Life update

So here’s a quick rundown on what’s been going on in my life.

Work’s got me wound up tighter than a spring, with a huge domain migration scheduled for Sept. 16th and a ton of niggling busy-work to do between now and then; plus I have had to play hero several times in the past few weeks (only once with Cat5 as ninja rope, sorry folks). I distinctly get the feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Considering spitting it all back up on my plate and trying again a bite at a time. That’d be kind of gross though.

The car’s been repaired, though how long it’ll last I don’t know. It was making a weird clunk sound when turning in either direction, and as it turns out, the left front spring was busted, and the strut was sticking. The right strut is starting to stick too, however I’m hoping our mechanic friend will be able to look at it and do something to keep it from escalating to the point where that spring pops too. We had the strut assembly replaced with a used kit, which is not warrantied but will hopefully last a while, at least long enough for us to save up a bit to fix it all properly. We definitely couldn’t afford the $1100 it would have been to replace both outright with new kits.

I’ve got too many ideas for too many blog posts, and precious little time to write them all. One of the things I want to talk about includes an actual accounting for what science figures about the Big Bang, and my understanding of it all (limited though this understanding might be), and why questions like “what came before it” or “what caused it” are not only difficult and deep but actually pretty nonsensical. They are like asking “what’s north of the north pole”, because any direction you go is either up, or south. Neither of those are north. Anyway, more on that in the actual post. I also want to take on the arguments in this link, which are much more sophisticated sorts of hand-waving and logical fallacies than the usual tripe you get from certain creationists (our pet troll included — maybe another “worst of” post in the offing, though I don’t know that I should keep feeding him), so I’m sure it’ll provide me with a good deal of material to work with in the never-ending quest to stamp out ignorance and promote reason. Speaking of which, there’s also a bunch of courses being offered at our local community college to do with aromatherapy, chakras, and gem healing, so there’s probably a blog post in that as well.

A piece of good news — Abby’s in town again, hooray! Tea scheduled for this Monday, where I’ll get to introduce her to my sister and Opal, and also to show off the home improvements we’ve made since last she visited. It’ll also be nice to catch up and see how this semester has treated her. She always seems so bothered to have to fail students, but having been through university myself, I am absolutely certain that sometimes it’s not the teacher, it really is the student. I guess it’s mostly the borderline cases that bother her, and I can understand where she’s coming from. Hopefully a nice long vent with some friends will do her some good. My ear is all I can provide in the way of comfort. Well, that and blueberry green tea. Mmm.

Weekend’s looking full up as well, between visits, housecleaning, wedding cake planning, a beach visit if possible, and another damnable hurricane is planning on blowing through this Sunday. If I’m a bit quiet, sorry. I’ll throw together some more linking posts — I do still get a bit of time to skim through my feeds now and then, so I should invest some of it into showing some link love to pretty much everyone I read regularly.

And how’s your life?

Ever wanted to work out some of reality’s bugs?

I’ve loved Greek, Roman and Norse mythology since I was a child — or at least, for as long as I can recall. I have vague recollections, in fact, of doing research on a word I had heard in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon: “Ragnarok”. In finding out its etymology, I discovered the whole of Norse mythology. And in studying Norse mythology, I found out a good deal about Greek and Roman mythology as well, which came in handy when playing the Final Fantasy games in order to know a bit more about the big bad monsters you had to fight — the vast majority of them were derived from Greek and Roman mythos. And on top of that, when others were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was entranced with the world of Shadowrun, where trolls and elves and dwarves and dragons existed in a cyberpunk future world where you bodily hacked into computer Matrixes. I never had enough friends that were actually into RPGs to make use of the sourcebooks I’d picked up, but boy did I love reading them and thinking up campaigns.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and I’m in charge of the technology in my own little corner of my company, and I’ve named all the work servers I have access to, after mythological creatures: Chimera, Minotaur, Cerberus, Pandora, etc. I wanted to name one Jormungandr but people have a hard enough time with the server names I already have, so I figured I shouldn’t push it too far.

So, you know that I love mythology, and you already knew that I love technology. You could probably imagine, then, how impressed I was with Kelly McCullough’s WebMage, which I picked up after Stephanie Zvan pimped it over at Almost Diamonds, being friends with the author and all. It’s a brilliant little book set in modern-day about a computer hacker great-etc.-grandson of one of the Fates who can rewrite reality and perform magic through coding.

A few minor spoilers below the fold. Mostly just a plot synopsis though.
[Read more...]

You can be an atheist without nihilism

A theist decided to think through atheism and it apparently really bothered him.

It’s stunning how close to the truth this guy is, and yet he handwaves away what atheists would say — either “we’re social animals” or “we should just enjoy life”. I don’t see how either of these should be handwaved away, though.

Once you realize that we are tiny and insignificant on a cosmic scale, yet we have spheres of influence on a much shorter scale, and our lives are finite and therefore everything we do on this Earth is all we honestly have, it can be incredibly freeing — you are free to live and love and enjoy life and make other people’s lives better and all of this is its own reward. The fact is, we don’t go killing a bunch of kindergarteners is because it would be a net ill for society, and it would deprive ourselves of our social structures, as well as cause huge burdens of guilt on our consciences, consciences that we evolved to have in order to facilitate our perpetuation of the overarching social structures we’ve created.

We’ve evolved to be exactly the caring, loving, social animals that we are, and we shouldn’t fight against these tendencies or assume that they are invalid just because of some petty egotism that suggests that this universe was made expressly for us. The fact that it wasn’t created for us, that we are here “by accident”, means this universe is vast and there is much to be discovered. And that “by accident” is misleading. It’s more like, by a series of fortunate happenstances that built on one another, and would have eventually happened given infinite time because the laws of physics in this universe allow for it — meaning, we’re here because we’re capable of being here, by the Anthropic principle.

This world is beautiful, because we are in it, and we see it as beautiful because we are here to see it as beautiful. In much the same way as we see babies as cute and worth protecting even though observed objectively they’re but sacks of poop and vomit and crying, we also see the universe as amazing rather than harsh and cruel because we’re bred for optimism and wonder and empathy. This probably has something to do with why we assume that beauty means a creator, though life on another planet might find our life to be disgusting because their life looks completely different from our leafy greens and meaty flesh.

So, yes, we’re nothing but chemicals, and yes, our emotions are nothing but our brains reacting in certain ways, and yes, there’s nothing to dying but going to sleep eternally ourselves, and our loved ones missing us while we rot to dust in the ground, but that’s no excuse to not live our lives and enjoy them and make others’ lives better in the process. We’re all hurtling toward oblivion, whether we like it or not. Nihilism just gets you there faster.

Deborah, 13

Visit documentary-log.com to watch documentaries online!

At least one good thing happened as a result of this young girl’s thorough indoctrination in religion — there’s one less Britney Spears / Victoria Beckham worshipper and reality TV watcher in the world. Everything else… wow. I’m only 20 mins in but am listening to it while off doing some proper work done. What do you folks think?

Hat tip: Documentary Log

Get organized! Get in the fight!

I can think of no better general to marshall the ground troops than Stephanie Zvan, who put together a great briefing on your health care situation, why you don’t have as much backup as you could, and what you can do about it.

This is actually a tougher fight than the election was. Corporations far and away recognized that four more years of rule by the monster that the Republican Party had become would be as disastrous for them as it would be for all of us. They were pragmatic in their understand that business cannot flourish anywhere the government doesn’t meet at least its minimal obligations in law and the maintenance of infrastructure, so they supported Obama.

They are not supporting health care reform, which means we need to do more. Their disproportionate influence isn’t all arrayed against us, but neither is it on our side. We’re much more alone this time.

She draws up a brilliant battle plan for organization and activism, one which you should go read immediately.

And here’s a tale of how the UK NHS saved someone’s life, and he didn’t even get stiffed with a gigantic bill that bankrupted him and made him wish he had died! And here’s more information about Canadian health care, and more information about Stephen Hawking, who was unceremoniously dragged into the debate by people who had no idea that he was kept alive only by dint of living in the UK when he was diagnosed — you know, well prior to becoming rich and famous.

Get in the fight, people, your lives are the ones at stake here, and I will not stand for my new e-friends being the ones that are sacrificed on the blood altar of higher profits for the insurance bureaucrats.

More Sunday Atheist Readings

Linking posts are like cruise control for good-blogging-habits. Why write your own blog when you can point to others? Though an atheist-centric linking post on Sunday morning seems strangely fitting, does it not? I guess, that depends on what your particular religion’s holy day happens to be. I mean, the Abrahamic religions can’t even decide on Saturday or Sunday between them, and they all have the same root.

PZ has a letter from a student describing “balance” in his biology classroom — having never been taught at all about evolution despite promises to eventually balance out his learnings, but having had a long, illustration-rich lecture in creationism, he graduated without the merest inkling what evolution was. That’s a good way to win converts for the other side, theists. FYI.

The month of Ramadan is upon us, having started yesterday, and Mike Haubrich had a disturbing episode at work wherein, despite being himself admonished to keep his atheist books at home, someone went out and got a DQ cake for a Muslim celebrating Ramadan. This imbalance in avoiding religion at the workplace resulted in our compatriot foregoing DQ cake, and I know exactly what kind of sacrifice that is.

Here’s a nice cheat sheet in case you want to compare and contrast Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Scientology. Don’t get caught taking this into your Comparative Religion classes though, you might get zero on the test for cheating, which is a sin in academia as dire as plagiarism.

The Teapot Atheist has an unhealthy habit: collecting theist propaganda. Go check it out. He even has as his crown jewel, the Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar).

In case you wonder why people consider evangelical Christianity to be both scary and irritating simultaneously, here’s an excellent example. Julie over at Rational Behavior posted someone’s Left Behind letter, for just in case they get bodily Raptured up to heaven. For those two of you that don’t know, the Rapture doctrine is the invention of John Nelson Darby circa 1830 CE, wherein several Bible passages are reinterpreted to mean that on Judgement Day (which will happen whenever God gets around to it), the holy rollers down here on Earth will get beamed up physically to Heaven, leaving food uneaten, babies un-tended-to, and airplanes unpiloted and doomed to crash. How inspiring! And the letter at Julie’s is just plain off the wall wacky, with Zdenny-level conspiracy theories and technobabble (what the fuck is this BlueBeam craziness?).

Since consigning Zdenny to the moderation bucket, it’s been incredibly peaceful around here. It’s a shame it took borderline censorship to achieve that peace. But it’s okay, for those of you still looking for people to put him in his place, he’s hanging out over at Relatively Unrelated, getting eviscerated by the indefatiguable Dan J, repeatedly and with precious little remorse. It is truly a thing of beauty, watching Dan at work.

Here’s a few more quick links in case the above hasn’t yet whetted your appetite:

Mormonism for Dummies — I’d never wear underpants like those. Ever. Not even after being posthumously baptised into Mormonism.
Proof the 10 Commandments are not the basis of US law — only three out of ten are constitutional and enforceable
A Christian analysis of Atheism — make no mistake, this is not nearly as fair as the last such sermon I put up on my last linking post.
A Feint and a Ruse: a story of betrayal and naïveté on the part of a science booster who honestly thought his theist friends would come to his defense.
10 Myths and 10 Truths about Atheism, by Sam Harris, from 2006. Worth bookmarking and spamming to your misinformed friends / commenters.
Look out evildoers, here comes Bibleman! Lamest superhero on the block.

RCimT: US Separation of Church and State

Here’s another edition of Random Crap in my Tabs. I’m just going to abbreviate it from now on, in fact — that takes up a lot of title space otherwise.

Wingnuts are freaking out over the proposed new dollar coins, which apparently won’t have “In God We Trust” on them. Except one of the commenters, who says, “uh, yes it will, in the edging”. While I agree that it’s a shame they’re getting rid of the Susan B. Anthony coin, it’s an interesting idea for cutting some of your expenditures — Canada saved a crapload of money by switching to the Loonie, because they last on average ten times longer than the dollar bill. And there’s way more of them, so you’d have to reprint that many bills every year. And ship them back to be destroyed, at that. Lots of overhead. And besides, it’s not like everyone prior to 1956 or whenever, was de facto unpatriotic and unreligious. The “In God We Trust” motto is brand-spanking-new, and merely the result of a whole lot of Russia-hatred.

Ed Brayton quotes and discusses the trials that a non-Christian soldier has had to endure in trying to serve his country without his religion entering into the picture. Needless to say, from taking the oath without “so help me God”, to just going about his daily business without being harassed by his fellow soldiers or superior officers, it is apparently a difficult thing for a heathen to do.

A school principal and his lackey are in hot water over repeatedly trying to lead the faculty and staff in prayers after having had an injunction placed against them for doing so. They may in fact go to jail. If they had prayed silently, as suggested in Matthew 6:5-8, there would have been no problems whatsoever. Or even if they were just praying out loud, to themselves, also no problem. The problem lies entirely in trying to lead others in prayer — making the irreligous or those of other religions uncomfortable and unwelcome. It also establishes the school as a Christian school, when a Christian attempts to lead people into prayer at it. This may not seem like a bad thing to a Christian, but to everyone else, of every other religion, it is a horrible thing for their freedom to practice their own religion as they see fit.

Another place where the separation of church and state is regularly eroded, is in congress. And the media oftentimes turns a blind eye. Or rather, they cover the story, then treat it as though it’s no longer a story, when the issues raised are still relevant and still demonstrably bad for society. Such is the case with the self-professed Christian Mafia, living on C-Street in Washington, DC. The only person still covering this egregious breach of the separation of church and state is Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. And Alternet is shaming the rest of the media for it, because this is huge — this is a group of people with a shared religious belief pulling the levers of power in a concerted effort to promote their religious views and values to the exclusion of everyone else’s.

And finally, apparently Texas Christians have won a victory against the separation of church and state by mandating that classes on the Christian Bible be offered as electives. I look forward to them also mandating elective classes on the Qu’ran, the Old Testament, the Veddas, and the Upanishad. Oh, wait, “teach the controversy” only means “teach OUR version of the creation of the universe, forget about all those other heathen religions and the scientific and by necessity secular version that’s based on reality and undercuts our beliefs”.