Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Be Skeptical of the Skeptoid, Even

This bears mentioning, only because not mentioning it will leave me open to criticism.  I have (and will continue to) rely on Skeptoid.com for quick refutations of common folklore and mis-directed mass hysteria. I don't think I've mentioned the site too often on this blog, but I know my Facebook page and G+ are littered with references to the podcast.

I do that because Skeptoid is short; generally just over 10 minutes, or a few easy pages of reading. The site also includes references for those interested in diligence (more than I can say for most sites on the internet today) and the podcast features a regular corrections episode where the narrator eats crow in public (and I wish more podcasters were willing to do the same) which is good for the soul and keeps the podcaster honest with his listeners.

However, the narrator and de facto owner of Skeptoid Brian Dunning, has been convicted of wire fraud, and will be spending several months in prison and a few years on probation after that. As someone who has been fascinated with computers for as long as I have (My uncle made the first portable computer I ever heard of.  It was built into a Suburban and was so large you had to sit outside the vehicle and access it through the side doors)  the intrigues engaged in by hackers no longer surprise me.
[A]ccording to the superseding information, the wire fraud involved causing cookies to be installed on internet users’ computers without their knowledge. If, by chance, those users later visited eBay and bought something, then an entity owned by Brian (at least in part) would be treated by eBay as if the entity’s website had driven the customer to eBay by means of a direct referral. The entity owned (at least in part) by Brian would then get a commission from eBay, as if the entity’s website had actually been responsible for driving the user to eBay. In reality, the entity’s website would not have driven the customer to eBay, and thus eBay was defrauded. Thus, wire fraud.
The superseding information charged Brian with wire fraud, occurring between May 2006 and June 2007, and on April 15, 2013, Brian pled guilty to that charge. 
from THE SKEPTICAL ABYSS: A SKEPTICAL TRAGEDY h/t to Doubtful News
 It was a clever hack job, reading through it; and it netted him a rather large sum of money.  However, contrary to the assertions of another skeptic (who's opinion I generally respect and agree with) Brian did not defraud visitors to his websites, although his use of their computers to defraud eBay ranks right up there on my outrage meter with DDOS attacks and malware masquerading as legitimate software.

Brian stole from eBay, not his website visitors.  It would be a cold day in hell before I would trust software offered by him (or his affiliates) because of this, but the vitriol seems a little excessive;
Again, just to be clear: Dunning is a rich, convicted fraud who may soon be facing up to 20 years in prison (though more likely much less for a first offense). The very same skeptics who happily point out to Mormons that they idolize a fraud in Joseph Smith, and who tell believers of Sylvia Browne that she was convicted of fraud, are giving their money to a convicted fraud who actually used them in his criminal acts 
from skepchick.org
I get it, he defrauded eBay and now he's going to jail.  Ever heard of phone phreaks or any of the other long traditions of thumbing your nose at the man? eBay is just another cog in the machine from that perspective; a target to be milked if you can figure out how to trick them into giving you cash.  It is not, repeat not, stealing from poor shills who are desperate for any answers (even fake ones) to the problems they are faced with.

Not that I want to soft pedal what Brian Dunning has done.  I don't, and I don't expect anyone who engages in illegal activity for whatever reason to be treated any differently than any other lawbreaker. That doesn't change the veracity of the work contained in Skeptoid, which represents the effort of hundreds of people now, and the contributions of thousands.

Credit where credit is due, as well as blame.  Skeptoid represents Brian Dunning's best work, just as the conviction for wire fraud (hopefully) represents his worst.  It will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself after the dust settles and he can speak freely on the subject.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, not 9-11

My dad was born on September 11, 1938.  On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn't appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years.  We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.

Military adventurism continues almost unabated. Undaunted by the mess that we created in Iraq, we now propose to intervene in the area again.  We remain convinced that everything that happens around the world is somehow linked to us, that we have to weigh in on events, or that somehow the events were caused by us, as if the world only exists because we send our military out there to make sure it does.

My father did his time in the military.  I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve.  He didn't like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there.  As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. "You like taking orders?" he said.  I didn't, I replied. "Well, then you don't want to join the military." That was his thinking on the subject, as he related it to me.

Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday.  Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant.  It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that.  It is captured in the sentiment of Jim Wright's piece on Stonekettle Station (a re-post) when Jim mentions the generation that has grown up since the towers fell, never knowing the America that we all remember.  They only know the America we created in our fear after 9-11;
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
So in that sentiment I'd just like to reclaim today, and every September 11th after this one for my father.  Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.  I promise to spend more time thinking of you than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans.  Because really, why remember if we aren't going to learn anything from it?

To Grok in Fullness

 "You grok," Smith repeated firmly. "I am explain. I did not have the word. You grok. Anne groks. I grok. The grass under my feet groks in happy beauty. But I needed the word. The word is God."
Jubal shook his head to clear it. "Go ahead."
Mike pointed triumphantly at Jubal. "Thou art God!
 
-- Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land
I find it ironical that failure to communicate ideas (generally philosophical/religious ideas) always sends me scurrying back into the dusty cupboards of my mind, only to fall upon that phrase in the end.

I don't think most people read, even the ones who do.  I find that I don't actually read a lot of the things presented to me these days. I mean read as in; take the time to soak up the words.  Not just look at their surface, but really understand the meaning of the words as arranged on the page.  To grok them, as they exist.

The tons of text presented to us each day in today's world precludes us from spending time actually thinking about what the words mean, What we mean in the words.  So we skim.  We assume intent on the part of the writer, trust that the structure will lead a predictable direction, and skip to the ending to assure ourselves our assumptions were correct.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345472322/braipick-20
From: Mindset by Carol Dweck; h/t to Brian Pickings
Gone are the days laying on the floor in the sun-illumined dust, turning pages in earnest, breathlessly exploring the bounds of knowledge.  Now it's electronic pre-determinism and endless counter-attack against ideas we aren't even sure our opponents are supporting, but we think it's there in the text we didn't actually take time to read.

Listening to a book isn't reading it.  It is a valuable experience to be read to, I'm not knocking that.  I have read whole series of books to my children, some of them more than once. A good reader can add himself to the work, making it more than it was when written. But then it isn't the work as the writer intended it; just as the movie isn't the written word, either.

You cannot grok the intent of the writer through headphones, listening while you are doing something else.  Suddenly the reader seems to be editorializing on your ability to fold towels, the words interwoven with the task you were performing, the two inextricably interwoven in your memory.  When you try to recall the subject, suddenly you feel like doing laundry or walking the dog. Why does thinking about that lecture bring up images from a video game?

To understand the meaning of the words, you have to read the words in the form they were written in, to get a feel for each individual character and it's placement in the word, the word in the sentence, the sentence in the paragraph, because that is how the idea came to the writer in the first place.

That is how you Grok.  But don't expect me to agree with you, the writer, just because I understand you.  That is a whole different set of problems.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

World of Warcraft; Long Quest Completed

Back on September 2, 2008 a good friend of mine asked a favor of me.  Really, it was probably the only favor he ever asked of me, and to me it seemed like such a small thing, I didn't see any reason why I couldn't help him.  He'd been playing World of Warcraft for a few years at that point, and he was having trouble getting groups together to complete content; not to mention that they were giving away mounts for recruiting friends, and they were really sweet Zhevras.

I had played Blizzard games many times over the years (I would have said I preferred the Real Time Strategy games if you asked me) I liked playing head to head with family, a pastime (and a blog article I've been working on) that went back years.  Diablo II was a favorite in the house and when World of Warcraft was announced at the end of Warcraft III I hoped it would be something like that game in execution. The cheapskate that I am refused to even entertain the idea of paying for a game on a monthly basis, so I dismissed it as a possibility even if it was something I might like.

A few years later, and a lot more time on my hands spent indoors fighting the symptoms of Meniere's, made the idea of spending a few dollars a month for game access seemed like a bargain.  I'd be doing my friend a favor and I had already asked him to shave my head earlier that year as a symbol of support for his going through chemotherapy again.  A request to join him in a game I secretly wanted to play anyway was easy in comparison.

So we started playing. Almost from the beginning I got off on the wrong foot in the game.  I had no idea that the two factions could not talk to each other or play together. I created Horde toons (a Tauren Warrior & Undead Warlock) on a server he was playing as Alliance (in fact, he only played Alliance) so he had to make new toons to play with me.  My daughter only wanted to play Night Elves (her favorite race from WC3) and she had already created a toon on another server that I just had to join her in playing. Being fond of Rogues from Diablo, I created a NElf Rogue (female, of course.  All rogues are female) to play alongside her druid.  I quickly created a whole slew of NElf characters with the intention of playing all classes as NElf, only to discover that not all classes could be played in all races. That lead to the Gnome mage Brenelbur and his evil warlock twin, but that was when the plan got out of control.

I hatched a scheme to level one toon (character) of each class, and I would do this for both factions, with a genuine attempt to play all races and both sexes for each race with at least one toon.  When I mapped this all out, there were nine classes, which Blizzard expanded to ten with Wrath of the Lich King and eleven with Mists of Pandaria.  There were also fewer races, with Worgen and Goblins being added as playable races in Cataclysm (DraeneiBlood Elves having been added in Burning Crusade, along with Alliance Shaman and Horde Paladins. I started playing at the end of this expansion of the game) so I had to skip a few race/sex combinations.  This was made easier on the alliance side, because I saw no need to play humans in a fantasy game.  I could play that in real life by turning off the computer.

When I started this quest, this scheme of mine, I really thought it would be no sweat to complete.  A few months playing, and all done.  Then the new classes and races were added, and the levels increased, and I began to wonder if I had even been sane when I came up with this crazy idea.

With the announcement of the release of Warlords of Draenor this November, I knew the time to finish this quest of mine was now or never. Ten more levels on Twenty-two toons would probably be more than I was interested in doing, and I really didn't want to fail. So, earlier today I finally leveled my twenty-second toon to endgame, level ninety.   A late birthday present for myself, and a nice way to close out the favor I started for a dear friend who logged off a few years after we started playing.  I'd like to offer a heartfelt thanks to Bear, wherever he is, for making me take up this silly game. I think it has kept me sane, if this is sanity.



One of the things that has improved over the years I've played this game has been the website. The last time I tried to do a toons & servers update, I had to clip photos from screenshots for each toon.  This version may be more boring to read, because I won't be adding photos for all twenty-two toons, but it will be significantly easier to write. The links for each name will lead to the stat page for each of my toons. Better than clipped art, it is proof that the toon exists and represents an example of how it is set up, and what it looks like currently.

My main Horde toons are still on Terenas, although the server is really a backwater in the game and it limits my ability to play content that is limited to the home server.  Blizzard has been working to combine servers and content, so this might not be a problem much longer. Of course, I could just level new toons on other servers, and that process technically has already begun. However, these are the eleven I count as main Horde;

  • Olaventa - Orc Shaman (Herbalism, Inscriptionfrom the lowly also-ran who started out as a male with a different name, this toon has graduated into becoming my raider.  Shaman are excellent healers, and when your secondary talent is Elemental (not as much DPS as enhancement, but respectable) you can essentially use the same gear to level as damage & healing and not feel that you are letting anyone down by doing so. Olaventa as a character had a serious crush on Thrall when he was warchief of the horde.  She's not forgiven him yet for leaving us with Garrosh as a leader. My scribes both wanted the Loremaster title, so they each completed every quest for their faction up to Mists of Pandaria. This toon has also completed all the quests for that Expansion, making her the most played, most experienced toon that I have. 
  • Uroga - Orc Hunter (Skinning, Leatherworking) Both my hunters I play just for fun. I collect pets with them, and not much else, although their professions are part of my overall scheme to explore different class/prof combinations.
  • Rakudaga - Troll Druid (Herbalism, Alchemy) I deleted the character I started with this name and created a new one of the same name (the name fit a Troll better anyway) for the new racial combination of Troll/Druid that was offered in Cataclysm. Druids are my second favorite class after shaman these days, and some of the best tanks in the game.  Still, I don't tank with them, I take the same minimalist tack with them as with other classes, combining balance and restoration which allows me to double up gear for leveling.  I used to hate male Trolls in game until Mists of Pandaria and Vol'Jin. Now I'm starting to like them.
  • Rasmuerta - Troll Deathknight (Mining, Blacksmithing) I've had a problem motivating myself to play Deathknights after Wrath of the Lich King. I mean, what is their motivation, as characters? "OK, life (or death) goals achieved, now what?" Still, they remain one of my favorite classes, and the only class I'm comfortable tanking with. 
  • Tanath - Blood Elf Mage (Mining, Jewelcrafting) My only Blood Elf. I just couldn't get into the story behind the Blood Elves. They remain my least favorite race in the game, weirdly. They are amongst the most frequently played by other players.  Mage is one of my favorite classes, but this mage doesn't get played very often.  Just enough to get her to level 90.
  • Creavishop - Undead Warlock (Tailoring, Enchanting) The third toon I ever made, and still my secondary raider for this server, because he is my enchanter and I'm always looking for materials for his work. Warlocks are liberating to play.  Demon summoners and associated with evil in the lore for the game, they remain essential for any well-rounded raid group. Still making containers for all the toons on the server, and not getting enough gold for his work as far as he is concerned.  His plans to take over the world are taking longer than he thought.
  • EugennahUndead Rogue (Mining, EngineeringRogues, which were amongst my most looked-forward-to classes to play, have not turned out to be one of my favorite classes.  Now that locks have been removed from regular game play (no more keyring) their essential role in-game has been left behind. Pick-pocketing isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be, with more and more NPC's in game reporting back as having no pockets to pick. Bummer. Eugennah hates her bony elbows and knees, and doesn't like Undercity at all. She took over Engineering from Uroga so I could see how that might assist a Rogue in play. Her survivability in encounters seems better than Eieloris, my other Rogue.
  • Raspallia - Tauren Paladin (BlacksmithingJewelcrafting) This toon was created as an experiment testing out the benefits of combining creation professions and their extra-beneficial perks. I also discovered the joy of PvP healing as a Holy Paladin.  There really isn't a better class to play as healer in a PvP situation, and survivability for this paladin is much better than the other Paladin who combines Blacksmithing and Mining.  Those perks are rumored to be disappearing in the next expansion pack.
  • TharthurmTauren Priest (TailoringAlchemy) Tharthurm was the name of my first toon; but I really wanted my warriors for both factions to be small females, so the Tauren warrior was deleted, and I gave his name and look to the priest that I could make as a Tauren for the first time in Cataclysm. Tauren are my favorite race, in theory.  In practice I don't like the movements that Blizzard created for the models. I want to like and play them, here's hoping the improved modeling in Warlords will make that more pleasant. 
  • Rastarsha - Goblin Warrior (MiningEngineering) The addition of Goblins as a playable race created a quandary and a opportunity for me. I could finally actually have a Goblin engineer and could have a warrior on the horde side that would echo the stature of my alliance warrior. But I had to delete my first toon to do it, and I had to decide on either female or male, since I couldn't do both. Pigtails decided me, although you can't see them on this toon.  Goblins, like Gnomes, are amusing.  That is why you play them. 
  • Jainrasig - Pandaren Monk (SkinningLeatherworking) All my monks are Pandas, and all of them are named Jain. There was a Bodhisattva of a similar name, and what Firefly fan can resist naming a character Jayne? RAS is for me. I've looked forward to playing as a Panda since I first started playing World of Warcraft, having loved the heroic character that was available in WC3.  They took long enough to give them too us.  The Pandaren lore is some of best World of Warcraft, in my opinion.  I'm going to miss playing Mists of Pandaria come November. 
Muradin server was home for several years, even though I started out playing on Terenas. Because my family and friends were playing Alliance, my toons there were developed much faster than the Horde toons.  We found a welcoming guild on the server named "of the Emerald Dream" and were happy there until one of the raid healers took exception to my allowing my daughter to play the game while she was still drugged from having her wisdom teeth out (of all the things to pick a fight over) so we left and created our own guild, which I still run (on several servers, just not very successfully) even though I'm almost the only player left in the guild, now.  Frosty Wyrm Riders is max level (25) on Muradin, I just don't raid with that guild.
  • TarashalNight Elf Druid (Herbalism, Alchemy) This is the toon I keep coming back to. I started out focused in Mists of Pandaria with my Horde toons, determined to level and raid first as Horde with my adopted guild there. Before the year was out I was no longer raiding with them although still in the guild, three different raid teams having formed and dissolved in the process. Raiding in Mists is far harder than any other expansion pack, and this has shown through in the rapid dissolution of formerly sound raiding teams that had lasted through Wrath and Cataclysm. Even the raiding guild that I was part of on this server lost several players we had relied on for years.  Because I had started out with a different guild and faction, this toon did not make it into the raiding group which is most advanced in the content for this expansion.  Still, he has the best gear of any of my toons, and has completed more of the content than any other toon except for Olaventa.
  • EielorisNight Elf Rogue (Skinning, Leatherworking) With her fondness for Dwarves, which she deems "Just the right height", Eieloris still has more 'backstory' than any of my other toons.  That only matters to me in the end; still, I really do enjoy playing this toon and would play her more if I hadn't discovered how much I like to PvP heal as a Paladin.
  • Rasputing - Draenei Paladin (Mining, Blacksmithing) Also the name of my Monk character in Diablo III, the wife named this toon when I created it, the first in a long line of RAS characters. I really didn't like Paladins at all until this expansion pack, and it was only when I took the Tauren Paladin into Battlegrounds that I discovered how much fun it was to PvP heal as one.  By that point I had leveled this toon to 90, and he had a hard time getting the gear he needed to match her in PvP. Now that they are almost equal, I really can see a benefit in combining creation professions as I did with her. I'll have to wait and see what Blizzard does with Professions in the next expansion.  Draenei are, in my opinion, the only good thing introduced in Burning Crusade; I tend to skip that entire area of the game when I level characters (easily achieved by taking up archeology at level 60) but the Draenei move the way the Tauren should move. 
  • Raslinda - Draenei Shaman (Mining, Jewelcrafting) I try to remind myself that the game is fantasy when presented with differences between the sexes like are present in the male and female Draenei. Split hooves vs. solid hooves?  Looks more feminine, only represents a million years or so of evolution. She does look good moving, and the action animations for the female Draenei are some of my favorites. 
  • Rasmortis - Worgen Deathknight (Jewelcrafting, Blacksmithing) Worgen represent the race I'm most ambivalent about. I like the animations, but I never understood why they had to be added to the Alliance, other than as a race to balance out adding Goblins to the Horde. Having said that, adding them gave me an excuse to change Mortis from human, so there went my only human character. I really do like the way he looks in his black PvP armor transmog. If I had more time, I'd play this class more often. 
  • HelliceWorgen Warlock (TailoringAlchemy) This is actually my second Worgen Warlock named Hellice. I leveled one to 85 for my son at the end of Cataclysm, and gave it to him as a present. I like the name, icy-damnation. Perfect for a warlock. This was the last toon to level to 90, because she had to start from one at the same time as my Pandas, and they were going to be leveled before she was.  Warlocks are just fun. That's all there is to it. Mind if I suck out your soul and use it as a weapon on you? Doesn't matter, she'll do it anyway.  Worgen are damned to start with, that is the nature of their affliction. Why not warlock as well?
  • Juverna - Dwarf Hunter (MiningEngineering) Named for Ireland; he, like my Horde hunter just collects pets.  I know, I know, they are great DPS machines in this version of the game.  I don't care, hunters are solitary. That is why their best friends are animals.
  • KeslingraDwarf Priest (Herbalism, Inscription) Just between you and me, this toon I specifically made to resemble the wife, giving her the red hair I know she really keeps hidden under the blonde; and I say that just because when she reads this she'll be furious and there's nothing I enjoy more than having her angry at me. This toon taught me the value of playing a priest, which I never expected to enjoy playing. Shadow Priest has finally turned into a DPS specification worthy of the designation, and priest healers are the strongest healers in the game.  Since she is also a scribe, that means I completely every quest with her for the Loremaster title just as I did with Olaventa.  Lots of experience playing this toon. She is the current guild master for Frosty Wyrm Riders
  • Brenelbur - Gnome Mage (Tailoring, Enchanting) This was my fifth toon created (after Tarashal) and I blame/credit him with starting me off on this crazy venture. He wanted to be a NElf and I resisted changing him to one after that race/class combo became available; but it was the frustration of not being able to make NElf mages that set me on the course of approaching the game the way I have. He is my secondary raider on Muradin (enchanting materials, yet again) and the character I play most often after the druid and shaman. Still love the Gnome laugh after all these years.  Joke all you want about Gnome punting; after taking this mage into battlegrounds recently, I have to say that mages have a ridiculous ability to keep other players frozen almost indefinitely. Try punting me when you are frozen in place, you big green monster. I'll just laugh and blink away.
  • RasmilliaGnome Warrior (Mining, Engineering) Watching making of documentaries for films that I'm a fan of, I hear comments like "it was my favorite scene, but it just didn't make it to the cut" a lot. This toon started out as a male named for one of my favorite SF characters. But he needed to be a she, and she had to have a different name. I should have just duped the name Rastarsha, but I stole Starsha from a guildmate and I didn't want to go flouncing around her server with her name tacked on to one of my toons; so millia for warrior (Milly for short) never mind that another guild mate now has a toon named Milly.  I think she'll understand.  I really, really wanted her to have the pink pigtails.  That was a must; that and dual wielding two-handed weapons. I admit it, I am easily amused.
  • Jainrasig - Pandaren Monk (SkinningLeatherworking) Yeah, same class/profession combination as my other Monk,  breaking my changing pattern. I really hadn't expected to have an eleventh class to have to deal with. When it came down to brass tacks, they both needed to make their own leveling gear, so they both ended up as skinning leatherworkers. The daily quest that is available to Monks makes leveling much faster.  The Monk class itself is quite different from the other classes.  I can't say I know what I think of it yet; which is too bad, because it will be different soon.  Classes always change with each expansion. 
I will really miss Pandaria, even though I haven't enjoyed raiding through it very much. Chen Stormstout was my go to hero for Warcraft III.  If I could hire him in a map, he was on my team. His quests in the Valley of the Four Winds are essential for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the lore of Warcraft.  Unfortunately they have taken out the additional quests relating to him that were part of intermediate expansion content; but that is why it is important to play through the game as it is offered, and not as it exists as preserved as part of future content. I do wonder how they will include Garrosh in quest lines that used to rely on him, since he will no longer be the warchief of the horde after this expansion.  A good portion of those quests will have to be truncated, or they will simply be left alone to stick out like sore thumbs calling attention to content that should have been updated but was not.

It has been a fun five plus years playing the game so far. I have been invited to the beta for Warlords of Draenor and have done some minor fiddling with it so far.  I really wanted to hit this milestone before allowing myself to be diverted, though. Quest completed. On to the next one.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams

"Keep a little bit of madness in you.  Just a little touch of it.  Just enough, so you don't become stupid. A little madness will keep you alive, because no one in the world knows how to tax that." - Robin Williams - Reality... What a Concept
I had that album on cassette (ironical) it was one of my first purchases, if not the first comedy album I ever owned. I listened to it so often I memorized it, before the tape fell apart and I had to stop playing it.



I loved Mork & Mindy. Watched his appearances on Carson. Went to see every film he was in, just because he was in it, and for no other reason.

I was outraged at Dead Poets Society, though. (spoilers!)  I've watched it since, and I know now that I was wrong, that I shouldn't have been so angry at the suicide portrayed in that film.  But at the time I felt it was a betrayal, that it was an acknowledgement of the darkness in the world, that the film let the darkness win, by killing what I saw as the main character, the character I identified with at the time. Worse, I associated Robin with the film, because I had gone to see it specifically because he was in it.

All of us fight our own inner demons. I've fought with depression for many years, longer than I can count. Menieres has only made it harder to cope with, but the darkness has been there for as long as I can remember.  So long, in fact, that I don't even remember when I made the pact with myself (unlike others) that I wouldn't contemplate suicide.

It's a sad observation of human existence that suicides increase when someone else commits suicide; this is especially true of prominent figures.  Watching MSNBC's coverage, I was struck by this when they flashed the numbers for suicide prevention on the screen.  I feel it is a shame that Robin let depression win; and as someone who fights depression, and who knows there are others out there engaged in a daily battle with it, I have to see it as letting depression win.  This is not a judgement on Robin, or an observation of failure on his part.

Depression is not cancer; or maybe it is. Cancer of the mental processes, perhaps. In any case, when the physical body fails (and it will, for all of us) then it really is over.  But when the mind gets trapped in that inward spiral, no one can break you out of it unless you want them to, unless you want to keep living. That is a choice you make.

I will not leave a body for relatives to find, to ask themselves "what did I do wrong" when it isn't about them. It's about me.  There will be no notes.  No questions.  Because (fate willing) I will not have to make that choice. I just hope I have time to write down all the things I think need to be related before that Mind That Bus moment happens.

Like Dead Poets Society. It's not actually about the suicidal character; or rather, it not just about him. It's about the mousy little guy who follows along for the whole film (my first conscious introduction to Ethan Hawke, another actor who's films I try not to miss) never hazarding more than is required of him because he is too afraid to take that chance.  It's about all the other characters, sucking all the marrow because they had a teacher who encouraged them to live life to its fullest. Because we're only here for a brief moment, and then we're gone.



I've meant to write a postscript to this one for awhile now.  On the revelation that Robin suffered from early stages of Parkinson's, and that he had that road ahead of him clearly mapped out by others (including his friend Micheal J. Fox whose charity he donated to) I can easily imagine that he chose his time to leave rather than wait for the disease to rob him of his independence. Preferred to be remembered this way, rather than risk being the subject of pity; no longer able to ask people to laugh at him, with him.

That he had to kill himself the way he did is more an indictment of  current societal norms than it is of Robin Williams himself.  When you are stricken with a disease for which there is no cure, one that will slowly destroy what you were if not actually kill you outright, you are faced with some pretty hard choices.  One of them is the ability to say "Ok, I've had enough now. I'd like to just check out." A choice which is denied to the sufferer in nearly every case; requiring those determined enough to seek solutions to the problem, to resort to cruder tactics than they would have preferred had they actually had a choice.

I am convinced that Robin Williams is one of those people.  Being denied the right to end his life legally at some point later, he chose that time and that place to act, right or wrong.  

For me, it was the wrong choice.  But then I'm not Robin Williams.  Never wanted to be him.  I just enjoyed his pointed wit, his ability to flit apparently effortlessly through characters; his willingness to laugh, and to encourage us to laugh, at his all too human foibles.  In the end, it was those foibles, those failings, that killed him.

We sat down and rewatched Dead Poets Society as a family last week.  Just wanted to see if his chosen ending for his life alters the way the film feels. In reflection, I think this film actually captures the real Robin; both the flashy in-your-face moments of characterization, and the quiet man who contemplates the meaning of life, tries to communicate the drive to find meaning to younger minds. In any case it holds up well, and I think I'll have to dig up some of his other early works, dust off the Laser Disk player if I have to.  Re-experience his work again, while the pain is fresh.  Just to see if I can still laugh with him.  I think I need a good laugh.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Trolling, Second Amendment Style

Schadenfreude, pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

There was a study done recently on trolling behavior on the internet. I'm sure most of us remember it, but for those who don't, here's the link and a snippet;
"These findings provide a preliminary glimpse into the mechanism by which sadism fosters trolling behavior," the article says. "Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground."
The key phrase to take away from the article is "Not based on random sampling" which means that any claim to scientific rigor in the study just goes out the window. Consequently the label of sadist really can't be applied to trolling behavior in general, much less just the trolling on the internet. Still, it always interesting to see trolls squirm.

There are trolls (as in people who place themselves in the way of furthering a conversation) everywhere in life.  Recently they've been showing up in restaurants and retail establishments across Texas.  They look something like this;

These are trolls, trolls in real life.  They are attempting to stop a conversation concerning the place for weapons in everyday life in the US.  They intentionally bring weapons into places where they are not needed or wanted, and they do it specifically to stop conversations like this one;



MSNBC

Now, I have talked to people like the Texas Open Carry members in the photo above (another one of those frequent conversations in the TexasLP.  It's in the platform, even) They insist that they are simply exercising their second amendment rights. I understand the argument, but I have a counter observation I'd like to offer "Do you take that in a short or regular straight jacket?"  Because the idea that people will not feel threatened by their openly carrying weapons is completely fucking psycho.   It reminds me of the NRA stationing armed guards at a Washington Press Club event they were attending, only to have the press call authorities to have the armed guards removed.

The presence of a weapon in any situation is a unspoken threat of force, always there under the surface.



Jon Stewart reveals the nature of open carry; the goals of the NRA.  The clip after that will give you tips on how not to troll with your guns.

Jon Stewart - The Daily Show



To troll someone is to experience Schadenfreudethe reason I started this article with that definition.  This entire article gives me enough Schadenfreude that I think I might need a cigarette now.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Godwin's law, the GMO Version

Of all the contentious arguments I've engaged in over the last few years, the most contentious has been the irrational fear revolving around GMO crops.  On this weeks Skeptic's Guide the Universe they get into the latest example of the kind of rancor that occurs on the subject of GMO; namely, the targeting of people deemed sympathizers with the Nazi labeled antichrist of corporations, Monsanto.

I myself have been accused of being on the payroll of Monsanto.  I wish that were the case.  If any Monsanto executives are reading this and want to pay me, please let me know.  I am not a journalist, I do not care if anyone considers my opinion unbiased or not; I will gladly take your payola.

However, targeting people who rightly suggest that the phobic froth around the mouth of the anti-GMO crowd is just this side of crazy is completely uncalled for and really should be investigated;
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, besieged by complaints from targets and the science and journalism communities, immediately launched an investigation of Adams and the site, with Adams facing possible felony charges of inciting violence (if he lived in a Europe or a Commonwealth country like the U.K., he would probably already have been served).  
(GLP Article)
I've never had any use for Mike Adams or NaturalNews.com, although I have been vilified by many, many people who mistakenly go to his website thinking that his information is reliable, it isn't; and with his death threats and targeting of science journalists he has finally crossed a line that I hope he will be punished for.

GMO is not Monsanto. GMO is not a thing. GMO (Genetically Manipulated Organisms) is many things, some of them quite beneficial; but that doesn't stop people with a phobic response from loosing their shit over the subject. Nor does its beneficial results get recognized by the self-same phobic types who decry it's very existence.  Case in point, this article offered by an anti-GMO friend on Facebook that I have since blocked due to his (Mike Adams like) insistence that I was a Nazi sympathizer for Monsanto.
Scientists at the Mayo Clinic on May 14 announced a clinical trial that had been carried out in 2013, in which a Minnesota woman was injected with enough measles vaccine to treat 10 million people. Over the course of several weeks, the multiple tumors growing throughout her body shrank and vanished.  
After undergoing chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, Stacy Erholtz's myeloma -- a blood cancer affecting the bone marrow -- had spread into her skull and other parts of her body. The virus she was injected with had been engineered by researchers for cancer therapy.
You read that right. GMO cured that woman's cancer. That is just the tip of the iceberg.  Mexico has halted planting of a GM corn that was engineered specifically to address dietary deficiencies in their poor diet (which is largely corn) based on anti-GMO fears, and the threatened profit margins of competitors.
Mexico already imports tens of thousands of tonnes of GMO yellow corn each year, largely for animal feed, and permits planting of other GMO crops, mainly cotton and soybeans.
Supporters of GMO corn like Mexico's corn farmers' federation argue it can boost yields by up to 15 percent.
Their peers in the United States, Brazil and Argentina - the world's top three corn exporters - are already producing large quantities of GMO corn. 
(Reuters Article
They could cross-breed corn in the traditional method of genetic manipulation for a thousand years and potentially never get the results that they achieved by simply taking the code out of one corn plant and splicing it into corn that grows in the Americas. It will end vitamin deficiencies in many poorer areas that rely on corn for sustenance in the same way that Golden Rice will potentially end vitamin A deficiency blindness in areas of Asia that rely on rice.
Because many children in countries where there is a dietary deficiency in vitamin A rely on rice as a staple food, the genetic modification to make rice produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene is seen as a simple and less expensive alternative to vitamin supplements or an increase in the consumption of green vegetables or animal products. 
(from the Wiki article) 
Our first world fears should not be given more credence than their very real needs. I think we should let them decide if they want to eat or not, want to see or not. It is a lot like the fear surrounding vaccination. When your kids start dying, you'll discover you like medicine after all. GM foods are not health risks in and of themselves, no matter how many times you say otherwise; but, ya know, Round Up ready corn! It causes cancer!  Except it doesn't.
The biggest criticism of the study is the combination of two features – the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.
In other words – the results of the study are uninterpretable. 
(ScienceBasedMedicine article)
Uninterpretable; read as "the essence of bad science".

Let me see if I can explain what is going on here. There is a tendency to grant that something that is natural is good. This is fallacious reasoning.  Everything that is toxic is also natural; or nearly everything. That is aside from the fact that none of the other varietals that are being farmed are natural in a fashion that varies from the GMO varieties. The methods used previously to manipulate crops are hardly natural. Chemical and radioactive treatment to force mutation, as well as cross-breeding. If you compare food crops to their natural variants, you would be hard pressed to identify what they have in common.

So the fear of the unnatural really is a phobia, unsupported by science. Understanding that, you might get a feel for why companies that market products might not want to be subjected to labeling mandates that cover GMO content in their products.
GMOs are just one efficient tool that people using bad farming practices can also utilize. This is akin to arguing that because crop dusting huge volumes of chemical pesticides is bad, we should boycott airplanes. Herbicide and pesticide resistance were cropping up long before genetic engineering came onto the stage, necessitating much greater use of those chemicals or turning to more toxic alternatives. The introduction of Roundup ready crops actually began as a wonderful thing in this regard, since Roundup was less toxic than many of the alternatives being used previously, and could be used in much lower amounts. That happy state of affairs was mis-managed and now much larger doses are needed because of resistant weeds, but again, this isn’t the fault of the GMOs. 
(Scientific American Article on labeling)
The fearful just want to boycott, and the manufacturers don't want to be boycotted. Consequently labeling mandates will continue to hit brick walls (even though full disclosure should include such labeling) until there is less unreasoning fear in the public at large.  In Other Words, educate yourselves and you might get what you want in return.
There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from ingesting GM food. Although labeling of GMO products in the marketplace is required in many countries, it is not required in the United States and no distinction between marketed GMO and non-GMO foods is recognized by the US FDA. 
(Wikipedia Article on GMO)
I hear you saying "But patenting of organisms! Evil Monsanto!"  If you want to change patenting, then change patenting. You won't get much argument from me.  Patenting itself is a government subsidized monopoly on production, I much prefer competition.

Monsanto, separate from the subject of GMO in general, is its own worst enemy.  Every attempt that it makes to limit its liability through law, or to manipulate the media to cast itself in a better light ends up being picked up and used by its enemies to make it look all the more evil and manipulative.  It's hard to imagine that you can make a company responsible for creation of Agent Orange look more evil, but that is a failure of imagination, as the article I lead off with should illustrate.

Still, digging into the issue of farmer suicides and various accusations leveled at Monsanto, it becomes hard to connect the dots reliably.
Studies dated 2004 through 2006 identified several causes for farmers suicide, such as insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services. In 2004, in response to a request from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, the Mumbai High Court required the Tata Institute to produce a report on farmer suicides in Maharashtra, and the institute submitted its report in March 2005. The survey cited "government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture as the chief causes for the desperate condition of farmers in the state." 
(Wikipedia Article on farmers' suicides) 
I really, really wish there was a good summation to be had for this post. There isn't one. Over and over again I attempt to enlighten friends who fall for the natural fallacy offered by people like Mike Adams. Over and over again I'm told that I don't understand the first thing about the subject.  Because they know. Monsanto is evil. GMO is bad. Never mind that neither of those accusations are true, as I (and others) illustrate over and over again. Humor doesn't work.  Information doesn't work.  If you have an argument that does work, I'd love to hear it.

Queerest Thing Happened

Well that's gay!
Friends of my children have been putting those particular words together for years now.  It has always driven me to distraction. My typical response runs along the lines of "how was that a joyous event?"  or "They do appear to be enjoying themselves" I've almost never been able to let that one pass.  What they mean to say is "that went queerly" or "that makes me feel weird", but their undereducated little brains cannot retrieve the proper words to express themselves clearly.

Gay≠Queer

Gay is not queer, queer is not gay. Queer; as any decent dictionary (not Wikipedia btw. Wiki is consumed with slang usage, the nature of a popularly edited tome) will tell you, means strange or odd, or when used as a verb means something akin to spoiling. It was thrown as an insult at homosexuals and transgendered people by backwards thinking troglodytes who were made to feel strange or odd by a man wearing a dress or acting feminine. If those groups wish to label themselves as queer now (much the way christians adopted the insulting term for followers of christ as their name) that would be their business.

In much the same fashion, gay does not mean homosexual, even though most dictionaries now list that as its primary meaning. Gay means happily excited or lighthearted and carefree.  Case in point; when the Flintstones themesong encourages you to have a gay-old time they are not suggesting you become homosexual;




They want you to enjoy yourself lightheartedly; a perfectly cromulent way to define an episode of The Flintstones. So when friends of my children (or gaming troglodytes on the internet) exclaim "well that's gay" in response to something that frustrates their primitive brains, I can get a bit snippy. Your latent homosexuality (homophobia) causing you to to be set queer towards homosexuals does not mean you get to call your reaction "gay". Gay is something you enjoy, not something that pisses you off or scares you.

In that sense (a sense of joyous engagement) homosexuals who want to label themselves with the word gay are welcome to it. But can I have queer back, please?  I mean, I like the word.  It easily defines the feeling you get when walking through a graveyard at night. When someone is watching you and you can't figure out who it is.  It's a good word, just not an insult to be hurled at people who are clearly enjoying themselves.



As my daughter observed on Facebook; yes, I have been reported on World of Warcraft for suggesting that someone insulting the english language by transposing the words gay and queer should pull their heads out of their asses and understand word meanings.  Ironically their complaint was that I was insulting homosexuals by using the word queer

What people choose to label themselves with is not a concern of mine; has never been something I take seriously or give meaning to.  People call themselves all kinds of things in the course of their lives, almost never do they actually adopt the entirety of what the word really means (Objectivist and Libertarian spring immediately to mind) or actually even have a clue what other people adopting the label really believe. 

The rant my daughter was on about on Facebook (the one that inspired this piece) concerned the word retarded.  As someone who was labeled slow for most of my childhood, it's another subject I can get snippy about. Having a learning disability, being retarded in development (retard means to slow; it is an engineering term) is one thing; being called a retard is no different than being called stupid, uneducated, or dumb (although dumb has many other insulting meanings as well) it is insulting to be so labeled, and people should be challenged when they offer base insults to people they disagree with.  It is ad hominem, and beside the point of argument to be insulting to your opponents.

However, when you call a console retarded, I really don't see the point of being offended personally.  

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Poetry vs. Philosophy

[Historical musings from the "hey I'll hit publish later" archive. The comments were a response to CS127 but they had almost nothing to do with the episode.]

The song Dan is thinking of, unless I am mistaken, is a Don Henley song from his first solo album. Not the Eagles.





Although, as the video above shows, the Eagles are not above cashing in on Don Henley's solo efforts, any more than they are above cashing in on Joe Walsh's or any other band members work that will gain them a few more bucks. Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down. Pretty much covers the rise and fall of any candidate, including Barack Obama.

The problem is there isn't a single person who can fix the problems this country faces. Everyone wants to vote and be done with it. Doesn't work that way. You have to roll up your sleeves and get to work yourself if you want to see change.


As a general rule I hate music videos. I link them only because there isn't an easy way to share a song without video attached. The greatest music video is the one running in my head when I'm listening to my favorite music. Having someone else interpret what the sound means ruins the entire concept of 'music'.

Take it Easy has a specific meaning for me, related to the time and place in my life where the poetry spoke to me. Supplanting that with surfed up images is faking real meaning.

Develop an appreciation for classical music, and you'll know what I'm talking about. 
There's a world of difference between a poet and philosopher. Ayn Rand was a philosopher. John Lennon was a poet. Immanuel Kant was a philosopher (just not a good one) Ludwig van Beethoven was a poet (one of the best ever) There is no question what a philosopher means when he attempts to define reality. A poet's every word is open to interpretation, and yet the emotion should ring clearly through the words and/or music.

Mistaking poetry for philosophy highlights a key reason why society is still mired in prehistoric superstition and saddled with problems that can't be solved on anything other than a personal level. Rational legal structures cannot satisfy emotional needs. Wanting to feel safe is not a reason to enslave the medical profession and force me to contribute. Needing to feel cared for is not a reason to steal my retirement savings.

Wanting to save the earth has no bearing on whether your actions will actually improve the environment, or simply destroy property rights; and through their destruction, the fabric of western society itself. If it can be objectively proven that humans are destroying the planet, then either we can be counted upon to act rationally and alter our behaviors for our own good, or the hard-core environmentalists will get their fondest wish. Destroying property rights just improves the hand of the power seeker, who has no more of a clue than you do what will improve the environment.

Wanting to save another's soul from eternal damnation by outlawing questionable behaviors like prostitution and recreational drug use has proven to go farther towards creating hell on earth than doing nothing at all might have. Allowing individuals the freedom to live their own lives, whether you approve of their choices or not, underscores the value of liberty. Poor choices serve as their own correction mechanism; there is no need for further punishment, it just clouds the issue bringing in a layer of paternalism when none is warranted.

Poetry appeals to your emotion, comforting or crying out for redress. Philosophy informs your mind, and outlines the possibilities in life. Clarifying whether someone is being philosophical or poetical is the first step in understanding whether they are trying to avoid reason, or attempting to motivate with emotion. And the difference is crucial.