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June 2 2011

My experiences with Champions Online

While I’m on hiatus from WoW, I thought I’d try Champions Online. It seemed like it could be cool. I’ve been on a big comic book kick lately (I’ve been reading Hellboy, Irredeemable, Flash, Scalped, and other great books) and the thought of creating my own superhero and engaging in superheroics sounded fun. And best of all, it’s free…sorta.

At first, I felt like creating a big dumb oaf good for smashing things, like The Hulk or The Tick. I gradually worked my way through the extremely elaborate character creator (man I wish WoW had more character options) and came up with this dude, whom I named “Adam Smasher”. Puns are an important part of superheroics.

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April 24 2011

The savior of humanity

Long ago, a powerful being came to Earth, destined to be humanity’s savior. He was raised by his parents to be ethical and good. As an adult, he used his power and charisma to bring hope to all those he encountered. He led by example, he helped those in need. He attracted powerful enemies. He was killed, but rose from the grave. He watches over humanity from on high, as humanity gazes up at him in awe and wonder.

I am, of course, talking about Superman.

Happy Easter! I swear I’ll write more posts soon.

November 16 2009

Fun with Vaccination

UPDATE (Mar. 3, 2010): If anyone’s still hanging on the edge of their seat for this one, it’s been more or less resolved. I told the person who was threatening me that I wasn’t going to back down, and they’ve so far left me alone. That was back in November, of course. They had no legal standing on this.

UPDATE (Nov. 16 2009): Currently, the caller from this interview is threatening me with legal action. I’ve modified the post with a few more “seems to be”s to cover my ass. I think I’m fully within my rights to say what I’ve said here, but since I was called by the caller’s lawyer, I’m not taking any chances.

I just got done listening to a recent segment on NPR’s Science Friday (hosted by Ira Flatow) where they discussed the anti-vaccination movement, and even after 20 minutes, I’m still quivering with rage and frustration.

Science Friday: Childhood Vaccinations

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August 16 2009

Why would life be meaningless without an afterlife?

This is something I just don’t understand. I’ve heard it said numerous times (and recently from a friend of mine) that without an afterlife, life is pointless and/or meaningless. To which I respond, “huh?”

I guess the argument is that, if the afterlife doesn’t exist, then your experiences in life are meaningless because your soul won’t live on forever. But that’s like saying that you shouldn’t bother to paint your house because it’s just going to be torn down some day, or you shouldn’t send someone an e-mail because it’ll eventually get deleted. Continue Reading

July 8 2009

Communication Breakdown

Kingston_Phoneboxes

It’s hard to talk to people about supernatural or paranormal claims, especially when you’re a Skeptic with a capital S. People think you’re just closed to anything that doesn’t fit into a strict naturalistic worldview, which just isn’t true. I like to say that I’ll believe in anything, literally anything, as long as it’s backed up by evidence. That doesn’t usually help though.

I think part of the problem is just in how we divide the world around us, by definition. Everybody agrees that the natural world exists (and if they don’t, run!) but people also divide things into two other categories, mentioned above, so they think that reality is split into the natural, the supernatural, and the paranormal (possibly others, but I’m going to focus on these three). The natural, of course, is everything around us that can be studied and explained by science. The supernatural is the spiritual world, the realm of religion and mysticism. The paranormal is stuff like psychic powers, aliens, cryptids, and ghosts.

However, terms like “supernatural” and “paranormal” are unnecessary. They just complicate things, don’t actually define anything, and give many claims more credence than they deserve. It’s time we stopped using them.

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July 6 2009

Who doesn’t like Communism and Atheism?

A couple months ago, the Atheist Talk radio show (by Minnesota Atheists) aired an episode where their guest was Sunsara Taylor, a member of the Communist Party here in the US. It was really interesting, if for no other reason than because I don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual communist speak their mind, explain their platform, and defend their position. That’s just something you almost never see, even decades after the Cold War.

However, they recently had an episode which featured biologist Massimo Pigliucci, who came on the show specifically to rebut many of Taylor’s claims. And what he has to say is just as fascinating, if not moreso, although that may just be personal bias.

Anyway, I just wanted to post links to these two episodes to get people to listen to them, since they are so interesting.

If anyone was wondering, my own political views are essentially liberal, with a bit of libertarianism and a dash of socialism. Yea, I know that doesn’t make sense.

June 23 2009

What’s so bad about living forever?

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I just read a very interesting article about a girl who hasn’t aged in 16 years (which isn’t exactly an accurate statement, but fits well enough). The story briefly talks about how studying the girl’s bizarre condition could potentially teach us a lot about human aging, and perhaps even how to prevent it.

But I was a bit troubled when I read this:

In the long term, the idea that the aging process might somehow be manipulated raises serious questions about what human beings might do with that knowledge.

“Clearly, that’s the science fiction aspect of it,” said Walker, describing the social and ethical dilemmas that would arise. “We can’t have continued reproduction and people who don’t age.”

This confuses me, and makes me wonder why a doctor would say such a thing. Surely he has no problem with treating people medically to prolong their lives. Aging is a natural process, but so are cancer and seizures and disease. Thanks to medical science, the average human lifespan has doubled over the past 2000 years or so (I didn’t bother to look up that number, by the way). In a way, aging is just another problem with our bodies for scientists to fix.

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June 8 2009

Damn you, Twitter!

I’m a Twitter-hater. I admit it.

I just haven’t been able to figure out why Twitter is so popular, or what use it is to anyone who doesn’t already have e-mail, text messaging, Facebook, RSS newsfeeds, blogs, and message boards. I’ve read about it plenty, I’ve heard people gushing about how great it is, and in the past month or two, I’ve noticed that nearly every person on the internet whose opinions I care about (podcasters, bloggers, reporters) has been pimping friggin’ Twitter. Gah.

So, I give up. I’m tired of fighting it. I’ll give this fad a try. I thought the blogosphere was stupid (even though I’ve been blogging since before the term “blog” existed”) and it obviously grew on me – I now have 4 blogs and have set up numerous others for other people. I thought text messaging was stupid, but I’ve found that it’s often quite useful. I thought podcasting was absurd, and now I’m subscribed to like 30 podcasts. I thought MySpace was for teenagers starving for attention, and I was right. But, I thought similar things about Facebook, and now it’s the site i use the most. E-mail was something I grew up with, so no problem there.

So maybe I’ll be wrong about Twitter. I’m willing to find out.

If you want to follow me on the goddamn Twitter, I’m @dubiosity. I think that’s how it’s written. I also added a box on the right.

May 21 2009

Choosing death: should Daniel Hauser be allowed to die?

Many of you out there have probably heard about the case of Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old who was recently ordered to receive chemotherapy for his cancer, instead of sticking to “alternative” treatments like a special diet, vitamins, and ionized water. At the moment of this writing, he and his mother are on the run to avoid the chemo and deal with the cancer their own way. (Look at me! I’m writing something that’s actually current! This must be what being a journalist feels like!)

I could focus on criticizing their choice of treatment, but I’m not going to (beyond this paragraph). It should be obvious to most of us that this family has bought into some crazy, dangerous nonsense. This is a perfect example of why “alternative medicine” is dangerous: not because most of it is completely worthless, but because it causes people to forego real, scientifically-proven medical treatments.

The bigger issue here is whether it’s ok for the government to step in and choose someone’s medical treatment, and how far we as a society should allow someone’s faith and beliefs to go, and whether society as a whole has any say at all. Essentially, the question is: should we let Daniel Hauser die?

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May 14 2009

Recommended Podcasts

I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts while at my computer (especially while playing WoW) and also on my MP3 player in the car, and when out for a walk, and whenever I have the time. I listen to a LOT of podcasts, and I’m always looking for more. Here are my favorites, and if you know of any others that I’d probably like, please post a link.

What the hell is a podcast?

It’s like radio, but on a computer. Most podcasts are published via an RSS feed that links to the files on the podcaster’s server. You can just download them manually if you want, but there are programs out there that will let you subscribe to the podcast feed and automatically download new episodes when they become available. The program I use is MediaMonkey, which is probably the greatest audio program ever. Other people use iTunes, though I don’t know why. I think WinAmp can handle podcasts too, and I’m sure there are others. Anyway, on with the show.

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May 13 2009

Conflicted feelings about Star Trek

Spock would be cool in a 70's-style cop drama

I’m going to talk about the new Star Trek movie. I will be using spoilers throughout. So go see it if you haven’t already, then come back and read this.

I saw the new Star Trek movie last night, and I thought it was pretty good. It was great to see so many familiar people and places, and I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing new adventures in this amazing future that Roddenberry created. However, despite how much I enjoyed it, I’m still conflicted.

First, let’s look back a couple years. When I first heard that they were going to do another Star Trek movie I was happy but wary. I assumed that it probably wouldn’t be another Next Gen movie, since everyone was aging too much, and they killed my favorite character in the previous one (and it was pretty ridiculous that they kept having to toss Worf in there somehow when he should’ve been on DS9 or Qo’noS). Probably wouldn’t be about the DS9 or VOY crews either, since both of those shows had pretty definite endings that split up the crews…and making a movie of either would probably be a bad move from a business standpoint anyway.

I was hoping that the new movie would have a new ship and a new crew, and take place after all the other movies and shows, and maybe have a new villain or some other big threat to deal with, since the Federation didn’t have too many big threats to deal with anymore: the Klingons were allies, the Cardassians were crushed in the Dominion war, the Dominion was crushed in the Dominion war, the Borg were…just not a threat anymore…hell, even the Romulans were much less angry than they were before (and are destroyed just moments before this new movie starts). At that point, they needed an interesting new challenge to face, and an interesting new bunch of characters to face it.

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April 22 2009

Book Review Quickies #1

I read a lot of books, and if I have the time or inclination, and if a book is good enough or relevant to this blog, I like to write reviews for them. However, my time is not infinite, and I have a big backlog of books to review. So rather than just let my mental list get longer and longer until I forget what’s on it, I decided to just do some “quickie” reviews, to urge others to check these books out.

In this edition:

  • Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine
    by Dr. Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh
  • How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science
    by Michael Shermer

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March 30 2009

Is PETA really euthanizing most of its shelter animals? Yes.

PETR
This image doesn’t really have anything to do with this story, but I made it a while ago and I think it’s funny.

Here’s one I heard about a few months ago, but didn’t think about much until it popped up again today on Digg, as most things do.

As the story goes, PETA (the animal rights group) euthanized 95% of all the animals it took in during 2008. Wow. But, is it true?

While researching, I quickly found my way to a site called “PETA Kills Animals”, which seems to be the source of this claim. They have the data they used all wrapped up in a nice PDF file and a table of data showing the exact numbers, from 1998 to 2008. And yes, the data shows, without a doubt, that PETA is euthanizing huge numbers of animals. Case closed, I’ll share the site on Facebook to make myself feel good. Right?

However, someone on Digg doubted the numbers, and claimed the numbers were much lower. Another poster chimed in with links to the data directly from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. (PETA’s headquarters are in Virginia.) That site has PETA’s data from 2004-2007, so that’s the date range I’ll be sticking with for the rest of this article.

I looked at the exact numbers, and at first glance something seemed wrong. In 2007, PETA took in 8362 animals, and euthanized 1815 of them. That’s definitely not 95%; it’s 22%. Huh?

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March 21 2009

Energize your mind with new-age bullshit


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When I started this blog, I thought I’d be writing primarily about cool science news items, and shedding light on the latest scams, and maybe even writing about politics and religion if I had time. Well, as you can see by the Categories box to the right, I had that completely backwards. The problem is that I really don’t have much to contribute to a scientific news item, besides “this is cool”.

However, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying pseudoscientific claptrap when I see it, and this certainly qualifies for that description:

If you watched that video, you’re probably either thinking “that’s obvious nonsense” or “wow, maybe I should start doing that”. Actually, you’re probably also thinking “that’s the worst reporting I’ve ever seen” and I agree with you there.

A classic joke among us skeptics goes something like this:

Q: “What do you call alternative medicine that actually works?” A: “Medicine.”

A lot of people are inclined to believe in alternative medicine, because they see it as a viable alternative to modern medicine. What many people don’t realize is that there’s really no such thing as “alternative medicine”. There’s medicine, and then there’s unproven and disproven treatments. This “Superbrain Yoga®” seems to be a mixture of both unproven and disproven treatments. Continue Reading

March 4 2009

Richard Dawkins returns

Richard Dawkins, biologist, retired Oxford professor, writer, and the most well-known atheist in the world, is back in Minnesota to do a lecture at the U of M. That’s today, so obviously I’m not writing this to break the news. In fact, I’ll be there tonight; I bought my ticket the day it was announced. I’ll also probably write about it here in the next few days.

But anyway, I wanted to point to an interview he did just this morning on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio, the local branch of NPR) that I think was pretty good.

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One thing I’ve noticed about Dawkins, and I’ve heard/watched many of his interviews, debates, and discussions online, is that he sounds almost exactly the same regardless of his mood. He often sounds irritated, and he may very well be, but I think that’s mostly just the way he talks. He’s also very careful with what he says, and for good reason: there are lots of people out there who are looking for him to slip up somehow so they can take his words out of context.

I think the best way to hear the “real” Dawkins is to listen to his audiobooks. I’ve read both The God Delusion and The Ancestor’s Tale, and both via audiobook, and he’s much more relaxed in those. You get a much better sense of the wonder he feels about science, and he doesn’t come off as the angry fundamentalist atheist that many of his opponents seem to think he is.

Of course, what he’s talking about goes against what many people believe, and Dawkins doesn’t sugar-coat anything.

February 25 2009

Debatable Tactics

Blow2Debating is like boxing: you wail on your opponent until they cough up blood. Figuratively.

I went to a debate between Dan Barker (whom I wrote about briefly a couple days ago) and Dinesh D’Souza last night, in Willey Hall at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis campus). The topic was “Can We Be Good Without God”, which I’m a little surprised is still a subject of debate at all.

My simple answer to that question? Of course; we do it every day. It’s just that many of us don’t realize it. What that question is really asking is, can we be good without a belief in a god. Specifically, the Christian version of God, although the debate wasn’t limited only to that. Dan took the affirmative position (yes we can be good), and Dinesh took the contrary position (no, we can’t).

Dan started out by trying to show why the Bible isn’t a reliable source of morality, and how most people ignore its immoral passages, proving that morality exists outside and independent of religion. However, I think he glossed over a few too many things, and may have made some assumptions he shouldn’t have. For one, I think too often he assumed that his audience was more familiar with the Bible than they actually were. Ironically, it seemed like the atheists in the audience knew exactly what he was talking about and which passages he was referring to, because many of us actually read the Bible and not just follow the current feel-good pop version of Christianity that basically ignores the Bible and focuses on Jesus as the ultimate invisible friend.

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February 20 2009

Who’s to blame for the National Debt?

As a Graphic Designer by trade, an artist in general, and a scatterbrain in particular, I like to see data in graphs and charts. To me, it’s just much more useful to see information graphically represented (see my previous post for a good example) than to examine tables of raw data. So when I see a good chart, it makes a big impression on me.

This chart (or others like it) isn’t exactly new. It’s been floating around the net for a few years, and it clearly shows that the National Debt increases at a significantly greater rate when we have a Republican president. I’ve seen this chart pop up on Digg and in message board comments all over the place. There are apparently a lot of people who have it bookmarked and are ready to post a link to it at the first sign of praise of Republican fiscal policy or criticism of Democrat fiscal policy.

However, one of the first criticisms this chart gets is always something along the lines of “the President doesn’t really have much control over the economy” or that it’s really a problem caused in the Senate, since they’re the ones who come up with the bills. The inevitable response to that is “yes, but the President can veto those bills”. Who’s really to blame?

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February 11 2009

Correlation isn’t causation, but…

I saw an interesting chart today.

Gallup recently released the results of a poll they conducted, in which they asked people how important religion is in their lives. The results are pretty interesting.

I was pretty surprised that the USA is listed as “less religious”, but I guess that shows just how extreme many other countries are. I’m sure we’re at the high end of “less religious” anyway.

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February 4 2009

25 things about me

Some of my friends on Facebook have been passing around this “25 things about me” thing. Basically, people write 25 things about them and post it on Facebook. Jeez, I didn’t even have to write that second sentence, did I?

I’m just going to share what I wrote here, because I took longer than I should have in writing it. And why the hell not?

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February 3 2009

Something I’ll never be capable of understanding

I was in Barnes & Noble just now, browsing through the science section. I came upon a book called “String Theory Demystified” by David McMahon. I’ve been meaning to find a good book that lays out String Theory and Quantum Physics in a way that even a Graphic Designer can understand, and this book looked perfect. Just 306 pages, well organized, seems well-written.

Here’s what I see on page 5:

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That’s from the friggin’ Introduction. The rest of the book is filled with even more complex equations.

I’m sure the book is great, but it’s clear to me now that this is WAY over my head.

January 27 2009

I’m not ignoring you

First off, I’ve gotta point out how awesome it is that people are actually reading this blog, and caring enough to respond to my posts, even though right now my traffic is rather low. I know it takes a long time to build a blog, and it’s even harder when one of your primary foci is a topic that most people don’t agree with.

One of the reasons I blog in the first place is to foster discussion, and to get new (and old) ideas out into the light. I’ve tried to respond when people disagree (or agree) with something I’ve written, but I haven’t been doing a very good job.

Whenever someone posts a comment to this blog, I get an e-mail telling me I have a new comment. Normally. However, it doesn’t always work, as has become obvious to me by how many comments I’ve found that I haven’t read yet. So, as a solution, I found out that Blogger (the site software I use) is set up to allow you to see every comment to your blog in an RSS feed. (Here it is, if you want to track it too.)

In the future, I’ll (hopefully) be much quicker with my responses. If I feel the need to make them, of course.

Also, I’ve added a link to the right so people can contact me directly, in case you want to suggest something or say something private or tell me how much Jesus loves me, or whatever else you want to say.

January 24 2009

Meeting Dan Barker

DSC00842My signed copy of Dan Barker’s book “Godless”. Yes, my real name is Bryan (for those of you who don’t know). 

Last Sunday, I went to a Minnesota Atheists meeting, where Dan Barker (Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, author of the book “Godless”, and former evangelist) was giving a talk.

But before I talk about that, I want to talk about why that’s such a big deal for me.

One of my deepest, darkest secrets (besides being an atheist) is that I’ve been struggling with social anxiety disorder for the past several years, probably longer. It’s not something that I ever talk about, and only a handful of people even know that it’s a problem for me. Most people just think I’m shy and awkward, which of course is also true.

This problem is something I’ve wanted to write about on this blog for a long time, but it’s been very difficult for me (and you’ll find out exactly why if you continue reading). In fact, one of the big reasons why I started this blog was to help me work through my own “issues”. Staying silent hasn’t worked for me, so maybe getting things out in the open will.

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December 10 2008

Merry _ _ _ _ _ mas

1196856652_fChoose your poison.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the “Holiday Season” is upon us once again. Bleh.

I don’t pay much attention to right-wing “news” sources, but apparently they’re once again blowing the “War on Christmas” horn, to rally the faithful against the rampaging atheist hordes. Never mind the fact that the atheist hordes are such a small part of the population, or that they’re most likely armed with library books and cappuccinos.

I think fellow non-believing Minnesotan PZ Myers said it best: “The war on Christmas is over. We won.” Some time in recent history, perhaps even in the past decade, Christmas went beyond its Christian origins and became something that everyone can celebrate, like Halloween. It has become less about the birth of Jesus, and more about getting together with friends and family members and share gifts, or even just enjoy their company.

For Christians, it’s naturally still about Jesus, and that’s perfectly ok. No matter what Bill O’Reilly says, nobody* wants to stop you from going to church or putting an angel on your tree or putting one of those little manger scenes on your table (in fact, I’m tempted to do it myself, because they’re pretty neat). In fact, feel free to put a big inflatable light-up Jesus on your front lawn if you want. It’s your property.

But issues arise when these things are set up in public places, and this is where the disagreements (and the only fuel for the War On Christmas fire) appear. Some government and public facilities allow local Christian groups to set up manger scenes on their property during Christmas (and 10 Commandments displays year round, but let’s not bring that up right now), and when the atheists, secularists, Church/State separationists, and non-Christian religious groups make an issue of it, they’re labeled as bad guys.

Once again, it comes down to the First Amendment and how you interpret the Establishment Clause. I personally (and other Church/State separation supporters) support the interpretation by Justice Souter: “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion“. Yes, Christians are the majority in the US, but to favor any religious group over others necessarily restricts the freedoms of people who aren’t part of that group. And that’s bad.

Generally, there are two ways of dealing with the issue of religious displays on public land: either everyone gets to put one up, or nobody does. If you allow a manger scene from the Christians, you have to allow a menorah from the Jews, various Winter Solstice displays from numerous other religions, a bust of L. Ron Hubbard from the Scientologists, a bust of the Flying Spaghetti Monster from the Pastafarians, a disrespectful deliberately inciteful sign from the atheists** (see below), and who knows how many others. Eventually, you may run out of room for displays, you have to deal with vandalism and theft, people will no doubt complain about the placement of the displays…sounds like way more work than it’s worth. I recommend just not allowing religious displays on public ground at all.

November 9 2008

Dexter: Moral ambiguity and cognitive dissonance in television (and why I love it)

Ok, let’s take a break from all the politics and talk about TV.

One of my favorite shows right now is a Showtime series called Dexter. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s familiar with it, which is a shame, because it’s one of the most interesting and gutsy shows on TV right now.

On its surface, Dexter seems like yet another crime show. It takes place is perpetually-sunny Miami, it has a cast of interesting characters, and it focuses on Dexter (shockingly enough) who is an easy-to-like blood-spatter analyst working for the Miami police department. But the thing that sets this show apart is that Dexter is also a serial killer.

The story is told primarily from Dexter’s perspective, and you hear his inner monologue. On the outside, he’s the quirky guy who brings a box of doughnuts to work every day to share with his co-workers. But he’s driven to murder people, and does so quite frequently. He makes sure that his victims are criminals, but he’s not doing it to get bad guys off the streets. He does it because he enjoys killing; because he has a need for it. He even collects a drop of blood from each victim on a microscope slide, which helps him (and the audience) keep track of exactly how long he’s been doing it, and how often. Beyond that, he’s pretty much a normal person who deals with normal problems, who has a normal life, and a pretty normal job.

The thing I find most fascinating about the show is that it’s not trying to tell you what to think about what Dexter does. It’s a constant festival of cognitive dissonance, with your mind and morality constantly flipping between what you perceive as good and evil, and usually coming up with something in between. It raises far more questions than it answers. Is it ok for Dexter to kill a serial rapist? How are you supposed to feel when that same rapist begs for his life before Dexter plunges a knife into his chest? Is Dexter any better than the people he’s killing? Does Dexter’s difficult past make what he’s doing understandable?

Dexter isn’t the one-dimensional serial killer character you typically see opposite the “good guys” on the standard procedural cop show. He’s a very likeable character. You want to see him succeed in life. You don’t want to see him caught and sent to jail, even though it seems like he deserves it.

Dexter isn’t a show for people who view the world in black & white. This isn’t about the good guys catching the bad guys. It’s about a good guy who’s also a bad guy, and it’s not telling you how to think. It’s showing you that the real world is shades of gray, and that you have to weigh each situation as it comes.

October 6 2008

Book Review: “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God” by Guy P. Harrison

I couldn’t find a good image on the net to steal, so I just tossed my copy in the scanner. I do plan to actually buy the book someday.

This is the book I wish everybody on the planet would read. Or at least my friends and family.

The best thing about this book is that it conveys the reasoning behind atheism without being even remotely condescending toward believers. It wasn’t written to convert people, or prove who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s just trying to inform.

Not only does the book inform you about atheism and, being a book with a “western world” mindset, Christianity, but it also delves into many other world religions, some of which I’ve never even heard of. Harrison seems to have led a fascinating life so far, traveling the world and seeing many different types of people and cultures, and he gladly shares some of his stories and experiences while at the same time using them to illustrate the idea he’s trying to convey in a given chapter.

The format of the book is ideal for this sort of topic. Each of the titular 50 reasons is given its own chapter, and each chapter can be read on its own, without having read any of the previous chapters. The chapters are, on average, about 7 pages long. This means that each chapter covers its intended topic thoroughly without going overboard with unnecessary prose or over-elaborate explanations.

No matter what you believe, this book will give you a lot to think about.

September 25 2008

I need Halloween costume ideas

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Halloween is about a month away, and I need a good idea for a costume.

Last year, I went as a Bridge Inspector. I actually won the "best costume" award at the Halloween party, but I only won for the idea, because my costume was pretty lousy. I wore what I was wearing that day, but mis-buttoned my shirt. Then I put a hard hat on, backwards. Then I made a nametag labelled "Brige Inspectar" and wore it upside-down. And I went out and spent a whopping $1.49 on a clipboard. Yes, it was a VERY distasteful costume. My aunt actually gave me the idea.

The year before, I went as a birdwatcher. I wore what I was wearing that day, put on a straw hat and binoculars, and that was it. I wore them for about half an hour before I got tired of them and put them away.

The two or three years before THAT, I didn’t have a costume at all. And before that, I went as "Darth Maui", which was just a hawaiian shirt (which I happened to be wearing that day…noticing a pattern?) and a toy lightsaber.

So yea. I need something better.

Some restrictions:

  1. Has to be cheap. Preferably free.
  2. Has to work with my goatee. I’m not shaving.
  3. No makeup. No makeup. No makeup.
  4. I’m a tall/large person. I don’t think I need to say more.

Ok people, think for me. Find me a costume idea!

September 21 2008

Health care debate

I had a hell of a time finding this. MPR really needs a better search engine.

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Last Thursday, as I was riding home from class, I turned on NPR to listen to the news. I don’t do this very often, because I normally have my MP3 player with me, so I listen to podcasts. But, I’ve gotta replace its hard drive, so I was forced to listen to whatever happened to be on the radio at the time. On-demand media has spoiled me.

I’m glad I did though, because NPR was broadcasting a debate on health care between E. Richard Brown and Daniel Kessler, advisors to Obama and McCain (respectively) on issues relating to health care (possibly other issues too; the beginning of the audio is cut off).

Sounds really boring, but it was actually pretty fascinating. Brown calls out Kessler repeatedly on his distortions, and generally flogs him. The audience even began to turn on Kessler too – when he says that nobody actually wants single-payer health care, the audience actually boos him. This is the type of audience who would go and watch a health care debate, and they booed someone.

Needless to say, I think Obama has the superior health plan. I firmly support universal health care (not just because I’m broke and healthcareless), and he’s planning to take steps in that direction.

September 21 2008

Sam Harris vs. Sarah Palin (and, what I’m up to)

I feel like I haven’t been posting much lately. Probably because I haven’t. I could offer up excuses like “I’ve been really busy with work” or “it’s the end of the quarter and all my classes have final projects I’ve had to work on” or even “I’ve been racing rams in WoW so I can get a subscription to the Brew of the Month Club”.

I’ve been working on two pretty big articles for this blog, actually. The first is a pretty thorough examination of the Quinquae Viae, which are St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. The second is simply titled “Why John McCain must not become president”, and you can probably guess what that’s about. But those are both pretty detailed articles, and hopefully I’ll have the time to finish at least one of them in the next couple days.

In the mean time, I strongly urge you to read this article from Newsweek, published on their web site just yesterday. It’s written by Sam Harris, and he talks about why elitism is considered a bad thing in politics, and specifically how it relates to the simple-minded Sarah Palin, who makes Bush look like a rational and scientific person.

One especially nauseating thing spoiling this otherwise brilliant article is the headline that Newsweek gave it (“When Atheists Attack”), which basically tells people that these are the opinions of a damn dirty liberal atheist who thinks he’s better than you, and are therefore not worthy of your consideration. Once again, sensationalism trumps quality journalism.

September 14 2008

To the library!

centralThis doesn’t even LOOK like Minnesota…

I used to buy a lot of books, which I’d almost always read just once and then put on my shelf. Having a full bookcase makes me feel smart, even if most of them say “Star Wars” on the spine. However, when I went broke, I realized how much of a waste it was to buy books, and eventually remembered that I could always go to the local library for most of the books I want, like I did when I was a kid.

My local library system (the Ramsey County Public Library) has a pretty good selection (including comics, to my surprise) but their collection of atheist and religion-critical books is unfortunately limited to the big names (Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, etc.) and they don’t have any of the interesting-sounding books I’ve heard about on Point of Inquiry. (Seems like I add a new book to my “To Read” list every time I listen to a new episode.) For a while, I thought I’d have to buy the books if I wanted to read them (or even download them on the internet) but then I decided to think bigger. There’s a bigger library!

 

So today, I wandered out into the rain, drove into downtown St. Paul, and eventually stumbled, dripping, into the Central Library for the first time, about 20 minutes before they closed. An employee set up my Ramsey County library card to work with their system (awesome, I don’t have to carry around another card in my wallet) and I immediately came to the Non-Fiction section, where I picked up 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy P. Harrison, and Irreligion by John Allen Paulos. I was looking for something by Robert M. Price, but I didn’t find any in the limited time I had.

The Central Library is amazing. It’s one of those huge, old stone buildings with thick walls and dark wooden shelves. There are pillars and arches, and elaborately decorated ceilings. It feels like the kind of library you only see in movies, and except for the computers and barcodes and handicap accessibility, it doesn’t look like it has changed at all since it was opened, in 1917. I only got to see a small part of it because I got there as they were closing, but next time I’ll be sure to give myself lots of time to gawk.

The history of the library is also pretty interesting, and includes some pretty familiar names in Minnesota history – people who now have counties named after them. It was surprising and sad to hear that the previous St. Paul Public Library burned to the ground, taking 158,000 books with it.

Anyway, I’ll definitely be spending more time at that library in the future. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to check it out.

September 14 2008

Dubiosity via RSS and Facebook

I just wanted to point out that I’ve set up a page for Dubiosity on Facebook, if anybody is interested in adding it to their profile. It should inform you when I make a new post (which can be turned off if you want) which is handy if you don’t do RSS.

Speaking of RSS, if you like that sort of thing, the Dubiosity feed is right here. Most browsers will show that there’s an RSS feed associated with this blog automatically, but in case yours doesn’t, there you go. (You should probably get an update or a different browser if it doesn’t.)