Breitbart can bite me.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past several days, USDA worker Shirley Sherrod was forced out of her job over a conveniently clipped fragment of a speech from 2006 posted on Andrew Breitbart’s blog (whom I won’t link, the execrable toad) that painted her as an anti-white racist, and turned into a nontroversy by none other than FOX News. Obama’s administration fell for the bullshit pullquoting and threw her out of the job. Keith Olbermann takes all parties involved to task, and rightly so.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Straight from my childhood, Thexder Neo

Long ago in days of yore, I was given as a birthday gift my first computer — a DOS-based Tandy 1000 EX from Radio Shack, with 256kb of RAM and a blazing 8088 processor. It was one of the first computers to support EGA, though it used the proprietary Tandy graphics adapter protocol. And it was my introduction to the world of gaming. In short order, I owned every Sierra adventure game that came out and could run on 256kb of RAM: Kings Quest 1, 2 and 3, Space Quest 1 and 2, Gold Rush, Mixed Up Mother Goose (yes, seriously), and Thexder.

I played Thexder most of all. It was the brutally punishing sixteen-level shooter game I kept going back to after my adventure games ceased to provide any amusement. One life, shooting drained your energy meter, and the only way to regain energy was to kill enemies that are busy trying to kill you. Plus, you’re a big clunky robot with automatic laser targeting, that can turn into a nimble plane form that can only fire straight. Even though it was unforgiving and difficult to control, I still loved it. This is pretty much the original gaming experience.

Don’t you love the tinny three-channel beeper speaker soundtrack? I know I did. So when I was browsing the Playstation Store for demos, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a remake called Thexder Neo.

Sadly, the reworked game only has ten levels — nine from the original game, and an all-new boss battle. The punishing difficulty and the original layout of the nine ported levels are intact, though there’s an easy mode that lets you continue if you die and doesn’t sic infinitely spawned enemies on you if you’re taking too long. But most importantly, for purists like me who enjoyed the original despite the graphics and sound, you can play “classic mode” and see the game as it was originally meant to be played. I’m pretty sure the ported version isn’t the one from DOS, judging by the speed and the semitone lines — more likely the Amiga.

Yeah, I totally bought it. Nostalgia gaming rules.

WISE discovers 95 NEO asteroids; astrologers scramble to interpret their influences

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has been discovering all sorts of new celestial bodies to be cataloged, studied and to have their influences interpreted by astrologers for future use in ephemeris and readings.

Millions of tiny meteors bombard the Earth every day, but burn up in the atmosphere long before they can cause anything other than a pretty light in the sky. One day, however, we may get hit by the “the big one” that might destroy a city, or worse. That’s why I’m pretty glad that astronomers have detected up 25,000 new asteroids, 95 of which are considered “near Earth asteroids.”

“Near Earth” for astronomers means 30 million miles away, almost a third of the way to the Sun, yet a hair’s breadth in terms of the size of our solar system. There’s no doomsday threat just yet.

With that many new objects discovered, each that must have some influence on those of us stationed on the fixed sphere of the Earth, surely humankind was granted a huge boon in the new data that has been granted to astrologers who endeavour to understand the heavens’ influence on daily life. Since tiny objects at great distances have as much power as planets or just about any other astronomical event, and these objects are quite nearby and in many cases larger than existing bodies being used in modern astrological practice, I’m sure all this new data will bring new insight into the gods’ killing us for sport like flies to wanton boys. I expect someday soon, at the rate we’re finding new bodies, a properly filled natal chart will resemble a spider’s web, or a tightly woven black mesh.

The State of the Astrology Non-Debate

The thread over at Funk Astrology where Jamie Funk has pretty much cast me as an inquisitor hunting astrology heretics, wherein I’ve asked several times that someone actually show up and address the questions in my post, has netted us a number of amusing trolls but nobody actually addressing my post. Oh, I mean, you get the odd person saying “astrology just works, and science can’t explain it”, which pretty much equals “ya gotta have faith”, and people saying “you haven’t studied it, therefore you don’t understand it”, which equals the Courtier’s Reply, but the fun is short-lived.

Especially if all you get in the way of an actual attempt at a falsification is “tell us your personal information so we can do a chart on you”. Never mind that a) pretty well everything you could ever want to know about me, my life’s history, my personality traits, etc., are all on my blog and all you have to do is sit down and read; and b) even if I told them how they’re wrong they’d probably turn around and say I was lying or they’d make up excuses for why THEY’RE right and I really DO have the personality traits they think I do; and c) they’d probably just end up saying I’m a bitter old curmudgeon with a closed mind (or whatever else they’re projecting onto me at the moment). Meh. Frankly, I’m just not interested in a bunch of wackos having my personal information, even if I have a lot of personal information right here on this blog already.

I did promise I would cross-post my original article into the Deepwater Horizon thread at Jamie’s blog, and that IS something I welched on. When I went to do the cross-posting, I honestly forgot that I had said explicitly where I’d post it. So yes, I was a jerk in that respect. I said I’d give Jamie today (with his barbecue and spending time with his fiancee Marina), and I managed to not post there myself (and ignore my own blog for the most part!) for the day as well. So I haven’t been stoking the fires. Tomorrow, as long as the topology hasn’t shifted significantly, I’ll copy my “smells like Funk” post over into a comment on the Deepwater Horizon thread and fulfill my original promise.

I just posted this comment, my way of reminding everyone exactly what I wanted to talk about, and what I wouldn’t be goaded into discussing. I couldn’t resist taking one comment from someone who evidently believes personal attacks that are easily falsified qualify as debate, and throwing a few facts in their face. I don’t think I did much fire-stoking here, do you?

I’ve promised myself I wouldn’t spend much time online today, but I just can’t let this particular comment pass.

@Teri
It’s evident you didn’t read my blog, or the comments therein. I can tell because you think nobody in my family or circle of friends has ever consulted an astrologer. In fact, in one of my comments, I pointed out that I married an ex-astrologer. She did all sorts of natal charts for people, and she thought she was “the real deal” and that horoscopes in papers and interpreting sun signs were crap. She has since discovered it was all selection bias, mind you, and that reality is really cool when you let it tell you about itself, but hey. That won’t stop any of you from making assumptions and insinuations that can be so easily disproven just by going over to the offending article and actually reading it.

So far this entire thread has devolved into telling me that I don’t have any facts to back me up, or that I follow some kind of scriptural dogmatic science religion, or personal attacks on my character. I don’t mind those. I’m actually quite used to them. I’ve fought for years on the internet against creationists trying to replace scientific teachings with “the earth was made by God six thousand years ago, evidence be damned”, so I’ve had every one of those attacks levelled at me. I’m pretty inured at this point. The only one of you that seems to have their heads about them is Rob, who (while he incorrectly assumes I fear character assassination) actually understands that this “debate” isn’t going to go anywhere as long as it’s driven out of some kind of attempt at hectoring.

Everything else, about people trying to peer-pressure me into proving religion is true by quoting the bible err sorry, proving astrology is true by doing my natal chart, can stop barking up that tree. Unless someone decides to be super-creepy as Deb suggested they should (I work in IT, I know how easy it is to obtain personal information about someone without their consent, but if you do it, you’re doing it without my consent, ergo creepy, capisce?), there will be no interpreting my astrological influences when you could find out everything you could ever want to know about me, my personality, et cetera, from my blog.

I’ve set the terms for what I want to actually talk about — that being my concerns about astrology, how it could work, and how I suspect it probably can’t. I’d like evidence to back up that the planets have any sort of influence on humankind whatsoever, outside of the few we know — Jupiter sweeps away asteroids, giving us a better shot at life; the moon drives our tides and churns our oceans; and the sun provides us with all the energy we need to overcome entropy. I know, I know, you can do a chart and find out why things happened after the fact via your framework, but have you ever tried doing up the wrong date for an event and explaining that event with the incorrect chart? Have you noticed how you can pretty well explain any event with any chart if you try hard enough? Outside of post-hoc rationalizations (e.g. doing charts after events), what proof do you have that there’s any kind of effect? Have you measured that effect? What drives the effect, and how does it affect only who and what it does?

Those questions, and more, are asked in my post, and I strongly welcome any of you to answer them. You know, rather than this unproductive and one-sided screaming. Again, if nobody’s interested in actually debating what I’ve posted, I’ll consider the matter closed, with no willing participants. I’d prefer Jamie do it, since he’s the one who challenged me, but if someone can give me any kind of explanation outside of “science can’t explain astrology” (which equals “you need faith”) in my mind, please take a shot at it! That’s why I’m here, and I’ll leave if I don’t get it.

(On second thought, if you just want to be rid of me, thinking I’m nought but a troll, then maybe you should just stand around and call me names and demand my birth information some more. I know when nobody’s serious about actually defending their beliefs in the context of the evidence to the contrary.)

So long as nobody’s actually addressing the content of my post, my interest in this fight is waning rapidly. I feel like I’m beset by jackals, but every one of them toothless and clawless and they’re busy trying to gum me to death. It’s nothing I won’t survive, but it’s getting really irritating.

Dealing with Astrologers and Associated Trolls

I have posted the following comment at Jamie Funk’s Funk Astrology. It is in earnest. I have every intention of carrying out a real debate about the underpinnings of astrology, but I will not be goaded into talking about Jamie’s specific brand of it, and I have given them a perfectly legitimate “out” so they can save face, in case they really think such an argument would hurt their “brand”.

As both Jenn and Margaret pointed out, I absolutely would have let the matter drop with nary a single mention of your names (and you’ll note, the original article sneering at the idea of using astrology to “predict”, after the fact, why Deepwater Horizon exploded, didn’t contain the name Jamie Funk anywhere on it until Jamie posted). I also didn’t think there was much to debate about — we have a difference of opinion, in that I believe astrology is bunkum, he believes it has value. It was his personal pride and conflating my sneering at astrology with sneering at his personal skills at it, that led to the escalation.

I’m not persecuting, I have no intention of carrying out an inquisition, and I’m certainly not hunting for heretics as I don’t personally hold to ANY dogma, much less a dogmatic belief in science without evidence. I mean, if you want to carry out the argument, I work well in either the mode where we discuss astrology, or we throw personal insults at each other (e.g. when Jamie called me a coward), so if you must cast me as an inquisitor rather than a warm and genuine human being with a difference of opinion, then do what you must to muster the courage to fight.

That said, after I post one last pointer to this thread and a cross-post of this comment, I have every intention of letting the matter drop, if you have no intentions of addressing my arguments in this post.

(That post, by the by, was written for this blog first, and cross-posted at my blog in case something untoward happened to it, like getting lost in a spam filter or getting reduced to merely a link. Cross-posting is not merely cut-and-pasting, but writing something intended to be posted in two places simultaneously.)

Just say “astrology must be taken on faith” and we part ways. You have my word.

Update: There are two other takes on this situation that you should probably read.
George W of Misplaced Grace – Daily Horoscope: Saturn Is In Aquarius And Yet You’re Still A Giant Dick
sinned34 of Evil is Underrated – People braver than I
You’re both on my blogroll now, and about damned time.

Red Dead Rideable Donkey Ladies and other nonsense

We’ve been having buckets of fun with our new television, PS3 and Red Dead Redemption since we got it last week. Case in point, Jodi just started playing, and she immediately vaulted over the second story railing in the saloon and almost landed on someone, all in an effort to make it out the door that much faster to get to the game proper. What’s more, we haven’t even tried the multiplayer mode — which turns the whole experience into a MMORPG. With levels, XP, unlockables and everything! So we’ve just been playing the single player mode, and having a ton of fun.

Sadly, we have not, as of yet, encountered any of these epic bugs that everyone on Youtube seems to have noticed pretty much right off the bat, and I suspect the game has likely been patched since, so we may even have missed our chance. The best we’ve managed is to fall through the world once, trying to sprint at a tree near Thieves’ Landing. None of these bugs are really game-breakers, but they do show that maybe RDR was a little… rushed to release, shall we say?

Case in point — the most prevalent bug involves the incorrect resource being assigned to an entity, leading to all sorts of weird scenes.

Like the infamous donkey lady (with a gigantic tip of the hat to chaosagent23):

Programmatically, it’s fairly obvious that this is a standard donkey, with the wrong 3D mesh assigned to it. Interestingly, it also shows how similar the skeletons are in all the models, as the animations work even with the wrong frame. Just look at how her legs move when she’s… *snicker*… ridden.

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Three resources in fighting the skeptical fight

In the afterglow err… aftermath of the non-debate discussion had on my last post demolishing astrology’s foundation, there are several posts you would benefit from reading, for various reasons.

First, What You’re Doing Is Important, by Surly Amy of Skepchick.

We skeptics are not contrarians, we try to make the world a safer place and to encourage advancements in technology and medicine. We strive for intellectual enlightenment not solely for ourselves but for everyone. We are one-part science communicators and one-part consumer protection advocates. But even with these idealistic good intentions we are often times the odd woman/man out at parties or around the water cooler. We are looked at as naysayers and argumentative, faithless, curmudgeons out to ruin fun and hope for everyone else. We are called know-it-alls or incorrectly considered close-minded. We are after all the ones that stand up and speak out when the majority wants to believe in homeopathy or angels or some sort of warm and fuzzy magical thinking. We burst bubbles, we dispel myths and sometimes we squash the fun of irrational fantasy. We explain how things really are. This outspoken bravery in the name of rationality often places us in the minority and that can be a very lonely and difficult place to be.

There’s also an anecdote about how a woman’ life, and the lives of her soon-to-be-birthed twins, were directly saved by medical science, and how if the couple had believed in natural childbirth, homeopathy, the power of prayer, or any of a number of other pseudosciences, all three of them might have died. Spreading skepticism is not JUST about bursting people’s bubbles. There’s a tangible utility factor.

Also, at Quiche Moraine, Mike Haubrich discusses the fundamental incompatibility between science and religion in Knowing the Problem of Induction, and a pullquote is relevant to the astrology discussion if you only replace “religion” with “astrology”:

In order to maintain confidence that a causal relationship between natural phenomena has been established, one scientific method that I learned was to disprove a null hypothesis using statistical tools to analyze my data. If the null hypothesis is not disproved, that means that the proposed hypothesis probably establishes a causal relationship and my investigation has yielded a good answer within a specified confidence interval. In other words, by following a scientific process, an investigator has come up with a good explanation for why something is so, or how something works.

This is only one of the methods that scientists use to discover how things work, one of the ways that people discover “how the world goes.”

Religion promises knowledge based on non-verifiable acceptance of authority, resignation to “mystery,” and the record of inscripturation. Apologists for religion promise to provide “other ways of knowing” that aren’t limited to verifiable, positivistic methods. Religion, in general, tells people that we can know for certain that the supernatural exists and interacts in measurable ways with the natural. Religion explains, in its “way,” the creation, miracles, interventions in personal lives and through catastrophic natural events. The explanations are authoritative but not testable nor replicable through any reliable means.

The post is an excellent primer on the problem of induction, as the post suggests, to boot. Do read it if you have any inclination to argue that science is compatible with religion.

And finally, given that much of the astrology argument devolved into netiquette (thanks in no small part to anonstargazer’s tender sensibilities), it’s good to know that Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds (aka Our Lady of Perpetual Win) wrote On the Utility of Dicks. Therein, she explains why it’s acceptable to be aggressive about defending rationality, regarding the recent fight the Twittersphere tried to spark between Phil Plait and PZ Myers over Plait’s talk at TAM8.

Then a friend gave me Flim Flam. James Randi told me how people had lied to me under the guise of nonfiction, under the guise of science. He was, in fact, kind of a dick about it. That’s not a very nice book by any definition of the word. It uses name-calling. It sneers.

But oh, it was exactly what I needed. I needed it both for the information it gave me and for the anger and vitriol. Without Randi’s vitriol, I wouldn’t have been able to make the clean break in thinking that I did. If he hadn’t been so clearly and visibly and sometimes nastily angry about the perversion of systems that were meant to uncover and convey the best knowledge we can have, I’d have been faced with the choice between a more classical skepticism, doubting everything that came my way, and clinging to the idea that what I believed had to be true.

The fight rages on many fronts. Sometimes being a dick WILL win you a convert. The fact that so many people seem to have such a vested interest in telling others that are ostensibly “on their side” to stop doing what they’re doing because they’re “not helping”, is rather galling. Especially since the assertion is made without proof, and there’s empirical evidence that some people respond better to an aggressive defense of rationality than to a milquetoast, wishy washy one.

Tomorrow we’ll do something a bit less heady, I promise. Keep fighting the good fight, in the meantime.