Friday, October 31, 2014

Scientists on abrupt climate change

Future generations will curse us. They'll think about us like we think about those Southern slave-owners or the Inquisition. Except that climate change will affect everyone.

This is what faith-based thinking is doing to us - well, one of the things. If you don't accept the scientific consensus on global warming, and you're not a climatologist yourself (so you've got the education and experience to disagree, in your own field of expertise), you're just believing what you want to believe. If you know anything about science and the scientific method, you should know how stupid that is.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I've been meaning to blog about "Gamergate," but of course, it's just one of the many things I never got around to. So I'll just post these two video clips, instead.

I'm a gamer, though I don't own a joystick, and I don't actually play any of the games mentioned by Stephen Colbert. Still, as a man and as a gamer, I'm hugely embarrassed by the threats and other harassment Anita Sarkeesian and other women get.

Similarly, as a man and as an atheist, I'm hugely embarrassed by the misogynists in the atheist community, too. In both cases, they're a minority, but a very loud, angry, and bullying minority. They make the rest of us look bad.

Whether you agree with Sarkeesian or not is hardly even the point. The anger, the harassment, the threats of physical - and often sexual - harm, well, that just shows that we've got a real problem here, whatever you think of the details.

After all, reasonable people can disagree about specific features of specific video games, but these misogynists aren't even close to being reasonable people. Even if I disagreed with her - and I've played enough computer games to understand her point, just as I've seen way too much misogyny online - she should have the right to say what she thinks.

As a man, I'm hugely embarrassed by other men - boys, at least - who seem so threatened by intelligent, outspoken women. But men - white men, specifically - have always had a privileged position in America. When that is threatened by equal rights for women or racial minorities, many of them seem to be terrified that they won't be able to compete.

What losers!

Democalypse 2014

The funny thing - or the sad thing, rather - is that all of these racist white people are descended from immigrants themselves. And I really doubt if their ancestors were all wealthy royalty, giving up their pampered, comfortable lives to start over in the New World.

I know mine weren't. My ancestors weren't prosperous, most of them. They emigrated for different reasons, but they all came here hoping for a better life. And through hard work and plenty of luck - including the extreme good fortune of being born white - they generally found it.

This is just bigotry, nothing more. They're racists. Most of them probably don't understand that - they certainly deny it, like almost all of the racists I've known in my life - but it's true.

And those crazy-ass claims about all the free stuff illegal immigrants get, and how they don't pay taxes? Come on! That's just racism combined with gullibility and politics, nothing more. Racists believe it because they want to believe it.

But you know, there's nothing new about any of this. There were riots in some American cities when the Irish started arriving here in large numbers. Other immigrant groups - even those, like the Irish, who benefited hugely from at least being white - faced bigotry, as well. Now, their descendants are returning the favor, apparently.

Incredible, isn't it? This is America.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Eric Hovind: What's the difference between God and Santa Claus?

I'm not overly confident that Eric Hovind actually believes the stuff he says. He makes a good living from it, as his father did before him, and I suspect that's what it's all about.

I've listened to Eric Hovind, you see. Either he's one of the most clueless men on the planet, or this is all just a scam. He certainly argues like a scam-artist. But, either way, a lot of people do believe what he says.

I can't understand it, myself. Rebecca Watson makes a lot more sense than all the Christian apologists combined.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


OK, if I've still got readers left, you're probably wondering what's going on. Rather, you're probably wondering why nothing is going on - here, at least.

Well, I don't know if I can really answer that. I always slack off in the summer, but it's not summer now. I guess I've just got other things I want/need to do.

No, I'm not quitting entirely. But I wouldn't expect much. Heck, you haven't been getting much for awhile now, but from now on, I won't feel guilty about it. You've been warned. :)

I still enjoy blogging, and I've got a million things to write about. I'm a dozen books - no exaggeration - behind on book reviews. I've got new computer games to talk about. And I've got a million - OK, slight exaggeration - links saved, mostly about politics and religion, intending to post something,... eventually.

But I'm not getting any of that done, and it's time to recognize that I probably won't. So I'm not going to worry about it. I only do this for my own enjoyment, after all. If it becomes a duty, a chore, what's the point?

I still haven't continued reading the Bible, and I definitely want to do that,... sometime. I've got a long, long way to go, and if it's not the most entertaining book in the world, if might be the most bizarre.

And I'm always finding things online that cry out for a blog post. But although I've been saving the links, I rarely get around to actually writing anything. So, again, don't expect much. In fact, don't expect anything. Seriously.

As I say, I'm not quitting entirely. But I'm only going to post something when I feel like it - and lately, that hasn't been very often. I'll probably continue posting videos, since those are quick and easy. But even then, I'm going to keep to no schedule. Expect days, or even weeks, to go by with nothing new.

Sorry. I appreciate the few loyal readers I've had, and I certainly appreciate the comments. But I keep cutting back, and I still can't keep up with everything I want to do. It's time to acknowledge that. This has been lots of fun, but it's going on the back-burner now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shep Smith is far too good for Fox 'News'

Shep Smith is far, far too good for Fox 'News.' Because this is also Fox (and much more typical):
Dr. Keith Ablow, a member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, on Tuesday said that Obama won't protect Americans from Ebola because "his affinities" are with Africa, not the U.S. "He's their leader." ...

“How can you protect a country you don't like? Why would you?" Ablow asked.

He then dove into Obama's "psyche" and explained what Obama is thinking right now.

"You miserable people have destroyed so much in the world in terms of good things, and now you're going to build a wall? Really? To insulate yourself from things that are devastating other nations when your gains are ill-gotten?" Ablow asked, pretending to be Obama.

Ablow said that even though American citizens elected Obama, he isn't our leader because "his affinities, his affiliations are with them, not us." ...

He also compared Obama to Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein while claiming that Americans elected Obama because he hates the U.S.

"I think that we became psychologically mired in a form of national Stockholm Syndrome," Ablow said. "We said to ourselves, and the world, 'Look at this guy. We're going to elect this guy president. Why would you attack us? We're not even voting for somebody who likes us. This guy, who has names very similar to two of our archenemies, Osama, well, Obama. And Hussein. Hussein. Surely you won't attack us now because we've got a shield here of a guy who, as the leader of our country says we're bad.'"

Get that? Our president hates America, so he's not going to protect us from the Ebola virus. And how do we know this? Well, it's because his name is "very similar to two of our archenemies."

And yeah, we elected Barack Obama - twice - because he hates America. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

No, this isn't a parody, though it's hard to tell the difference, isn't it? His name? Note, too, that President Obama tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden, the one "archenemy" who actually attacked America. (Saddam Hussein was our ally for years, and never attacked America. Of course, he was also dead before Barack Obama was even elected president.)

Sadly, this is more typical of the people on Fox than Shep Smith.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The exorcist(s)

Do you really think that one of these guys is more ridiculous than the other? Why? It's primitive superstition in both cases.

Is it crazier to think that garlic will ward off vampires than to think that a cross will do it? It's not. It's equally crazy, because vampires are just fictional.

Whether you think that demons can be cast out of people using Skype or you think priests need to use a hands-on method to perform exorcisms misses the whole point that demons don't actually exist.

OK, OK, I can't prove that demons don't exist. I can't prove that vampires don't exist, either - or werewolves, or leprechauns, or pixies. But we have no good reason, no good evidence, to believe that they do.

In both cases, this is just superstition, religiously-based superstition. These two priests are equally faith-based. Their beliefs are different - slightly different - because they've got no good reason to believe what they believe, anyway. They're both just believing what they want to believe.

If faith is a valid reason for believing anything (it isn't), you can literally believe anything you want. The priest using Skype to perform exorcisms is no more ridiculous than the priest performing exorcisms any other way, because exorcisms are ridiculous no matter how you perform them.

(Note that all exorcisms aren't equally dangerous, because people have been killed in attempted exorcisms. But they're equally ridiculous. Before you cast demons out of people, why not show us some evidence that demons actually exist?)

Democalypse 2014 - funding or die

The sad thing is that Jon Stewart isn't even exaggerating. If you get on any Democratic Party email lists, you're just bombarded with fund-raising pitches, every single day.

I'm disgusted with it, too, and I find it hard to believe it even works. After awhile, I just ignore everything (or unsubscribe from the list, which at least works when it comes to individual candidates).

Well, at least it's not phone calls (which do stop when you tell them not to call you). And I'm more sympathetic than Jon Stewart, because I understand why they do it.

Partly, it's because the Republican Party has most of the billionaires on their side. Because they're so firmly dedicated to cutting taxes on the rich, the rich tend to support them. No surprise there, huh? So the Democrats really need to get smaller amounts from more people - a lot more people.

The other thing is that money has become critically important in American politics. Sad to say, attack ads work. And with the Supreme Court firmly (5 to 4, anyway) in Republican hands, it's just getting worse and worse. Big money - dark money - is becoming more and more dominant in our political system.

The Democrats, at least, tend to oppose that - not all of them, and maybe not as firmly as I'd wish, but they're the only hope we've got. Republicans have made themselves the party of big money. Yeah, Democrats might like to rake in all the big money, themselves - and they compromise with big money far too often for my tastes - but you just have to look at Supreme Court votes to see which side is which.

At the very least, the rhetoric coming from the Democrats is right on the button. And rhetoric does matter. The more people convinced that big money is legalized corruption, the more chance we'll have to change the system. Meanwhile, though, Democrats need campaign donations, too.

I tend to think that money isn't as important as they think - not once you have a certain minimum (which is plenty big enough, don't get me wrong) - but what do I know? Certainly, when you're hugely outspent by your opponent, you commonly have a much worse chance of winning the election.

So, yeah, this is ridiculous,... but it's also understandable. I just hope they're spending the money wisely (in get-out-the-vote efforts, rather than idiotic attack ads). I have my doubts about that, but I really don't know. Some of both, I suppose.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Republicans, come out of the closet

Republicans are people, too? I thought they were just corporations. And maybe elderly white billionaires.

In fact, I still think so, since they apparently couldn't find enough real Republicans to put in their ad and had to use stock photos.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A shot in the dark

Jon Stewart was sick last night, so that's what's going on at the start and the end of this clip. Funny, huh?

But, as usual, the clip addresses a very serious issue, too - a nearly unbelievable situation, in fact. This is funny, yes,... if you can keep from weeping.

Parenting advice

OK, I'm not going to blog about marriage, but maybe I should give some parenting advice? Here it is: don't listen to Catholic archbishops:
Meanwhile, Archbishop Gadecki warned that encouraging boys to clean up after themselves so as to subvert gender stereotypes could have dangerous consequences.

“Some parents like to teach boys that they should clean up after themselves, and not wait until girls do it for them.”

The archbishop suggested that such leanings should be treated with caution, because “parents often do not realise” that same-sex partnerships are also championed under the banner of “overcoming stereotypes.”

Right. Don't teach your boys to clean up after themselves; make your girls do it for them.

Man, why didn't I think of that? I guess it's because I don't have a god to teach me such things, huh?



No, I'm not going to blog about marriage! :) But I thought this graph was interesting.

I remember reading that, at the time, only 15% of Americans approved of the Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage (and that was in 1967!). Heck, some people still don't approve of it.

But civil rights don't depend on majority support. Well, as a practical matter they do, since as a people, we still have to believe in minority rights. But in modern democracies, "minority rights" is the flip side of "majority rules,"... and arguably even more important.

But look how badly popular approval of interracial marriage lagged - and still lags - its legalization. It's different with same-sex marriage, probably because, as gay people have left the closet, most Americans have come to realize that they have friends, co-workers, and even family members who are gay.

That makes a huge difference. Given our legacy of racism and segregation, most Americans - most white Americans, certainly - don't have friends, co-workers, and family members of another race. Coming out of the closet, as difficult as that was for many homosexuals, was hugely important to the LGBT community.

And to change the topic a bit here, that should provide a lesson for us atheists, too. Note this quote from the latest Pew Research study on How Americans Feel about Religious Groups:
Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. Those who say they know someone who is Jewish, for example, give Jews an average thermometer rating of 69, compared with a rating of 55 among those who say they do not know anyone who is Jewish. Atheists receive a neutral rating of 50, on average, from people who say they personally know an atheist, but they receive a cold rating of 29 from those who do not know an atheist.

I'm not particularly concerned at the low rating of atheists, even from people who know one of us. Partly, that's because we really have nothing in common, except just that we don't believe in any gods. That's really a very minor detail, nothing to hold us together in any positive sense. (Atheists aren't even, necessarily, skeptics.)

But also, atheists are threatening to Christians and other believers in a way that members of other religions will never be. After all, if you're a Christian, you're not going to convert to Judaism or Hinduism or Islam. Yes, converts do happen, but very rarely. The whole idea would be laughable to most people.

No, the risk to believers is that they'll just stop believing the religion they were raised to believe. By and large, they're not at risk of switching to some other superstition, but they do fear losing their faith entirely. There's a reason why they fear atheists, and it has nothing to do with what kind of people we are.

But as with homosexuals, it still matters that they know an atheist. Well, they do know an atheist, almost certainly. But most atheists remain in the closet. You might have a good reason for that. I'm not urging anyone to out themselves if it's going to cause them problems.

But for the rest of us, it's important that we be open about our non-belief. We should learn that from the struggle for gay rights.

OK, I'm getting a bit off the subject here, huh? But you're not actually surprised by that, are you? Heh, heh. It certainly happens often enough!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Portal" by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

(cover image from

Portal (2013) is the third, and presumably final, volume of a SF trilogy by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor. (The other two books in the series are Boundary and Threshold.)

In my review of the latter book, I noted that I enjoyed both volumes, but I kept thinking I should have liked them better. The story was great, but I found the characters less than completely appealing. And that's probably why it's taken me awhile to get around to reading this one.

But Portal is the best of the three, and a fine conclusion to the story. Partly, that's because it's not really character-based (so the characters aren't especially important in this one), and partly, it's because it starts in desperate circumstances, with a dozen characters marooned on Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter.

I thought the first two books started slowly - mostly because the characters never really grabbed me. But in this case, we already know the characters, and the focus of the book is on survival. Right from the start, they're in a great deal of danger, stuck with a wrecked ship on a hostile moon.

Another reason why I liked the book is because it reminded me - in a good way - of the classic science fiction of decades ago. The survivors are mostly scientists, and they have that same "can do" attitude of capable engineers which I always enjoyed in classic science fiction.

If there's a problem, you know they're going to find a solution. They're all very capable, they use their training and their minds, and they never give up. I like that!

No, I never object to capable characters. I like capable characters. My problem with the first two books was that they didn't seem particularly appealing - all being super-achievers without any significant problems at all. Indeed, they were so perfect at everything, they were almost supermen. (Why couldn't a superior engineer be a bad cook? Joking about the food would have at least made them seem human. But no, they're gourmet cooks, too.)

But that doesn't come up so much in this book. After all, we already know the characters. (Admittedly, I had a little trouble remember who was who, since it's been three and a half years since I read Threshold, but that wasn't particularly important.) And the fact that they're very capable at their jobs just makes sense. In fact, it would have been hard to believe if they hadn't been superbly capable in their own specialties.

And the characters were appealing in this book not just because of their "can do" attitude, but because, as scientists, they never stopped doing science. Even in desperate circumstances, they couldn't all stay busy all the time. And they were stranded in a location where no human being had ever been before.

So of course they're going to want to investigate. Scientists want to learn. They were all smart enough to understand priorities, but while working on the solutions to their immediate problems, they still wanted to do scientific research. That kind of attitude did make them appealing.

Madeline, the intelligence agent, was still pretty much an unbelievable super-hero, but I could shrug that off. And of course they're going to succeed, they're going to survive - most of them, certainly. That was never in doubt. It is fiction, after all.

But it was great fun watching them do it. Furthermore, the book - indeed, the whole trilogy - was fundamentally optimistic. This isn't just a survival story, but a story of discovery, too. Could our solar system have such wonderful surprises waiting to be discovered?

Well,... probably not. But the possibility is always there. And with science, with new technologies, and with determination, we could find out. The journey will be valuable enough in itself, whatever we discover.

Note: My other book reviews are here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Richard Carrier on the mythical Jesus

Fascinating, isn't it?

"The Sea of Time" by P. C. Hodgell

(cover image from

The Sea of Time (2014) by P. C. Hodgell is the seventh in her Godstalker series (or Chronicles of the Kencyrath, as it's also known), which began 32 years ago with God Stalk (1982).

That was long before I started blogging, but I described the whole series - and my long wait for sequels - in my review of Bound in Blood (2010), here.

As I noted then, and in my review of the following book, the series has always seemed wildly imaginative, and I've certainly been entertained by it. But the story didn't advance much in the last two books. In a series with imagination in spades, staying in the same setting (the randon college at Tentir) for three books has been a bit frustrating.

But that's over now. This book begins with Jame's arrival in Kothifir, the southern city that hires her people as mercenaries, and ends with her being summoned back to Gothregor. In the meantime, we get to see another weird city and learn more about the past.

After 32 years, the whole thing is starting to make sense. I think. :)

The Kencyrath people hate their Three-Faced God and despise their priests. But there's real power there. The temples - which were built before their people had even arrived on this world, 3,000 years ago - tend to be unstable. And in this case, the instability creates... temporary gods from the Kothifir townspeople.

It's funny, but we've been hearing about Kothifir for a long time, but it's only now that we hear the details about what happened there. Mostly, that's because Jame dreams about what happened to her twin, Tori, years ago. (Her twin is ten years older than she is. Yeah, don't ask.)

I have to say that I'm impressed that it all hangs together so well - especially given the long times between books. Has Hodgell had the whole thing planned out?

It does jump around a bit. Mostly, things are seen from Jame's perspective, but sometimes from Tori's. And both of them dream about the past - about the past of the other twin, too - and there's often no clear divide between past and present. It can be a bit confusing.

It's also a little hard keeping track of characters, especially since they don't all appear in every book. There's a list of characters - four pages long! - at the back of the book, but the descriptions are so brief they're pretty much useless. (And those are only the characters in this book.)

I didn't find that any of that a real problem, though. In most cases, it doesn't matter much if you can't remember the details from previous books - or even earlier in this one. It's still lots of fun.

I didn't intend to read this book - not when I did read it, I mean. I bought the book, and I certainly planned to read it, eventually. But I made the mistake of picking it up and reading the first few pages of the prologue. That was it. I just couldn't put it down.

I love the whole series, though I was getting impatient for progress in the last two books. In this one,... well, I can't say there's much progress. But it's a new setting, and apparently just for this book. That's good enough for me.

Note: My other book reviews are here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lost in Minecraft

There are flowers everywhere, in this biome

Version 1.8 of Minecraft was recently released, and since it's been a couple of years since I last played it, I've really been tempted to start a new game.

However, I'm already busy with Wasteland 2 and Dwarf Fortress, among other games, and I play Arma 3 with my friends several days a week. So I really couldn't start a new game of Minecraft, could I?

Or could I? I've been building an above-ground fort in Dwarf Fortress, and screenshots just don't do it justice. So I thought I might build a copy in Minecraft, just so I could show it off here.

Well, that was the idea, anyway - supposedly. But if I wanted to do that, I should have started the game in Creative mode, rather than Survival mode. And when I did install the new version, I ended up with some problems with the graphics.

Most of them are fixed now, but I'd turned the game to 'Peaceful' difficulty, so I wouldn't have to worry about monsters while I was struggling to see stuff. Meanwhile, I've been looking around for a location similar to my Dwarf Fortress embark site.

And now I'm hopelessly lost. I started next to a vast ocean, and I thought I'd take a look to the south, along the shore. So how could I get lost? But now, I can't even find the ocean, let alone my respawn point.

You see, I thought I'd circle around to the west, then go north and east again. Well, that's what I thought I was doing. But now I'm completely mixed up.

I did find a place along a river which might work for my Dwarf Fortress construction. It's grassland, rather than tropical woodland, but there are forested hills nearby. And if it's not very far above the river, at least the surface is relatively flat.

Now, there isn't any marble in Minecraft, but I figured I could make that part of the fortress out of sandstone, which is at least light in color. There's a new stone in the game which would work lots better, but I wasn't sure I could find enough diorite. And I've never played Minecraft without having a vast sand desert nearby.

Except for this time, apparently. In all my wandering, I have yet to discover a desert biome. (Again, this would be no problem at all if I'd started the game in Creative mode, since then you're given unlimited resources for building. And if I'd enabled cheats, I could have always switched to Survival mode later.)

So I still don't know what I want to do. I was already lost by the time I found that grassland site, so I just kept going. After that, I did mark my way with torches, along the rivers I traveled. (Going out, torches are on the right, so they'll be on the left coming back.) So I can probably find it again, even if I can't find my respawn point.

Bunnies, too (one right in front of me; another in the top of a tree).

Afterwards, I discovered this beautiful area just packed with flowers. Really, the screenshots don't do it justice. (Still, click on them to see the full-screen version.) There's a flat plateau nearby, too, so I could build something on that, if I wanted. But that wasn't the point of starting up Minecraft.

And I'm enjoying looking around on 'Peaceful.'  Days last only ten minutes real-time, so nights are a constant interruption if I have to contend with monsters. However, unless I have a plan in mind, there's not much point to idle wandering, either.

One thing I might do is build a gravel path straight east and west, and north and south, from that grassland area. There's a ton of gravel on that plateau, near the flowers. Well, it wouldn't last long, doing that, I know. But maybe I could keep from becoming even more lost than I am. :)


Speaking of Minecraft, I want to point out that Microsoft has just bought Mojang, the game's developer, for 2.5 billion dollars.

Only Mojang didn't actually develop the game. Markus 'Notch' Persson developed the game on his own. He created his small company after the game became successful.

Here's what I said about it four years ago:
According to this, Markuss Persson is selling one copy of Minecraft every three seconds. That's about $15,000 per hour - for a downloaded game, still in alpha, developed almost entirely by himself alone. Apparently, he's reached $350,000 in a single day!

Minecraft made 'Notch' Persson a millionaire. Now, it's made him a billionaire! Not bad for a one-man indie game developer, huh?

Dawn, on the other side of the plateau

And what is Microsoft getting for its billions? Well, not Persson, apparently. The developer of the game isn't staying with the company. (I don't know what he plans to do, but billionaires can do pretty much whatever they want to do, can't they?)

Four years ago, I also quoted this from an article in the Escapist:
One guy, alone, has made a game which is more interesting, cheaper, and has better replay value than games that took an entire studio full of pixel-pushers and codemonkeys to produce. It's also amazingly popular despite having no marketing behind it at all. And the game is profitable even by AAA game standards. This is exactly the kind of thing you can't pull off when you're enamored of buying development houses for hundreds of millions so you can then spend tens of millions of dollars to make sequels of clones of games that were getting old a decade ago.

Think about that. Then consider that the money managers at Microsoft are spending $2.5 billion to buy a four-year-old game that's already been wildly successful. How does this make sense?

It's not even a story-based game, so a sequel would be nonsensical. Spending millions on graphics would do nothing for Minecraft, either. The pixelated graphics are part of its charm. And they're not even buying the developer of the game!

But for big corporations, it's always about the money. With enough money, you can buy anything, right? I suppose they think that, if they're spending $2.5 billion on it, it must be a valuable property. (Either that, or they know a lot more about what they're doing than I do, which - admittedly - wouldn't be too surprising.)

I'm just glad 'Notch' Persson has made out so well. And I hope he turns around and creates another great game, just in his spare time. :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blessed are the fully armed

Crazy, isn't it? Faith-based people really can believe whatever they want to believe.

You wonder why so many different Christians can believe so many different things, when all of them claim to be following the same holy book? It's because, even when they've actually read the book (which most of them haven't), they're still going to believe whatever the hell they want to believe.

No doubt libertarian Jesus Christ is coming back, with his AK-47, to kick some ass. Because that's the kind of god these people want. (It's not that the left-wing 'God' is any more real, of course. But it's not quite this stupid.)