Archive for March, 2009

How old would you be on Eris? (A birthday post)

March 31, 2009

Well, it’s the last of March, the Eve of April Fools’ Day, and also my birthday.

I am now about 0.04847 years old — wait, that’s Eris years, for the dwarf planet Eris (Eris the mgt.) goes around the Sun once every 557 Earth-years.

Ah, I guess that’s one way of feeling young. In Earth years I’m 27; I have no idea whether that is young, but in my case that ain’t mature yet, not if being mature means prune-faced silence and acknowledging that You Should Conform. (Then again, shrill cries of “I’m a rebel! Honestly! Look at the Iron Maiden decal on my attache case!” are a sure sign of not being young anymore; ah well.)

Also, I’m around one-third of a Uranian year (84 Earth-years) old. Insert the inevitable joke about not being a prune-arsed old coot though I am but a third of Uranus, and so on.

In Venusian years I’m almost 44. That fills me with dread; surely there can be no world where I’m over forty?

112 Mercurian years. Aaargh.

This is all done with the help of Wikipedia, by the way, plucking the orbital period of each planet from there and into my calculator.

You might have noticed I spoke of years and years, though numbers like 0.04847 usually convert down to months and days — that’s because I’m not desperate enough to start thinking how many Saturnine self-rotations or Jovian moon flybys (and which moon?) have gone by since arrived, wet, tiny, and quite puzzled.

Since the timing of my arrival must be a matter of singular indifference to you, consider instead Europa, a moon of Jupiter, that goes around the planet every 3.5 Earth-days (every astronomy-related number in this post is more or less rounded), and rotates synchronously, the same side always facing Jupiter. This would mean that on Europa…

Er.

A local year is the time it takes to go around the Sun: an Earth-year is familiar to us, and an Eris-year is around 557 Earth-years.

A local month, relative to some moon, is the time it takes that moon to go around you: on Earth, a Moon-month (heck, a pure bare month) is that thirty or so (see endnote) days it takes for the Moon to go sailing once around us, and on Mars, a Phobos-month would be seven and a half hours, and a Deimos-month would be a day and some six hours.

Now, what the bleeding tick would be a colloquial word for the time it takes you to go around a planet? Both month and day suppose that you’re on a planet and either observe it going around the sun, or a moon going around it.

Clearly, unless we’re going to use this highfalutin’ “orbital period” tomfoolery, we need a word for “the period of time it takes the object I’m on to travel once around the planet or other non-solar body it’s going around”, just like a year is “the period of time it takes the object I’m on to travel once around the Sun“.

This day being what it is, I modestly propose that the word for that be a moe, from “Masks of Eris”, pronounced like the character on the Simpsons.

If on, say, Europa, you would have an (Europan) Jupiter-moe of 3.5 Earth-days.

Or on our own Moon, you could observe an Earth-moe of around thirty Earth-days.

Or, stretching things a bit, on the International Space Station you can talk of an Earth-moe of ninety-one and a half Earth-minutes.

And generally, if X is a planet and Y its moon, the people on X reckon that their X-month (by the moon Y) is of the same length as the X-moe reckoned by the pseudopods on the moon Z. This is useful since if the moon Z has moons of its own, the pseudopods will get plenty confused if they try to use the same word to refer to both movement around them, and their own movement around something else.

You could say that month and moe are body-specific timekeeping measures that look in different directions: month is a word for “reckoning by bodies that orbit me”, and moe is a word for “reckoning by the bodies that I orbit”, leaving, for obvious reasons of tradition, the basest Solar System moe, orbiting around the Sun, to be called a year.

If you are confused, scared and terrified, my mathematical-astronomical-conceptual job is done for yet another day, and we both can move on. Have a nice day.

* * *

Since you have continued reading, I assume you are not terrified yet. Well, then I must pull out, with the help of Wikipedia for refreshing my memory, a mathematical fact that is usually really uncomfortable for the first-timer.

First, consider the decimal number 0.999…, or the number where you have nine tenths, nine hundredths, nine thousandths, and so on, forever.

Okay. That number is the same as one.

That is, 1 = 0.999\ldots.

Are you terrified yet? If not, or if you don’t quite believe a mere assertion (good boy!) or think this is some symbolic nonsense, let me give you a quick, easy proof of this.

You presumably accept that 1/3 = 0.333\ldots, right? Well, if you take three times the left side, and three times the left side, you still got equals, right? And what you got is exactly what we desire.

That’s all.

This thing is actually a rather nice mathematical fact; Wikipedia has a splendid article on the matter, including more complicated and rigorous proofs and examples of why humans get this burning itch between their brain lobes when trying to understand why ’tis so.

Humans… well, in the academic world there are rocks, plants, animals, laymen (“humans”), students, graduate students, particularly bright pets, and faculty. More or less in that order. (And, as you surely know, the departmental secretary is at the top of the chain. If this is unfamiliar, see the second endnote.)

Now, though, I stop; if I start on Hilbert’s Hotel or the Missing Square Trick (misdirection, not maths) or the birthday problem (“It just doesn’t feel right!”), this one day won’t be enough.

And, so, a good day to you, too, birth- or otherwise.

* * *

endnote, “a month is around thirty days” : Yes, I know a month is of different length depending on whether you wait for it to return to the same spot by the stars or by the Sun or by the coloring of your trousers; I’m ignoring all that here because it gives me… well, not headache since I almost never get actual physical headache (I’m either too cool, or just a freak of nature), but a deep feeling of nonsensical and existential dread.

* * *

second endnote, on secretaries, or an old, old, old mathematical joke:

Academic Structure

THE DEAN

  • Leaps tall buildings in a single bound
  • Is more powerful than a locomotive
  • Is faster than a speeding bullet
  • Walks on water
  • Gives policy to God

THE DEPARTMENT HEAD

  • Leaps short buildings with a single bound
  • Is more powerful than a switch engine
  • Is just as fast as a speeding bullet
  • Takes a few steps on water
  • Talks with God

PROFESSOR

  • Leaps short buildings with a running start and favorable winds
  • Is almost as powerful as a switch engine
  • Is faster than a speeding BB
  • Walks on water in an indoor swimming pool
  • Talks with God if a special request is honored

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

  • Barely clears a quonset hut
  • Loses tug of war with a locomotive
  • Can fire a speeding bullet
  • Swims well
  • Is occasionally addressed by God

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR

  • Makes high marks on the walls when trying to leap tall buildings
  • Is run over by locomotives
  • Can sometimes handle a gun without inflicting self-injury
  • Treads water

INSTRUCTOR/POSTDOC

  • Climbs walls continually
  • Rides the rails
  • Plays Russian Roulette
  • Walks on thin ice
  • Prays a lot

GRADUATE STUDENT

  • Runs into buildings
  • Recognizes locomotives two out of three times
  • Is not issued ammunition
  • Can stay afloat with a life jacket
  • Talks to walls

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT

  • Falls over doorstep when trying to enter buildings
  • Says “Look at the choo-choo”
  • Wets himself with a water pistol
  • Plays in mud puddles
  • Mumbles to himself

DEPARTMENT/GROUP SECRETARY

  • Lifts buildings and walks under them
  • Kicks locomotives off the tracks
  • Catches speeding bullets in her teeth and eats them
  • Freezes water with a single glance
  • She is God

(Cannot give source; there are myriad versions of this joke and this is a longish one, saved from the net a long, long time ago.)

(Oh, one more thing. This post started with me seeing someone had hit on this blog with a google query “how old would you be on eris”, and I couldn’t think what that could mean except these redefinitions of years and other things.)

Cha cha cha-cha cha-cha

March 30, 2009

My birthday’s tomorrow, but it came early: ye olde hoary Department gave me a grant for the rest of the year to conduct graduate studies with.

Hooray for macaroni! Hooray for cola drinks and occasional kebab! And hooray for my costliest vice, the constant acquisition of books!

After doing a silly dance for ten seconds — my absolute maximum unless I get a purely hypothetical “read some books!” grant for a year or get proposed to — I pawed through the papers and found one that I should return, filled with the details of myself and my bank account. Otherwise no money, no fun.

I filled the form, and then looked at it. It had the logo of Shadowy Evil University-Related Financial Services Provider Agency Z (“Leave your money in our hands, and you won’t have anything left to worry about!”) on the left-hand header, and a street address plus a “return to” naming that Agency in the right-hand footer. No other instructions.

Thus, quite naturally, guessing this was some extra layer of efficiency, some more padding to make our university lean and mean, I hopped on my bike and went to that address, a newly enlarged gargantuan university building half a mile away.

After two help-desks, two building-connecting walkways and an ominous locked elevator (“Well, I suppose I could ask someone to come talk to you… but no funny business!“), I was in the lair (fourth floor) of the SEURFSP Agency… where they looked at me, quite puzzled, and told me that the paper was supposed to go to the department to get a few seals of approval (insert seal honking here) and a quart of goat’s blood, and from there, without my bumbling presence, by some skull-lined steam-pipe, to the Evil Agency.

Drat.

Apparently the return-to instruction was for the department, the Agency having made the quite reasonable assumption that a graduate student would not do anything official-sounding without consulting the departmental secretary, she of infinite wisdom, mercy and patience, first.

Thus I went to the departmental office (bike saying squickety-squick on the wet snow), where they told me that, apparently, “department” was Evil-Agency-speak for “faculty”.

Getting any money out of these people seemed less likely with every development.

As the faculty secretary is away today (and, so it seems, is everyone else in the faculty HQ, excepting the shadowy, never-seen dean who might not even exist — I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the words “He? He cannot be the dean… he died seven years ago!” — this is what a dean from a rather distant department of the same faculty means), the resolution of this adventure will have to wait until tomorrow, since I’m neurotic enough to insist on returning these little slips personally.

That way they won’t come back a week later with “DECEASED / UNABLE TO DELIVER” stamped on them, with the slash underlined.

Hooray for money anyway, that thing whose acquisition and manipulation so often distracts us from all the lovely academic things we could do. (And speaking of those: I think I need to fill out a second form, and only then can I get back to peering at the corners of my e-mail inbox.)

Discovered divinity

March 29, 2009

“Hi!”

“Uh, hi. Why so chipper?”

“I discovered my divinity today!”

“Uh, right.”

“See, I found this old piece of paper yesterday. Hear this: ‘Frank Durchfall is te King. Hes the Boss. He’s likegod.’ What do you say about that?”

“Why is it written in crayon? And what’s a ‘likegod’? Does it mean ‘godlike’ or something… wait, why does it talk about you?”

“Now, now. Don’t come knocking my Revelation.”

“Your Rev… oh, wait. That looks like one of your scribbles from when we were eight and hard into that cartoon about the Sumerians, right?”

“That is hardly essential. And I read this crucial final passage as an abbreviation for ‘Like him for he’s God’. A likeable god, you know? It’s just an antiquarian way of saying it.”

“Antiquarian? Like, anno Domini 1990? No-one would write that as ‘likegod’, not even you with your poor writing skills, though you seemed to be running out of paper there —“

Silencio! Mock not the Word of God!”

“Sorry?”

“Doth this text not say I am God?”

“Well, sort of, but, uh, it’s something you yourself wrote, isn’t it?”

“And doth God ever lie or err? No, He doth not, so there!”

“Wait… your name’s written over something there… ah, I know! You just copied the opening narration for Belshazzar PowerGod, from that Japanese show, and wrote your own name over it.”

“Indeed not. That foul PowerGod was either a prophecy of me or a diabolical mockery to make mortals doubt my genuineness… I haven’t decided on that yet, I’ve been so wrapped up with the crowns and stuff.”

“I… what?”

“You know, the dress befitting God. I finally decided a crown won’t do. Maybe for my chosen priest-king, but just too ostentatious for me. I just wear a white robe and let my hair grow long. But now godspeed, I need to go practice for flinging thunderbolts.”

“But —“

“Yes?”

“I just think there’s something wrong with your thinking.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Some irreducible complex.”

* * *

Contents:

  1. Creative use of content and language. (almah/bethulah)
  2. It’s written, so it’s true. (creationism)
  3. It says it’s from a source that can’t lie, so it doesn’t lie. (fundamentalism)
  4. Can’t be no imitation and nothing like anything else. (er, yeah)

Playing with numbers

March 29, 2009

A detail from the statistics: this blog gets 33 spam comment-wannabes for each genuine thought. Oh Akismet, dearest of plug-ins (good luck trying to hit that combination of words somewhere else*), without you life would be rather troublesome!

Also: my posting average is around 0.88 posts per day; seems pretty good. In other units that’s like, what, 50 milliPharyngulae?

I won’t mention certain vital measurements, average daily hits and such; this is intentional since I am coy, and since (or so it seems) telling those numbers is, in this blog-world, something like whipping a body part out of your pants, slapping it against the walls, and screaming “Take a gog at this here, fellas!”

Uh, let me just say that the day before yesterday (which was a good one) soundly all alone whipped January 2008, a really, really quiet month from way back. And it seems that, if nothing unusual happens over the next few days, March 2009 will be my busiest month so far. It seems some readers can be attracted even if one isn’t a manic self-promoter. (Finns aren’t good in that; we seem to prefer the philosophy of “If you build it, they will come. And if they don’t, well, f—k them.”)

WordPress is a darling for providing all kinds of tables and statistics; they alone are at least 10% of the fun of blogging.

Er, did I sound too mathematical in that last phrase? Sorry.

Another 10% of the fun is looking at a well-written post, sitting there surrounded by the porcelain white of the edit-window, and flushing… er, hitting “Publish”.

* * *

* : “dearest of plug-ins”, limited to exactly those words, gave no Google hits. But once this entry percolates into the porous underbelly of the Internet… ha! I shall be the king of that phrase!

Also, “porous underbelly of the Internet” gave no hits. Double royalty!

The insult windows

March 28, 2009

(No, this isn’t about anything that Microsoft makes.)

Here’s a random thought: I’ve noticed that my “window of insults” is quite significantly non-overlapping with that of most people.

By someone’s “window of insults” I just mean that range of words that the person in question will get hurt by. There are common points for the most of us, naturally, and at least “liar” is quite universal, as is any derivative of “dishonest”.

But what about “ugly”? Some consider that word an insult; some consider it a rattlesnake that bites the one using it. (“Why, the filthy discriminator of the outlook-challenged existants!”)

Me, on the other hand, well, I don’t care. Most of us can’t do much about our personal outlooks, and then again beauty and ugliness are very much just accidents of culture and biology. (Did you know that in ancient Japan a geisha with teeth painted black was considered the height of beauty and fashion? Or that in old Europe fat was beautiful, since only the well-off had enough to eat?) Beauty and ugliness are just things one finds pleasant or unpleasant because of one’s upbringing and personal preferences; getting all huffed up over such things is like getting angry because someone calls you “a total gherkin” or “one big carrot type” — it all depends on what you think of vegetables, or some other words. (Unless the tone alone is enough to offend you.)

Just to clarify — I’m not discussing insults that have been hurled at me. I’m too small and timid to be insulted by anybody. Besides, don’t you know I’m beautiful? (strikes a grotesque pose and simpers)

What of insults like “pornographer”, and others similar words that, most often, describe vigorous interest in sex? Apparently they’re insulting if you subscribe to this common sex-hating prude view of the world, but since I don’t, I see nothing insulting in such a word. A pornographer just peddles entertainment. Why think him (or her) any different from the makers of slasher flicks or action blockbusters? One goes for testosterone, the other for adrenaline, and there is no difference otherwise. (Well, except that going for adrenaline won’t make you expel any fluids; not unless you watch a very scary, scary movie. Sorry about this note.)

The same puzzlement arises when some women are called by names that imply they take money for their sexual favors; again a thought like “Er, I think she’s a hair stylist; quite a mistake about her chosen vocation” flits through my mind, accompanied by a twinge of irritation at the fact that (to paraphrase George Carlin) some would consider selling flesh-action bad and illegal when both selling, as a general thing, and free flesh-action are perfectly fine, nice and dandy.

That’s a different way insults irritate, sure: when you don’t feel the word people use is a perjorative, but you get angry because people consider it such. Some terms describing interest in academics, computers and new things instead of money-grubbing, musclebound machismo and old mistakes are examples of such.

There are plenty of instances when I notice this shifted window of mine: mostly when over at FSTDT, reading words from a person afflicted with deep religiosity, spewing what (s)he thinks mortal slurs, while I just think “okay, that actually is a pretty accurate even if curt description of my position as an atheist; but why is he so smug about saying it? Am I supposed to deny this?” Or then there are the various words for homosexuality; not my cup of tea, but I feel nothing but mild puzzlement when someone uses them as insults. (“Er, actually I’m not gay, not unless you count Mana-san. But hey, we can still be friends, right?”)

Please note I’m not making some smug point of “I’m so high and mighty that mere words can’t sting me!” — there are words that would make me angrier than a bull in a steakhouse, but there just are so many words that rely on some aspect of instant revulsion that I just don’t have.

The monstrous side of Christianity

March 26, 2009

(Note: The following post is long: 2000 words of abrasive persuasion.)

Some people say Christianity is a nice religion: one of love, care, comfort and glorious celestial vistas of eternity and placid permanence.

I do not agree.

And since just saying that would be rather too brief, I thought I’d bring up a few thoughts on the dark sides and details of the Christian religion.

I try to keep slinging mud only on those things that most Christians agree about, but I’m an amateur, so I may err.

the Abominable Creation

First, God the creator. He caused everything to come into being. He is credited with being all-wise; commonly also with being all-knowing. Now, suppose this means he knows the future; he knows what will happen. If nothing else, he can make a very educated guess.

This alone makes him into a monster.

If God saw the future at the moment of creation, he saw every disease and injury, every moment of grief and agony, every injustice ever committed, every escaped criminal and convicted innocent, and he went on ahead anyway.

He caused mankind to come into being; and unless one is a Deist (and not really a Christian anymore) this involved theistic evolutions and souls and such things, and as such he is responsible for the way we humans are.

We tend to be selfish, greedy, possessive, easily angered, slow to forgive, vain — the list of our flaws goes on and on. If there is no God, that is just the way nature molded us; but if there is a God so closely concerned with our state, he is responsible for all our faults and bad qualities. What he did not create, he allowed to come into being.

If we’re prone to sin, it is because he made us this way. If there is sin in the world and a devil afoot, it is because he allowed it. As he is both potent and aware, he is responsible; as he then punished us for our failures, he is a monstrous hypocrite.

The same argument can be enlarged into a very uncomfortable vista of horror: God knows all, sees all, is everywhere. His hand is always ready and able to act. Wherever a child begs for food, a woman weeps under a slobbering rapist, a man suffocates under avalanche debris, God is there, watching, and does not intervene. There is no manna from the skies; no brain hemorrhage in the rapist’s head; no rescue party lured to the avalanche by a hunch. God sees all, and does nothing.

And if he acts, he does so only infrequently. For everyone falling to knees in thanks, there are dozens that die asking “Why?”; often in the very same place.

To say he does this to give us free will, or makes us grow through pain, or some such excuse, leaves us with a cold and loveless God. If you, with perfect foresight, left your child near an open fire, perfectly knowing she would hurt herself, knowing this beyond all doubt, would you consider your actions good? What if you didn’t leave, but stood there watching as the child burned and cried, and did nothing? Would you be inclined to say you were justified because of some mysterious greater good?

the Tyrant of Old

The Old Testament is largely not historical; I shall not expand on that here. I merely remark that whether that first half of the Bible is fiction or not, it still supposedly is edutainment of sorts: a grand tale that tells us something about God. And what might that be?

By the Old Testament, God is petty, violent, a control freak — you know Dawkins’s characterization of him — a God prone to unleashing famines, plagues, invaders and angry bears (it’s there!) for any infraction, one to kill anyone that touched his stuff (the Ark of Covenant, that is), and one entirely willing to slaughter entire nations from the way of his chosen ones — and one to turn on that nation once it wasn’t bloodthirsty or slavish enough. If that Old God was the president of some nation today, he would be a despised war criminal a thousand times over, worse than Slobodan Milosevic, worse than Stalin.

Oh, and General Joshua would be rotting in a cell next to Radovan Karadzic, too.

The Old God makes for curious and exciting tales, but not much for moral guidance: obey God, or boom! you and any and all innocent bystanders will suffer. If the King doesn’t do good, God will strike the entire nation; everyone’s guilty by association. Rules and laws are to be obeyed without question; no explanation or opportunity to disagree is ever given. All outside influence is evil, but the foreigners make great slaves, especially if women and untouched.

The Old Testament is a frightful image of God, and an abominable source of moral guidance.

Thou shalt not give false witness; but slavery is okay as long as you follow a few rules; thou shalt not kill, except sabbath-breakers, foreigners and disobedient children; thou shalt eat this but not that; and witches and faggots thou shalt kill. (Then again, it doesn’t matter what views one holds; the great hodge-podge of the Bible will supply a shady verse to uphold any opinion, and one for its opposite, too.)

the Travesty of the Crucifixion

But enough with the Old Testament: let us move to the high point of the New, the supposedly salvific death of Jesus on the Cross. One question about that:

Why?

Again, explaining my objection needs a few more words, and a considerable amount of vitriol. Read on.

This is God walking to the cross. Or the Son of God who is God Himself, whatever. He is eternal and all-powerful. Hence it seems logical that he did not have to come down and be tortured for any forgiving of sins to happen. And it was not very impressive torture anyway: being immortal he could not die, and knew that; and what was being nailed to a cross for a day or two to someone eternal, someone for whom the pain would soon pass, leaving no injury? All he suffered was a little dent to his pride, easily fixed as multitudes swooned praising his supposed sacrifice — a sacrifice in which he lost nothing, and hazarded nothing.

And, furthermore, this was God, one that had (presumably) seen every horror and pain ever inflicted on a human body or mind. Given the infinite variety of hurts and deaths we have devised for each other, a slapdash crucifixion might have been rather tame.

Now consider him coming down. He could have waved a hand, and all would have been forgiven, but no: he had to come down and make a theatrical travesty of this unnecessary act. The omnipotent Creator on a piece of wood has the same grandeur as a billion-dollar CEO being spanked by a cafeteria waitress since “that’s his way to announce he gives everyone a raise”. Salvific, salvific, amen, hallelujah!

Consider the timing, too: here comes the supposedly better and gentler Jesus, but not until after centuries and centuries of the former, harsher laws of the Old Testament. Why then, in the final days of Augustus’s reign? Why not make sure that everyone knew the good teachings from the beginning? (Man’s variable conscience, sitting between the thoughts “I’d kill for food” and “I really want to have that guy’s wife”, is hardly an answer.)

Why wait for years and years while sabbath-breakers were stoned and primitive, painful and often fatal circumcisions performed? Since I have difficulties believing God lazy or incompetent, only the third option — the trinity of cruel, capricious and narcissistic — remains.

There is no beauty in the Crucifixion. It was an unnecessary and arbitrary act of theatrics, done by one to whom it could cause no harm, and who could extract no benefit from it.

the Hellish Revision

But what about the teachings of Jesus?

Well, what about them? How about his rather central innovation, this place called Hell? At least the Old God had (apparently) the decency to torment only the living; Jesus would torture those that refused to obey him forever and ever, even if he outsourced this torment to his former underling, a creature that could not exist and operate unless he gave ol’ Satan free rein to do so. And apparently turning away from Jesus was enough for eternal punishment: goodness towards others counts for nothing, since the only way to the Father is through the Son.

What’s in the postmortem existence of a mankind-loving, income-donating, hospital-volunteering atheist teacher? Oh, an eternity of suffering, because though he injured no man, he wronged God.

What about Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer, a rapist, a cannibal, and later a convert to Evangelical Christianity? Why, he gets an eternity of bliss in Heaven! (And, if Thomas Aquinas was right, a balcony to behold the atheist being pitchforked down below.)

I could go on about Hell and Heaven and who goes where and how there seems to be no way of escaping these monstrous divisions, but I have done that before and see no point in repeating that all here. I just note that if there is Hell, then Jesus is colder and more evil than any sinning man ever was, since no man ever inflicted eternal punishment on another.

Just an Unjust Teacher

But, again, what about the teachings of Jesus? Surely they contain much that is good, right?

Yes; but it is all mixed with threats of Hell, not to mention callous calls for miserable austerity and heartless commands to cast aside all bonds of love and family. (Not to mean Paul’s miserable misogyny.) There is no suggestion of democracy, or ending slavery, or hints for building a just society. Jesus’s words were fitting maybe for an end-times preacher, one expecting that this generation shall not pass away before the End comes, but not very practical otherwise.

So, a mixed bag — and the worst part is the reason why these rules and laws should be obeyed. That reason is simple: obey, or God will hurt you.

No matter his teachings, Jesus offered little justification or explanation: what he said was God’s word, and if one didn’t like it, tough: there was always room in Hell. (Also, if one didn’t understand it: Hell!)

The problem in this is obvious: Why is it good to love your fellow man? Become Jesus said so! And why is it okay to sock it to your disobedient wife? Become Jesus said so! (Or Paul said Jesus said God said so.) If “he said so” is all there is supporting one’s values and positions, monstrosity and miserable rules-lawyering will follow.

Consider everyone’s favorite religious overachievers, fundamentalist Christians: their problem is not some lack of humanity, but rather that they read and obey. There is no room for debating justifications, only, and that is a maybe, for haggling over interpretations: God said it, and so it must be.

That isn’t morality; just tyranny.

An Aerocastled Grotesquerie

So: what have we achieved? I do not believe there is anything behind Christianity, no God, no immortal Jesus, no Heaven and no Hell; and what I have done above is an attempt to explain why this is the better state of affairs.

Whether there is a God and whether Christianity is true or false is something you should decide by careful scrutiny and skeptical examination of the facts, not by appeals to emotion, but quite apart from that there is the question whether Christianity describes a world worth living in, or one of misery and hellish injustice; and it is this latter question that I have addressed here.

Should you be a Christian (and should you have gotten this far which, given the abrasive nature of the words above, I admit seems rather unlikely), you should consider whether the atheist’s uncaring universe really is worse than one of a God that cares in such a lackadaisical and terrible a way. After you’ve decided on your emotions, the facts, though still same, might look a whole lot different.

Religious rules of debate

March 25, 2009

And now a break away from this self-self centered babble I’ve been spewing over the last few days: my old “Religious Rules of Debate” revisited and enlarged, now with simulated examples of typical use.

You might notice the first few are pairs; that is intentional since “all things support the Lawd”.

* * *

Rule #1 (Argument from persecution)

You know you are right if there are people telling you you’re wrong.

(“Oh woe, woe, persecution has always been the lot of the righteous man. So says the Bible, so it is: behold my righteousness!”)

Rule #2 (Argument from sycophants)

You know you are right if there are people telling you you’re right.

(“Can two billion Christians be wrong? No they can’t, and that’s all the loy-gick I need, so shut up!)

Rule #3 (The running-in-place ruse)

If it looks like you could be wrong, you aren’t. It’s a test, and you pass if you refuse to admit you might be wrong.

(“Stop testing my faith with these ‘facts’ of yours. The reality of nature is a deep and divine mystery. Besides, know ye not how many have been comforted by the sight of Jesus of the Lavatory Stain?”)

Rule #4 (The wild hairy guess gambit)

If it looks like you could be right, you are. It’s a test, and you pass if you refuse to admit you might be wrong.

(“So you bozos don’t know what dark matter is? It is the body of God, vast and immeasurable! Where is your science now, you fools? Where is your science now?)

Rule #5 (The tautology trick)

Once you accept that the Truth is true, it is clearly apparent that the Truth is true.

(“Once you learn to believe and live in faith, you will see God’s hand everywhere.”)

Rule #6 (The anti-atheism attack)

If someone doesn’t accept the Truth as true, they cannot see that the Truth is clearly true.

(“You pitiful poor soul lost in darkness; you cannot see the Way. You are not a true, real Christian.”)

Rule #7 (Name droppings)

If someone in the same field as your opponent supported your view, you win and all protests are meaningless and void.

(“You ornery physicist fool! Know ye not that it is so written in the Holy Book, and that Isaac Newton himself agreed: the End shall come no earlier than the year 2060!”)

Rule #8 (The offense offense)

Your opponent should stay positive.

(“Selfish? You offend me greatly, you godless child-rape enabling commie Illuminati surfer of Satan’s fetid giant bunghole. Shut the fuck up.”)

Rule #9 (the Cirque du Jerk exclusion principle)

To further ensure proper respect, only those that agree with you should be allowed to criticize your arguments.

(“Droll, certainly, but I prefer the argumentation of St. Poobah, a very meticulous and committed Christian theologian, in the XLII volume of his great Summa Contra Vacca Stulta.”)

* * *

A short clarification of the last two: Rule #8 is for your opponents when they talk; Rule #9 says they shouldn’t. Rule #9 isn’t the subject of the famous Courtier’s Reply; the reply demands that you learn extraneous details, while the rule asserts that all credible critique comes from within.

Oh, and the Reply could be number ten, but thanks to the nature of the Webs there is no sense in repeating it here. Go Myers instead, if you so like.

Old friend

March 25, 2009

So, ye olde Bike (whose breakage I described before) has been fixed. Black paint covers the welded spot, and there is no more wobbling, no more grinding sounds. My anachronistically ancient steed functions once more.

I am relieved.

After all, this is no ordinary bike, no passing tool I speak of. This is the bike my father rode in this same city years ago, in the late seventies, when I didn’t yet exist.

Then, after he graduated M.Sc. and married and moved away and got a job, I came along. The bike was placed in a shed, with only occasional use. Out in the sticks, you don’t got shopping by bike unless you have the whole day to spare, and only peanuts to buy.

I remember trying to ride that bike when very young — it didn’t end well because it was a men’s bike, with the top tube of the frame (“the ballbreaker”) presenting a rather serious challenge to a (at that time) size-challenged child: and once I got up, some fumbling trying to reach the pedals followed, and then I came down.

Then, in 2001, I came to this city — a throwback to the earlier generation, you could say, back to this city and the university here. I, of course, had a bike of my own, a slick Japanese thing. (More gears than you can shake a tyre-iron at, and probably thunderbolt decals; not a mamachari, which I quite probably would have liked, and would like.)

Those bikes aren’t, however, designed to be driven by Things. Or gorillas. Or me. After a few weeks, the pedals and the pedal-casing went meatballs and spaghetti, and faced with getting a new bike, I instead got an old one: my father’s bike, a Finnish Helkama, a trusty, rusty old thing.

Since that, I think every replaceable part of the bike has been replaced at least once — chains, spokes, inner and outer tyres, wheels, pedals, gears (round toothy things), cat’s eyes, handlebars, handlebar grips even, saddles, lights — oh, wait, the ancient dynamo still works.

Well, sort of works. Most of the time.

Well, it makes a sound. Sometimes the lamp sort of glows.

There has been no trouble with gears (first gear, second gear; that thing), but only because the bike doesn’t have any. And as it doesn’t have handbrakes, the foot-brake’s occasional breaking goes with the whole pedal interior assembly shebang going ratchety-bang item. (That’s expensive.)

Every possible part has been replaced, and this adventure to the welder was the second time the frame itself has been patched up. (The frame, you see, had a guarantee of 25 years, or so many father recalls. Well, it did held that far plus a few extra years, so I’m not complaining.)

Still, it’s an old and to me dear thing: older than me, over thirty years old, and in active, everyday use maybe a third of that time. I’m not sappy enough to give my constant companion a name, but I can tell paying for the repairs felt like paying the hospital bill of a child.

Ah well, you’re free to sigh “This guy never has had a child and it shows” now.

* * *

I could have started this recovery from bike breakage-post differently, but that might have been a bit creepy —

“I am so sorry for that broken bone, my dear companion. Somehow I didn’t even notice your back was cracked before that nice man pointed it out… Anyway, I’m so glad it’s fixed now, my bony little darling, like all those little injuries that come when I handle you a bit too roughly. It’s all because I love you. Now, let me mount you once again — ahh, this feels so good — and let’s ride!

Ah, this wonderful imagination of mine.

Blundering into the unfamiliar

March 24, 2009

So, I visit the web presence of my trusty internet bookshop — to add an interesting book called Assassination Vacation, the audiobook version read, in part, by Stephen King and Conan O’Brien, to my wishlist — second visit today; first was to order Ehrman’s newest — and I see a banner that says (in Finnish) something like “Test what kind of a reader you are!”

“Groovy” I mutter (or some equivalent in Finnish), and click it.

A few gaudy, preliminary screens follow; seems one of the bigger Finnish publishers is doing this net-applet-thingamajic as a promotion for some line of summer reading.

Gaudy screens, and a funny line of “test whether you’re a drama queen or a femme fatale” — uh, couldn’t they think of any more variety, I think. How about “a trucker or a drama queen” — that’d be some.

Then out plops the first question; and I translate.

Which is your dream job?

  • Manager of an XL-model agency
  • Actor-model-singer-television personality
  • Leading light of a popular yoga center
  • Owner of a trendy antique shop
  • Personal trainer for celebrities

My reaction to this question was, actually, in English and not in Finnish: “What in the everloving name of the empty skies? Every single one of those dumb snotty choices is equally vapid and distasteful!”

(Or, to be shorter, “What the (term for copulation)(interrobang)”)

After a few minutes of trying to choose a “dream job” among those that would be even tolerable — antique shop, maybe, but that vapid little “trendy”, hinting of flightiness and glossy brochures full of content-free babble; sooner flesh-eating bacteria than trendiness for me! — never a yoga-man; too high a risk of woo poisoning — celebrities, blah, models and singers and tv actors, blecch — after a while of this, the terrible truth dawned on me.

Clicking to the next page of questions confirmed this; the third question was “What’s the man of your dreams like?”

As my defense, I adamantly hold that nowhere did the quiz quite say that it was for the summer’s glut of romance books for women.

That should have been clear from the very first question — if the most scholarly and intellectual “dream job” offered is one as a dealer in some lemming-adored fraction of antiquities, selling status sex toys to puffy meat mannequin weathervanes, there’s some odd and twisted fantasizing afoot.

Not that I’m against odd and twisted fantasies, mind you: mine just are rated with so many X:s that a net quiz on them would cause the hosting servers to burst into raging flames of passion — but enough of that. We all need these little stories of things that won’t become true and that we don’t really want to come true, because that’s daydreams, that’s the most basic branch of entertainment: the outline’s pleasing, but the details would be kinda weird. It’s just that these high-life glamour-romantic fantasies are something that I can’t stomach, or even see as in any way desirable.

I have noticed, please note, that such female fantasies are not aimed at me, a proud owner of a wiener, but still — my curiosity is too strong to be held in check by mere common sense. And when I then blunder into something like this, I feel like an Amish in a gay bar.

Some people have weird fantasies. Most people, probably. I know I do. But still… “Personal trainer for a celebrity”, my foot!

(Oh, and the test said I’m an “inveterate romantic”, and recommended Nora Roberts. The characterization I accept; the advice, not.)

Bad animal media ideas

March 22, 2009

Was talking on a phone to my dad a few hours ago; while talking, got the greatest business idea of the century.

Animal Calls.

“Huh?”, you ask, with a furrowed brow and a curious poise. Or then a curious brow and a furrowed poise, if you have really unusual anatomy.

See, you surely know there are these adult phone lines. You call in, you hear a member of the opposite (or the same, or indeterminate) sex breathing heavily and making extravagant proclamations about your physical proportions.

Why not the same model for other services, too?

There are surely plenty of cityfolk, eco-hippies and others, that would gladly pay to “connect to nature”, to listen to relaxing countryside sounds — so slap an auto-answering handsfree set on a horse, and get rich!

There are infinite possible variations — a cow with a Nokia taped to its cowbell, a chicken coop where clucking at the receiver dispenses a few grains of feed so there’s plenty of sound, a service that connects the plastic-protected StyPhone into a conference call of your choice for great laffs (for more oinking, text to this number to lower the StyPhone into a vat of carrots!) — infinite variations: phones on harnesses or on the fences, calls to lones and herds, cats, dogs and cows, all with a animal that you can “talk with”, or at least listen to and talk to!

If we want to get more, ahem, racy, how about a “Stallion Line”? Hot equine-on-equine goings-on in the night-time stables, with whispered sidelines commentary from an experienced performer of artificial inseminations* — 3 euros per minute!**

Ahem, no more about that. I fear our society is not yet ready to accept the sexuality of other species. Adult humans, yes. Even senior humans. But horses? No, not yet.

Ahem, no more about that, as I said.

My father, however, had the best idea — Call a Worm. As in “an earthworm”.

“Hallo? Is this complaints? I called this worm line of yours, and there was nothing! Just silence, silence at 2.55 per minute! I listened for half an hour before I gave up!”

“Sir, what did you exactly think you would hear?”

* * *

* : What does it tell of me that when I suddenly could not recall what the frak “artificial insemination” was in English, and could not dig up a big enough dictionary (didn’t think to use the connections between different-language Wikipedias), I still could in three minutes flip to a podcast I had heard a few days ago and remind myself? (The podcast was an episode of Logically Critical, whose content this anecdote in no way accurately describes.)

** : This raises a question that I am not entirely sure I want to know the answer to: apparently video material with humans having sex is okay, legal and exists. Material with a human and an animal doing the same is considered gross and is illegal. Okay, but what about films where animals (non-human animals that is) go at it? Are there hot bonobo-on-bonobo sex tapes? And are such things legal? And is this, and the purchase of thousands of plain brown envelopes, the thing that will save a struggling biology department’s budget?