Monthly Archives: December 2008

Possible forced vacation from blogging

I will be away for school with possibly spotty internet for the next 2 months. So blogging might slow down a bit on the site. Mojo may continue to write some posts, and whenever I can get a hold of a dial-up – *gag, sputter* sorry I just threw up in my mouth a little bit – connection – gghuurul, no I’m good – I’ll write some posts. If I can get the internet, though, you’ll see me next week with some more lighthearted fare (I promise not to mention Christmas unless I really, really have to) and you can disregard this note.

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Hey, remember that time I didn’t celebrate Christmas and the world didn’t end?

Another year another Christmas “season”. For the past 2 months, I have been enduring an absurd amount of Christmasness without the oft-promised “cheer” that is supposed to accompany the holiday. Of course if I’m not cheerful about Christmas there must be something wrong with me, right? I must be a joyless stick-in-the-mud with no sense of fun. Or maybe I’m just skeptical of the intentions of most people when it comes to religious holidays.

Christmas is a holiday like no other. It is more than a holiday; it’s more than a season; it’s a near-forced labour camp of shopping, candy, music…and for a lot of people no so much with the alleged “cheer” we’re all promised by those lame Christmas songs. Why should I be cheerful about the fact that I’m poor, that cutting down trees for decoration is wasteful, and that Christmas music sucks? So my lack of cheer makes me even more depressed because of all those people who go on that it’s not really a religious holiday and I should just enjoy being forced to spend my student loan money on stupid gifts that people don’t even like. Santa!

But let’s forget about all that. It’s Easter season. Sure the holiday isn’t for a few months, but it’s the season. Let’s all get ready with our candy and decorations. Break out the Easter music. Let’s Easter!

I mean it’s not like Easter is a religious holiday what with the Easter bunny, so it’s not like non-Christians are allowed to be mad if I shove Easter down their goddamn throats for 2 months. I mean, there’s the Easter Bunny! Totally not religious. Who cares if Jesus happens to have died and was allegedly resurrected during that time and that’s why it’s a holiday at all. Now we have the secular, placating Easter Bunny to make it okay for me to celebrate a Christian holiday. Because what’s better than celebrating a deity’s birth than solemnly celebrating his death with a giant bunny that lays eggs.

No matter how much you disguise something in gift wrap, these holidays amount to one of two things:
1) A religious holiday.
2) A religious holiday in the disguise of an empty excuse to eat candy.

Santa and the Easter Bunny are just two childish versions of “shit I can’t see that people tell me to believe in” for ages 0-8. They are a fun bribe to make celebrating Christian holidays okay for the rest of us. And, while they may be fun on the surface, the point remains that they are fundamentally religious. Easter gets the shaft on the “season” business but I chalk that down to people being too tired and poor after Christmas and the fact that ultimately it’s kind of a depressing holiday…that naturally lends itself to being secularly represented by a giant bunny. ?

I say we just forget the damn labels and smoke screens. Let’s have approximately one holiday every 2 months or so and people can do whatever melts their butter. If they are religious, then they can celebrate their religiousness. If they are not, they can enjoy the day off without having to put up with Easter Bunnies, Santas, and whatever other mythical creature to replace Jesus. Eat candy if you want to, it’s your day off to celebrate how you like and not shoe-horned into some “secularized” version of a religious something else.

But that will never happen. Because there’s too much money to be made from bullshit “holidays”. I mean, take Valentine’s Day. That’s not even a frigging holiday and look how much money we spend on it.

But fuck. Am I in a glass house here throwing stones? I spend money every month on Warcraft. I buy video games and movies on a regular basis. Who the hell am I to tell people what is right or not to do and what they should spend their money on? But I just can’t get away from that wrong feeling I get whenever one of those “no, seriously, it’s secular somehow so it’s ok” holidays rolls around. A part of me thinks it’s not ok. I have fun in my own way, not in the “approved secularized standard version” and I think other people, particularly those who get super stressed out at Christmas, should do the same. Just go with the flow. It’s a day off. Forget all the made up rituals that ruin it and just enjoy a day off!

And please, please do not come up with idea for Easter music in all that free time. Or I will find you. And it will not be pretty.

Holidays are supposed to be fun and relaxing, for people to celebrate whatever traditions they would like (for example, a gingerbread deathmatch). I say we take back the holidays! Who’s with me?

On Skepticism

What is skepticism? Well I have many answers for that. What is the Skeptical Movement? Other than something really immature about bowels, far less obvious answers come to mind. But I’m going to tackle both.

Skepticism
I think that a lot of people can agree that, on the whole and regardless of semantics, the core of skepticism as a concept is that there is no dogmatic belief in any idea. In effect, “belief” or acceptance of an idea is based on the amount and quality of evidence supporting the idea. In effect, a skeptic’s idea about something would change if there was new compelling evidence demonstrating that old ideas were incorrect.

To explain, it might help to discuss what skepticism is not. Skepticism, to many, is not a denial of every idea. There are philosophical principles, that I won’t elaborate on, that we can’t truly know anything. As there is nothing to be learned from such views, I don’t agree with including them within skepticism. To deny truth in everything negates the consideration of individual ideas based on their merits. In short, skepticism is not a dogmatic unbelief.

Usually people are skeptical about a lot of things but they don’t consider themselves “a skeptic” because they don’t think of it that way. For example, people become skeptical of the Easter Bunny as children, but many don’t stop to consider the lines of evidence that led them to come to the conclusion that (sorry, kids) the Easter Bunny isn’t real and don’t come to think of their conclusion as a skeptical idea.

Some people are skeptical about many more things. This can often come with the label of “cynic”. But is it cynical to stop believing in the Easter Bunny, or was there just a point when it became so silly to believe in such a thing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that we simply could no longer justify the belief? So are skeptics cynical? I don’t think so, IMHO. I think where that label often gets thrown around is when skepticism is applied to people’s most cherished adult beliefs. Its all well and good to be skeptical of the Easter Bunny, but the exact same skepticism is all of a sudden not okay when it is applied to gods, homeopathy, acupuncture, superfruit juices, angels, etc. Skepticism isn’t cynicism.

The Skeptical Movement
The above example is one of the areas where I think the so-called Skeptical Movement begins to apply. People, sick to death of being called “cynical” and politely enduring personal testimonials from friends and family members, find others with like attitudes about the world to discuss new (and old) ideas. That’s a pretty natural, human thing to do. Find a group of people who like the things you like. We do it all the time. It’s called making friends.

Some skepticism has grown into a form of consumer activism – people who are already inclined to do so take the time to investigate claims for other people who don’t have the time. This might require (or benefit from) the collaboration of several individuals. But is this a “movement”? What is meant by “movement” in this context?

One common misunderstanding of skeptics as a group – and I don’t think this is a matter of opinion, this is a misunderstanding of epic proportions – is that we are sort of like a religion. Well, it’s hard to see how that is the case given that the basis of skepticism is that facts are paramount, no matter what. It doesn’t matter who says something, how many times it is said, how old the idea is, how popular it is, etc. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and “I don’t know” is perfectly acceptable in the absence of evidence either way. Usually religions, on the other hand, do not have such freedoms. There are ancient texts, prophets, gods, and so on that must be interpreted and adhered to with faith – sometimes in contrary to available evidence. Some people may find that appealing, but skeptics for the most part don’t.

In an argument of opinion people can be as dogmatic as they want, but in an argument of facts there is no such leeway. The facts are the facts and individuals, as hard as that can be sometimes (for everyone), must be willing to recognize that they can be wrong. In an argument of facts, when one side has them and the other doesn’t (or does, but with a lack of understanding), it can seem like the pro-fact side is being dogmatic. This is an illusion. They may be passionate, but as soon as evidence is shown to the contrary, being a skeptic as it is corely defined, they should change their minds. That is not dogma and accusations otherwise are not well-met, particularly as they are often rooted in anti-intellectualism.

Another common misunderstanding is that we have leaders and an organized system for this “movement”. Although I fail to see how such an observation is a criticism, I will address it because I feel it is an inaccurate characterization either way. However popular Dawkins, Hitchens, Shermer, Skepchicks, Meyers, Novella, Plait, etc become, is that the same as them being leaders of a movement? Is this the same as me following a particular person and paying dues to their church or other organized/tiered group in order to be a member? No. This is where I think the “accusation” of leadership might be from. But I don’t worship these people. In fact I sometimes disagree with them vehemently. And doing so doesn’t preclude me from membership or put me in a different “sect” of membership. These people are popular, yes, and have many resources but that is not the same as being a revered leader and they are not protected from criticism.

So is the skeptical movement a religious movement? I don’t think that it is. The core principles of a religion simply do not mesh with the core principles of skepticism (as a concept). There may be similarities in the two groups, but I think those are largely due to the commonalities of human behaviour as a whole. People are inclined to group with like people. People are inclined to support causes they think are important. People are inclined to speak out about topics that are important to them. There is one major dissimilarity that makes the two groups incompatible: Skeptics do not have unwavering faith in things that are not supported by evidence. So in terms of human behaviour, sure there are lots of similarities, but in terms of core concepts…skepticism is not a religion.

For reference I’ll link to dictionary.com definitions for religion and skepticism.

But is skepticism a “movement“? I suppose in a sense it could be. Movements tend to have goals. I think a “goal” that many skeptics would agree on would be to introduce critical thinking at a young age and teach people, in general, how to think rather than what to think. Also, to prevent naive, desperate, ignorant, or otherwise ordinary but taken-in people from being conned out of too much money. But many skeptics have many different goals and achieve them individually. Are they part of the “Skeptical Movement”? If a skeptic does something unskeptical are they kicked out of “The Movement” for their transgression?

At this point, I think we’re just a bunch of people who are alike who share a hobby. Maybe we could be a movement one day, but I don’t think we are right now. We’re simply not doing enough to be considered a movement. We’re spreading information, sure, but as much as we bitch about school boards, are we on any? As many societies that we have to support ourselves and each other are we, as a group, charitable? As much as we disapprove of things that the government does do we, as a group, act? I’m sure some people do all of those things, but I don’t think enough of us are doing these things on large enough a scale (or in an organized way) to be considered a “movement” proper. We have a ways to go.

WotLK Update

Ok, so we’ve burned through the Northrend content. Woot! Level 80! This post might be a little jargon-heavy so I’ve linked jargony words to their wowwiki explanations.

Because I want to end on a good note, I’ll start with the “bad”:

1. Hunter nerfs. I’m a hunter. Beastmasters (BM) were nerfed big time, but I still feel the wrath as a Marksman (MM). Particularly when potential raid partners don’t realized BM has been nerfed and (try to) encourage me to respec. There are several spells that do less damage or have fewer advantages. Either that or good spells now have horrible trade-offs.

2. Dragons. It seems really cool, but I actually find it a bit annoying to jump into some “vehicle” that takes up the entire screen to fly back and forth collecting refugees or something just for the sake of doing it. WoW is not Starfox, it’s an RPG. What role am I playing when I hop into a dragon to do overly-complicated quests for the sake of “different” content? I know a lot of people think these additions are cool and my opinion on this won’t be popular, but I play WoW for a certain experience and I think these additions change the nature of the game too much. Also, it’s a nightmare for people on laptops. And I’m sorry, but the Oculus is just ridiculous.

3. No epic PVP gear at level 80! But I hear it’s coming.

4. Arctic fur. Sigh.

5. Phased areas. Try to get a pickup group for quests in Icecrown. I dare you.

6. Various issues. There are the typical bugs that crop up when a new game is released. Terrain issues (i.e., getting stuck in the ground in some invisible hole, etc); server issues; bugged quests; bugged dungeon drops; bugged other things (more on that below); and various other video game foibles that need to be fixed over the long term.

Speaking of bugs, there’s something going on with the pet spellbook. At first I thought Cower was broken because it kept going on autocast without me telling it to. So I put it on my pet bar to turn it off manually. To do that I had to replace Prowl. All of a sudden, Prowl kept going on autocast. So it wasn’t that Cower was broken like I thought (or like Wow Insider’s podcast thought), it’s whatever “5th” (or extra in some way) spell that’s not on the main pet bar. Since I have Growl on autocast almost all the time anyway, I put Cower and Prowl on my pet bar. But that is not an ideal solution. Essentially I had to put 2 useless things on my convenience bar for the sake of keeping them useless and put one thing on that I don’t necessarily want on all the time. All because I’m too lazy to come up with a macro.

Ok so enough bitching. Good things:

1. Good dungeons, Oculus notwithstanding. The first Northrend dungeon if you start in Borean Tundra is Nexus. It is a good first dungeon for WotLK. Fairly straightforward without being overly boring. The dungeon that stands out the most, though, is Caverns of Time; particularly The Culling of Stratholme. WoW players should definitely check out that instance.

2. Gear. Did they ever go overkill on the gear. Man alive. In Burning Crusade I was rockin’ a few PVP epics and some dungeon gear (all I could get before the expansion) and I was at around 8000 HP and 7000 Mana. Currently I am about 18250 HP and 11500 Mana. That is with the 3 epics I made the other day and dungeon gear. So with shit for gear I’ve already more than doubled my stats – not that I had the best stats to begin with, but for the average player that’s a huge jump.

3. Achievements. Basically these are piddly meaningless points and titles for doing some stupid shit. But some of them give decent rewards and are for doing things you would have done anyway. Achievements are the bane of some players’ respective existences, but I think they are a great addition to encourage people to play old content. Seriously. They have lessened the requirements for leveling up much that there’s areas people don’t even have to go to anymore. People need something to do when they hit 80 other than doing the same daily quests and dungeons over and over and over….and over and over.

So I didn’t talk about everything, but my overall reaction is…meh. The expansion is ok, but there are so many glitches and so many things missing that I think they could have waited to release it and done it a little better. Seriously, what was the hurry? Burning Crusade was released 2 years ago. That’s much too recent for another expansion. Also, I feel like they’re blurring the lines a little too much between the classes. In trying to appease everyone bitching about who is overpowered with what, they’ve made a lot of speciality classes seem more like mediocre hybrids. I await upcoming patches from Blizzard to address some of these (and more) issues…

It's space week! But not really…

Ever wonder what our air traffic “looks like”? This video depicts a model of 24 hours worth of flights all over the world. Pretty cool.

Astronomy Pictures!

But not on my damn site. You have to go to Phil Plait’s blog for his choice of the Top 10 Astronomy Pictures of 2008. This was my favorite.

What is in a name?

Some may have seen this on PZ’s blog. A pair of – ahem – “creative” adults named their children such things as “Aryan Nation” and “Adolf Hitler”. Outrage ensued.

Ok.

Names
It seems to have become a trend these days for people to want to pick “unique” names for their children. For example, Moxy, Apple, etc. Although my personal preference is to stick to more easily-spelled and conventional-yet-different names, ok fine, name your kid whatever you want. I can’t stop you.

I remember in junior high a substitute teacher pronounced the name Geoff (pronounced Jeff, of course) as Goouf (hard G) and he was called that for the rest of his school days. I have had to correct the spelling of my last name my entire life. And it’s not even that uncommon. My partner has a name that has 2 common spellings, yet people tend to pick the spelling that is not his 80% of the time. It’s annoying. It can make kid’s lives miserable. But, again, whatever. Name your kid whatever the fuck you want.

However, one thing I do have less of a free-wheeling attitude about are 2 things:
1) A common name spelled in some awful way even though it’s pronounced the same (Airen, Lyndzy, Marq, Karletonn, etc). If you want to name your kid something unique, then do it. Don’t pick a common name, pronounce it the same, and then have your kid spend the rest of his/her life correcting the spelling.
2) Just plain stupid names, perhaps inanimate objects (Door, Chair, Aryan Nation, etc). Your child is not a noun.

So the parents in the above story obviously fall into category #2. Why? Can’t they name their kid Adolf Hitler if they want to? It’s just a name.

On Being a Douche
Weeeeeeeell, you see it’s not just a name. It’s a symbol of human oppression, racism, white supremacy, and all that lovely stuff. Many people are not going to be able to get past that, however irrational, and this poor kid (who doesn’t get to choose his name) is going to bear the brunt of a lot of that even though this is entirely his parents’ senseless decision.

I’m usually the last to suggest that people should do something (or not do something) because of the potential reactions of other people. But in this case I feel that undue harm to a child outweighs that policy. People are irrational sometimes. And if this kid doesn’t get beat up at least once (on top of all the other crap he’s going to have to deal with) because of his name, I’ll buy his parents a Coke.

Also, they have another kid whose middle name is Aryan Nation. I might have believed their “Hitler is unique” garbage by itself, but not in combination with this. Another unique name might have been Atilla, but they went with white supremacy again? Why in the world would anyone want their children’s name to be associated with white supremacy on purpose? Twice. Unless…

Assuming they don’t change their names, these kids are going to have to fill out every job application, every tax form, and every credit card slip with that name. Ok so the parents might not care what people think, but their kids might. And let’s say the kids grow up to not care what people think and use the name to make some point about the assumptions and prejudices of other people. Why inflict a life of that automatic defense on your children for their entire lives? Lots of people become activists, but they are usually old enough to know what that means first.

All that aside, this statement from the article I linked above is what clinched my lack of tolerance for these parents:

Say he grows up and hangs out with black people. That’s fine, I don’t really care. That’s his choice.

Oh well lah ti frikkin da isn’t he just a fucking bastion of inter-race relations? If he “chooses” to “hang out” with – gasp – “black people” that’s “fine”? Why is that even a “choice”? Why wouldn’t his parents encourage him to hang out with whoever the fuck he wants regardless of skin color rather than telling him if he hangs out with other races it’s “fine”. There is a tacit implication there that there is something inherently odd about being friends with a black person, but they are willing to overlook it. Is that supposed to be progressive? Fail.

People don’t evaluate every person they see based on superficial characteristics and then make a conscious decision to spend time with them – unless they were brainwashed into thinking that was an acceptable way to live their lives. Looks do play a part in human interaction, but we largely don’t consciously choose companions based on any certain criterion. Companions choose themselves based on similar interest, compatible personalities, and general agreeableness to relationships.

The Bakery
That all being said, I think the bakeries involved in this are being fucking douchebags. It’s a kid’s birthday cake. The kid doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t know his parents are naive morons with no forethought or outward social perception. He doesn’t know he’s being used to make a point. He just wants his name on his cake. Bakers run a business. They sell cakes. They (generally) put words that people want on their cakes. Where in their bakery license does it say they get to be the morality police on what does and does not go on a cake?

We have a tradition here of putting odd things other than Happy Birthday on cakes – because that’s boring. So we and our friends try to top each other every year by putting odder and odder things, or just plain clever things, such as last year when my partner put “Help! Trapped in Bakery” on my birthday cake. Should they be allowed to tell us we’re being “inappropriate” according to their standards? Or should they shut up, take our money, and write whatever the fuck we’re paying them to write?

It’s not even like they want Hitler on there as a joke though, that’s the 3-year-old kid’s fucking REAL NAME. Put it on the cake, take the money, and shut up. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. It’s a frigging child’s birthday cake. Get over yourselves, you short-sighted motherfuckers.

[Can you tell I’m just a little pissed over this whole thing? When kids are involved, I get lion-y. Particularly with brainwashy, racist “oh we’re just proving a point so that makes it ok to make our kids social outcasts” crap and then going to the news to play victim because every bad thing that happens to their kid is someone else’s fault.]

Edit: I almost fucking forgot this little gem. The swastikas. Because nothing says “we are just trying to be unique and aren’t at all ironic white supremacists” like swastikas on a child’s birthday cake.