Monday, December 19, 2011

Dresden Files RPG Log

In Episode 1: Our heroes find a red-court vamp thrall that owes them money and Henry, the demon possessed geek, decided to jump him at an AA meeting and got thrashed.
Episode 2: Skip, the half-troll, gets assigned by his boss, Aknar the dragon, to receive a shipment of the shards of Northung at SMF. A bunch of Hobs attack the plan and steal the shipment. Henry manages to track the box to Discovery park and there find a Nixie, who they (barely) capture and imprison for later interrogation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What it means to be an agnostic atheist (In case you give a crap).

So, I am an agnostic atheist. You might be confused by that statement. Aren't agnostics and atheists different things? Agnosticism and atheism answer two different questions. I will clarify that here.

Agnostic literally means "without knowledge", or more colloquially, "I'm agnostic" means "I don't know". This is usually used to answer the question "Do you believe in God?" Most of the time this is used to avoid an argument with your religious relatives and coworkers. However, "I don't know" is a silly answer to "Do you believe in God?” How does someone not know if they believe in God? If you do not know what you believe, who does?

Agnosticism is an answer to the question "Does God exist?” One can reasonably answer "I do not know" to that question. On the existence of God, I am agnostic. There might be some God somewhere that I do not know about. By way of comparison, I am also agnostic regarding leprechauns, vampires, extra-terrestrials, and unicorns; so don't get excited. There might be extra-terrestrials somewhere, but I have never seen any good evidence. Some people claim to know that God does not exist. This is usually based on the idea that God is a self-contradicting term, like a square circle. However, I think it is mostly a matter of semantics and I dislike such games.

Atheism means "without God". It literally means that you have no dealings with gods, I suppose, but it is usually means that you do not believe God exists. I suppose that someone could believe that God exists but also not worship him, but that would be strange, especially considering the punishments at stake, but that is another topic, so I will use it as an answer to the belief question.

Therefore, when one says they are an "agnostic atheist" one is stating "I do not know for certain that there is no God, but I do not believe there is." However, this is also like saying “I do not know for certain there are no vampires, but I do not think there are."

In addition, atheism is not a belief system. It is the lack of belief. You really can't ask what atheists believe anymore than you can ask what non-skydivers believe. Other than believing that skydiving doesn't look fun, claiming to be a non-skydiver does not say much. Trying to define someone or something by what it isn’t is not a very useful practice.

When most people think of an atheist, they are really thinking of a secular humanist, or something similar. Secular Humanism is an ethical belief system that has tenants that are accepted by its members. If you had to boil Secular Humanism down to one sentence, it would be "Don't be a jerk". Look it up. However, there are atheists that are religious. There are secular Jews, secular Buddhists, secular Unitarians, etc. So Atheism is not a terribly descriptive term.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You know it will happen.

There is a new study of human skulls that shows that humans living in higher latitudes, such as northern Europe, have larger eyes and brains than those living closer to the equator. This is believed to be due to the lower light levels there that require a little more umph in the visual processing areas.
How long will it take for white supremacists to use this as justification for saying that Caucasians are smarter?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Special rights for the religious threatened by equal rights for gays.

This article by the Deseret News claims that religious actions have greater freedom than other actions. That is to say that someone is allowed to do things that their religion demands that people would not be allowed to do for other reasons. And to some extent this is true. During prohibition, churches were still allowed to serve communion wine, and religious organizations are allowed to discriminate against members of other religions in hiring.
Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.

The Mormon church seem to think that they are going to be forced to perform gay marriages. Now as far as I know, no church is forced to perform any marriage, and, under the New York law, religious organizations are specifically exempted. I assume churches can turn away anyone they want, perhaps simply for not being a member. Why a gay person would want to (or perhaps be allowed to) be a member of a Mormon church is beyond me.
However, it gives an interesting look into the religious mind. He basically says 'Their equal rights are threatening to take away my special rights."
At least some of the comments are fairly reasonable.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Senator Replied

So, I complained to my senators and reps about the new requirements on companies to report all payments for good and servies over $600. It would have been a mess. One replied:

Dear Mr. Harmon:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about increased tax reporting requirements in health care reform legislation. I appreciate hearing your thoughts about this issue and I apologize for the delay in my response.

As you know, President Obama signed two health reform bills into law; the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law No. 111-148), and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (Public Law No. 111-152). I supported these pieces of legislation because they will expand access to care to millions of Americans and end abusive insurance industry practices, all while reducing the deficit by an expected $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years.

As part of a package of measures to finance these reforms, the legislation included increased reporting requirements to reduce the country's $348 billion annual tax shortfall, known as the "tax gap." Specifically, the law requires businesses to inform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of all purchases of goods or services made in excess of $600 per year, starting in 2012. Previously, the IRS only required businesses to file such forms on payments made to individuals.

I share your concerns that these requirements will impose a significant and undue burden on small businesses. I recently supported an amendment to the "Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010" (H.R. 5297), which would have raised the payment threshold from $600 to $5,000 and exempted businesses with fewer than 25 employees from reporting payments on goods and property. Unfortunately, this amendment failed to muster the necessary votes for passage. A second amendment, introduced by Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), would have eliminated all reporting requirements but it also failed to pass. I opposed this amendment because it sought to offset the loss of revenue by abolishing the $15 billion Prevention Trust Fund, which was established to expand Americans' access to preventive services.

You may be pleased to know, however, that on September 14, 2010 Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced the "Information Reporting Modernization Act of 2010" (S. 3783). This legislation would lift the reporting requirement from $600 to $5,000 and would adjust this requirement periodically for inflation. Furthermore, it would eliminate redundancy by exempting payments made via payment card or through third party network transactions. I have indicated to Senator Landrieu my desire to co-sponsor this legislation.

Once again, thank you for writing. Please know that I will keep your comments in mind as this and future proposals related to tax reporting requirements are debated before the Senate. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

It sounds like some people are trying to change it. I understand that a politician's word is worth only the air it takes to speak, but lets see what happens.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Questions for Atheists

OK, the Discovery Institute (those are the guys that are trying to push ID) posted a quiz, lets see what my answers are.

1) Why is there anything?

I don't know. However, I suspect that for there to be nothing, there would have had to be precisely nothing. Exactly zero anything. If there had been even 1x10^1000 of anything, effects would have accumulated. However, this is just a suspicion, and I claim no knowledge.

2) What caused the Universe?

The universe is it's own cause, I suspect. It is the only thing that makes sense, and it has the advantage of not falling to to the infinite regression problem. many people claim God did not need a cause outside of himself, but why did he not? The answer is usually something like "Because he is God!" which is not an answer. I can say that the universe did not need a first cause outside of itself, and defend it by saying 'Because it is the universe!" I think it is obvious that my response would not have been an answer.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

I suspect that if any universe had come into being without regularity of physical law, it would have not come to anything. We might be the billionth universe, but only the first to get it right. Remember, time may be a quality of the universe and may have come into being with the universe. If there was no time, or an infinite amount of time before the universe, there could have been billions of failed (or successful and now long dead) universes before this one.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

I had to read up to see what this question meant.
a) Material causes exist. If you have a trombone, brass has to exist.
b) Efficient causes exist. For something to fall down, you need gravity.
c) Final causes do not exist, that is, things are not meant for anything except when a person makes them for that purpose. Even then, they are not meant for anything except in that person's mind. The intended purpose of a thing is not a quality of that thing. It is a quality of the mind that is thinking about that thing, and thoughts are extremely mutable. Thoughts do not create reality.
A butter-knife, which (we would assume) has the final cause of spreading butter, can turn a screw. I doubt anyone would assign to a butter-knife the final cause of "turning screws".
d) Formal causes only exist in that things happen to be suited for their tasks by how they are structured. A pile of rocks can serve as a landmark, even if it was not meant to be one. We would not use a butter knife to turn screws if it did not happen to work fairly well in a pinch.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because we have brains that interpret sensory information imperfectly based on limited information.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

I am not a philosopher, I am an accountant. I think this question is asking, "How can the mind have goals?" Well, if it did not have goals, it would never do anything. Other than that, ask a psychologist.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

Absolute moral law does not exist. It is all situational. I have never seen a convincing example of absolute morality. "Killing is wrong" except sometimes it is OK, such as in self-defense or in punishments for certain crimes. "Theft is wrong" unless it is to feed the hungry (see Robin Hood). "Lying is wrong", unless you are hiding Jews from the Nazi's. This list is endless. Just read the Old Testament. "Thou shall not kill", except all the times God (or the priesthood How do you know the priests just aren't claiming God said something?) says it is OK.

8) Why is there evil?

Because people often want things that other people are not willing to give them. When their desire for the thing overpowers the desire to not hurt people, they commit evil. However, evil is not a substance, it is a adjective and it is subjective. What is evil to one is good to another. A better question is "Why is there good?" The answer is, without good, we would have all died out. Humans do not survive well in isolation. To survive in a society, people must treat each other with a certain amount of kindness. Any society without goodness dies out quickly. Hence all the societies that survived had some sort of goodness.

I am sure most folks without a philosophical education could do better. You don't get any points for answering "It is that way because I (or my invisible/absent friend) says so." I don't claim to know the answers to any of these questions. These are my suspicions about what might be the answers. Unlike some people, I do not make up an answer and then declare it THE TRUTH. Really, I don't know the answers, and neither do you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Comparison of "Let Me In" and the original "Let the Right One In"

Last weekend I watched both the theatrical release of "Let Me In" and the original Swedish film "Let The Right One In". I disagree with the critics and think the new film is the better of the two. The original film is a good work of horror, but the American film is scarier, more coherent, and included better performances. Lots of critics are saying the new film does not compare to the original, but I think it is an obvious case of critics being required to prefer foreign films over American ones. I think it is a law.
The films are 90% the same, and there are just a few differences, but I think the American film is better.
Here are my problems with the original.
1. The kids can't act. Whether it was the skill of the director or the talent of the stars, the kids in the original spend most of the film standing around awkwardly, shuffling their feet and staring off camera, looking like kids in a middle school play who have forgotten their lines. I understand that they were 13 at the time. They certainly acted it.
Chloe Moretz is a pretty good actor for 13, and it shows. One could tell from her performance that Abby, the vampire, does not enjoy having to kill. In the original, Eli is so stiff that you can only tell she regrets her lifestyle from direct statements of that fact in dialogue and more obvious blocking.
2. The Father in the original is the worst serial killer ever. Assuming he has been friends with Eli for a long time, and has killed and drained a lot of people, he is astonishingly bad at it. Both killings in this film are ruined by bad planning, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would allow a stranger to walk up top them with a gas canister attached to a breathing mask and just stick it over their face.
The Father in the American film is scary. He has a routine that works which involves sneaking up on his victims stealthily and attacking them when they are alone and vulnerable, something that is not necessary when hunting passive Swedes with no survival instincts. He does botch one attack, but it is less through bad planning than through bad luck, and it has some black humor included at no extra cost.
4. Eli is not very good at hunting. Assuming Eli has been "twelve for a very long time", and that she had to hunt for blood on her own before finding her "dad", she is also really bad at it. She kills a victim in plain sight of one of her neighbors, across the street from her home. She makes a minimal attempt at stealth and chooses a really bad spot where she can be seen, and is seen. Perhaps she was relying on number 4.
Abby, in the American film, is much scarier. When she kills her victim in the pedestrian underpass, it is frightening and unobserved.
4. Apparently, Swedish people do not call the police or go to the hospital when things go horribly wrong. In the Swedish film, Eli kills a neighbor in order to feed after her "father" screws up. The crazy cat man at her apartment sees the whole thing, and refuses to call the cops because he is afraid of being interrogated. He does tell the victim's best friend, who also does not call the cops, even after they find a large pool of blood or after the victim's body is found. They all just sit around and drink and mourn poor Jocke. When another attack is witnessed, not only are the police not called, but no one takes the victim, who has large bleeding wounds on her neck, to the hospital. They just slap some toilet paper over the wound and send her to bed. This second fact lead to an interesting bit involving some cats, but even then, the displayed passivity of the Swedish bothers me. In good old America, when a dozen cats are trying to eat your wife, you react. Is it not so in Sweden?
In the American film, Abby's first kill is un-witnessed, and the second victim ends up in the hospital. Due to all this violence, there is actually a cop in the American film who is trying to get to the bottom of everything. He is not a terribly skilled cop, but he at least has to advantage of existing.
5. The cinematography in the American film is better. The Swedish director had too many uninteresting shots.
6. The production values of the American film are better. I don't want to hold this against the Swedish film, perhaps they had a small budget, and did the best they could.
Here are my problems with the new film.
1. The director inserted a bunch of clumsy religious references that were not in the original. The cop asks "Are you a Satanist?" to the father while he is in the hospital. The writer set this in the 80's for no reason I can see other than to include Reagan's "Good and Evil" speech and references to Satanic cults, which were the paranoid delusion of middle America at the time. It just seemed extraneous.
I know all the artsy-fartsies will be required by contract to poo-poo the American film, but it is a superior piece of work for both artistic and geeky reasons.