate

This is The Refining Reason Debate between Sye Ten Bruggencate, a Christian apologist, and Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience TV show, held May 31st in Memphis. (Note that I'm going to use first names here, in the interest of readability.)

Don't worry, I don't expect you to watch the whole thing. Heck, it's almost two hours long (including the question-and-answer period). But I did watch it - twice - and I'm still flabbergasted that anyone takes Sye Ten Bruggencate seriously.

Sye is a presuppositional apologist. He just assumes that the Christian God exists and that the Bible is true, and then claims that logic and reason can't even exist under any other worldview. But he never demonstrates any of that. It's really bizarre.

Is it reasonable to believe that God exists? That's the topic of the debate, and in his opening statement, Sye answers, "Yes, because it's true."

That's it. He never bothers to back that up. That's the last he even mentions it, because he claims that everyone in the world already knows that God - the Christian God, specifically - exists.

Yes, everyone. Even newborn infants know that the Christian God exists,... according to Sye Ten Bruggencate. Atheists don't disbelieve in God. We just love our sin. 70% of the world population is non-Christian, but according to Sye, they all know that the Christian God exists, too.

So why do most people worship different gods? Apparently, they really want to be tortured forever in Hell.

Make no mistake, Sye has nothing but contempt for most Christians, too, since most Christians disagree with his interpretation of the Bible. You see, he knows that he's right, and everyone else knows that he's right, too. We just don't want to admit it. (It's amazing that he can know exactly what's in your mind, isn't it?)

That was pretty much the end of the debate, though it went on for almost two more hours. Sye spent the rest of his opening statement showing brief excerpts - very brief, not even full sentences - of Matt Dillahunty on the Atheist Experience TV show, and then arguing against the straw man Sye had created, rather than the man sitting on the other side of the stage from him. At best, it was strange; at worst, dishonest.

Sye 'knows' that the Bible is true, but he wouldn't answer any questions about it. (His excuse? He doesn't do 'Bible study' with nonbelievers.) It wasn't just the Bible, though. He avoided questions and simply made nothing but unsupported claims.

"You can't know that anything is true unless you start with God. Everyone here knows that God exists."

"Evidence presupposes truth. Truth presupposes God."

"It requires God to doubt the existence of God. ... Doubt presupposes the existence of God."

Yeah, OK, that's what he claims, but where's the logic behind it? Where's his evidence? Well, he can't do that, because presenting evidence would make the audience the judge of God. (Um, no, they'd be judging you, Sye. You're the one making those claims, after all.)

At the very end, replying to a question, he claims that he can't be wrong about what he knows by definition: "Knowledge is defined as true. ... By definition, knowledge is true."

Can he be serious? OK, knowledge might have to be true in order to be actual "knowledge," but Sye hasn't demonstrated that he 'knows' anything at all. He's just claiming knowledge. It's the exact same thing as just claiming that he's right.

In a debate, that's what you have to demonstrate. But Sye never does. Towards the end, he just starts preaching at everyone. After all, why debate? According to him, everyone already knows that he's right. So he's just there to remind everyone that Hell is bad (as if, somehow, everyone else had overlooked that little detail).

It's just completely batshit crazy. There wasn't even one tiny bit that made any sense. I mean, I've heard a lot of arguments from Christian apologists, but this was the craziest thing I've ever heard.

But it wasn't all that entertaining to watch, because it was all about philosophy. Matt Dillahunty was well prepared - and he enjoys philosophical arguments - but he really couldn't get Sye to say anything much at all, so he was mostly arguing against the rhetorical tricks of presuppositional apologetics in general.

It was frustrating to watch. Sye said he accepted Matt's definition of truth - "Truth is that which corresponds to reality" - but then he'd start talking about different perceptions of reality - "my reality," "your reality," etc.

Obviously, those are different concepts. As Matt noted, Sye was confusing the map for the place. We might all perceive reality differently, but it's the underlying objective reality which matters when it comes to truth claims, not our subjective perceptions of it.

Sye tried to argue that Matt couldn't 'know' anything, which Matt readily admitted,... if you're talking about 'absolute' knowledge (i.e. with no possible chance that you could be wrong). But just because Sye claims absolute knowledge, that's no reason to take such a claim seriously, especially absent evidence or logic.

These might be useful - or, at least, fun - debates among philosophers, but in the real world, I've got to think they're pretty useless. But these days, Christian apologetics increasingly comes down to this kind of thing, probably because it sounds impressive to believers who don't have a clue what any of it means (and because it can trip up skeptics who aren't prepared for such tricks, too).

The one thing you can't get from a presuppositional apologist is an answer to a question. IMHO, that makes debates with these people absolutely worthless. Matt was prepared for that, but it was still frustrating.

PS. If two hours of this isn't enough for you, there was a Dogma Debate livecast immediately afterward (another hour and a half). First, host David Smalley talks to David Silverman of American Atheists and Sarah Morehead of Recovering from Religion. (Those two groups hosted the debate.)

Then he interviews Sye Ten Bruggencate and Eric Hovind, another presuppositional apologist who was in the audience for the debate. (Yes, Eric Hovind, which is your clue about just how crazy and how dishonest presuppositional apologetics really is.)

The really funny thing comes at the end of the livecast, when Smalley gets the two of them to admit that they disagree in at least one fundamental way about their God that they absolutely know all about.

Yes, like religious fanatics everywhere, they all know they're right. They just can't agree on what that is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When Johnny comes marching home...

Do Republicans really hate Barack Obama that much? Or is it just another example of cynical politics by the all-time masters of cynicism?

Certainly, they immediately switched from yelling about getting Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl back from the Taliban to yelling about... getting him back from the Taliban. Of course, Fox 'News' is leading the way:

Stephen Colbert did a number on this, too:

I don't know how Bowe Bergdahl got captured, and I don't know what he thought five years ago (or what he thinks now). I also don't know what we're supposed to do with the Gitmo detainees who haven't been convicted of anything in a court of law, especially now that we're planning to leave Afghanistan.

I don't have a knee-jerk reaction to any of this, though I think the last good option we had was not to invade Afghanistan in the first place. But it's too late for that now.

Meanwhile, when Bergdahl comes home, he'll face our own homegrown terrorists who - surprise, surprise - aren't Muslim at all:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Richard Carrier: The case against Christianity

This is an excerpt from a longer interview by Scott Burdick (here).

The book Richard Carrier is talking about is Why I Am Not a Christian. For a summary of his argument, check out his essay of the same title, from 2006. Here's a sample:

1. God is Silent

If God wants something from me, he would tell me. He wouldn't leave someone else to do this, as if an infinite being were short on time. And he would certainly not leave fallible, sinful humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages. God would deliver the message himself, directly, to each and every one of us, and with such clarity as the most brilliant being in the universe could accomplish. We would all hear him out and shout "Eureka!" So obvious and well-demonstrated would his message be. It would be spoken to each of us in exactly those terms we would understand. And we would all agree on what that message was. Even if we rejected it, we would all at least admit to each other, "Yes, that's what this God fellow told me."[2]

Excuses don't fly. The Christian proposes that a supremely powerful being exists who wants us to set things right, and therefore doesn't want us to get things even more wrong. This is an intelligible hypothesis, which predicts there should be no more confusion about which religion or doctrine is true than there is about the fundamentals of medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry, or even meteorology. It should be indisputably clear what God wants us to do, and what he doesn't want us to do. Any disputes that might still arise about that would be as easily and decisively resolved as any dispute between two doctors, chemists, or engineers as to the right course to follow in curing a patient, identifying a chemical, or designing a bridge. Yet this is not what we observe. Instead, we observe exactly the opposite: unresolvable disagreement and confusion. That is clearly a failed prediction. A failed prediction means a false theory. Therefore, Christianity is false. ...

Right from the start, it fails to explain why believers disagree. The fact that believers can't agree on the content of God's message or desires also refutes the theory that he wants us to be clear on these things. This failed prediction cannot be explained away by any appeal to free will--for these people have chosen to hear God, and not only to hear him, but to accept Jesus Christ as the shepherd of their very soul. So no one can claim these people chose not to hear God. Therefore, either God is telling them different things, or there is no God. Even if there is a God, but he is deliberately sowing confusion, this contradicts what Christianity predicts to be God's desire, which entails Christianity is the wrong religion. Either way, Christianity is false.

Guns make us safer

Guns sure make us safer, don't they? From TPM:
A man accidentally shot and killed himself while driving Wednesday afternoon down a Tennessee highway, Chattanooga TV station WTVC reported.

James Anthony McKenzie, 49, shot himself in the thigh with a .45 caliber handgun as he drove, Meigs County Detective Scott Wiggins said. A call came in for deputies to respond to a seizure, he said, but when they arrived McKenzie had apparently bled to death from the wound in his thigh.

The man was in the car alone, according to WTVC, and deputies were trying to determine how the gun discharged. McKenzie held a valid permit for the firearm.

When a lone gunman armed with a shotgun at a small Seattle university stopped firing at students to reload, another student pepper-sprayed him and subdued him with the help of others and prevented more deaths, police said.

The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with... oh, just pepper spray and courage, huh?

I'm just guessing here, but it's probably hard to kill yourself - or someone else - through an accidental discharge of pepper spray.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

JAG in Space

(cover image from

John G. Hemry also writes under the pen name Jack Campbell, and I've been enjoying his Lost Fleet series - and the sequels - so much that I wanted to try the books published under his real name. His very first series, starting with Stark's War (2000), didn't sound appealing, so I went with JAG in Space.

Yeah, the series title is terrible, and it's not even particularly accurate. But I'll get to that in a minute. This is military science fiction with significant differences from what you might expect. Indeed, it's quite unusual, and if I wonder about the setting - which I do - I can't complain about the results.

I've enjoyed both of the books I've read so far. In A Just Determination (2003), we're introduced to Paul Sinclair just before he boards the USS Michaelson. He's a grass-green ensign on his very first deployment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy

In the second, Burden of Proof (2004), Sinclair has just been promoted to lieutenant jg, but he still functions as the ship's collateral duty legal officer, thanks to a one-month course he was assigned just to fill in a gap in his schedule.

Sinclair is a line officer in the U.S. space navy. He's not a lawyer and has no desire to be a lawyer. But in each book, he gets involved in a court martial proceeding against a fellow officer from his own ship. Thus the "JAG in Space," I guess.

(cover image from

For science fiction - certainly for military science fiction - this is set in a very odd time. Sinclair is an officer in the U.S. Navy, and their ships patrol some undefined part of the solar system which is claimed by the United States of America.

There doesn't seem to be anything there, not anything worth the claiming. They're just patrolling in order to maintain their claim to that particular part of space. Why they'd even want it? Who knows?

This doesn't seem to be too far in the future, and it's never explained why America spends that much money for no apparent reason. There's no hint of FTL flight, nor even of colonizing other planets within our own solar system. (Then again, we learn almost nothing of civilian society and see nothing but the inside of a space ship and a tiny bit of a naval space station.)

All in all, the setting doesn't seem to make much sense. America isn't even at war - this is a peacetime navy - although there's apparently the potential for a violent confrontation with the South Asian Alliance. But it's certainly unique, at least in my experience. After all, there's plenty of military science fiction set aboard starships in the far distant future.

Most of those seem to follow the pattern of Horatio Hornblower, C. S. Forester's great series set during the Napoleonic Wars. In that pattern - copied by countless authors since, both those writing military fiction set on Earth and science fiction authors, too - you follow the officers and crew of a military ship, getting to know them, until finishing with a climactic battle against overwhelming odds.

These two books do the first part of that - indeed, Hemry makes military life aboard a space ship seem very realistic - but they end, not with a battle, but with a trial. It's still a desperate situation for the accused, I guess, but the real drama is more about the courage of Paul Sinclair in risking his career to see justice done.

It's unusual, but it works. And it probably works mostly because Hemry's characters are superb. We like Sinclair right from the start, and most of the other characters are appealing, too. But all of the characters seem realistic, and they're all individuals.

This is character-based fiction which presents an interesting and very plausible view of both military law and life on board a military ship in space. It's a combination I've never seen before (a blurb on the back cover of A Just Determination calls it "The Caine Mutiny in space"), but it's as entertaining as it is unusual.

There are two more books in the series, and I've already got them on order. So far, the series has stuck to a very distinct path, and I just don't know if it stays that way in the next two books or not. I'd like to learn more about their society in general, but I have real doubts that he could make it seem plausible.

So maybe he'd be wise to stick with "The Caine Mutiny in space" for every book? I really don't know. Again, the characters are great, so at this point, I'm pretty confident that I'll enjoy the rest of the series, anyway.

Note: All of my book reviews can be found here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Science denial... on the left

Yes, the Republican Party has become the anti-science party, the party of scientific ignorance and denial, the "stupid party," as one of their own politicians put it. The Republican war on reason has almost completely driven scientists away.

But, sadly, they're not alone. Leftists have their own anti-science idiocies (not just vaccines, but GMO foods and 'alternative' medicine, among others).

Now, please note that the Democratic Party is pretty good at accepting science, though far from perfect. In general, this anti-vaccine idiocy is not promoted by the Democratic Party. But it's always easy to see the mote in someone else's eye, while ignoring the beam in your own.

If you don't accept an overwhelming scientific consensus when you don't want to believe it, that makes you no different than the faith-based crazies you despise on the other side of the aisle. It doesn't matter if you think that your denial is justified. (They think the same thing, of course.)

If you understand science, the only rational position for us laymen is to accept every scientific consensus, where there is one (tentatively, of course, as all science is tentative, but no less firmly, for that). If you pick and choose which consensus you want to believe, that's not evidence-based thinking.

After all, science is evidence-based. The scientific method has procedures to combat natural human biases, and there would not be a consensus unless the evidence is firm. (If there's no consensus, then just reserve judgment. Of course, sometimes we must act on the best available knowledge, even if there isn't a consensus. If so, we shouldn't expect to agree.)

A consensus is not absolute - science is never absolute - but scientists will be the first to discover a problem with the scientific consensus, if there is a problem, not you. You know this, I know you do,... when it's some idiot on the other side.

But just remember that it applies to your cherished beliefs, too.

Edit: Oops! Did I say that anti-vaccine idiocy was science denial on the left? My mistake:
All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

Not quite the same thing, perhaps, but trust Republicans to jump on any anti-science bandwagon.

And now, back to the news

This is very similar to that Onion piece I posted Sunday, isn't it? But this clip also demonstrates the complicity of our 'news' media.

Of course, our corporate media are businesses. They're not in it for their health. And the lowest common denominator is apparently where the money is. Television isn't a vast wasteland for no reason.

And face it, we're not going to do anything, anyway. We might focus on each mass murder incident as it happens, but that's only because we're ghoulish. It's the same reason we slow down to peer at horrific accidents on the highway. But we certainly don't intend to change anything.

Heck, if we didn't do anything after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, we're certainly not going to do anything now. Oh, did I say that we didn't do anything? That's not quite true. Gun-loving politicians actually voted to loosen regulation.

So, yeah, another incident of mass murder in America... Ho, hum.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Global warming? Or Jebus?

Do we believe what highly educated scientists worldwide, working within their own field of expertise, believe? Or do we believe what primitive goat-herders believed, long before human beings had even discovered science, back when "magic" was accepted as a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything?

"So we have a decision to make. Do we believe what an environmentalist group says and choose to live in a world where we're attempting to make everything as clean in the air as possible?" What? OMG! Who would want to live in a world with clean air?

All these weather effects are just a sign that Jesus is returning - any day now - just like all those other Christians have thought for the past 2,000 years. They, too, thought that the end of the world was imminent. Heck, Jesus promised to return within the lifetime of his disciples. (Clearly, he's overslept a bit.) All those other Christians were wrong, but Hagee believes that he's right because he believes that he's right. Can't argue with that, huh?

Matthew Hagee says he believes in the Bible because he believes in the Bible. He believes that the Bible is true, because he believes that the Bible is true. And he believes that his own interpretation of the Bible is correct, despite the tens of thousands of different Christians sects who can't even agree among themselves, because he believes that his own interpretation is correct.

That's it. That's his entire argument. He believes it because he believes it.

It's a shame, but...

Sometimes, The Onion hits things right on the head, doesn't it?
ISLA VISTA, CA—In the days following a violent rampage in southern California in which a lone attacker killed seven individuals, including himself, and seriously injured over a dozen others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said North Carolina resident Samuel Wipper, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this guy from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what he really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Helpless, because we want to keep our eyes firmly closed.