April 2007

Last night I was watching ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ (Friday’s show) and during the last New Rule he mentioned a curious statistic: 29% of the country still supports Bush and, maybe on a somewhat related note, 25% of the country believes that the rapture will happen this year. Bill went on to speculate that these are the same people who go on blind faith in the bible and in George W. I’m not going to comment on that, lets focus instead on the quarter of the population that doesn’t expect to see 2008 roll around.

Excellent, finally a large number of religious people make a refutable statement! It doesn’t happen often, and I for one am incredibly happy at this. I’m happy at the fact that they stated this. I’m happy at the fact that 75 million Americans (based on 300 million Americans estimate as of 2007) pushed their beliefs off a cliff in the vain hope of seeing them fly. Guess what, ain’t happening!

So, what do we do with this little bit of information? I have a few ideas. Feel free to append your own.

  • Call up a few of the 75 million people at 4am on January 2, 2008. If they answer, say “You’re not supposed to be there!” Hang up and call again the next day. Keep this up for a while.
  • Move all 75 million out of their houses, replacing them with poor and homeless people. “You’re not going to be around here much longer, be a good Christian and help out a worthy cause.”
  • On January 2, 2008, go to the houses of some of the 75 million people and ask them if they’re still going to attend church and donate money. Get them to spend the same amount of time/money (that they spent at Church) on humanitarian purposes. In a week, poverty is wiped out in America. In a month, the world.

This is just something I came up with a few minutes ago, I’m sure if we pool our resources we can be quite creative.

Also, on the note of the rapture, there is a rapture website that works on a dead-man switch: if the operator of the site doesn’t re in more than a day (or something) it is assumed that the rapture took place. At this time the server sends out emails that Christians have added to the database, a few words for their left-behind friends. There’s fun to be had with this particular set up, I’m sure you see.


Hot Chai

While the original story of GTA: San Andreas’ ‘Hot Coffee’ modification is now close to two years old, the announcement of the new GTA title has resurrected the controversy surrounding the franchise. (‘Hot Coffee’ is the name of a modification which allowed players to unlock game code that the developer has disabled from the final game but that still remains in the code.)

A month ago, the first trailer for GTA: IV was unveiled, giving a glimpse into the next game in the series and cause for alarm from its opponents. Jack Thompson, a controversial attorney who has filed a number of lawsuits against Rockstar Games, the company that owns the GTA franchise, has made numerous comments concerning the content of the game, which he believes will be ever more damaging to young players than any of the previous games. As support of his claims, Thompson produced evidence in the form of the game’s original source code, for which he refuses to provide sources, that includes “vulgar and suggestive comments and … sexually explicit variable declarations”.

Rockstar has refused to comment on the content of the upcoming game, but has addressed Thompson’s evidence, stating:

Where did you get that? Were you the one who set off smoke bombs in our building and tried to hang from the ceiling with climbing ropes like in that stupid ‘Mission Impossible’ movie? And come on, it’s just comments, that stuff doesn’t make it into the finished binaries! Oh, and those ‘sexually explicit variable declarations’? You can’t write ‘UnauthorizedAccessException’ without ‘sEx’, you dimwit!

Rockstar’s response continues on for a number of pages, attacking Jack Thompson on a number of technical points and suggests more than once that Thompson may not have received enough ‘love’ when he was younger.

US Senator Hillary Clinton, who sided with Thompson during the ‘Hot Coffee’ scandal, has distanced herself from the controversial attorney, citing Thompson’s lack of factual evidence and his poor ethics, adding:

I want to appear to be more conservative than I really am in order to get more red state votes, sure, but that raving lunatic is pulling stuff out of his ass now. Not even someone like a misinformed NASCAR fan would believe the crap this nutjob is spewing. Whoops, did I say that? I mean… I support family values. Abortion is wrong. A gun and a Bible in every household!

Thompson was unavailable for comments.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ was on last night, and I watched about 3 minutes of it. It’s a difficult task, you see, to follow any work of Jane Austen’s, but this particular version held my attention for a whole 3 minutes! How is this accomplished, you ask? Three reasons: Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland and Rosamund Pike. While watching, I realized, finally, why it is that this movie and other similar films bother me: it’s a movie about a bunch of gardeners. I don’t mean ‘gardener’ in quite the literal sense, just a metaphor, of sorts: these are people who spend their lives tending to and pruning the family tree. True, it’s a fairly lame metaphor, but I don’t have anything else. It’s true, however, since the entire film focuses on the painfully vain motivations of the main characters to marry, or have their children marry, just the right person. The entire story is about planning weddings. I’d rather watch paint dry!

Originally uploaded by FuzzyGamer.

Maggie, complete with a haircut and one my chairs under her, sits in my office and barks. Sometimes. Other times she runs around and look in nooks and crannies.

Today was a successful day which first started with me not waking up at 1 pm. It then got better by me resolving 2/3 of my bugs. Yay.

After much time-wasting in meetings and so on, I finally had a chance to go for a swim. Finally, because I missed going yesterday. That whole waking-up-at-1pm-thing really screws you up, you know.

Now, there are a number of swimmers at the pool. I will attempt to define those classes in a nice bullet-list.

  • Splashers – these are people who, for one reason or another, feel the need to splash water 3 lanes in each direction. Maybe it’s something about marking their territory. Or they’re trying to prove that while the rest of us are at the pool to waste time, they are the true practitioners, and as such exhibit outmost contempt for the common man, demonstrating it by unceasing water-shows.
  • Freakin’ bullets – these people traverse the length of the pool in the blink of an eye, leaving the chums in their wake, to sink or swim in the resulting tidal waves. These people are sometimes splashers, particularly at either end of the lane, switching directions by propelling their hairless bodies out of the water and splashing down not unlike a nuclear submarine from ‘The Hunt for Red October’.
  • Damn slow pokes – these people are trying out for the Olympics. The sloth Olympics, I think. I manage to swim 8 laps in the time it takes this gold-medalist to complete even one. I think they’re paddling really slow in place, only moving forward for a lack of options. And I certainly don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish.
  • The busy assholes – these people don’t stop. Ever. Not even for you to politely ask them if they will mind sharing a lane. I think they’ve been in the pool since last November, doing laps and not caring what in the hell is going on around. Yes, ignorance is bliss, but acknowledge the outside world once in a while, if only not to come crashing head-first into a fellow swimmer. These are often splashers and sometimes bullets. Be weary of the busy asshole: sharing a lane with them is an exercise in patience and self-restraint. When they’re not busy overtaking you or stirring up tidal waves at the ends of the pool, they are hogging most of the lane. Sort of hard to see where you are when your head is in the water 80% of the time.
  • The twitching idiots – these mental giants have deduced that the proper swimming form is one resembling a car-crash victim: their limbs can often be seen at impossible angles and their arms seem to be locked in at 90 degrees. The stranger the body looks during a swim, the better. These are often times splashers. Seriously, how would they not be with all those arms flying everywhere?
  • The talkers – this illusive creatures appear in pairs, normally. These are people who occupy the same lane but are rarely seen actually using it. They are found at the ends, standing around and talking. I am not sure what about, I try not to stick around, but it’s apparently very interesting and can only be discussed in the pool. They do not possess particularly annoying swimming traits, as they almost never swim. One begins to wonder if they even know how…

After the pool I went back to work to finish up the bugs I checked in earlier. Skipping past the boring parts, I then went to watch ‘Fracture’.

This was the first movie I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s a fairly curious thriller. Ryan Gosling plays a young hotshot assistant district attorney, trying to convict Anthony Hopkins’ character of attempted murder. See, Hopkins shot his wife in the head (she’s alive but in a coma) and now it’s up to Gosling to build a case from what seems to be a fairly straight-forward matter. Rosamund Pike stars as Gosling’s soon-to-be boss and lover. While her performance can be missed if you were to blink, she’s delightful and is one of the reasons I decided to see this film. That, and it fit my schedule, but moving on. A film about weak-points has quite a few of its own, but that’s probably just my perception. That and the fact that I’ve watched one too many CSI-type shows: the surprises were largely predictable and I noticed the major plot point at the first moment it appeared, close to an hour before the rest of the characters catch on. In this respect, the film is very much like ‘Manchurian Candidate’: while great on its own, there’s not much new that I didn’t see in the trailer, infer on my own before ever going to the theater or see from a mile away as a plot point.

Afterwards I made my way to McCormick & Schmick’s, a seafood restaurant in the same building as the movie theater (Lincoln Square). This place is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I have been there twice (for dinner) and was very satisfied both times, equally by the presentation, the quality of the food and the service. Of course, I do end up spending a minimum of 50$ every time I’m there, but it’s worth it. Having tried the oyster sampler last time, today I focused on the Kusshi Oysters (Deep Bay, British Columbia). These are a smaller, but sweeter, oyster variety that is pure heaven on the half-shell. For the entrée I had Wahoo (Kona Coast, Hawaii), “Oven Roasted with Penn Cove Mussels in a Red Curry Sauce”. A hard and somewhat stringy fish on rice, with breath-taking curry and mussels. Just “wow”. Can’t say anything else. For dessert, I once again went with the upside-down apple pie with ice cream. The whole thing is served on a plate decorated with fine flour and caramel dribbled liberally. Yum!

McCormick & Schmick’s is quickly becoming a favorite of mine and I am determined to celebrate every big, and little, achievement there. But no more often than once every two weeks. Not the fact that it’s semi-expensive. It’s certainly not because of their dish sizes: it’s not a lot of food, that’s why I am able to try an appetizer and a desert in addition to the entrée. The reasoning here is that this is something of a special place and I’m going to keep it that way.

This blabbering post is brought to you by the soundtrack for “Eyes Wide Shut”, a gorgeous arrangement of mostly instrumental music.

There’s a concept called Pascal’s Wager. The basic idea is this: it is safer to believe in God than not believing and risking the possibility of ending up in hell. It’s simple, really:

  • If you believe in God and if you’re right, you go to heaven
  • If you believe in God, nothing happens if you’re wrong
  • If you don’t believe in God and you’re right, once again nothing happens
  • If you don’t believe in God and you’re wrong, you end up burning in hell for all of eternity

Seems logical that everyone should be a Christian, right?

Some have responded to Pascal’s wager with the so-called Atheist’s Wager, which can be stated in the following format: “You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in God. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.” At least, that’s what the Wikipedia says, and we all know that you can’t argue with the Wikipedia.

I’m also writing this post as a semi-response to a post on the blog I found through the Atheists mailing list at work. The author suggests a curious position, one of anger at the Christian God and the Atheist as a soldier for humanity. Of course, this is a bit of a contradiction of terms for me, as I just don’t see us Atheists forming an army against someone’s imaginary friend.

Anyhow, covering the basics of Pascal’s and Atheist’s Wagers, we move on to my wager: This Atheist’s Wager, Or, The Scientific Atheist’s Wager.

I am a scientific atheist. What does this mean? I approach the question of religion from a scientific view point. I admit that there is a possibility of God’s existence. It’s possible that we have souls, are judged on our actions and thoughts, and are destined to end up either in Heaven or Hell based on the aforementioned. Now, now, settle down. You, stop hooting! You haven’t won. All these possibilities I admit, openly. Which is something that the opposition will never do, of course. I come forward with this because, as a scientist, I know that it isn’t easy to prove that something does not exist. So, I must admit that all of this is a possibility. However, having said that, I must expand these statements: the possibilities, while non-zero, are pretty damn close to zero. Existence of God is just as likely as gravity completely disappearing at noon tomorrow. It’s possible. It might happen. At this point, science has no way of saying that it can’t happen. But that’s a hell of a long way from saying “it will” or “there’s a God”.

So, for the time being, I’m filing the question of God in the same drawer as the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause: some people believe in them, I guess I grew out of it. You will too, someday. Eh, maybe not. Well, maybe your children’s children’s children. Or whatever.

Consider this quote: “Atheism is a faith like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” I think that this quote is true, to the point, and may help others see religion in the same light as I see it. Religion is just a “hobby”, an activity that some people partake in. It can bring them happiness, give them purpose in life, all those things that a hobby may do. But it’s not an essential part of life. A person can live their whole life without collecting stamps, or without even thinking about collecting stamps, and be perfectly happy. I do not think about God or religion during the course of my life. Sure, I can get pretty steamed up about it when reading yet another case of ignorance and injustice in the name of the Lord, but on my own, religion is not a part of my life. Equally, I can sit here and worry about gravity turning off tomorrow at noon, but what’s the point? It’s not something that is likely to be true.

The problem with Pascal’s Wager, one of many, is the large number of assumptions that have to be made:

  • There is a God
  • I have a soul
  • There is an afterlife
  • The afterlife is binary: you either end up in Heaven or Hell
  • Heaven is a good place to be, Hell is a bad place to be
  • God deems where you will go based on your belief in Him

So, we have 6 assumptions and no evidence for any of them. None whatsoever. Now, lets analyze in a similar way my idea about gravity turning off:

  • Gravity will turn off at noon tomorrow

Here we have 1 assumption with absolutely no evidence to suggest that it is true. From this assumption we can draw a conclusion that if gravity were indeed to turn of tomorrow, everyone not indoors would float off into interstellar space.

We can call this the Non-Floater’s Wager. The Non-Floater’s Wager states that it is safer to stay home tomorrow than not to:

  • If you stay home and are wrong, nothing happens
  • If you were right and stayed home, you get to live (a little bit longer)
  • If you didn’t stay home and you were right, nothing happens
  • If you were wrong and went for a jog, you’ll be enjoying jogging past the Moon, provided that you can hold your breath for that long

Clearly, you should stay home tomorrow. And believe in God. But you should stay home “more” since there’s more scientific evidence for it. “More” in the sense of least-number-of-baseless-assumptions. Oh, and notice that Pascal’s Wager makes assumptions that are ‘biased’ toward Christianity. It isn’t focused towards Hinduism, that for sure. So then you have to ask yourself “Am I believing in the right God?” But, lets not try and argue that point tonight. I’m tired.

Ooh, wait, I just got an idea: come up with a crazy and impossible situation for which there is a favorable way to act and a non-favorable way to act. It’s the ultimate excuse! “Sorry that I couldn’t make it to the meeting, boss. Well, see, I believe that if I came into the office on time, the sun would have exploded. So, to be on the safe side, I stayed at home. Quite logical, right? I mean, you told me yourself that you believe in God ‘just to be on the safe side’, and this is exactly like that.”

So, after that bumpy ride through the Central Park of my strange psyche we come to the almost-irrelevant point of this blog post: This Atheist’s Wager, Or, The Scientific Atheist’s Wager.

“It is safer not to base one’s life on illogical rules and standards. It is safer to reject the old rituals that fail the ‘is this logical?’ test. It is safer to not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. It is safer to lead your life based on reason and the Golden Rule than based on old traditions and a fear/reward-based system of rules.”

Final thoughts:

  • I love these bullet lists
  • Check out that blog I linked to in the opening paragraphs
  • Take a look at Robert A. Heinlein’s “Job: A Comedy of Justice”. It’s great satire and a good attack on the ‘concept’ of the Christian God.
  • What do you suppose the chances are of me staying home tomorrow for fear of floating into interstellar space?

It was already 1100 and what had he achieved today? Nothing, so far as he could tell, except to learn that the Navy’s motto seemed to be “Hurry up and wait.”

– Singularity Sky

Accelerating to speeds faster than light was, of course, impossible. General relativity had made that clear enough back in the twentieth century. However, since then a number of ways of circumventing the speed limit had turned up; by now, there were at least six different known methods of moving mass or information from A to B without going through c.

– Singularity Sky

She grinned, and her expression unnerved Martin: white teeth, red lips, and something about her manner that reminded him of home, where women weren’t just well-bred ornaments for the family tree.

– Singularity Sky

[After the Singularity, the following message appeared on every human-inhabited planet.]
I am the Eschaton. I am not your god.
I am descended from you, and I exist in your future.
Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic cone. Or else.

“[Explains the planned maneuver of going far into the future, getting the information on the enemy, then jumping to before the first strike to surprise the opponent.] With me so far? But the real problem is God. They’re planning on breaking the Third Commandment.”
Boursy crossed himself and looked puzzled. “What, disrespecting the holy father and mother? My family-”
“No, the one that says thou shalt not fuck with history or else, signed Yours Truly, God. That Third Commandment, the one burned into Thanksgiving Rock in letters six feet deep and thirty feet high. Got it?”

– Singularity Sky

God loves atheists because they do the right thing without being scared into it.

– Fai, said to have quoted from another source

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