Update for FtBCon 2 This Weekend!

The calendar for this weekend’s free online conference is available for perusal. It has undergone several additions and scheduling changes over the past few days, with even more speakers and panelists being added to the list (now counting over 93). Among which, I’ll be introducing another talk this weekend, by David Diskin, President of Camp Quest West, on the value and importance of supporting and promoting Camp Quest and what sorts of things this secular summer camp for children and teens does for education and fun. Check it out.

Remember that all the times listed on the Lanyrd schedule are US Central Time (GMT-6).

A New Bayesian Calculator

Bill Seymour has developed a new, more advanced Bayesian calculator for public use, and he would like people to beta test it and offer advice, or even develop it further.

For this open-source Bayes’ Theorem calculator, Seymour writes:

My intent was to find the middle way between, on the one hand, highly technical (and expensive) commercial software used in the sciences and statistics, and on the other hand, the toy Bayes’ Theorem calculators that abound on the Web. Some features of my calculator are:

  • Hypotheses can be saved in permanent storage so that users can work on several at once as part of a larger project.
  • Complete hypotheses can have any number of alternates.
  • Priors and consequents can be almost any arithmetic expression that evaluates to a probability between 0 and 1.
  • Prior and consequent expressions can contain terms that refer to other hypotheses.
  • Probabilities can be entered, and displayed, as decimal numbers, percentages, or odds.
  • The program happily works with what Carrier calls a fortiori probabilities: ranges of values like “20% to 40%”.

If you’re interested, here are some links:

I’ve given the code the open-source Boost Software License which isn’t viral like the GPL and others are said to be; so if you’d like to use some of my ideas in a program of your own, the open-sourceness (if that’s a word) of my code won’t infect yours.

And I explicitly invite others to help with this project. In particular, I think it really should be a downloadable executable that can be run off-line. Unfortunately, writing GUIs isn’t in my wheelhouse (my failing, not GUIs’).

If anyone would like to create a Windows or OS X version; have at it. I’ll even host your source code on my Web site if it’s open-source and high-quality. (But be warned that I’m a professional programmer, and also an old fart, with some curmudgeonly ideas about how quality code should be written.) You’ll find my e-mail address at the end of the documentation.

So if you are interested, check that out. I have also added a link to these materials on my old calculator page so users have the option of both.

The Gettier Problem

Among my many forms of cobbled-together self-employment I provide specialized tutoring to graduate students in ancient history and philosophy around the world. Which is rewarding in lots of ways. One of which is when my student ends up correcting an error of mine. That’s when you know you are a successful teacher, and they are starting to surpass you in knowledge and acumen. I’ve actually been excited to report on this, and correct the record. Gratitude goes to Nick Clarke.

The short of it is that long ago in a comments thread on my blog many years ago I was incorrect in my analysis of Gettier Problems. I was on to the right solution, but I made the mistake of assuming an unsound conclusion could not be considered justified (and without realizing that’s what I was doing). Conclusions in Gettier Problems rely on false premises to reach true conclusions. I was right about that. But I wasn’t right about that being grounds to dismiss them.

Backstory is required. [Read more…]

Beyond the Black Rainbow…and Other New Films in my Amazon Store

Besides adding a Blu-Ray section, I’ve added five new films to my “Favorite Films” portion of my Amazon store. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the backstory.)

  • Whip It (directed by Drew Barrymore), with my remark, “Google ‘Bechdel test’. This is how it’s done. Also the best roller derby film ever made. By far.”
  • Licence To Kill (directed by John Glen II), with my remark, “Really the best under-appreciated Bond film. And has Pam Bouvier, my favorite bond girl (not just beautiful but funny, capable, has real skills and actually calls bond out on his shit).”
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (directed by Hayao Miyazaki), with my remark, “Second best Miyazaki film ever [the first being Spirited Away]. Steampunk + magic + surprisingly moving story of friendship and self-discovery. You won’t ever have seen a film quite like this.”
  • The Whisperer in Darkness (directed by Sean Branney), with my remark, “The same production company nailed it again, this time producing another Lovecraft classic by mimicking a 1940s talkie,” referring to the entry now immediately before this one, the excellent Call of Cthulhu silent film.
  • Beyond the Black Rainbow (directed by Panos Cosmatos), with my remark, “This bizarre 80s noir scifi film is an artistic masterpiece, but requires multiple very careful viewings to see why (and to understand all the nuances of what’s actually happening).”

Cover of the DVD for Beyond the Black Rainbow. With a dominant color scheme of red, shows the silhouette of a girl running toward the viewer from a glowing and radiating pyramid of light, above whom is a man whose face is oddly hairless, and eyes black, and whose grasping right hand and scary dagger-wielding left hand looms many sizes larger above her, all on a background of pitch darkness. Title above reads: Beyond the Black Rainbow, a Panos Cosmatos Picture, in red over the blackness. Tagline at bottom in white reads The last of those requires a bit more explanation. It’s definitely now one of my favorite films, but for reasons that will be quite mysterious to someone who sees it for the first time and gets frustrated wondering what the hell. (It’s worse if you watch it in a lit room with background noise, then you’ll be totally confused and not at all in the right mood. So…don’t do that. Darkened room, quiet, no interruptions. Best viewed on whiskey at 1am.)

The most fascinating thing about Beyond the Black Rainbow is how superbly well it captures the entire feel of a 1980s noir scifi film–it’s literally made as if it were produced in 1983 (right down to the minutest detail of the cheesy faux-80s pop song playing incongruously over the closing credits, exactly as you’d find if this really had been made in 1983), while trying to top Video Drome, Warriors, and Repo Man for weird atmospheric but totally excitingly bizarre cult classic (while also not being at all like any of those films). The music alone is teleporting and evokes a feeling of odd nostalgia–as if you had seen this movie thirty years ago and had forgotten about it. But even such things as a shag carpet, a plastic faux-futuristic chair, the look and sound of a 1980s computer keyboard, are emphasized masterfully by the director to evoke the feel, the sights and sounds, even–I honestly have to say–the smells of that bygone era.

The script is minimalist and the shooting impressionistic, so you may have too watch the whole movie multiple times to understand what’s going on and what the point is behind every bizarre choice made by the director (and there are a lot of bizarre choices–this movie was made well outside the box of mainstream filmmaking cliches). But even on first viewing you’ll be stuck to your chair, mesmerized, wondering where on earth this is going and what on earth is happening.

The product description is apt but nowhere near captures the reality:

Held captive in a specialized medical facility, a young woman with unique abilities seeks a chance to escape her obsessed captor. Set in the strange and oppressive emotional landscape of the year 1983, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a Reagan-era fever dream inspired by hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons. From the producer of Machotaildrop, Rainbow is the outlandish feature film debut of writer and director Panos Cosmatos. Featuring a hypnotic analog synthesizer score by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain, Rainbow is a film experience for the senses.

I caught this by accident on uVerse On Demand some time back, where the preview was so weird and nostagia-evoking I just had to see the thing. My wife and I have been weirdly drawn to this film ever since. We later explored the net looking for takes on the film, which ranged from outraged disgust to fawning admiration for its genius (just look at the wild inverted-bell split in the Amazon customer reviews). Overall, I find the people who hated it didn’t understand it (and don’t have the patience for suspense). Whereas I’ve found more and more depth and genius to the film the more times I watch it and realize why the director did what he did at each particular moment, and what it was supposed to evoke or communicate. I love art like that. But it’s not for everyone.

Want to Read All Our Blogs with NO Ads? Well, Now You Can!

You can now subscribe to FtB, and your subscription fee substitutes for our ad revenue, and the ads go away, and you still get to support our work. It’s just $30 a year (or less if you want smaller increments). You get access not just to my blog without ads, but to all the FtB blogs with no ads.

Right now it only works through PayPal, though in future we will have other pay methods worked in. And you have to have, or create, a user account (and stay logged in, or log in when you want to view FtB without the ads) either with us or WordPress, Yahoo or Google. All four types of user account will be recognized, but if you want the easiest enjoyment, you should subscribe through whichever account you don’t mind staying logged into all or most of the time, and that may just be our local user account, which you can create just for that purpose.

If you are interested in this, then login here. It’s a great way to help reward us for our work that doesn’t require your enduring the aesthetic displeasure of some other shill’s popup or other annoying attempt to get your attention (because basically, right now, like with most of the internets, it’s the shills who are paying for you to read FtB for free).

This is a new feature and you may encounter bugs. If you do, report them directly to Jason Thibeault (Lousy Canuck), the amazing guy who made this happen all on his own time–he will be happy to fix any problem that comes up if he can (just post a bug report in his thread here).

Now You Can Wear Even More Bayes’ Theorem!

Picture of the Odds Form Bayesian mug (white mug with artsy black text) offered at Richard Carrier's Marvelous Amusements shop at Cafe Press.Did you say Odds Form? Shirt? Car Flag? Panties? Hell yeah.

I just finished loading my old Cafe Press store with tons of different shirts and other odds and ends featuring my Bayesian graphic, which uses imaginative rather than standard mathematical notation (as I reported last week, you can get jewelry with it from SurlyRamics).

I also duplicated most items with a cool graphic design of the Odds Form of Bayes’ Theorem (in standard mathematical notation, but artful font). Because a lot of people are fans of the Odds Form. No joke…it has actual vocal fans. It’s also the form I use to run the math in my upcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus. If you want to know what the difference is and what the Odds Form equation means and how to use it, see Proving History (index, “Bayes’ Theorem, Odds Form”). Like with the other graphic (as I explained last week), you have to assume b (background knowledge) is in the givens of every term (a common assumption mathematicians allow).

Picture of women's cap-T shirt with Odds Form Bayesian graphic across the chest. White shirt with black shoulders and neckline.Above right is a pic of the Odds Form mug I’m selling. It actually looks pretty awesome. Likewise the women’s Cap-T (below right).

To check out the full range of products, and help support my work by buying some, visit Richard Carrier’s Marvelous Amusements. Note that many items actually have color options at the purchasing page (so it’s not just all black or white). If you have ideas for other products I could develop and offer there, feel free to recommend them in comments here. Just note that I’m limited by the stock and capabilities of Cafe Press.

I have also included some Solon’s Commandments materials, as some fans requested I do many months ago, after I wrote about them in That Christian Nation Nonsense (Gods Bless Our Pagan Nation). Cafe Press doesn’t offer the option of an inscribed plastic plate, so you would have to get the mini-poster and put it in a hard plastic casement or sheath from a local office supply store–or else buy the expensive framed print option (although that does look quite nice). Junior high and high school students who feel like living dangerously can even bring a Solon’s Commandments lunch bag to school.

Two More New Bloggers

We have two more new awesome bloggers at Freethought Blogs. Kate Donovan (of the US) joined us in July, and now Alex Gabriel (of the UK) joins us this August.

Kate is blogging here at Gruntled & Hinged (“A Blog about Madness and Mental Health by Your Incorrigibly Optimistic Narrator, Who Is Neither Disgruntled Nor Unhinged”). As she describes herself…

Kate Donovan's Gravatar pic. Illustrates her best snark face.Kate is a psychology student at Northwestern University who runs on coffee and snark. At some point she’d like to make people sit on couches and tell her about their feelings, but right now she writes on the internet and makes silly faces when she doesn’t know what to say. An incorrigible optimist, she likes to knit, juggle, and will devour any book in reach.

In Which Our Narrator Strikes Out on Her Own is her inaugural post. If you missed it, check it out to get even better introduced. She’s been blogging cool things about psychology and mental health from an atheist and skeptical perspective.

Alex is now blogging here at Godlessness in Theory (“Queer Left Politics, Pop Culture and Skepticism”). As he describes himself…

Alex Gabriel's Gravatar pic. In which he looks curious, whimsical, and ready to warrior his keyboard.Alex Gabriel is a twentysomething British graduate. He writes from a theoretical perspective on religion and how to leave it, popular rhetoric and political dissent, secular, nerd and LGBT cultures, sexuality and gender or whatever else crosses his mind. His main pursuit is blending frameworks of secularity and social justice – more than just intersecting actions, he yearns for synthetic secular thought. When not putting sacred cows to slaughter or training with the PC brigade, he can usually be found somewhere online.

Secular Synthesis and Why We Need It – or, Hello Freethought Blogs is his inaugural post. Definitely check it out to get even better introduced. He blogs insightful, thoughtful, and detailed things about politics and culture from an atheist and skeptical perspective. And as he says, “I’m 22, secular, British, poly, queer, tall, ex-Christian, left wing and long-winded, a nerd, a graduate and a keyboard warrior.” Indeed. He’ll fit right in.

Enjoy the juggernaut!

CFI Still Doesn’t Get It

If you didn’t already know, a scandal has exploded yet again throwing CFI in a bad light (you can catch up on events here and you should definitely read the original piece starting it all here). And once again they are making things worse with a disastrous pattern of communication. Things are still happening behind the scenes, so I am awaiting events to unfold further before I make a decision, but CFI is not handling this well, and this could spell the end of them for me.

Apart from the obvious (the horrible treatment Stollznow has endured and the awful human being Ben Radford is…and I do not have to trust all of Stollnow’s report to reach that conclusion about him, although I have seen no reason to doubt anything she’s said; and that’s well apart from the fact that Radford already has a record of being an unskeptical anti-feminist worthy of eye-rolling), I have two major problems with what is going on so far, one has to do with the legal and corporate culture at CFI (which I will blog about later, either tomorrow or next week), the other has to do with CFI’s public communications in this matter.

It seems evident, regardless of which details are disputed, that Ben Radford engaged in a sustained campaign of sexual harassment against Dr. Karen Stollznow (both employees of CFI for many years). And he received no visible punishment. He continues to be employed at CFI. I’m told he was punished somehow but no one can talk about how (this is a serious problem I will be taking on in my next post about this matter). But frankly, if even a fraction of what Stollznow says is true, any other business would have fired him in a heartbeat, and I am struggling to understand why I should support any nonprofit that would keep him (or why I should subscribe to a magazine he edits). As for Stollznow, seeing her harasser largely unaffected and receiving no significant support from CFI, she essentially just had to leave.

More about all this may come out, more developments may ensue (I am aware of things happening I can’t discuss). But right now, this is how it looks. And that does not make CFI look good. At all.

But making all this far worse (again) was CFI’s public statement on the matter. Which is a disaster. The same thing happened last time, when CFI’s “statement” about the Lindsay affair was exactly the wrong thing to say, the very worst possible public communication on the matter. It failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing or even what the problem was, it passive-aggressively complained about being criticized, and said nothing that showed any understanding of what it was being criticized for, and nothing as to what it was going to do about it. Indeed, the statement as a whole was essentially an exercise in contempt…even if that wasn’t its intention, but intention isn’t magic–and that’s what a communications director is supposed to be for: to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, that communications with the public don’t look contemptuous or useless or clueless. Yet in that case CFI didn’t even avail itself of its own communications director. Even now I don’t think its board of directors understands how contemptuous, useless, and clueless that statement made them appear.

This new statement is the same kind of travesty. Other organizations have leadership that actually understands how to do this right (examples here, here, here, and here, and still especially relevant, here). CFI is alone in doing it disastrously. That is essentially the definition of relative incompetence.

I thought CFI’s communications director was Paul Fidalgo–who I know wouldn’t be this awful at the job. If he wrote this new one, he should resign and instruct CFI to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. But I doubt he wrote it, because he didn’t write the last one (that was written by CFI’s warring board of directors who couldn’t agree on anything). And if that’s the case, CFI board of directors, you need to stop doing that. Seriously. Stop doing that. You are consistently making things worse and making CFI look incompetent and insensitive. You do not know what you are doing. Use your communications director. That is what you pay him for.

To help you see what I mean, CFI, let’s break down your public statement on the Radford-Stollznow matter (and we know who the parties are, even if your lawyers keep telling you you can’t admit it). [Read more…]

CFI and WiS 3

Women in Secularism 2 I haven’t voiced an opinion on the Lindsay apology and subsequent resolution of the insulting behavior from CFI (which came after voices of outrage were finally heard) because I have been waiting to see what panned out, especially if CFI was going to produce a third Women in Secularism conference.

In every other respect I concur with Greta Christina (Accepting Ron Lindsay’s Apology and Working with CFI) and am back in as a CFI supporter. I have renewed my membership and remain on its speakers bureau. Although I have lost a lot of confidence in Ron Lindsay’s leadership (and would still prefer someone better), he at least is now handling the situation correctly. He isn’t treating us with contempt. And CFI has voiced a commitment to doing better. After a few epic failures, they are now demonstrating responsiveness to discontent in their actual and future membership. We might still consider them on probation (Rebecca Watson’s take on this is apt) but I’m hopeful, and they need to see that we will support them if they continue in this direction. So I think it’s time to start working toward that.

Because CFI has just announced they are indeed working on WiS 3 (last paragraph here). I recommend that anyone willing to reconcile with CFI renew any canceled ties, and maybe even send donations earmarked for WiS 3 so they know they are getting support for this. Let us all shepherd CFI into the 21st century.

FTBCon Tomorrow!

Richard Carrier in service uniform as a Petty Officer (1991)The massive, amazing, totally free online conference hosted by Freethought Blogs starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday. We have over 100 speakers and 33 sessions. Many names you’ll recognize and love. Many names you might not know but will be glad to have been introduced to. There will be topics you might not have heard discussed at an atheist conference before. And so many! I’m already sad that I won’t be able to see everything myself, but I’m going to be spending the whole weekend drinking scotch and watching as many sessions as I can.

You can browse the schedule at Lantyrd: see FtBConscience. More information about the conference is available at FtBCon.org, including our conduct policy and how to attend (see here and here) and how to submit questions for Q&A (through our chat room).

My talk, What the Military Taught Me about Feminism, will go live this Sunday (July 21) at 11am Pacific Coast Time (the online schedule is all in Central time, so subtract two hours for Pacific; the official page for watching that session is here). I’ll be telling some embarrassing and personal stories about my time in the service twenty years ago as a young naive man, and reflecting on how they changed me and contributed to what I know and how I think today. There will be a moderated Q&A. Please bring questions. Warning for Viewers: Some of my stories will be about the sexualization of women, and I will be repeating sexual slurs and other things I saw and heard that can be quite shocking.

For more backstory on my Coast Guard career see Atheists in Foxholes. The photo here (above right) is my last service photo in full uniform and cap, as a Sonar Tech, Third Class (which means Petty Officer, Third Class, the equivalent of a Corporal, which is an NCO, or Non-Commissioned Officer), with two marksmanship ribbons (pistol and rifle) and the National Service Medal (indicated by the more colorful ribbon).