Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coulter vs. Coulter

Bet you never thought you'd hear Ann Coulter call president Bush "stupid," did you?

Ann Coulter, 5/30/07:
"Americans -- at least really stupid Americans like George Bush -- believe the natural state of the world is to have individual self-determination, human rights, the rule of law and a robust democratic economy. On this view, most of the existing world and almost all of world history is a freakish aberration."

Gosh, what are we to make of American citizens who don't support our dear president? Oh, I know!

Ann Coulter, 6/23/04:
COLMES: "Are all the American people that don't support him dumb?"
COULTER: "No. I think, as I indicated in my last book, they're traitors."

Git a rope.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sweet dreams are not made of these

This is another one of those school posts, so you can skip it if you don't read those...

I had another one of those dreams last night. It's the last week of school; I'm almost ready for finals. Then somebody asks me how I did on my homework in another class, and I realize this is
a class that I was originally taking at the beginning of the semester, but I have forgotten to attend for the last month or two. There are two such classes -- I thought I was taking just two classes for the semester, but I suddenly remember that it used to be four. There has already been a homework that I have missed in each class, and I'm woefully unprepared for both finals.

The really funny part is that in my dream, I'm thinking: "Oh no, this is just like one of those dreams I'm always having! Only this time it's real!" And then I woke up, and it still took me a few more minutes to realize it wasn't.

Also at another point in my dream, I was using my laptop on a stove because there were no other convenient surfaces to work on. I just had a shallow frying pan sitting on the stove, and the laptop was resting inside it, and I had a chair pulled up to the counter. So I'm working for a while when suddenly I realize that (of course!) the burner's been on. I think "Well, maybe I caught it in time." But when I turn the computer over and look, the bottom is all melted off and there's a big mess of singed wires and stuff underneath.

By the way, as for my ACTUAL finals, they went just fine. One of them was fairly easy and straightforward, and I feel pretty sure of an A in the class. The other one was hard, almost unfairly so. But the entire class, out in the hall afterwards, ALL looked miserable and we all had a good bitch session about how unfairly hard it was. That's good news for the curve, and this professor has been generous with some grading in the past, so I feel reasonably optimistic on the whole.

I mostly have these nightmares after school is over and I don't have as many real things to worry about. Although I did have another dream during finals week, where my high school teacher Mr. Laeser showed up and told me that I was going to have to work on another large project for HIM during the last six months while I try to get my thesis ready.


This just in: I got an A in Real-Time Systems, the class with the brutal final. I got a 54 out of 70 on the final; the class average was 44. Yes, I AM that guy who ruins the curve for everyone. :)

Party time!

One thing I have to say about Dr. Mok, he gives really bad assignments and tests, but he makes up for it by being ridiculously generous with the grading. I had no clue what I was doing on half those questions, and there is no way I really deserved a 54. But hey, I'm not complaining. Seriously.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Another meaningless gaming milestone reached!

Go, me! Through dedication, hard work, and entirely too much time wasted, I have acquired all six pieces of the best outfit in the Kingdom of Loathing! Check me out.

Nobody will care except those people whom I have introduced to this idiotic game, but this suit gives me an additional 60% stats, plus extra hit points and mana, plus huge amounts of extra combat damage and spell damage, more adventures, and elemental resistance. It also makes me more likely to get the first shot in combat, helps me find more items after each fight, increases the effectiveness of my pets, and lets me hum four songs in my head! Goody!

Oh god, I've wasted my life. :)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spring semester home stretch

I'm completely done with one homework, 90% done with the other! I'm also about 75% prepared for both of my tests this Saturday. It feels pretty good and reasonably non-panicky, compared with the ends of other semesters.

Then, this Sunday: Six Flags! (Ben is over 42" tall now, which means he gets to ride on the not-totally-sucky rides.)

Saturday after that: Performing Schubert and Bach! (I just hope I can get through the show without totally screwing up my fellow tenors. I had to skip two rehearsals this week on account of exams. I DID warn the director ahead of time, and asked him if he wanted me to sit out this performance as a result. He said "Stay in... you seem to be pretty solid on your part right now." Okay, who am I to argue?)

Coming next: Summer class on web servers! I get serious about my Master's Thesis!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My first Jehovah's Witnesses!

As a break from my preparation for final exams yesterday, my wife brought me a nice little present: Jehovah's Witnesses at the door.

I have heard many stories about JWs bothering people at home, but I've never had the good fortune to be visited by any myself. When the doorbell rang, Ginny peered out the window and said "Oh Russell, you'd better get that." "Really? Who is it?" I asked.

She explained that she'd been visited by this little old lady a few weeks ago. After telling the nice lady that we were atheists, Ginny received an edition of "Watchtower" (which I remember rifling through and chuckling at, but not reading all the way through). This time, the little old lady brought her (50ish) daughter along with her as reinforcements.

I opened the door with my most polite smile, and then I introduced myself. They said they'd heard I was an atheist, and I immediately said I was an OUTSPOKEN atheist, and that they should watch The Atheist Experience on Sundays.

The younger woman immediately launched into a prepared shpiel about how she probably agrees with each other that people who do not understand TRUE Christianity do very bad things in the name of their religion, and their religion is not like that at all... I cut her off and let her know that, while I sometimes don't care for the practices of religion, that has almost no bearing on why I am an atheist. I am an atheist because I don't believe in any evidence for God.

At that point, as you might expect, we started to bounce around from topic to topic at a furious pace. The younger lady was doing most of the arguing (albeit in a nice, friendly tone), while the older lady's role appeared to be periodically brandishing the Bible that she clutched like a security blank, and occasionally either alluding to a passage within it or looking it up and reading it to me. I kept reminding her that that was nice and all, but I don't believe that the Bible has any special status as an accurate source of information, so reading those quotes means little more to me than quoting "The Odyssey."

The younger woman would ask, for instance: "If there's no God, then where do you think morality comes from?" I replied quite matter-of-factly that morality comes from human perceptions, and develops over time as societies do. The older woman said "Oh, but our societal morals are so much worse now!" "Not at all," I replied. In many ways, it is better. For instance, I said, during the time of the Bible, people supported slavery as a good idea. Now they don't. There you go: the perception changed, and it was an improvement over the Bible.

Naturally, they started to mount a defense of how "Biblical" slavery is different from slavery as we know it, which I headed off by asking if it would be a good idea to bring back Biblical slavery in modern times. It was a roundabout discussion, but eventually the answer (to my somewhat surprise) was "yes." So I said "I guess that's one way that my understanding of morality differs from the Bible. I believe that slavery is wrong, and clearly you do not."

Then they started trying to talk about how we are enslaved in OTHER ways even today, and I said "Even so, I believe that metaphorical enslavement is a big step up from explicit, instituional slavery." Then the mother started talking about how the devil enslaves us all. "Yes, I understand that you believe that," I said. "But you see, I don't believe in the devil, so that doesn't bother me."

The daughter stressed several times that they were not going around trying to convince anybody of anything. "Really?" I asked, acting surprised. "Why not? It's okay if you DO want to convince me; that wouldn't bother me at all." But again, she insisted that she had no desire to make me change my mind. "But why not?" I asked. "Don't you believe that unbelievers will be tormented in the afterlife? If I believed that, I'D probably want to convince other people to change their minds."

No no no, said the daughter. That's those other, FALSE Christians who believe that stuff. "Oh," I said. "Then please explain to me what your religion says will happen to people who don't come around to your point of view." She hedged and waffled a bit, first saying it's not only Jehovah's Witnesses who are saved. "Yes, but what about an atheist like me?" I asked, keeping her on topic. She said "Well we can't judge you, only God does that. Perhaps you'll be saved anyway." "Yes, but what if I'm not?" I persisted. "Then you will be destroyed." "Oh, *I* see!" I concluded, trying to grasp the fine points of a religion that says my punishment is merely to be destroyed rather than tormented, and yet live eternally apart from God. "So again, why don't you want to convince me? You don't want me to be destroyed, do you?" Of course, she said that's really up to me, and shortly thereafter we changed the subject.

From there we moved on to how I can't be frightened by threats when I have no good reason to believe in the threats. There are thousands of religions to choose from. Perhaps you're going to hell too, if it turns out that Islam is correct. All these Christians whom you say are false Christians, maybe they're right and you're wrong. I have no basis for choosing between all these religions except your word, which is based on your holy book, which you assume is correct but I have no reason to share this assumption.

Then she started telling me how the modern Bible so perfectly predicts all the findings of modern science, and I said "Oh really, what about a six day creation?" I wanted to feel out whether she was a young earther, and it turned out she wasn't. So I asked why not. "There's certainly nothing in the Bible to indicate anything other than a six day creation, and if you're right then what's up with all Christians who use the Bible to justify a six-day creation?" She explained why the Bible COULD support a reading of non-literal days. "But that's not the Bible being accurate about science," I objected. "That's science making discoveries, and religion being reinterpreted to match the facts afterwards." She insisted that this was not the case, and so I asked why it was that people never realized that the earth was billions of years old just from reading the Bible. Science had to come along FIRST and discover the age of the earth, and only then could the Bible be interpreted to support what scientists had already found out.

She didn't know the answer to that one, but then she changed the subject to the inaccuracy of evolution. So I asked if she could explain to me how evolution works, because I was pretty sure she didn't understand it. She said defensively, why don't you tell me?" So I did. Luckily I had just had a bunch of practice talking about the subject on The Atheist Experience last week.

But before long, of course, we shifted away from evolution to abiogenesis and then -- when it was apparent that I had some knowledge of that too (I started explain Stuart Kaufmann's autocatalytic cycles) we almost immediately moved to first cause. As I recall, when I explained that the natural workings of physics behave in a consistent way, she said "Thank you!" in a smug finalized way, as if she'd proved something. "You're welcome," I said. "So what?" And she told me that natural laws require a designer, and we were off on the argument from design.

So she started gesturing at my house, telling me that it was so orderly that it must be designed. "Unlike, say, a pile of random rocks in the desert," I replied. "Exactly!" "But according to you, the pile of random rocks also requires a designer. So this thing about design being recognizable in order is a red herring. Your religion teaches that disordered things are ALSO evidence of design." Then she started trying to explain why a random pile of rocks in the desert is also a very intricately ordered pattern... and I said "If I thought the way you do, then I might as well just go live in a pile of rocks, because they're just as well designed as my house."

So eventually we moved on to religion's last resort of trying to prey on fear of death. She asked where I expect to be when I'm 90. "Well," I said, "If I'm still alive..." "Aha!" said the older one. "But that's the point! What if you're not still alive? Then what?" So I said: "Then I'll be dead." "But then what after that?" "Then I'll still be dead."

But, they blustered, you can't possibly believe THAT. Doesn't that bother you? Sure it bothers me, I said. But there are lots of things that bother me that I can't change. It's better to recognize and accep those things than to make up comforting stories about why they aren't really true.

Then the mother told me a very odd story about her grandson, who accidentally killed a bird with a BB gun and was just torn up with sadness over it. He came in and asked what would happen to the bird, and they said that for the bird death was final, and that made him extremely sad.

"So," I said, "That means you think birds don't go to heaven." "Of course not," they told me. "Well, what happens to them after that?" "They just decompose." "Well there you go," I said. "I have no reason to believe that what happens to the bird will not also happen to me."

Eventually they asked if they could leave another "Watchtower" with me, which I said was fine, but it's unlikely that I would read it because I'm busy with grad school. They gave it to me anyway, and then they kindly invited me to attend their Bible study. (Because clearly, outnumbering me by two to one isn't nearly enough. :) I, in turn, told them when to watch the show and encouraged them to call in if they wanted to.

So anyway, that was a fun diversion. Since I'm on hiatus from the Non-Prophets, I wouldn't mind getting my own Jehovah's Witnesses to play with more often.