Archive for September, 2010

Fanfic Thursday: The Road Ahead …

September 30, 2010

No, that’s not the title of a new fanfic that I’m starting today.  But things have been a bit insane lately in terms of work and the like, and I’m feeling pretty tired today.  So I probably won’t start or post a fanfic today.  But instead of leaving it all high and dry and in the lurch, I decided I’d start to outline what I’m going to try to do once things settle down and/or I get some vacation time.

What I wanted to post last week — but couldn’t find — was a short story taking place during “Revenge of the Sith” combining some elements from Knights of the Old Republic and I, Jedi.  That one is written.  I had barely started a novel-length fanfic taking place right before (I think; it might have been right after) The Jointer Trilogy (which I hated, BTW) where Luke was running the Jedi Council completely and wasn’t happy about it, where Corran Horn and Kyp Durron both get caught up in helping two young Jedi track their way through the planets of KotOR 1 and 2.  So I plan on posting the first and working on the second here.

Over at the Agony Booth, Albert started doing recaps of Degrassi Junior High, and in it he makes reference to Star Trek: TNG and made an off-hand comment somewhere about “Degrassi: Deep Space 9″.  This concept infiltrated my brain, took it over, and started making me think of how such a crossover might work.  And I got ideas.  So, I’m gonna try it, despite it being a bit risky with the issues of DJH being, well, issues.  I’ll probably avoid the really big problem episodes, but right now the only episode that he’s recapped that I think I won’t want to address is “It’s Late”.  For now, I’ll use his recaps, but when that runs out I might have to actually buy the episodes, unless I’m bored with it by then.  His recaps are here, BTW:  http://www.agonybooth.com/recaps/Degrassi/

I also have a Babylon 5 story taking place at about the time of “A Call to Arms” that I’d like to continue.   And I’ve left myself room to do more Firefly stories if I feel like it or people ask me to.

So, to anyone who reads this, if you think anything I’ve listed here is too good or too bad not to happen, a little encouragement does go a long way [grin].

And that’s it for this week.

Only the second week …

September 24, 2010

… and I’ve already missed an update for Fanfic Thursdays.

I ended being unexpectedly busy last night, and couldn’t write anything new.  I thought, though, that I could stick up another old story — a Star Wars one — this morning.  But I can’t find it.  So, I can’t do anything this week.

I’ll try to do something next week.

Coyne: An example of an arrogant atheist.

September 17, 2010

If you want an example of a post from an atheist that does indeed reek of arrogance, this post by Jerry Coyne is a prime example:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/uncle-karl-on-the-warpath/

Basically, the post is about Karl Giberson taking on some of Coyne’s strawmen (he calls it an army of strawmen in a rhetorical flourish that I, generally, don’t really use, but whatever).  I suppose there’s some arrogance in the opening statements, but I’m not concerned about that.  I’m a little concerned that while Coyne had seemed to at least somewhat respect Giberson and think him worth debating — he did it a few times I think — that respect seems to be gone.  This leaves me wondering if there is anyone on any opposing side — so theist or accomodationist — that Coyne respects but that he thinks is just plain wrong.  I can’t think of any, or at least not anyone that he posts about regularly.

To me, this indicates a problem … for Coyne.  I disagree with tons of people.  Well, probably, almost everyone.  I’ve disagreed with every advisor I’ve ever had.  I’ve disagreed with my favourite profs.  And my favourite philosophers.  But I respect most of them.  The best example might be Andy Brook.  We disagree rather pointedly on the details of consciousness and awareness.  I’m a dualist, he isn’t.  He thinks that awareness and consciousness are the same thing, and I don’t.  But I respect because even though I think he’s wrong, I also think he knows all the sides really well, treats all sides fairly, and has good reasons for the position he takes.  Again, I still think he’s wrong, but not unfairly wrong.

The same thing applies to me and atheists.  I can pick out a couple that I at least respect.  Kirth Gersen here, for example, is one that I think is willing to try to understand my position, even if he sometimes goes further than he should.  I’ve had what I think are good comments with Larry Moran and maybe Russell Blackford.

If you find that there are a number of educated and respected people who seem reasonably intelligent on the other side and you can’t find even one that you can respect even when you think they’re wrong, the issue may be with you.

Um, so, now, what was I talking about?  Oh, yeah, the arrogance.  No, the above isn’t my example of it — although it could be a symptom of it — but the example of it is in Coyne’s replies for why he isn’t going to address Giberson.  The first:

———————

“For one thing, I have science to do, even though I have a “simplistic view” of how that science is done.”

———————-

Okay, so Jerry — may I call you Jerry?  Maybe I should stick to “Mr. Coyne”.

So, Mr. Coyne, if you have all of that science to do so that you don’t want to delve into the theology and philosophy of the religious issues … why don’t you just do that?  Mr. Coyne, no one really asked you to delve into philosophy.  We didn’t hold a gun to your head and demand that you comment or express an opinion on accomodationism and if science and religion are compatible.  And we certainly didn’t ask you at all what your views on what philosophically inconsistent was and to wax eloquently on why you thought that science and religion were, in fact, so incompatible.

But you did.  And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.  The more the merrier.  Just as this poor, biology deprived software designer/philosopher gets to comment on evolution and your comments on it — such as when I talked about “What Darwin Got Wrong” and your review of it — you get to comment on philosophy.  Welcome to the fold!  Hope you don’t find the water too cold.

But, see, where the arrogance comes in is when you then run and hide behind “I have to do that more important science thing now.  I’m not interested in, you know, defending that philosophy stuff that I entered into of my own choice, volition and what passes for free will.  I just wanted to toss off some comments and get into some debates to stir things up, and now that people are taking me seriously I’d like to go back to my field now.  Have fun!”.  If you start down a path, you kinda have to stick with it.

But, hey, we all understand.  Classes have started up, you have research to do, and there are things that you place a higher priority on that this.  I can sympathize.  I’m back in classes, too, and still working.  So, if someone demands to know where my review of “What Darwin Got Wrong” is, or when I’m going to finish my critique of “The God Delusion” or start my comments on “50 Voices of Disbelief”, right now I’m going to have to take the non-arrogant option and say “I’m really busy right now, and this is unfortunately low on my list of priorities.  So since I can’t do it right, I’m gonna put it off for a while, at least.”   See, the arrogance is in the attitude that you just can’t be bothered to deal with actual in-depth criticism — and 3 posts will be in-depth, I hope — as opposed to “You know, this is not my main concern at the moment, and I’m too busy to get to it.”

That might be what you meant, but Mr Coyne, that ain’t what ya said.

This would also work better if it wasn’t clear that these issues are, in fact, really, really important to you.  You care about them.   You talk about them a lot on your blog.  But when faced with Giberson taking you seriously, you demure with “I’m gonna do science now.”  You dismiss it … and him.   And that his comments aren’t worth looking at is dismissal.  And that’s arrogant … especially when you do it before they’ve been written.

Now, Mr. Coyne, maybe you’re still annoyed by what you think of as a blindside at the end of that one webcam debate.  And that would be fair, I think.  But if that’s the main reason, then you should say that.  Be a man and admit that you don’t care much for him at the moment and don’t want to get dragged into a debate with him.  But don’t just dismiss it.

Now, the second reason and the second piece of arrogance:

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“More important, in the end Giberson has not a shred of evidence supporting his religious beliefs, and even a swarming army of sophisticated theologians can’t change that yawning fact.”

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So, here’s what’s going on.  Giberson says “Jerry, [he, I think, can call himJerry] you’ve said some things that are strawmen and really bad arguments.  These arguments are common, so I’m going to demolish them.  Hope you don’t mind!”  and Coyne replies, “Well, you can’t prove God exists anyway.  Nyahhh!”.

Now, let’s take me again.  Let’s look at my reply to Harris’ new morality.  I do have — and did make  — the argument that Harris hasn’t done anything to validate that his empathetic utilitarianism (my term) is right or that he is in any way one of those moral experts that we should listen to.  But I also made comments about the is/ought distinction and why it’s important, and why if he relies on the is he won’t get morality.  So, if someone replied about that to me and I merely replied, “Well, he hasn’t proven his moral view” without either addressing their arguments against my claims or acknowledging and conceding their points, I’d be being inexcusably arrogant.  It would be like saying that their replies to my points don’t matter.  Either I’d be evading good arguments or dismissing them out of hand.

Dismissal without consideration is indeed arrogant.  And that’s what Coyne does here.  Again, he can say “Look, even if I’m wrong it wouldn’t prove that God exists” but then I’d expect Giberson to say “Well, I’m not saying that.  I’m just saying that you’re wrong, and anything that you base on those conclusions is also wrong.”

Coyne has always demonstrated that sort of arrogant dismissal and misinterpretation with his constant “X, therefore Jesus” comments, when much of the time the people he’s using that interpretative formula on are a) not using the reply as an argument for Jesus at all, but just to show that his arguments against religion don’t work and/or b) are actually atheists and so would never conclude “Ergo Jesus” from their arguments.  It’s an arrogant rhetorical tactic that creates a strawman position that he then can use to argue that they have a stronger burden of proof to never have to admit he’s wrong.

Isn’t this the sort of arrogance he doesn’t like from theists?

Oh, and one final note: I concede that at least some theists are arrogant, too.  I dislike both.  But, then, I’m not on anyone’s side.  Why?  Because no one is on my side.

The side, like the cake, is an illusion.

Coyne on the hidden God …

September 17, 2010

Jerry Coyne posted a couple of days ago on the hidden God, and mostly seems to be using his post to claim that theists should be laughed at.   The problem is that Coyne seems to be continuing the trend of not reading or understanding what people are saying, and misrepresenting what’s going on … to an extent that at least one of his comments is going to be as “unintentionally funny” as anything he criticizes.

So let’s look at what he says, shall we?

Let’s start with the comment he dragged out of another post into the light of day to comment on:

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http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/why-does-god-hide/

“Already this week we’ve had a minister come to this website and patiently explain that, yes, religion is predicated on real truths like the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, but, you know, these aren’t really the kind of truths that are true, at least not in the way that scientists and nonreligious folks think of truth, but truths that meet the religious community’s understanding of truth.”

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As I’m now forced to do, I have to look to see what the comment actually said, so here it is:

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http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/spirituality-the-great-communicator-fails-again/#comment-45168

“Truthspeaker–I’m neither an atheist nor a con man. I believe my faith, and wear my pastor hat comfortably. But I also wear my university professor hat quite easily too, and, far from letting people stay naive, spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to teach people how to look at religion with methodological sophistication, i.e. to look at it from behind the curtain. Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and by true I don’t mean scientifically true, but true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth, which is a kind of truth that is thousands of years older than scientific truth.”

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And, again, it really does look like Coyne is basically reading things into it that aren’t there.  But Coyne’s example here is far more subtle than what P.Z. did; Coyne’s not actually ignoring what the comment says, but reading into it with his own worldview.  Note that when Simpson talks about community, he doesn’t make any claims about it being a religious community, nor does he talk about truth as being different than how scientists and non-religious people think of it.  He simply says that the truth of religion is not a scientific truth, but a community truth.

Now, I’ll admit I’m not sure I understand his point either, and Simpson doesn’t clarify it much in later comments.  But I’ll take a stab at it from a more neutral perspective, and claim this: Simpson is referring to the truth of God as a community truth, or a shared belief of a community.  Any community.   Or, more accurately, I think that Simpson sees religion as a cultural belief.   A cultural belief is a belief that people have because they are part of a certain culture, and a belief that has been passed down through the generations.  Dawkins would probably call it a “cultural meme”.

So, what about that?  Well, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that most cultural beliefs are held not for scientific reasons, and that some of them might not be amenable to scientific study.  A lot of our morality, for example, isn’t of that sort.  If we take the famous argument of the Greeks who burned their dead and the other culture who ate them, and the disagreement between them, it isn’t likely that which is better can be settled scientifically.  It’s part of the culture to consider one or the other better, and that’s what people do.  And trying to prove which is “better” is unlikely to move many people.

Like it or not, most if not all cultures do have a religious component as part of it.  Western society, for better or for worse, has been shaped by Christianity and Judaism.  Many Middle Eastern societies really do have an attachment to Islam.  These may have more or less importance, but they are there.

Now, are these sorts of beliefs good, and should the belief in God give way to scientific and philosophical skepticism about religion?  I’m not going to say.  I will say that this has been raised philosophically a number of times, and is an interesting and useful question.  Not something whose ” … proper response … is derisive laughter.”  Coyne can try to make that point only by interpreting it in light of what Coyne thinks of religion and not what Simpson thinks of religion, but when reading someone you have to aim to see what they believe, and you can’t just stick to what you believe.

Anyway, let’s move on to the next section, where Coyne talks about why he makes an exception to his own rule to not link to the Huffington Post:

———————

Now I know that Pharyngula has sworn not to link to HuffPo, and I think I’ve said the same, but it’s hard not to because its pieces on religion are so unintentionally funny.

A normal response to a question like “why don’t we see that invisible, pink six-foot tall rabbit?” is “because it doesn’t exist”.  But when the rabbit is God, that answer is just far too simple. “

———————-

And here is where he is unintentionally hilarious himself.  See, the normal response to “Why don’t we see that invisible X?” is not “Because it doesn’t exist” but is, in fact “Um, because it’s invisible? [smack]“.  See, that word “invisible” means “can’t be seen”.  If the thing really is invisible, you can’t see it, and so that explains why you, well, can’t see it.  The question here is like someone asking “So, if that thing’s solid, how come I can’t walk through it?”  Well, because it’s solid.

One really should not challenge analytic truths and expect to get anything other than — at best — eye rolling.

Now, this might be just Coyne typing too fast and adding things in, and I’d give him more slack if he didn’t have a propensity to simplify points down and then, well, essentially act as if the simplifications were right and didn’t have nasty consequences if you don’t qualify them.  Here, I suspect Coyne is after the far more detailed case where this is what happens:

Someone says “There’s a six foot pink rabbit in my garage”.

The other person looks and says “I don’t see it.”

So the first person then says “Oh, well, it’s invisible.”

This is something that we rightfully are skeptical about because the invisibility seems tacked on to explain something that they expected to see happen that didn’t.  And sometimes, religion does this.  But science does this sometimes, too, so it’s not like it’s completely invalid; sometimes you do take the consequences of your views, beliefs, or theories as stronger than they have to be.  But, yes, it should engender some skepticism.

That being said, though, a lot of the “hidden God” complaints are about completely invented necessary consequences of God.  A lot of atheists — and Coyne is indeed among them — toss out things that they think should be the case if God exists, and then accuse theists of hiding God when they point out that there’s no real reason to think that that has to be the case if God exists.  The Problem of Evil is probably the classic example, but that’s actually a decent argument that deserves attention.  The comment from Dave in my post on what would convince me that God doesn’t exist where he asks why God had Moses do things instead of doing it Himself is a prime example of an argument that should be answered with: “And why should we think that if God existed He wouldn’t have done that?”.  And a number of arguments in-between.

So, no, these sorts of issues aren’t just fit to be met with laughter … well, except for Coyne’s simplification, which I hope was just a mistake.

And the last, about the post itself:

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Witness the tortuous logic of the sophisticated religious mind as the good Rabbi Lurie gives not one but four reasons why we can’t see God.  Here’s the first:

1) A Misunderstanding of the Nature of God

The notion that God can “appear” as a visible entity demonstrates a belief in the nature of God as a being, separate from ourselves, and living somewhere “out there”: a person, perhaps like ourselves, only much, much bigger, smarter, etc. If this is our vision of God, then we will certainly be frustrated at “his” hiding. This image of God, though, is frankly a childish one that we must all agree does not exist. The great theologians, mystics, and spiritual guides have all recognized that what we call “God” is not a limited being. What, then, is God? Well, not to be evasive, but this is not a simple answer that can be written in a short blog, and whatever I write will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and radically incomplete. I can say this, though: God’s presence is experienced, not quantified, measured, or recorded. The first step, then, is to let go of a literal vision of God, and to begin to know that the search for God is more akin to the search for love and connection than the search for a graviton or Big Foot.

He’s pulling a Fermat!  I have a marvelous explanation for why we can’t see God, but it’s too big to be contained on this website.  And what about those ancient and wonderful times when God did appear—sending his son to Earth to perform miracles, and supposedly performing miracles and interceding on Earth ever since?  Why did he withdraw, like a snail into its shell, when science came on the scene?”

———————

The above quoted reason deserves better than this response, and again Coyne is being subtle in his misinterpretation.  He is again interpreting the reason in light of what he cares about and thinks is the case, and not by what the author is trying to get at.   And so he misses it completely.  The above argument seems — to me anyway — to be aimed at arguments like “I went and looked for God, didn’t find Him, so He doesn’t exist.”   Lurie’s reply seems to be that scientific measurement and the like isn’t how you look for God.  It’s an experience, like love, not something that we study with a microscope.  And to that extent his analogy to love is very good, since no one looks to a scientist to determine if they love someone.

I can also relate to the analogy personally.  I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced love, or really loved someone.  I also don’t seem to have that experience of God either.  I don’t believe based on some connection or major experience or some sense of wonder.   And so, in both cases, it’s very hard for me to imagine what those experiences really are, and how I’d distinguish love from just intense physical attraction (or a crush) or a God experience from a simply sense of intellectual wonder.   And, not having that, I can see the issue with the proof.  How can someone tell me when I’ve really experienced love or God?  Have I experienced them and just dismissed it because I didn’t find it impressive enough?  Have I really not experienced it?  If I had acted in a manner appropriate for these experiences with these doubts, would I be selling myself short?

So, yeah, tough questions … and things that dismissing with laughter is an utterly inappropriate reaction.

Now, we can see that Coyne’s reply of “MIRACLES!” is bad because that isn’t what Lurie is after.  And looking at the reports of specific experiences, we can see that that “feeling” and experience of God is indeed relevant there as well; you’ll only accept it as a miracle representing God if you accept that your experience proves it.  And naturalistic science really can’t study miracles well.  To take a safer example, Coyne could have asked the same thing about ghosts.  Why have ghosts gone away as science advanced?  And the answer is: they haven’t.  Science has found some frauds, but ghost experiences still happen and people still claim to see ghosts.  Just like they do for the intervention of God.  Science has just wandered into those places, said “Some are fake and some don’t have enough evidence”, and our more skeptical society has just given them less importance.  Hardly the overwhelming rebuttal that Coyne seems to think it is.

And, BTW, the issues I talked about above?  They are too big to talk about in one section of a short blog post.  I gave it a shot because, well, I’m verbose.  But there have been lots of philosophical books written on those topics.  I’d like to see how Lurie does flesh this out, because I think it would be an interesting discussion and something to look at, even if I may not agree with it.  You can’t boil that down to a simple sentence.

And Coyne’s mistakes here are a prime example of what happens when you try.

Note to Myers: Read posts more carefully before mocking …

September 17, 2010

I’m often annoyed by reading many of the supposedly very intelligent and rational atheists commenting on something someone else said who — once I check the original source — seem to be completely missing what was actually stated in those posts or articles or whatever and spend lots of time mocking things that the author never said.  It’s gotten so bad that for many of them I actually go and read the original source first, just so that I can be confident that I know what the person is actually  saying, before trying to work through the mockery to see if there’s an actual point there.

A good example is a recent post from P.Z. Myers.  He goes after “faithiest” David Penberthy and spends a lot of time mocking him for being upset by certain things that Myers doesn’t think is a problem.  Unfortunately, he misrepresents what Penberthy actually says in order to make the criticisms seem trivial, when they really aren’t.

Let’s go through the three main cases.  I’ll start with Myers’ brief summary of what was said, and contrast it with longer quotes showing what was actually said.

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http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/now_thats_a_faitheist.php

“Well, no. He’s angry at Bobby Henderson for inventing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He dares to mock religion!”

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Well, he isn’t angry at Henderson for inventing the FSM at all.  In fact, he says:

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http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/please-god-spare-us-the-born-again-atheists/

“One is the young American physicist Bobby Anderson, who five years ago as a 25-year-old university student wrote a letter to the Kansas Board of Education saying he believed that the earth had been created by a flying spaghetti monster.

It was a clever satirical point which poked fun at the craziness of “intelligent design”, a re-branded form of creationism which refutes Darwin and claims that it is a matter of scientific fact that all life on earth is the work of God.

The Kansas Board of Education (whose members included a vet and a blueberry farmer) had agreed that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in schools. Anderson argued that it was only fair that his spaghetti monster religion, which he calls Pastafarianism, should also be included on the curriculum.”

———————–

So, no, Penberthy thinks that the FSM was, in fact, a very neat rhetorical device that worked well as a satire to oppose intelligent design.  Inventing  it was never the problem.  So what was?

———————–

Penberthy:

“For Bobby Anderson, what started as the highly specific ridicule of teaching theological nonsense as science has now ballooned into a more generalised form of juvenile abuse towards anyone who believes in God”

———————

Seems to me that he’s complaining that instead of the concept being used to make good points — even mocking ones — against specific issues, it’s turned into nothing more than an attempt to make fun of religious people.  The point has been lost.  There’s no attempt at clever satire being used to make any real, argumentative, rational point.  It’s just devolved into schoolyard teasing.  Now, I’m not going to say that Penberthy’s right about this, but surely the supposedly on the side of rationality Myers isn’t going to say that mocking for the sake of mocking is in any way a rational argument or a reasonable thing to do.  Would he?  Does he want to subscribe to the schoolyard notion that immature mocking — and not good natured mocking either — is somehow something that reasonable adults should engage in?

If the mockery doesn’t have a point, then it has no place in the debate.  We might debate over whether or not to include it when it has a point, but surely no rational person can accept that pointless mockery is somehow a good and rational and mature thing to do.

The next point from Myers:

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“He’s furious with that big bully Richard Dawkins, because he dared to interrupt Christians on a televised debate.”

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Again, that’s not what Penberthy said.  Penberthy actually said this:

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“Bobby Anderson is a paragon of civility compared to the brilliant English scientist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and other books on human evolution and natural selection. A few years ago Dawkins fired off a particularly narky text, The God Delusion, which became a best-seller and spawned an explosion in the “Up Yours, God” genre which also included Christopher Hitchins’ “God is Not Great”. The God Delusion starts off promising a reasoned and scientific examination of why there is and can be no God, but soon descends into schoolyard teasing of the flying spaghetti monster variety.

Anyone who saw Dawkin’s bullying effort on the ABC’s Q and A last year would recall the manner in which he interrupted and shouted down other panellists who disputed his view.”

———————–

Somehow, Myers missed the part of the big paragraph where Penberthy comments that Dawkins’
“The God Delusion” devolves into the same sort of schoolyard teasing that the FSM has devolved into.  And this, I can say, is completely accurate.  Penberthy may overstate it, but when an actual representation of an argument as a schoolyard “debate” is longer than the discussion of the argument — and its main objections — itself, it’s pretty fair to say that, yep, it does do that, at least on occasion, and so that’s a fair charge.

As for the specific issue — the ABC special — again, Penberthy’s description is a lot worse than Myers presents it.  After all, “shouting down” isn’t considered to be the equivalent of “interrupting”, and is considered to be bullying and against rational discussion.  Myers takes only the comment of interrupting and portrays it as if it was some sort of mild interruption, the kind that happens all the time.  That’s clearly not how Penberthy is seeing it, and if Dawkins really did what Penberthy said he did it is something to be concerned about, and something that rational people should consider unacceptable in any sort of rational discourse.  Again, I haven’t seen it so I have no idea if it’s as bad as Penberthy says, but if Myers is basing his reply on what he saw he has a rational obligation to say that, and make the point clear.  Instead, Myers interprets Penberthy very, very uncharitably … to a level that if he did it in his academic work I would expect him to be slapped silly — argumentatively — over it.

And the last, from Myers:

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“He’s really pissed off at Alex Stewart, who burned a few pages of a Bible and a Koran. His own books, not that he invaded a church or mosque and set things on fire, but simply because he was offensive.”

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So how does Penberthy describe this?

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“This impertinence can be found in equal measure among many atheists, with the latest entrant to their number being Australia’s own book-burning atheist Alex Stewart.

“It’s just a f…ing book, who cares,” Stewart said as he choofed away on make-believe joints rolled inside pages torn from the Bible and the Koran.
“Like you can burn a flag and no one cares, people get over it so with respect to books like the Bible, the Koran, or whatever, just get over it.”

Stewart’s little stunt did nothing to advance the noble cause of atheism. If anything, it made non-believers appear intellectually flippant and superficial, reducing their position to the lame schoolyard assertion that anyone who believes in a God and thinks that texts can be holy has rocks in their head, and should just “get over it”.”

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Again, Penberthy is quite clear that his problem is that this stunt isn’t in any way related to real argumentation, but simply a flippant, unnuanced and immature notion of “I don’t agree with you.  Get over it!”.  And it doesn’t seem like there is any big point there, other than that he can smoke using those papers and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do to stop him.  Again, we could disagree over whether or not Stewart should do it if he had a point, but when this action seems to have no real intellectual point I think it’s safe to presume that either Stewart is an idiot who thinks that this does address some point or — more credibly — that the point is to offend

And no one should defend any action that has the sole or even main purpose of offending someone.

Fanfic Thursdays …

September 16, 2010

So, I’ve decided to try something: Fanfic Thursdays.  This is where every Thursday I’l try to bring you something fanfictiony.  Sometimes, it’ll be things I’ve written in the past that are or aren’t complete.  Sometimes, I’ll try to sit down and over an hour or so write part of some sort of fanfiction idea, seeing how far I can get.  All of them, though, will be fanfiction — so no original writing, no essays, etc — and at least almost all of them will be in a page.

I might also use the day to review interesting fan fiction that I’ve come across, so if you know of something that you think I really should read, feel free to send me an E-mail telling me about it.  Just don’t get upset if I don’t reply or review it, of course.

Now, considering my past history, doing one of these every week might not happen, but that’s what I’m trying for.

And the first week is this:  http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/firefly-fly-in-amber/

This is a fanfic I wrote about six years ago, based on the Firefly/Serenity series.  It starts soon after Serenity, and introduces a replacement crew member.  Read it if you’d like, and let me know what you think.

And yes, I did want to go for “Fanfic Fridays”, but right now I don’t have time on Fridays.  So Thursday it is!

To all the PC games I’ve ditched before …

September 16, 2010

To all the games I’ve ditched before,
That now sit on my closet floor,
Was sad to move along,
I dedicate this song,
To all the games I’ve ditched before.

And now, the PC games that I’ve left behind.  I’ve had a PC longer than the PS2, so there should be more of them, but the PS2 games seem to be fresher in my mind, so the list here probably won’t be as long.

Baldur’s Gate 2 doesn’t make the list, because that was a case where we got together for a short meeting over coffee, had a good time, and swore we’d do it again … and then never picked up the phone to call each other.  Every so often, I find the number and think: “Hmmm, maybe I should call.  Ah, but I’m too busy at the moment” and move on.

And I don’t regret tossing Baldur’s Gate.  I wish I hadn’t given it as many chances as I did.

Icewind Dale, though, counts.  It seems right up my alley, and I was very interested in it.  Spent hours with it.  I keep coming back to it occasionally.  But it gets caught by my wandering eye, and I’ll be so far into it when something else will seem more shiny and I’ll move on to it.  I start over every so often, but never seal the deal.

Icewind Dale 2 is kinda like Icewind Dale, only I’m not quite as fond of it.  I end up feeling like I have to be something I’m not — um, how in the world can you expect a level 1 party to act like an elite commando unit? — and so that grates a bit without level upgrades.  Which I’m more than willing to do, but IWD2 is a bunch of good ideas that don’t quite work out.  I return to it more often because it allows class combinations that IWD doesn’t … but it’s always more annoying than IWD.

Wizardry 8 is one game where I can get distracted by it and have it break up my run.  It’s just so easy to be so many different things with it, because of its large set of classes and races and even voices.  It’s easy to create differentiated parties (I’ve done The Order of the Stick and Angel and some others easily) and it’s fun taking them through the first part of the story.  But, later, once it settles in to the familar refrain after Trenton of “Walk around and fight things and walk and fight” they all wear thin.  Basically, it slides too quickly into the old familiar territory and you yearn for the days of the Monastery … but it’s too easy to just go back and start over differently.  I can’t imagine ever finishing this game unless I go insane on it at some point.

The Fallouts both are games that I get inspired to play, load, and then rarely get far into because they end up boring me.  For a while, I couldn’t get past the initial stages.  I just recently got past the initial stage in Fallout (I think) … and then excited without really saving, figuring I’ll start over later.  Planescape: Torment has the exact same problem; I might have made it out of the initial starting area once.  I wanted to try it with a mage to see if that would be more fun … and then couldn’t.  I regret not playing them and they sound like they’d be great games if I could only muster up the interest to play them long enough to enjoy them.  Basically, they drag me in with all sorts of promises, but when we actually go out they can’t keep up a conversation long enough to keep me interested.   (And yes, I am aware of that statement being odd when applied to Torment and its massive text conversations [grin]).

There are games that I’ve bought but never played, usually on the advice of a friend who says that it’s really cool.  The Transformers game from the first movie is a prime example; bought it even though it wasn’t really my type, and then never really gave it a chance.  And there are some others.  The lesson there might be:  no more letting my friends set me up with games that I’m pretty sure I won’t like.

Next up will be the games from the Amiga, Commodore 64, TRS-80 and even Atari 2600 that I never finished and now really, really, really regret not finishing or being able to play.  This is probably the longest list and also probably has the ones that I regret the most.

Rationality isn’t always rational …

September 13, 2010

I came across Dan Ariely’s blog.  He’s the author of “Predictably Irrational” and the new “The Upside of Irrationality”, which all talk, at least in part, about irrational things that humans do.

The blog is http://danariely.com/ .

I’ll keep my eye on the blog, because some of the things he talks about are interesting.  But in a way it disappoints me, because at least the blog posts tend to avoid what I think are the really interesting questions with those sorts of studies and the like: what was the reasoning process involved in making those “irrational” decisions, and are they really irrational?  Even when he posits reasons, he tends to posit that they are mistakes, but sometimes that isn’t the case.  I’ve found that some of the time — at least for me personally — it’s just a different reasoning process from what is expected.

Some examples:

1) Recently, a nearby gas station redid their car wash and once it came back online offered a deal: get a Luxury Car Wash for the same price as a Basic.  So, at one point I went there and wanted a car wash.  I was told about the deal, but insisted that I only wanted a Basic car wash.  The attendent looked at me like I was nuts, and even pointed out that getting the Luxury was the better deal, because I got more for the same money.  So, I was being irrational, right?

Not so fast.  The reason I insisted on the Basic was because I absolutely didn’t want those extras.  The Luxury wash includes a waxing, and I don’t want to do that to my vehicles.  If I want them waxed, I’ll do it myself.  Also, it included an undercarriage wash, which I do infrequently so that I won’t cause problems with the undercoating.  Now, I’ll admit to being a little particular about these things and that doing it once wouldn’t cause any issues … but, then again, I generally didn’t want them done.  If I did, I’d have taken the deal.  But since I didn’t want them done, paying the same amount to get only what I wanted done and leaving out the things I didn’t want done is actually fairly rational … despite the fact that, on paper, it looks like I was getting a raw deal.  It’d only be a raw deal if I, at some level, wanted the extras that I would be getting for free.  Since I didnt want them, I made a perfectly rational decision.

2) Combo meals.  Generally, when I go to a fast food restaurant, I never order combos and always order, say, a hamburger and fries separately.  This is despite the fact that the price for the combo and for the separate items are usually pretty close, if not identical.  Same sort of situation, right?  I’m giving up getting extra — the drink — even though it wouldn’t cost me more.  Irrational?

Again, no, not really.  The problem is that, in general, I don’t want a drink with the meal.  I usually only get these things take-out, which means that I’m going someplace where I have access to plain water or my own beverages.  But you could still claim that I’d get more — or be able to save my own beverages — if I went with the combo.  But that’s exactly the problem: there’s more in one soft drink than I’d normally drink with a meal.  And getting water or something else is annoying, since I have to deal with the bottle or container and drinking something that I don’t really want to drink (I tend to only drink water or milk with meals).  So, adding on the drink tends to annoy me … an annoyance I can avoid if I just pay separately.  So, again, even though I’m missing out on the great deal, I’m actually being rational about it; the price difference isn’t worth — to me — the issues that come along with getting it.

And this, to me, is what interests me about examples like Ariely’s: if these peopel are reasoning it out, what reasoning is convincing them?  More studies of the reasons and less speculation would be of great interest to me.

(Note that I’m not saying that he doesn’t do that in his books or in his more in-depth papers; he may well do that, at which point I’d be very interested in reading them.)

Wii Fit Plus after 5 days …

September 13, 2010

So, I’ve been playing around with Wii Fit Plus for the past five days.  So far, it’s not bad.

It certainly seems to be streamlined from Wii Fit in terms of redoing an activity once it’s finished.  All you have to do is wait for the little TV to record your time and calories, and then hit “Retry”, and voila.  That’s what got me trying the Ski Jump game about 7 times already, even though I haven’t even taken off once.  I’m still confused about what “Extend your knees!” means; it seems to be based too much on both timing and a precise body movement, and I don’t think I’ve managed either.  That’s enough to get me to drop an activity that I might have enjoyed.

I also tried the snowboarding and skiing, but they have similar problems.  I’d say it’s a problem with my balance, but my balance isn’t all that bad.  But it seems to have a similar problem to the soccer ball heading activity; real-life suggests that you should move something else (head or upper body) while the board best tracks lower body.  That clash means that if I don’t constantly pay attention to the game mechanics, I screw up.

I’m now doing pretty well on the soccer ball heading, though.  At least I’m an amateur [grin].

The preset Wii Plus routines aren’t bad.  I like the Relax one, and just tried the Tummy one, and they work out nicely.  You get one or two Yoga or Strength routines, and then one of the Balance or Aerobics ones to round it out (and have a little fun).

About the only problem is that when creating your own routine, you can’t put one of the games or even one of the pre-built routines into, meaning that you can’t build a routine to have the same sort of style as they did.

The trainer is a lot friendlier than the board, and is far more encouraging.  The board seems almost snarky at times.  This is even worse when it’s being snarky your first time through a test or activity, when you’re still learning how it all works.  It should comment a lot less the first couple of weeks, in my opinion, unless it’s being encouraging.

BTW, the Wii Fit age, at least for me, seems tightly tied to weight.  Which kinda makes the whole thing pointless, and I’m starting to ignore it.

That being said, it’s pretty easy to do at least a Body Test every day, and the variety of exercises and routines does let you work on things that you might not be able to easily work on on your own.  So far, it seems worth it and seems like I’ll use it fairly frequently.

The Old Republic and WoW …

September 13, 2010

Josh over at Twenty Sided Tale played a brief demo (about 15 minutes) of Star Wars: The Old Republic and wasn’t impressed:

http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=9403

Basically, in his short play it seemed to him like it was the same as World of Warcraft in terms of combat and classes, and that in order for it to succeed in its lofty goals it had to be different.

Well, I played a demo of the original WoW for longer than that (free trial) and I didn’t see how WoW, when it started, was all that much more innovative than anything else at the time.  I was coming from Dark Age of Camelot and City of Heroes, and found my initial play of WoW underwhelming.  Both CoH and DAoC actually had more diverse classes and powers than WoW did, in my opinion.  I tried an Undead Warlock first, played it for an hour or so, and then got bored and tried a Dwarf Paladin, but it all felt the same.  In CoH, each archetype played significantly differently, and even inside the same archetype powersets could make a huge difference.  Each Realm in DAoC felt different enough to make it interesting.   That was missing, at least for me, in WoW.

As for combat … it didn’t stand out.  There are, essentially, MMO conventions that most games will follow in some way.  Part of that is how fighting works; WoW used a slight variation of what went on at the time, and it sounds like TOR is doing the same.  And that rigid class structure with racial restrictions is an RPG convention, so it’s hard to say that TOR is copying WoW to do that.  Any game that actually has races has that sort of restriction, and it seems to add to a game, in general.  If any of the KotOR games had had races, they would have had these restrictions and we would have loved the games even more.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not TOR will be a WoW-killer, at least in part because I admit that no one — not even Blizzard — has any idea what made WoW into the behemoth it is.  I do think that unseating it is made even harder by the sort of attitude that Josh is displaying here: comparing it to WoW and saying “Well, it’s just the same as it; we need innovation.”  Well, games have innovated, too, and that didn’t work for them either.  But if you go in trying to determine if the game is as good as WoW, an awful lot of the time you’ll convince yourself that it isn’t, or it’ll disappoint you.

I, fortunately, don’t have that problem.  I didn’t like WoW that much.  I liked the demo I played of Lord of the Rings Online a lot better, probably at least in part because the theme was interesting and played well into it.  I’d much rather play CoH or even DAoC than WoW.  Thus, I can treat TOR like its own game, and judge it on its own merits.

So, what would TOR have to be to get me to play it, and keep subscribed to it (as long as I do subscribe to a game)?  The big thing is: let me feel like I’m playing in the Star Wars universe.  Ultimately, I’d like TOR to use simple, standard combat mechanics … and subordinate it all to theme.  To, heck, even have limited combat abilities like KotOR had … but ramp up the display to make it look cool.  Use dramatic and cool music to highlight it all.  Yeah, maybe I’m asking for style over substance, but that’s what I want from TOR: a decent game that makes me feel like whatever class I am, as part of the Old Republic.

If they pull that off, I’ll play it.  And I’m gonna bet I won’t be alone.

If they pull that off, maybe they’ll pull enough people from various places to make their 1-2 million subscribers.

They almost certainly won’t if they try to do what Josh says they should, which is make a new game violating RPG and MMO conventions just to feel different.  Unless they managed to do that and what I suggest.  But do you know how hard that is?

Even WoW, as far as I can tell, didn’t manage it …


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