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.

Pat Condell Gets Seriously Fucking Pwned

Oh snap. This. Is. Beautiful.

For those who don’t know, Pat Condell is primarily known in our community because Dawkins likes and endorses him repeatedly. Condell is everywhere billed as a “comedian and atheist internet personality,” I suppose because he doesn’t have any actual qualifications in anything (beyond that). He’s sort of like the Rush Limbaugh of criticizing Islam. Indeed, so far as I can tell, that’s Condell’s only substantive contribution to the atheist movement. And getting a hundred thousand Likes for it.

Now, Condell has said some really stupid and ignorant things before, demonstrating his tremendous and epic failure to adhere to even the most rudimentary principles of skepticism (like “check your facts” and “be suspicious of extraordinary claims”). Avicenna has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia). PZ Myers has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia).

But now it’s just straight off world’s end into the abyss, as Alex Gabriel meticulously demonstrates (with, you know, facts) that in Condell’s latest right wing rant he could not have provided a clearer or more consistent example of…

  • Not knowing what the fuck he is talking about (while arrogantly claiming he’s the one who knows what he’s talking about).
  • Why criticism of Islam needs to be Way Fucking More Nuanced than his racist, ethnophobic bullshit (and, through Gabriel’s deconstruction of it, how to actually effect such a nuanced critique).
  • Why Dawkins needs to start listening to smarter friends who Actually Know What They’re Talking About (given that Dawkins repeatedly praises Condell as the man to heed on this issue).
  • How not to do skepticism (and, amusingly, giving Gabriel a superb opportunity to demonstrate how to do skepticism really well).

Alex’s takedown (with its even more beautiful and educational and extensive statistics addendum) is a tour de force of admirable measure. I cannot fathom how anyone so brutally and thoroughly exposed as wrong about nearly everything he says, and wrong for no plausibly good reason (thus demonstrating that it is very probably bigotry driving his rants and not, say, facts), and never apologize and correct it, can continue to have anyone’s respect in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities.

In a world using objective outcome measures, Condell would be done and dusted. Sadly, too many people in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities replace objective facts with subjective feelings and defend their Brave Heroes rather than admit when they’ve destroyed their own credibility and their entire efforts have been exposed as a factophobic sham. Condellians will probably pepper my comments with defensive screeds somehow trying to restore Condell’s bullet-riddled body in logic-space to some semblance of crypto-ethnophobic zombie life. Just not with actual facts or logic. (Or they’ll just attack me with complete non sequiturs that don’t even defend their Hero, like I’ve seen them do time and again to others.)

There are lots of things wrong with Islam. But there are lots of things wrong with Christianity, too. And fascism. And poverty. And superstition. And ignorance. And bigotry.

Don’t listen to the Rush Limbaugh of Islamocriticism anymore. Please. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about, and aren’t ignorant ethnophobic bigots. We have at least six blogs on our network with contributors who have extensive experience with or knowledge of Islam and Muslims, some of them by or featuring actual ex-Muslims. I’m sure if you take the trouble to explore our roster you’ll find them (yes, I’m challenging you to do that…assuming you haven’t already!). Hear what they have to say instead.

Support My Work with Your Christmas Shopping!

My FaceBook personal photo, me in glasses and shaggy hair and nice white collared short smiling while facing 30 degrees to the left of toward the viewer.Want to send me some dosh in appreciation for my independent scholarship and speaking and blogging, without actually spending any extra dosh at all? This is how…

When you do your Christmas or Solstice or other holiday shopping this season, you can buy gifts for people (friends, family…yourself!), or spend your own Amazon gift cards or credits after the holiday ends, by using the Richard Carrier Recommends Amazon Store. Not only can you buy stuff I’ve put in that store (lots of my own favorite or recommended stuff in several categories, from books to videos), but you’ll notice on the right margin you can buy other stuff as well (maybe from your own wishlist, if you’ve logged in to Amazon beforehand). The prices are all the same for you, but I get a small commission on every sale through there. So you basically end up getting Amazon to support my work, by using my recommendations to inspire you to give them your business.

You can also, of course, support me by just buying my books (that’s a special page just for them that includes audio and electronic editions), and now also any of my amusements or games (only one game for now, but another is on the way, though not in time for the holidays), and I get a cut equal to my share of pageviews out of all my fellow bloggers from what you pay to subscribe to FreethoughtBlogs (that subscription also lets you view our entire website without ads).

When I spoke to a few people at Skepticon this year they were often surprised to learn that I don’t make very much selling my books or blogging or speaking. Anyone who knows the industry, of course, knows no one makes any appreciable money blogging. My books, as obscure nonfiction, will never make Stephen King money (or even Richard Dawkins money). And I keep my speaking fees low as a way to help the movement, so more groups can afford to bring me in to speak or debate. When all my income is added up, and taxes and expenses are subtracted, I only take home about $15,000 a year. I could just barely live on that, with extreme “starving artist” frugality. But I live with an awesome woman who earns considerably more, so I’m not living like a starving artist. I gladly operate as her domestic manservant to earn my keep at home, in addition to my cash income paying our mortgage (and property taxes & insurance to boot).

But the more money I can bring in, the more it’s appreciated by both of us, and the more it keeps me going doing what I do. Because it shows I’m having an impact and my work is appreciated and valued. The advantage of being an independent scholar is that I do not have to fear the threat or meddling of any academic institution and don’t have to kowtow to their expectations or exhaust enormous amounts of time on endless committee work and other things they bury profs under. The disadvantage is that I have to cobble together my income from disparate sources. One of which is passing the hat to everyone who wants to show their appreciation for what I do, like any street busker would. You can of course just send me money (through PayPal at rcarrier@infidels.org) just to show me you value what I do.

But buying gifts for Christmas through my Amazon store is just one more way to do that that costs you nothing extra at all. So keep that in mind for this holiday season!

Did You Notice International Men’s Day? Maybe Next Year You Should

Yesterday was International Men’s Day. Our own Freethought Blogger, Ally Fogg (noted journalist and gender equality activist) blogged about it last weekend and then wrote a really good brief on it for The Independent, “Male Victims of Rape, Sexual Abuse and Depression: Breaking the Silence on International Men’s Day,” with the tagline, “Those who mock today are mocking victims of a viciously gendered society.” The latter is an article I think everyone should read. Though some balked or joked (as Ally notes), many feminists support the day and the ideas and goals behind it, and all certainly should: see this article in The Guardian, this article in The National Student, and this article in The Feminist Times, all of which are feminists speaking to feminists, and make some points even Ally overlooked, so they are good reads, too. Take a tour of these articles and expand your awareness of the gendered nature of real-world problems affecting billions of human beings. It will be especially enlightening for anyone who immediately asked, at first hearing of this, “Why do we need a day for men?” The more so if you didn’t immediately think of at least half a dozen good answers.

Do Massively Powerful Ghosts Exist? The Carrier-Esposito Debate

Image of Esposito's Some of you might recall I debated the existence of God with Come Reason evangelist Lenny Esposito at UC Riverside some time back. Well, video of that debate is now available! You can watch it in standard low res at YouTube, or get a higher quality version as a DVD set (or audio CD set). The DVD includes the Q&A (that’s not on YouTube), a written transcript, and Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” (and not mine, of course…I suppose it wouldn’t even occur to them to ask).

By all reasonable accounts I won this debate, pretty handily, although I don’t think debates can actually be “won” like this. My winning just means the clock ran out before Esposito could voice a credible answer to everything I said…and that he couldn’t have, even if he had more time, is something that can’t be decided by a clock. But if you don’t care about that and just like debates with a clocked win by the end, this is one such.

Their description:

Does God Exist? Philosophers and theologians have written volumes on this topic, but it has become especially significant in our modern world. In this riveting debate, Lenny Esposito and famed atheist Richard Carrier go head-to-head to try and settle the question “Does God Exist?” Recorded in front of a packed house at the University of California Riverside, this multi-disc set provides over five hours of stimulating debate, discussion, and answers to one of the greatest questions in human existence.

This debate is part of a larger DVD set that includes the live debate, an extended question and answer session with the students at UC Riverside, a debate transcript, as well as Lenny’s post-debate analysis of Carrier’s arguments in an mp3 audio file.

Notably, the debate and Q&A was only about two hours. That the DVD contains “over 5 hours of content” would suggest Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” is over twice as long as the entire debate itself (and thus he gets to speak four times as long as I do). Do the math on that and you’ll kind of see how Christians need to sort of kind of cheat to win people over. The idea of maintaining an actually balanced analysis, equal time to both parties, doesn’t even occur to them.

Picture of a mug being sold (click image to buy) in which it says I also have to say, in reaction to their ad copy, I’m starting to get amused by the tired old trope of calling every debate over the existence of God “the Great Debate” (that’s been used so many times it’s almost at joke status by now). I now think, “Really?” Unfettered capitalism vs. an intelligent economic ecology with capitalist-socialist checks and balances against each other’s extremes: that would be a far greater debate. Since it would actually affect billions of lives. Whether you believe God exists or not doesn’t really change much. Because “God exists” actually doesn’t entail a position on any moral, economic, or political issue whatever, since God can be made to advocate literally anything (and has been), simply depending on what sect of believers you fall in with by mere global happenstance. But whether you believe we should totally unchain capitalism (or, just as horribly, go for full-on communism) will actually change how you act, speak, vote, and change the world for countless other human beings. Likewise so many other real issues. Gay and trans* rights; women’s equality; institutionalized racism; prison reform; placing limits on government spying; legalization of sex work or recreational drugs; and so on and so forth.

You know. Just saying.

-:-

P.S. If anyone either finds/creates a transcript of Esposito’s post-debate analysis or extracts from it any remarks you would like to know my response to, feel free to bring it up in comments here. I’m not going to bother listening to it myself. I’ve been doing this long enough; I’ve heard it all before.

Lataster on Mythicism and Theism: A Request for My Readers

Cover of Raphael Lataster's new book There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. Cover art looks like an artist's rendering of blue spacedust and a black hole sucking everything in.I have a request for all my readers. There is a new book summarizing a case that Jesus might not have existed, which has received some positive reviews (from the Arizona Atheist and John Loftus; also reader reviews at Amazon), and some predictably negative ones (from the nefarious Christian apologist J.P. Holding, whose promised Part 2 does not seem to have materialized yet, and an even longer harangue by Nick Peters).

The book I’m talking about was published by a doctoral student in religious studies, Raphael Lataster (more on the soon-to-be Dr. Lataster here), and entitled There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism, based on his master’s thesis. The finished book you can buy for a very reasonable price [print] [kindle]. I have not had (and likely won’t have) the time to thoroughly vet the book, much less check it against the copious Christian apologetical attacks on it (by Holding and Peters, linked above). I did read enough to note that there were some problems with it, but I’m curious to know if those were the only ones, and if anyone else would notice them (so I won’t mention them now).

The book actually is in two parts, despite being quite a short read. The second part summarizes a case against traditional arguments for theism generally (not the historicity of Jesus specifically), and some of the approaches there are novel. And humorous. So even if you aren’t interested in the historicity debate, you might be interested in Lataster’s approach to debunking theism and theistic apologetics more generally. Moreover, in both parts he adapts my work to argue from a Bayesian perspective, which may interest yet more readers keen to test that out.

So I’d like as many of my readers as seem inclined to read either or both parts of Lataster’s book and comment here on what they think, positive or negative. Though if negative, please give Lataster a hand by being specific so he has a chance to revise the work for a second edition, which I know he is interested in doing. This is basically my way of crowdsourcing an opinion and assessment of this book, since I haven’t the time to study it thoroughly myself. I’d especially love it if anyone compared their reading of Lataster’s book with its Christian critics, as linked above (quite a task, as their critiques are very long, and possibly tedious and frustrating, if history serves, so I’ll be especially impressed by anyone who voluntarily endures that and reports back here on their findings). Are the Christians being fair? Or are they doing a hatchet job? Specific examples of either would be helpful to Lataster.

Note: I am about to head out for Skepticon, where I’ll be AFK much of the time, so comments that post here might not go live until middle of next week. But rest assured they will be appreciated, and will post eventually (as long as they are polite and on topic).

Typhoon Devastates the Philippines: Please Aid the Humanist Crisis Response!

Because I couldn’t say it better than Ed Brayton already did:

The Foundation Beyond Belief is launching a new Humanist Crisis Response for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which has been rated as the most powerful storm ever recorded by the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The power of this storm is mind-blowing, sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts up to 235 — with 10 million people in its path. The aftermath is absolutely devastating. After much research, FBB decided on the Citizens Disaster Response Center as the beneficiary. They’re based in the Philippines and on the ground already. Any help you can give is obviously very badly needed. You can find a link to donate here. Every dollar will go to the CDRC. It isn’t enough to be anti-religion; if we are serious about our humanist principles, we must put them into action and help others whenever possible.

One More Time, with Feeling!

Skepticon is just a few thousand short of their funding needs. One last push to get them there would be much appreciated! I’ve asked before. But for incentive this time, PZ said it best

If you need additional incentive, consider this: this is the conference the haters hate the most. I’ve already got some wackaloons I’ve never met and who have never attended a conference I’ve gone to, and in particular have never had any plans to attend this one, ranting and raving about a boycott of the con, and a walkout of my session (but then, these are the same kooks who propose to do that every time I give a talk somewhere, and the only people who’ve walked out so far seem to be invisible). This is the convention that has Rebecca Watson, Amanda Marcotte, Greta Christina, Debbie Goddard and all kinds of uppity women stirring up trouble. Subvert the dominant paradigm! Support the skeptical conference that isn’t run by asshats!

Amen.

What Is Stellar War?

Snippet of the Stellar War sales page banner from GameCrafter, showing the title of Richard Carrier's game against a background of a NASA image of stars in a nebula. Some card faces are shown, including a Secret Agent card and a Fighter Attack card.Answer: a card game I invented in high school. (That’s back in the 1980s, for those who never noticed my birth year in Facebook.) I created it by hand with tape and cutouts and a photocopier using paper-card stock. My friends and family played it for years.

Why mention it now? Well, because now you can buy it. And it’s not just tape and cutouts and photocopied card-paper anymore. It’s an almost professional quality game set now, thanks to GameCrafter, essentially the “CreateSpace” of card and board game publishing (design-by-web-interface, publish-on-demand). If you want to check it out, then see the sales page for my now-resurrected childhood card game Stellar War.

Photo of hand-crafted pale wooden box containing Brother Sam's table game Superstructure, the Superstructure logo in red across the top.Why do this now? Well, because I was inspired by Brother Sam Singleton. Or as many know him, game designer (and jack of many other trades) Roger Scott Jackson (his pals call him RoSco). He designed a game back around the same time I did, called Superstructure, and he just recently resurrected it, with the help of his wife Cari. His IndieGogo funding campaign went off well (it even got a story in the Charleston Gazette). RoSco made a YouTube video about the project and now you can buy a hand-made reproduction of the complete game (at BestGameBuilt…note the amusing headline there).

This made me think, “Hmm. Technology has changed a lot since then. Maybe they have PODs for games now?” So I looked around and discovered GameCrafter, which I can now say (having completed one whole project with them) is a really excellent company as far as its online design and accounts interface. Its product is just a touch below professional corporate game manufacture (which is still far better than tape and cutouts and card-paper), and its pricing is high, but that’s unavoidable because this is one-off manufacturing (if you pay them to build just one box set for you, then you are going to have to pay a lot more than if you bought a thousand units at bulk wholesale price).

You can buy a Stellar War box-set set for fifty dollars. The price would be nearly half that (which is honestly more like what it’s worth) if I did a full production run of five hundred units and ran my own distribution network, but I’ll never sell enough of them to justify that, so I’ve made it available for die hard fans and table-game geeks like me who won’t mind dropping fifty bucks on a unique and entertaining bit of Richard Carrier’s creative past–and to enjoy a fun game your friends are unlikely to have even heard of!

A photo of Richard Carrier's card-game Stellar War in mid-play. Several decks of cards, a die, and cards upright on the table showing space frigates and dreadnaughts and missile attacks and lunar space stations and chain reactions and all manner of whatnot positioned around a table.Though I invented Stellar War in the 1980s, in 1998 I revised it slightly in order to pitch it to a major game company, which finally passed on the project because it did not fit the then-growing trend in tradeable card games. Other than that I’ve only had my hand-crafted mock-up set ever since the 80s (even a hand-made card-paper box–I built three or four complete sets for myself, friends, and family). With modern computer tech I redesigned all the cards and rulebook to look smart and professional. But I kept all my original hand-drawn graphic art. So as you play, you are staring at spaceships and commando helmets and lightning bolts that I drew by hand as a teenager…nearly thirty years ago.

You can learn all about the game, and see shots of the game in play, and, if you feel so inclined, buy one for yourself (or as a Christmas gift for a friend!) at GameCrafter.

I have another amusing game in the works at GameCrafter now–History or Hogswallop!?–which I invented just a few years ago to teach historical methods to kids and teens at Camp Quest West (it has consequently been very well playtested). So stay tuned for that!