Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Fan Theories

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Separating Art From Artists

We discuss the idea of boycotting the creators of our pop culture for political opinions and other things in their personal lives.
Guests: Antitheist Angie
Johnny Oldschool
Re-Animator

 Donate to my Movember!

Art and logo provided by Petar Gagic
Music: Diamond in Disguise by Chance's End
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Tribute to ManWoman

I simply forgot to upload this here. www.manwoman.net The piece in the video is Home At Last which I feel is appropriate. RIP Manny Read more!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: The Avengers

I just got back from watching The Avengers. Now, before I get into this, I have to say there is literally no movie I've ever been more excited to see than this one, ever. Movies like Watchmen, X-Men, Spider-Man, and maybe the first Burton Batman movie (which came out when I was 6 or 7) are about the only ones that compare, and mostly that's because of when they came out and the age I was. This has been built up for four years, and frankly, this is one of the most ambitious experiment I've ever seen in film. I was rooting for it both because this was a franchise I have loved for years and because it's something different, something new, something that experiments with the medium. I wanted this to be an amazing movie.

And it is.

This is quite easily the best movie I've seen this year. I can't imagine any movie, not the Dark Knight Rises, not the Hobbit, not either of the Snow White movies, not Brave, not Amazing Spider-Man, none of the movies coming out this year being as good as this movie. I have seen movies this year I really enjoyed, including The Hunger Games, and this movie trounces them all.

I should probably tell you what works and what doesn't, and so I will. Firstly, I have previously stated that Loki is the greatest villain ever, and here, he's even better. He's everything I said he was before, and more menacing than ever. Each of the characters gets a chance to shine, really. All six of the main heroes, Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Agent Phil Coulson get at least one legitimately badass heroic moment, and at least one great dramatic moment (with the top one probably being Thor's conversation with Loki). The film went out of its way to show that people like Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America really do deserve to fight next to Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. Seriously, DC has its work cut out for them to make their Green Arrow TV series look 1/3 as awesome as Hawkeye's scenes in this movie. The cinematography is also amazing. There are some absolutely brilliant shots utilizing reflective surfaces that should strike any viewer as ingenious. And the attention to detail is brilliant, from the dent in Iron Man's helmet after Thor's headbutt to the ravens overlooking Thor and Loki's conversation to the Jack Kirby art on the Captain America cards to the shawarma place sign that Iron Man falls into just before suggesting the team go for after-fight shawarma.

The film's biggest success, and where it substantially differs from the current slew of action hits, is that it's a movie first, and an action movie second. Yes, there's a lot of action (hell, most of the last half hour is a huge fight scene) but there is actual character development, with several characters developing in plausible and natural ways throughout the film. Iron Man/Tony Stark gets less selfish, Captain America gradually becomes less awkward and lost as he takes a leadership role in the team, Bruce Banner learns to accept "the other guy", Nick Fury grows a moral backbone, and Agent Coulson graduates from everyman-dom to heroism. The actors are given room to shine (anyone who ever said Scarlett Johannson or Mark Ruffalo were not excellent actors will eat their words after seeing this) and the script is every bit as entertaining as the violence. And the violence is -gasp- shot in a coherent manner where one can easily follow the action. This stands in stark (pun not intended) contrast to Michael Bay's Transformers movies, whose fight scenes were incoherent messes. In fact, this is a great counter-example for Bay:this is how you make a good action movie. No racism, no sexism (except from the villain, and even so, "mewling quim" is not a phrase most people would recognize), lots of heart, distinguishable characters, likable characters you can legitimately root for, and coherency. That's not really a lot to ask, but it seems like it nowadays...but I'm getting off track here. Suffice it to say, this was amazing.

If there were issues to be had with this film, they're minor and mostly nitpicks. For instance, are the Chitauri robots or organic aliens, or aliens that send down a robotic army to invade? We're never really told. We're also not told much about why there's some sort of shadow council Nick Fury answers to, nor why they're in shadows if they're supposed to be (more or less) good guys. While we are told that the Avengers Initiative was started largely because of the advent of Iron Man, and ramped up due to the events of Thor, it's never explained what the deal is with these people, nor have they ever appeared before. And, while I do think they did a good job of making this flick accessible to the poor, unfortunate souls who haven't seen the previous movies in this franchise, there are a few moments that depend on familiarity with the characters or the comic books to understand. The biggest of these is one of the two after credits stingers. The other after credits stinger, though I thought it was brilliant, could be seen as a waste by some (and in fact, I heard some people saying as much as we left the cinema). However, these are all small things.

All in all, this is an amazing movie, amongst the best I've ever seen. If you don't like it, you just may have lost your soul at some point. 10 out of 10, and a standing ovation to Joss Whedon for exceeding expectations.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

She Came Back

She came back last month.
We met 5 years ago,
We started dating 4 years ago,
She started cheating on me 3 years ago,
I found out and forgave her 2 years ago,
She left me for real 1 year ago,
She showed up on my doorstep 5 Tuesdays ago.
Something was different this time.
She always had a pretty pale face, but now she looked half dead
And "sorry" was the first thing she said.
That should have been my tip that something was off.
She always barged in before, now she asks for an invite
And she now seems deathly afraid of sunlight,
And yesterday, she tried to give my neck a bite.
Such strange behaviour, don't you agree?
Like, when she sees a cross she screams and flees.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of church either but that seems a bit...irrational, right?
Maybe it's just me, but my honey seems like she didn't come back right.
But at least she's back, and I'm no longer alone.
I'd rather be with a bloodsucker than no one.
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Monday, April 23, 2012

A Misguided Penguin

So my friend TCC posted this article, which linked to this one by The Contemplative Penguin. TCC did a good job defeating the points raised in one of the Contemplative Penguins blog's other currently-available articles, and thus I'll hit this one, titled "An Atheist friend asked..." My reply after the jump The article claims to be about what religion is worth. It's clearly worth a lot to the believer, that's not in dispute. However, this cannot be used as an attack on atheism. I'll get to that later, but first, the crux of the argument! The Penguin quotes a guy named GK Chesterson who said:
"What matters about a religion is not whether it can work marvels like any ragged Indian conjurer, but whether it has a true philosophy of the Universe."
Penguin followed that up by defining "true philosophy of the Universe" as "a true philosophy about life." If you have even a basic understanding of philosophy, you probably broke your hand and your forehead just reading that. What the flying hell is a "true philosophy about life"? How do we determine which philosophy is "true"? Can we determine any philosophical ideology to be true or false? Is there even a real truth? We have to determine that before we can use words like "true". Either way, you can't just say that an entire philosophical framework is simply "true" or "false". You can show it to be inadequate or inherently flawed, but "true" or "false"? That's a childish way of thinking, in this context. Also, they're ALL about life, and that little redundancy makes me suspect the author doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Anyway, the author goes on to say that his/her religion gives such a "true philosophy" and thus, a purpose in life. Good for you, I say. I need no religion to have any sort of purpose, but if you're weak enough to use that crutch, by all means, use it. Essentially, without a purpose, life is meaningless. Great, I'm with you. I did have to laugh at the example Penguin gave us: tennis star Boris Becker, "after winning a competition" (no specification as to which competition, or even if it was a tennis tournament) was asked how he felt, and he said "I am trying to figure out why I shouldn't commit suicide". The reason I have to laugh is that Becker is a christian of Jewish descent, meaning that he clearly didn't get the memo that his religion gives you purpose. Either that or he was making a joke, or he suffers from depression, which is a medical condition and not an indication of a flaw in a religious or philosophical position. He may have had a purpose and yet felt no desire to continue living due to a mental illness. I don't think the Penguin contemplated this, however. Right after that, the author says that the only purpose that gives "true" meaning is an eternal purpose. Why? Because non-eternal goals don't last. There's another example of a Chinese businessman who had a lot of money but felt empty inside. Who was this person? Was he a real person or made up one? Did he suffer a mental illness of some sort? Is this proof that his (possibly non-christian) religion is wrong? Of course it isn't, it's just proof (assuming it actually happened) that that particular man wasn't happy. So, he needs, or at least needed, to do something to make himself happy. Simple as that. The next paragraph is a redundant repeat of the previous paragraph, with the added assertion that we need this transcendental, eternal purpose. Simply saying so doesn't make it so. Then we get to the fatal flaw. I understand that this person believes that since the most important aspect of their life is religion, atheism must be the most important aspect of our lives. The author is right to say atheism can't offer a purpose in life. What the author does not realize (and perhaps is incapable of realizing) is that no one uses atheism as the basis of their life. No one. And if they do, they are not well adjusted people. It's just like saying you'd base your life off of not believing in unicorns. Don't take this as being dismissive of your beliefs. As stupid as I think they are, I realize they're very important to you, the believer. But to me, it's like everything else I don't believe in, and it's only an issue because people who do believe won't sod off and let us live in peace. The author seems to think most of us think simply being alive is enough. At this point, I have to wonder how much this person has spoken to atheists, or if this person has spoken to any at all. No prominent atheistic philosopher thought that. The Buddha dedicated himself to ending suffering, Nietzsche was all about life-affirmation and self-actualization, Marx believed that living in a harmonious commune where all people got a fair wage for their work was the ultimate goal, while Rand thought that pure selfishness was the ultimate virtue. Yes, I am simplifying their views dramatically, but they're probably the four most prominent philosophical minds (currently) that did not believe in any deity and none said that simply living was enough. What foolishness. Then, this quote, which makes me think I'm dealing with someone who doesn't know how arguments work:
There was a rather brutal experiment with babies in the past wherein a number of babies were given all things necessary to sustain their vital functions: food, drink, warmth, etc... What they were not given was any type of affection. The babies all died. Isn't it odd that we learn from the very basic stage of human development that it is impossible for us to live without love?
This may seem weird, but this reminded me of this one experience I had. I was with my honey, making out, when all of a sudden the phone rang. I answered it and the male voice at the other end said "what are you doing with my daughter?" I told my girl, and she said "my dad is dead." THEN WHO WAS PHONE? The fact is, when Penguin cited Boris Becker, it was irrelevant. The story may or may not have happened, it doesn't matter. The Chinese businessman's story is even less relevant as it probably didn't happen. But here? This person could prove their point if they'd just link to something proving that the story happened. Wikipedia? An article about it on PBS or the BBC or CBC's website? Something about it on an academic website about psychology? As it is, it's every bit as likely as me getting a phone call from a ghost or serial killer or whoever phone was. This is followed, of course, by a bible verse showing that Jesus wants us to have more in our lives than just what's needed to sustain life. Of course, every other religion says the same thing, even a few where there are no gods (like Buddhism) but I highly doubt that Penguin knows anything about other religions aside from that they exist. After all, if Penguin was aware of the teachings of other religions, he/she would not call christian philosophy "unique". The message at the end of this post is that god is love. Well, actually, it's more likely god is NOT love, since love is not jealous and jealous is not only something your god is, but it's also his actual name, but even so, it doesn't matter since your god does not exist. What is your religion worth? Whatever you want it to be, but it's wrong. What is my atheism worth? It's an irrelevant question. Like all well-adjusted, mostly sane people, my views on the various deities we've come up with is secondary to my personal moral code and my personal philosophy. Just because you need to have atheism be a religion in order to combat it doesn't mean it is one. In conclusion, bite me.
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Monday, April 9, 2012

Government Should NOT Be Run Like A Business

A very common statement from right-wingers is "government should be run like a business!" This, of course, is a very stupid idea, one that Mitt Romney (amongst others) has been touting for a while now. He even said this gem recently. Since it's so hard for some people to realize the fundamental differences between government and business, I'd like to compile a short list of them:

1: If a business shuts down one branch then gives its executives large bonuses, they might be thought of as awful people but they're within their rights. If a government does that, it's called "corrupt" and they might end up getting ousted from government or even fined.

2: A business having a monopoly is a bad thing. If a company gives out poor service or doesn't supply a particular product and there is no competition, you're stuck. The fact that anyone can open up a competing business is a strength of capitalism. A government having a monopoly is a good thing. If anyone could start up an army, write new laws, create their own form of legal tender or jail people, that would be utterly disastrous. If you can't see why, you're probably too stupid to talk to.

3: You can't fire your boss. You can fire your government (at least in democratic societies).

4: If you stage a violent coup against an evil, dictatorial government, it's generally accepted as a necessary evil. If you stage a violent coup against an evil corporation you work for, that's terrorism.

5: A hostile takeover is a generally accepted business practice. If a country commits a hostile takeover of another country, it will probably end up with a massive war with that country's allies.

6: Businesses exist to make profit. Governments exist to protect, serve, and maintain society. Any business that does not make a profit will fail, any government that does not protect and serve its people or fails to maintain societal order will crumble. In other words: businesses and governments have different priorities and needs.

I could probably go on, but that's probably enough to get my point across. The fact is that it took me approximately 15 minutes of thinking to see those 6 points and if I cared enough to go further, I'd probably be able to find many other differences between the two ideas. Now, can we please stop repeating that stupid, stupid "point"? Read more!

Monday, March 19, 2012

VOTE FOR ME!

So I write reviews of stuff for this other site, and that site is giving away some awards to its contributors. This is called the Dark Matter Awards. It's publicly voted upon, so you decide who wins. And I want you to make me win the four categories I am nominated in.

The first award you'll see me nominated for is "Best Text Review". I wrote a review for one of the greatest films of all time, a glorious testament to the greatness of humanity called Conan the Barbarian. It is a glowing review, and a well deserved one. There are two articles competing against my glowing monument to the awesomeness of the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. This review, a negative review of Highlander 2:The Quickening by the site owner, meaning it's low hanging fruit and, if Bill wins the award, it'll look bad. The other article that could win "Best Text Review" is Shadow's review of the Orphanage. Shadow is a skilled wordsmith, but he never shows his face. To paraphrase J Jonah Jameson, what's he hiding? He's a menace! Thus, you should vote for me to win this award.

The second award that I was nominated for was the "Best Music Review". The one that got the nomination was the Most "2011" Songs of 2011, which was first posted on this very blog. This is a somewhat experimental review of society itself, using the music we listen to. It's also a review of five songs. The other two are this "worst of 2011" article and this one about the band Los Campesinos. You may notice that both of these are written by the same guy, the Re-Animator. In other words, I'm the underdog here. Vote for the underdog! Make this award show the feel-good story of the year!

I'm also nominated for the "Best Fantasy Review". I was nominated for my review of Demon Knights issues 1-3, which also was first posted here. My competition includes a video of Highlander: Endgame by Daniel Pizarro. Not only is it unfair to have a video against text, Mr. Pizarro doesn't like the movie, meaning that he's wrong. The other nominee is a review of a TV pilot by the Re-Animator. I reviewed three issues of a comic series, and he reviewed a single TV episode. You could say quantity is not as important as quality, but that's just, like, your opinion, eh? So, uh, vote for me.

The other award I'm nominated for is "Best International Reviewer" or "Best Reviewer From Outside the USA." I'm pretty sure the three blokes I'm up against are Americans who are putting on accents, so I should win by default. So, vote for me, just in case Daniel Pizarro, Shock Suspect and Eschbaal aren't disqualified for their obvious cheating.

Also, you should probably vote in the categories I'm not nominated in too. I definitely think that all of my colleagues on that site are awesome and talented and pretty people. You can vote for the Dark Matter Awards by clicking this link and e-mailing the e-mail address near the top. You can vote up until March 31, so make sure to do so to help a brother out, eh? Read more!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

James Jordan: Wrong On Everything

This is not the first time I've addressed James Jordan, and it probably won't be the last. He recently made a blog post about Sandra Fluke, which I promised to demolish. He then made another post, wherein he figured that my post about right wing sexism vs left wing sexism was actually a response to him (I guess he figured I'd delay my John Carter review for him?) An astute reader may find that my post went up March 7, and his was up March 9, making this an impossibility. Anyway, I shall now respond to both articles from James. This'll be long, so click the link.

The first thing to clear up is from the second post. He's not my friend, at least not now. Why?




You do NOT get to say I'm supporting child rape and call yourself my friend. I even asked for an apology (and for proof that I supported this heinous thing) and was denied on both counts. So, fuck you, buddy. By filling this post with anything other than the most heinous of insults towards your character, repeatedly, I am showing you more respect than you deserve. Showing you any respect is showing you more than you deserve. You are a horrible, horrible person.

Now, to the actual claims. In the "Analysis of Sandra Fluke's Testimony" post, James essentially started with this:

First, it is clear that Ms. Fluke is demanding coverage for contraception as part of health insurance. Liberals keep turning out the bait-and-switch notion that, in some cases, birth control pills are needed to address concerns that are not contraception. Contraception is still contraception. If a doctor prescribes birth control pill for some other reason is not contraception. Per Wikipedia, these are called non-contraceptive uses.


What a strange line of argument. It is explicitly called the "combined oral contraceptive pill". It is a pill that is designed to be a contraceptive, and it also has other properties. If I use a knife to pick my teeth, is it a toothpick? If I use it to tighten a screw, is it a screwdriver? No, it's still a knife. Regardless of the use, it's still a knife. OK?

Next, he says that "if contraception is healthcare then that means children are a disease." Based on that logic, and that logic alone, one can, and should say:
  1. Contraception should be outlawed, completely.
  2. If amputation is healthcare then that means limbs are a disease.
  3. Amputation should be outlawed, completely.

Think about it. Amputation might have some medical benefits, like removing cancer, diabetic infection or gangrene, (which is, of course, a non-amputative use of the procedure) but what we're really saying is that arms and legs are disease. Of course, if you have an ounce of intelligence, you'll realize this is a ludicrous proposition. Well, so is what you're saying. Perhaps you read something from that wikipedia page aside from the fact that there are non-contraceptive uses of contraception? Just two sections up from that, it shows the great preventative power of the Pill. Simply using the Pill, at all, reduces the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. Prolonged use of the pill can reduce the risk of both types of cancer by 80%. I have a friend dying of ovarian cancer, and had she not been so radically christian and radically anti-birth control, she could have prevented this. Your ideology is killing women. But of course, there are other myriad benefits of the Pill, including decreasing mortality rates (essentially, allowing women to live longer). But yeah, it's all about killing babies 'cause they're a disease.

Then, he comes out with this gem:


Identity politics appeal. Fluke's comment "I see the faces of the women" also insults our intelligence. Let's see. If these women are having sex with women, they don't need contraception because a woman is not a man and can't conceive a child with another woman. If these women are having sex with men, they might need contraception. So I'm supposing that Ms. Fluke is talking about the faces of women who have sex with men. This raises the question, where's the man? Maybe the women of Georgetown University are said because they only sleep with losers who refuse to pay for condoms and birth control? Just a thought, although I don't see any other conclusion.(Emphasis mine-Ben)


Do you not fucking listen? At all? I just listed reasons why anyone with a vagina (which, I should remind you, James, is what women have) would benefit from contraception and you still can't see any other possibility besides sleeping with men who don't pay for condoms or birth control? Are you purposely dense? Hell, you just admitted there are reasons to use contraception that have nothing to do with children, and now you conveniently forget this fact. Your sexism must truly know no bounds. Also, I'm pretty sure you meant that they're "sad" rather than that they're "said".

Then, James goes on to compare this to men being forced to dip into their "beer and football cash" to purchase condoms. And he doesn't get it. Contraception for men consists of condoms (cheap) vasectomies (one-time cost, short and mostly painless procedure) and horrendous groin trauma (painful but funny, permanent). There are no medical benefits to vasectomies, and there aren't any associated with condoms unless your partner has an STD or STI. Contraception for women consists of the Pill (expensive, with some side effects, many of which are beneficial) female condoms (more expensive than male condoms, painful to insert, has to remain in there for a few days to be truly effective), diaphragms (ditto), spermicide (with a myriad of possible very painful side effects) and tubal ligation (very invasive, intense surgery). There is no comparison. Female contraception is much more expensive, and has benefits aside from preventing pregnancy, which I might add is a huge medical benefit.

There isn't anything else from the first article worth mentioning, except that the left shows a "totalitarian streak" for trying to shut Rush Limbaugh down. Uh, no. "The Left" is not trying to shut him down, they're telling his sponsors they will not support their products if they support Rush Limbaugh. Rush can still speak freely on his radio show, and if he loses that, he can still air his views online, in books (assuming someone will publish him), on television (assuming someone will host him) or maybe even with documentary movies. Limbaugh has the right to speak freely (OK, not true, since if he swears on TV or radio he will be fined, something that doesn't happen in Canada) but he doesn't have the right to make money from it or the right to have a nationally broadcast radio show, or any radio show. Those are called "privileges". He also doesn't have the right to not suffer the consequences for his speech. Am I violating your free speech by not being your friend after you said I support child rape?

The other article, "Responding to my friend Ben - Fluke fan" had a few things worth talking about. I'll hit the smaller ones in point form.
  • Non-contraceptive uses of contraception are the same as contraceptive uses of it.
  • I didn't talk about two subjects, in fact, I talked about one: sexism from the left and right sides of the political spectrum. I don't even really believe in "left and right", it's more complex than that. No one is purely left or right except a few pundits (who may not be fully human) and many positions can be endorsed by both sides for different reasons (example: Conservatives may not want a war because they don't want to spend the money and risk soldiers lives, Liberals wouldn't want it because they don't approve of killing or wars motivated by greed).
  • I don't want everyone to think like me in all ways. I do, however, think some positions are detrimental to society and must be eradicated (yes, I know that as a stupid and evil asshole you will take that the wrong way. I would never endorse killing a person, only an idea). You think the same thing.

The "big" argument is religious freedom. Your constitution and mine both grant it. This is in no way a religious freedom issue. Now, you might be wondering why. Well, here's the reason why, in point form.

  • Not all employees of organizations run by the Catholic church are Catholic, and forcing them to conform to Catholic religious practices violates their religious freedom.
  • Not all students of Catholic and/or Jesuit schools are Catholic, and forcing them to conform to Catholic religious practices violates their religious freedom.
  • Not all Catholics are opposed to birth control or abortion.
  • Even if most Catholics (or indeed, most christians) opposed this, it's not a religious freedom that's being trampled upon. You don't have to take contraception, and employer medical benefit plans only cover contraception if the employee actually gets it. No one is forcing anyone to violate their principles, and these principles are not part of the core tenets of that religion, at least not in reality.
  • If this was a group of non-christians trying to get special treatment using religious freedom, we know you'd be first in line to condemn them. So, why is this religious organization trying to get special treatment fine?
  • This is an attempt to get special treatment. There's already an exemption for religious organizations (churches and explicitly religious schools) but they're trying to get that exemption extended to non-religious businesses owned by religious people.
  • Lastly, we already disallow religious freedoms if said "freedoms" are deemed harmful to society. Polygamy is no longer allowed because of the institution's inherent inequality and its subjugation of women. Animal sacrifice is not allowed because it's cruel to animals. Human sacrifice is not allowed because it's murder. Executing apostates is also disallowed for the same reason. This "freedom" to deny contraception to people who need it, which harms women, is harmful to society.

In conclusion, fuck you you misogynist twat.

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John Carter Review

I just watched the film John Carter (of Mars). I've been rooting for this film for a while, partly because I love the pulp style sci-fi/fantasy genre, partly because I'm rooting for semi-local boy Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and partly because if the source material is half as good as people who've read it say it is, it needs to be seen. So how was it? There may be spoilers ahead, so click the "read more" link to find out.


Let's hit the positives first. Good god DAMN, this movie is beautiful to look at. The special effects work is quite excellent, and I'd be surprised if it didn't get nominated for something in a technical category when the Oscars or the Golden Globes comes around. This is the only movie I've seen in 3D where the 3D actually enhanced the film experience, perhaps because it was shot in 3D (at least I think) but more likely because it was almost always well-lit. Movies that are mostly in the dark (like 2011's Conan the Barbarian) just don't work in 3D. I did eventually become fully immersed in the world of Barsoom, largely because the effects made even the most alien of things seem so real. And the fight scenes, with one exception, were all pretty awesome.

Everyone played their part well, but special consideration should go to Taylor Kitsch. His performance might be slammed for being too "generic", but that, in fact, is a strength: this is wish fulfillment fantasy at its purest. When you're trying to make a character young men can project themselves onto, it helps to tone down the personality, or at least make sure it doesn't stray too far from the action hero archetype. Despite the occasional allusion to a dead wife and child, Carter's personality is "rebellious", "badass" and "rebellious badass". Luckily, the other characters mostly make up for it. Princess Dejah, Tar Tharkas, Sola and the dog-thing were all quite charming, and the real villains (the Tharns) had an actual element of threat to them.

That said, this is not a movie for everyone. You need patience. The first scene is a confusing mess of an opening. It starts with opening narration, that properly establishes the warring cities, then a cool fight happens. Then, bald dudes in robes kill everyone except the sort-of main villain of the movie, then shoot a blue web up the dude's arm and it gives him magic powers. Then, it turns to Carter in post-Civil War USA, which was pretty cool. Then, right to Mars, and a scene where Carter bounces around in a somewhat amusing way, before getting into the main story. Even then, a lot of the terminology is prohibitive to people like me, who haven't read the books. It's worst in the first scene with Dejah, which had the added detriment of them going on about techno-babble. What is the ninth ray? I can't tell what it is aside from "science-y magic that can do whatever you want". It is mentioned that it's a way to harness unlimited energy, but that's it. Even then, this is a pretty predictable story. Part of it is that most sci-fi movies have been inspired by this franchise, but part of it is that it's transparently obvious wish fulfillment fantasy for boys.

The characters do interact well for the most part, but Dejah and John's love story is perhaps the worst I've ever seen. Yes, it is pretty clear that they're into each other, and I can see why (they're both super sexy and powerful, and Dejah is also a brilliant scientist and a princess, which is unbelievable now that I think about it) but they shouldn't have gotten married at the end. It just didn't make sense for those characters.

Also, one fight scene has John tearing through a bunch of Martians (apparently rivals of the Tharn) with scenes of his dead wife and kid flashing in and out occasionally. It wasn't a bad fight (in that the outnumbered hero with a sword beats the other hundred dudes without getting a scratch) but it was ruined by the constant shifts. Why would one even do that? I don't get it.

All told, I do recommend this movie, conditionally. If you love sci-fi and fantasy, you should enjoy this. If you're cool with paying a lot of attention, you should see it. Despite its flaws, it is a charming movie, and I was engaged enough to want to read the books afterwards. I do recommend that if you see it, you should see it in 3D as it makes the effects look that much better.

Final score: 6/10

Afterthought: They picked a pretty bad name for this movie. "John Carter" is a boring movie name. Princess of Mars was out, thanks to the Asylum, but "John Carter of Mars" sounds cool, as would "Warlord of Mars" or anything other than a common English name that's easy to lose in the mix. They may as well have titled the "we actually don't want you to see this."
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Calling Out Left-Wing Sexism [UPDATED]

Perhaps you're aware that Rush Limbaugh, an awful human being, has gotten into some trouble for his recent hate-filled tirade directed at a young law student. She wants employers to be forced to provide benefits, including covering the cost of contraceptives, arguing that those pills provide multiple medical benefits to women. Rush said she was a slut, a prostitute, and that if he's paying for her to have sex (which he wouldn't be-this is about employers providing medical benefits) then she should post sex-tapes of her sexual escapades for him to watch. It resulted in a boycott that probably won't hurt Mr. Limbaugh in the long run, but only time will tell. The conservative reaction, at least the one I saw on social media, was to point out that liberals do the same thing. I asked plenty of times for examples, and it took liberal Tim Wise posting this article on his twitter for me to see that there was some actual misogyny from pundits on my side.

I wholeheartedly denounce all misogyny regardless of where it comes from.

However, we really do have to look more in depth at the misogyny of the Left vs. the misogyny of the Right.

Most of the comments Kirsten Powers points to in her Daily Beast article are either arguably non-misogynistic, clearly non-misogynistic or very mildly misogynistic. Calling Sarah Palin an idiot is not only fair game, it's completely true. Simply criticizing or insulting a woman is not sexism. When Keith Olbermann said someone should take Hilary Clinton into a room "and only he comes out" when advocating her dropping out of the 2008 Democratic Primary race. It was clearly a metaphor for a mafia assassination, not spousal abuse, though it was improperly worded. Calling someone a "twat" or a "cunt" is no more sexist than calling them a "dick" or a "prick", in reality. They're all insults using genitals that can just as easily be used on people of either gender. "Bimbo", the most common insult used by the left-wing media personalities singled out in this piece, is a sexist insult, but it's a fairly mild one, just like calling a Canadian a "hoser" is mildly insulting. Mocking Hilary Clinton's "flabby arms" is childish, but it's not sexist, unless "flabby arms" is somehow a symbol of femininity. However, calling Laura Ingraham a right-wing slut is wrong (regardless of my agreement of the point Ed Schultz made around that insult) and some of the things Bill Maher said are over the line.

The difference between this, however, and what conservatives do is threefold. Firstly, the victim of Limbaugh's insults was a university student. Yes, she was also an activist, but she was hardly a "public figure", while all the women these liberals attacked are either politicians or pundits (or in Sarah Palin's case, both). Secondly, while the liberal pundits mentioned by Powers are out of line, they're only attacking one woman, explicitly. Rush Limbaugh, and the awful people who supported him (Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Bill O'Reilly, etc.) didn't just call Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute, they called every woman who uses any contraceptive, even for medical purposes, a slut and a prostitute. A lot of the many, many awful things Limbaugh has said about women are applicable to most or all women, while it's pretty hard to apply "Laura Ingraham, that right-wing slut" to anyone other than Laura Ingraham without a lot of stretching. Finally, liberals may, on rare occasion, say bad things about women. Conservatives do things that hurt women, including the various "personhood amendments" that would outlaw abortion and several forms of contraceptives, and they're trying to do everything listed in this link. What does more damage: a pundit calling someone a slut or a politician trying to allow hospitals to let women die rather than giving life saving abortions?

So, yeah, I'm willing to call other left-wingers on their sexism. It's wrong, and they should know better. But I'm glad people are more focused on the bigotry of the right-wing, because they're just plain worse in every conceivable way.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann has replied to the article by Powers, or at least two of the comments she called out. Please watch this to the end.



I had no idea that Powers deliberately misquoted Olbermann, that she wasn't a conservative, or that she works on Fox. That really makes me lose a lot of respect for Powers. I also had no idea that the "mashed up bag of meat with lipstick" thing was a reference to anything. That one confused me. I do think the "with lipstick" part is mildly sexist, but he did apologize in that clip. Unlike Limbaugh's apology, I believe Olbermann. I also admire his conviction to raise the bar by suspending his negative (but popular and entertaining) "Worst Person" segment. Let's hope it works. Read more!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why skepticism is more important than atheism

A few days back, I got into a long, drawn out battle with a now-former Twitter follower over, of all things, aliens. It all started when I mocked that ancient aliens guy with the bad hair, and he responded. I got a torrent of hate, as is customary when celebrities publicly respond to their critics. Amongst the remarks pointing out I'm Canadian (as if that's an insult) and misspelled insults directed at my intelligence was one of my own followers. She claimed that atheism led her to believe in aliens because evolution was so unlikely. When I pointed out that there was no compelling evidence of extraterrestrial life forms existing, despite the high likelihood of there being life elsewhere in the universe. This is actually called the Fermi Paradox, and I even shared the Wikipedia link to it with her. She called it "skeptic bullshit" or something along those lines, and then said it wasn't worth it to talk to me.

The fact of the matter is, critical thinking is a much more important thing to promote than atheism. Yes, critical thinking, when applied to religion, should lead to atheism, but not all atheists come to atheism by thinking critically. In fact, far too often, those who claim to think critically are anything but critical thinkers. I've been told that, as a skeptic, I should reject the "official story" on 9/11, the Holocaust and other such things. This is, of course, because people mistake "critical thinking" with "cynicism". That is not the case by a long shot. Critical, or skeptical thinking simply means evaluating all information in a systematic, purposeful and efficient manner. It's the best way to find the truth, something you religious people should care about. After all, truth is the only god there is, the only thing worth worshiping. It's the only remedy for bullshit.

Now, not everyone who doesn't think critically will fall prey to such lunacy as conspiracy theories. What it does do is make you easy prey for scam artists. This includes religions, political parties on the left and the right, and practitioners of "alternative medicine" (who come in two flavours: the deludedwho are spreading their delusion and straight up con artists) as well as operators of pyramid schemes/multi-level marketing and other such scams. Not that anyone's perfect, of course. For example, noted skeptic Michael Shermer has fallen for the political cult known as American libertarianism, which isn't really that far from anarchism. However, it does make you more able to avoid such mental traps.

The bottom line is, if you read this blog or follow me on Twitter because of my atheism, do not be offended if I disagree with your other views. If you hold any views that cannot hold up to scrutiny, it's best to abandon them. If you're not quite sure how to properly think critically, and even if you are, you should click here to read an excellent guide to critical thinking.
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Arguing With A Creationist...

Normally, I take the view that arguing with a creationist is like shooting the ocean. Anyone can do it multiple times, but the ocean won't know it just got shot. You could shoot holes in it all the live-long day but it wouldn't see the error of its ways. I normally just say "go to talkorigins.org and look up your argument, it's been refuted by people who know what they're talking about." However, because of one creationist named "Question Evolution", I am going to break my one rule just to show how bloody easy it is to beat down creation "science", after the jump.


Now, I agree with that creationist's website title. "Question Evolution"? Yes. Question everything. But question it in a way that makes sense. If someone who was acting plainly out of character said they were "fine", I'd question how fine they were, but I wouldn't say "clearly he was replaced by an evil robot clone." Likewise, I wouldn't say "I doubt this scientific principle, therefore, god did it." I also wouldn't say use arguments that are known to be faulty. And yet, that was the first article I saw on questionevolution.org (top left article on the home page). The amazing eye is a well known (and quite stupid) creationist argument. Hell, Darwin himself anticipated and refuted this line of argumentation:
Organs of extreme perfection and complication. To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.


You can read the whole thing in context here. I also recommend you watch/listen to this humourous video which properly uses the eye to defeat the idea of intelligent design. Now, to be fair, the post does bring up some counter arguments, and it makes more arguments than just "hey, the eye is really nice, it must have been designed." Regarding the multitudinous questions asked on that blog post, as I value my time, on this point I will simply say "read an actual textbook on human evolution, since everything you could ever ask about the concept should be found there." However, I will address the counter arguments quickly. The first counter is the "poor design" argument. I will note quickly that what this section of the article did would be called "plagiarism" in any serious academic circles, since the "Question Evolution" post lifts directly from the Johnathan Safarti article it cites without directly quoting it. It isn't what I'd call a serious breach of ethics, but it should tell you something. Either way, the creationist argument is simply that we were designed that way and we need to have our backwards-seeing eyes see things backwards, and that's that. Except they're proclaiming that the most powerful, brilliant and competent being in the universe did this, and simply couldn't design it properly. If we can make cameras smaller than our eyes that see just well as our eyes, if not better, why can't your god?
The other counter argument is an argument from incredulity from a guy named Dr George Marshall, who was also quoted in Safarti's argument. I don't know how credible Marshall is, since I can't find him anywhere, aside from one 1996 interview in Creation Magazine that most creationists talking about how eyes were created seem to cite. That interview is here, and it's literally all I could find of his writings. It doesn't help that there are literally eleven more famous Geoge Marshalls, but either way, all it says is "I don't know how this could have been done without god, therefore, god did it."

The other article I'll refute is this one. As the title implies, it seems to think that math destroys atheism. It's yet another misuse of probability, something common amongst creationists. Now, the blog I linked doesn't refute this argument, but it does close off another hatch. See, creationists are all about escape hatches. Prove that new species emerge via evolution and they shift to saying "micro-evolution happens" and that they're still the same "kind". Show that stars are billions of light years away and they'll say that the speed of light slowed down at some point. Find a "missing link" and they'll ask about the "missing link" between us and the newly-found link. Completely eradicate an entire argument and they'll move to the next one. It's like a child playing the "why?" game sometimes. Either way, I'd like to illustrate an issue raised here. The author says of Dr. Fred Hoyle's hypothesis of Panspermia that:

Hoyle believed that ‘life began in space, spreading through the universe’ and eventually coming to earth.. but isn’t that just passing the problem to another place? At some point life had to come from non living material and we know that scenario is an impossibility since the so called ‘simple’ living cell is more complex than a city!


Yeah, it does pass the problem to another place, just like creationism. I mean, if god created everything, who created god? Fortunately, we've shown that life can emerge from raw materials present at the beginning of our planet. Firstly, we did it through the famous Miller-Urey experiment, then a few years ago, this happened. Go read it, dear creationist. We have an explanation for how life emerged.

BUT WAIT! The probability of the universe supporting life is astronomical! Well, yeah. That's why, of all the billions of planets, only one (that we know of) has life. Look at it this way: I have six six-sided die. Imagine I roll them all six times. What are the odds I'll get all ones, all twos, all threes, etc. all the way to all sixes? Exactly the same as the odds I'll get any other result, really, but for the sake of this argument, they're absolutely astronomical. Now imagine I just keep rolling, every few seconds without a break until the end of this year (just over 10 months). The chances that six consecutive rolls will all be the same number, and would "count up", are much better at this point. Now imagine that I just keep rolling forever. I have the end of time to roll six ones, then six twos, six threes, six fours, six fives and six sixes, counting up in that way. The odds that I'll eventually roll that sequence if I never stop rolling are 1:1. From the beginning of the universe (the "Big Bang") until now, there were about 14 billion years for the right circumstances for some form of life to develop, and had no life developed by this point, we'd have until the heat death of the universe for life to emerge. And of course, the entire argument is based on the fallacious idea that the only possible life forms are the ones that we know about. How do we know that all life forms in this universe are carbon based? We do not. How do we know that some form of life can't survive or thrive in a differently arranged universe? On this very planet, we have species that breathe underwater and some that breathe our atmosphere, some that thrive in tropical areas that wouldn't be able to survive in the arctic, and vice versa. The fact is, that when calculating the probability of the emergence of life without a god (a useless endeavour because we already know life exists, and I have proven, twice, that there is no god) it would be considerably closer to 1:1 than 1:10 229.

Anyway, there's your refutation.
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Friday, February 17, 2012

An Open Letter To My MP

Have you guys heard of Bill C-30? This is a bill that would do for the citizens of Canada what the Chinese government does to Chinese citizens already, that is, allow them to spy on us without a warrant. It's a horrendous law that directly violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now, the reason I'm scared of it is because a) it's proposed by a government that has shown time and again that it simply does not care about the laws of this land and b) it comes at a time when draconian internet laws are gaining traction in several areas. The only way we can stop this (at least before the inevitable challenge from the courts) is to tell our Members of Parliament, in no uncertain terms, that they will lose votes over this. To that end, here is my open letter to my MP, David Wilks. I encourage every Canadian reading this to alter the first paragraph to apply to you and send this letter to your Member of Parliament. I urge you to send this to any and every Canadian you know who is of voting age if you care about this issue in any way. If you're unsure as to who your MP is, as far too many of us are, you can find them here. This is most important if your MP is Conservative, but it's important no matter where you live in this great country of ours.


Dear David Wilks,

I am writing to you in regards to Bill C-30, also known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. I have been a resident of the Kootenay-Columbia riding which you represent for most of my life. If you vote for this bill, I will not vote for you in any future elections, and I will strongly urge everyone I know here to vote against you.

While this bill no doubt is being proposed in with good intentions, it would be an egregious violations of our civil liberties. Section 8 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms says
"Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure." Warrant-free police access to our online history definitely runs contra to this. By definition, since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of our Constitution, this proposed law is unconstitutional. Should the law pass, it will no doubt be challenged and defeated, meaning that a vote for this bill is a vote for wasting taxpayer money on an unnecessary trial, and in the time between the passing of the law. However, there are other issues with this law that I will briefly outline here.

While I am no fan of "slippery slope" arguments, or any logical fallacies (like the false dichotomy Safety Minister Vic Toews used Parliament when he said that all who oppose this bill are supporting child pornographers) it's not hard to see that this bill will not just hurt those who view child porn. The vast majority of internet users have downloaded or otherwise viewed things illegally, whether it's music, television, movies, literature or visual artwork. Giving police free access to our online history would make outlaws of many Canadians who simply wanted to watch an episode of a TV show they missed on YouTube. Even those who try their best to avoid piracy sometimes partake of it, as many sites that host pirated material also show material with the permission of the rights holders, and many pirate sites disguise themselves as legitimate sources.

Then, of course, there's the fact that this would probably not be effective at stopping the production of child pornography, who likely already know ways to distribute their materials securely. In fact, it would divert police attention to monitoring the millions of innocent Canadian web users, which would be counter-intuitive to stopping crime. How effective it would be even in catching those who view child pornography is something I'd question: These people already hide their habits and presumably use multiple proxy servers which would throw police off their trail. If anything, it would force them to go back to buying paper magazines or DVDs via mail order, something that would be much harder to crack down on.

What this legislation would do is ending Canadian freedom and lead to many people being falsely branded as sex offenders. The "sexting" phenomenon, where teenagers are becoming registered sex offenders for sending pictures of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends, is the most well known example of this. Another 2 famous examples are Traci Lords (a porn star who lied about her age and produced many pornographic movies while under 18) and Vanessa Hudgens (a celebrity who had nude pictures of herself leaked, which turned out to have been taken when she was 15). Even without such examples, people can have child porn put on their computers without actually seeking it via viruses, spam and malware. This legislation could turn people who did nothing wrong into sex offenders.

In conclusion, if you value your constituents' freedoms, please vote against this terrible bill.

Sincerely,

Ben Dobson Jr.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Valentine the Comic




As a fan of fantasy comics, literature and movies, I've found myself rather under served as of late. Recently, to alleviate this, I decided to browse the comixology online store to see what kind of fantasy comics were available. Amongst them was Valentine, by Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen, which I downloaded in its entirety. Thank no-god I did.

There were two things I noticed right away about this creator owned series. Firstly, it was completely free, which is really unusual for the comixology store. Aside from Mark Waid's The Unknown (which I strongly recommend) I haven't found any series that offers than the first issue, or a "preview" of the first issue for free. Not only are all 10 issues/episodes free, but they're Creative Commons licensed, meaning it can be republished in its entirety assuming that proper credit is given. The second thing I noticed was that it was available in several different languages, including Japanese, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Gaelic, and appropriately, French and Russian. There are comics in that store originally published in languages aside from English that are not available in their original language (I'm looking at you, Hetalia:Axis Powers) so offering this for free in so many languages is a very welcome sight indeed.

The story (which I'm doing my best not to spoil in any way) follows a young named Valentine, a Breton soldier fighting for France in 1812. After Napoleon's rather disastrous campaign where a force of half a million men was whittled down to 50,000, Valentine meets a man named Roland, from whom he obtains a magical sword that only he can use, which can open portals to other dimensions, amongst other things. From there, he becomes embroiled in a centuries-old conflict between two magical races: the savage, red-eyed Tenebrae led by a man named Belphegor, and Roland's as-of-yet unnamed people, who may not be quite as noble as they seem. Valentine is injured by some Tenebrae posing as Cossacks, and one of Roland's people, Nimue, uses some of her magic to save Valentine's life. Later, Nimue finds herself in a bit of trouble. It's up to Valentine to save her. That is literally all I can give away without giving away any of the many twists.

This is a series that was created for e-readers, mobile devices and tablets. I am aware of a debate that is currently ongoing regarding how well suited comics are to this particular format, and this is easily the strongest argument in favour of digital comics I've seen. With a single exception in issue/episode 10, it's all in Landscape (that is, you need to keep your device turned on its side) which is a much better use of the device than the alternative, in my opinion, and reduces the irritation of having to constantly flip the device around to properly see the action. The panels always fill the screen fully, unlike most comics for iPhone/iPad/iPod/Android/etc. which cut off parts of a panel, or show bits of other panels every screen. The shifts in panels also fully utilize the format. Text boxes appear after you get a chance to fully appreciate the artwork, word balloons change while the artwork remains the same (emphasizing the deadpan delivery of particular lines), and magical effects like Valentine's sword's glow appear suddenly, to more properly emphasize the his surprise at this. The use of colour is amongst the most ingenious I've seen in any comic. When on earth, it's primarily greyscale or muted, with a handful of exceptions, like the eyes of characters with some magical ability and the magic sword. However, when the story moves to the Dawn Country (Roland's homeland), everything is vividly and beautifully coloured, emphasizing the magic and wonder of the place. Tim Burning really outdid himself there.

The art is perfect for the story, and I found myself strongly sympathizing with Valentine. The pulpy feel of the story appealed greatly to me, yet the writing showed more nuance than most two-fisted adventure stories, and the violence is not graphic enough to turn off the squeamish. Every issue leaves you chomping at the bit wanting to find out what happens next, and with a clear end planned, this won't be one of those series that goes on past its best-used-by date (I'm looking at you, Marvel and DC). The closest thing to a real negative I found was that, in issue 7, the way the "pages" turned was right to left (though it still read left to right). It was confusing for a minute, since one has to tap or drag the page a specific way to make it "turn" on an iDevice, but ultimately it wasn't a problem. In fact, it added to the feel of that section of the work, since that's when Valentine ends up in the Dawn Country, where things work differently than they do in our reality. It ended up being yet another brilliant example of the potential of digital comics.

This is easily the best comic I've read in a long time, and I read a lot of good comics (Chew, the Walking Dead, Demon Knights, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, and classic Savage Sword of Conan are all on my current reading list). 10 out of 10. Get this now, either from comixology, Robot Comics or on the Kindle (note: the Kindle only goes to issue 8 out of the currently published 10, and does come with a pricetag, reasonable though it may be). A print edition of the first 8 chapters, with an additional story, will be published by Image Comics later this year, and Alex told me herself on both Twitter and Facebook that new episodes should return in Autumn or shortly thereafter, after a Kickstarter campaign. The backup story will be drawn by Cassandra James and the all new covers will be done by Steve Belledin. Be sure to watch for it, and expect a review of the backup story the moment I get it. Read more!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why "Atheism" Means Nothing

In my last post, I mentioned (however briefly) that atheism isn't really that big of a deal. Here, I will discuss exactly why that is.

Atheism says exactly nothing about one's personality, despite all the stereotypes and rhetoric from all sides. It's simply a lack of belief. Some are insistent (stupidly so) that it's a positive belief that there is no god/s. Even if that's true, it's a single, mostly unimportant belief. There are very few single beliefs that dictate overall morality, and our consciences are generally more shaped by society than anything else. Hell, one can still technically be christian without believing in any god. Furthermore, while atheists are more educated, generally speaking, atheism is not a guarantee of intelligence OR education, nor is it a guarantee of skepticism, as skeptics like Kenneth Miller, Sam Harris (who's into eastern spirituality) and Neil Degrassse Tyson (who is non-religious but claims some belief in a higher power) show. It's not even a sign of non-religion, as there are religions without any gods, like Buddhism, Scientology and Taoism. All atheism is is a guarantee of not believing in any god/s.

This is quite well illustrated by the current feud between theamazingatheist and several others including PZ Meyers. TJ is anti-feminist (even though his own views peg him as a feminist, he pretends that all feminists are feminazi man-hating stereotypes that exist in small numbers, if at all) and has been on this trip for months. Recently, in an almost-admitted attempt at shock humour, on a reddit thread he mocked a rape victim, though he later apologized. In a lot of ways, it's a continuation of elevatorgate (I'm linking the best post on it that I know of) which split the atheist community last year. While I do have strong feelings about this thing, that's not the main thrust of this post. The fact is, everyone involved in both those debates, and the general debates about sexism in the atheist community, or politics, philosophy, or any other thing has to rely on its own merits with atheists. There is no holy book that we must obey to tell us anyone is wrong or right here. I can't say "1 Darwin 3:10 says that thou shall not joke about rape." The only thing I can say is that rape is wrong and joking about it is deliberately hurtful. I can point out facts, construct moral arguments, but in the end people who disagree are not compelled to agree because it's the atheist thing to do.

Now, we do need some organized atheism. Until religious conservatives quit trying to force their beliefs on the rest of us, we need atheists and anti-theists to band together to fight for secular causes. However, we shouldn't make this one thing we have in common mean more than it really does. Deep down, atheism means about as much as not believing in UFOs.

Let's keep it that way. Read more!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tips for coming out as an atheist

About a week ago, a friend of mine who goes by TCC asked me about coming out as a nonbeliever to his friends and family. He's not the first who has asked me for advice on this, and he probably won't be the last. As such, I decided to use this blog to help any who may be wrestling with this issue. Tips after the jump.

  1. Timing is everything. If you're financially dependent on devoutly religious family members, i.e. if you're a minor or financially unstable adult living in their house, now is probably not the time. I've heard many accounts of teenagers being kicked out of their parents' house for leaving the parents' religion, and the reaction to atheism is especially harsh. After all, we're trusted less than rapists. So, you live with highly religious parents who you think may kick you out, wait until you can move out to tell them. For everyone else, it's best to pick a "neutral" time. You don't want to tell a religious friend who's going through a break up that they have to worry about your impending damnation, nor do you want to bring down a fun day at the park with serious talk (even though it might seem sensible to tell someone while they're in a good mood). Tell them during a more casual outing, preferably in a more relaxed environment. This brings me to the next point...
  2. It's not actually a big deal, so don't make it a big deal. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it's the truth. No one gets uptight about telling their friends they don't like rock climbing, or that they don't believe heavy metal music is any good, so why is this a big deal? The truth is, it's only an issue because we, as a society, make it an issue. There aren't really many differences between most atheist and mainstream religious people in the western world, despite public perceptions. Calling someone to meet with you to share a "big announcement" with them (as some atheists I've met have done) can add unnecessary tension by building up an expectation in the mind of your friend/relative. They expect to be shocked by this announcement, so it will shock them.
  3. But don't be too casual. Being an atheist is not everything to anyone, but it can be an important detail for some people. For people that you're certain will take it well (other atheists, people who are apathetic to religion, very moderately religious people) simply saying "oh, by the way, I'm an atheist" should be fine. For everyone else, the announcement should be made with at least a degree of formality.
  4. Know what you're going to say ahead of time. You don't need to script everything you'll say, but you should definitely have your thoughts collected. You don't want to be stumbling over words, nor do you want to say anything that might be interpreted as offensive.
  5. Understand their concerns. People who take their religion somewhat seriously will have concerns, and it's important to realize that they actually are valid, to them. If their religion is true, as they believe it to be, you may face real severe consequences for your unbelief. They care for you, and do not want anything bad to happen to you. They may also take it as a personal offense, just like many political ideologues take offense at the rejection of their ideology. While you do not want to get into an argument with someone who's in a potentially heightened emotional state, it's important to stress that your rejection of your old belief system, their religion, is at least as valid as their belief in it. It may not be truly satisfactory, but it is as close to a good answer to this. They may also have concerns for you that are not based in religion. Any major change in belief system or lifestyle can be a cause for worry for a variety of reasons, and they may feel that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. Of course, the stereotypes that we're a depressed, nihilistic group or that personal tragedy is the main cause of atheism in most people only helps this assumption, so it's important to assure them you're OK and that your atheism was not something that happened overnight.
  6. Don't make it too much of a surprise. This is something that I did tell TCC, as he said here. It's something I did. I'd drop hints at my atheism to my friends and family whenever possible. I'd criticize religious leaders, I'd attack anti-scientific religious beliefs such as creationism, I'd attack the theocratic positions of prominent right-wing politicians, and occasionally I'd even attack the notion of faith itself. This tactic has a few advantages. Firstly, one can be against theocracy, creationism, etc. without being an atheist, so you aren't going against point #3. Secondly, you're being honest, and so you can rightly claim you weren't deceiving anyone when the news finally breaks. Thirdly, and most importantly, by dropping hints at your atheism you may force them to privately come to grips with the fact that you may be an atheist, which can make their reaction to the news much better. They may even ask you about it outright, which would of course take the pressure off you. Granted, this could backfire, as someone you do this to may gossip about you and "out" you before you're totally ready, however, you can counteract this by not associating with total shitbags.
  7. Be prepared to answer questions. This should almost go without saying. Your friends and relatives will wonder why you've left the faith, and on top of that, you might be the first admitted atheist they've ever talked to. Be prepared to answer the question of "why", definitely, and probably the question of when it happened as well. You may be asked some other specific questions as well, and you may even be asked questions designed to lead into a debate. Do not take the bait. This is important. Answer the questions, but if they try to lock you into a sort of debate let them know, as politely as possible, that a debate is not a good idea at this point.
  8. Be wary of potential consequences. This is a big one. Even though this is not a really substantial issue, many people think it is. Unless you're employed by a church you can't be fired for your religious status, legally, but if you are fired for that, the legal fees for fighting it could be cost-prohibitive. Even if you aren't let go for that explicitly, it could be the real reason behind your termination. Atheism can, and probably will, cost you friendships or other relationships, even if you're not a dick about it. I've lost several friends for my atheism and I know of a few marriages that ended due to one partner losing faith. In some areas, being atheist can make you a social pariah, or worse. You need to be aware of this, and decide just how "out" you want to be. Do you just want your close friends and family to know? Do you want to keep some friends or family members in the dark? I know I did, I kept my atheism from my now-deceased grandmother because I knew it would have destroyed her. Are you confident enough to be fully out, or even become a non-anonymous blogger, advocate or activist? These are important questions you must answer, and it's even more important to not judge others for their decisions. As much as we need more open atheists, not everyone is in a position to come out.

That's about all the advice I can think of right now. If I can think of anything else, or if anyone else can, I may add it to this post or make a sequel post. Hopefully, this will help somebody.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Presidential Candidates As Lord Of The Rings Characters

Two things have been dominating my mind lately: Anticipation of the upcoming Hobbit films, and the US Presidential race/clusterfuck. I actually recently went through and re-watched the Lord of the Rings movies, and suddenly, it hit me: each and every one of the current candidates for President of the United States of America is exactly like a character from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Don't believe me? Look at the facts.


Ron Paul is Gollum



Gollum, a sad, pathetic and vaguely evil creature, was once Smeagol, the good little Hobbit-like creature. The One Ring has corrupted this tragicomic figure to the point where he only cares about one thing: his "Precious" Ring. He did betray the location of the Ring to Sauron, but he gave the Hobbits the secret back entrance to Mordor. He's a true moral wildcard, to the point of arguing with himself over whether or not to murder Frodo and Sam or to be their friends.

Ron Paul has definitely been corrupted by something, most likely a combination of Randian philosophy and being born and raised in the segregationist south. His entire philosophy can be summed up with one word: Liberty. He wants liberty, to the point of near anarchy, and that's all that matters to him. He wants to allow drugs and prostitution, he opposes imperialistic wars, and this is good stuff. However, he doesn't feel that we should "impose" things on others, like serving people of other colours, or treating the sick or helping the poor with public funds. In addition to this, the free-market capitalism he so readily endorses would be completely toxic to society--but he's the most likely Republican to stand up for something that's actually just. It's almost like there are two Ron Pauls: the one who will stand up for the people of Palestine when no other politician in the USA will, and the one who publishes racist newsletters--much like there are two Gollums, the one who would risk his life to save our heroes, and the one who who would kill them in their sleep to steal their jewelry.
Also, Gollum is obviously mentally unstable, and Ron Paul believes in the New World Order, thinks a race war is imminent and doesn't accept the theory of evolution despite the fact that he's a medical doctor. I rest my case on that one.


Rick Santorum is Grima Wormtongue


It's probably easier to list the significant differences between these two characters, but I'm not about doing stuff the easy way. Both are disgusting little toads who are so transparently evil that it's in their names. Seriously. Grima Wormtongue's first name comes from "grim", and the second comes from his ability to lie skillfully. Rick (short for Richard, which can also be shortened to Dick) Santorum has a perhaps the most profane last name ever, appropriate for a man with his mission in life. But the truth is that both these insidious creatures have the exact same Modus Operandi: they gain power by telling people what they want to hear, and aim to influence the real decision makers into destroying their country. Grima Wormtongue used his influence on King Theoden to essentially cripple a good man for an evil wizard. Rick Santorum uses deep-seeded cultural bigotry, appeals to "family values" and religion to try to destroy the lives of homosexuals and women who have unwanted pregnancies. I know I'm supposed to try to make a joke or something, but seriously, fuck anyone who would poison a good man to score with his daughter (it was implied that Saruman would force Eowyn to mate with Grima in exchange for his services) and double fuck anyone who would ban pornography and gay marriage just to get some rednecks to vote for him.


Newt Gingrich is Tom Bombadil




I couldn't finish reading the Lord of the Rings books. This is partly because they were dry as hell, but more importantly, Tom Bombadil ruined the book for me. He did nothing to advance the plot, he spoke in irritating rhyme, he was intrusive and, frankly, I wanted to stab the book repeatedly when I read segments with him in it. He's a relic of Tolkien's past, a character from some old pre-Hobbit poems that should have stayed there. He was rightfully left out of the movies due to the fact that he'd have made the movies unbearably long and flow much worse. Nevertheless, there were and several extremist Tolkien fans who even wanted him to be in the movies despite the fact that he'd have ruined them like he did the books. Some of these fans still insist the movies would have been better with the forest spirit involved.

I can't stand to watch Newt Gingrich. He brings nothing to the race, his career really should have been permanently destroyed by his ethics reprimand, and his despicable demeanor and ugly past only serves to lower the overall quality of the entire campaign. Just like the Lord of the Rings movies were better without a stupid, annoying, singing loon, the presidential race would be infinitely better without this relic from the 1990s who has more ethical issues than the Tea Party thinks Obama does. His very presence adds much more tabloid material than all of the other candidates combined, which distracts from the issues and turns this race into an even sleazier circus. And yet, as evidenced by his win in South Carolina, he has his fans amongst Tea Party extremists who want him in the White House, despite the fact that a man who left two wives while they were stricken with incurable ailments (who is campaigning on family values and the sanctity of marriage) would do more damage to the office of President than Nixon did. He has no place in this race, and had he not run, the race would already be decided--so we can blame Newt for this clusterfuck continuing as long as it already has.


Mitt Romney is Boromir




Boromir was a great hero. He fought alongside he Fellowship of the Ring and sacrificed himself to save Frodo and Sam when the Uruk-Hai surrounded them. He's also devilishly handsome.

Boromir was a rank villain. He joined the Fellowship of the Ring to steal the ring so that Gondor could use it to fight Sauron's evil forces--this despite the fact that this would essentially give all the power in the world to the world's greatest evil.

Mitt Romney is a good man. He brought socialized healthcare to a part of the United States, which is no mean feat, even in Massachusetts. He supported abortion and gay rights, and was generally a progressive and good governor, from what I can tell. He's also devilishly handsome.

Mitt Romney is an asshole. He's a stereotypically evil vulture capitalist who has turned himself into a definite Tea Party right winger, despite their mistrust of him. He also tortured his dog on a family vacation.

The fact is, these men are both admirable and villainous, depending on your point of view, but there is one significant difference. See, Boromir did his evil deeds for admirable, yet misinformed reasons: to save lives and stop evil. Mitt Romney has done all his evil deeds (except the dog torment) for understandable yet undesirable reasons: greed and self centredness. So, in a way, he's more like Bizarro-Boromir than regular Boromir, but he still counts.

Barack Obama is Aragorn



Both Aragorn and Obama are heroic leaders who represent hope and change for the better, yet are crippled by their own lack of confidence. That's the reason Aragorn took as long as he did to become the king of Gondor, and why he had to leave and become Strider. That's why Obama has bowed to Republican pressure even when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and why people view him as "spineless". I don't want to downplay what he DID accomplish, but he could have done much more, and didn't, primarily out of a lack of confidence and, well, a bit of spinelessness. He is the strongest, most noble, most good and most heroic of all who's currently vying for the title, but he has some deep flaws. And if you remember the movies/books, he was never the hero of the story.

The American People are the Hobbits

Yes, four hairy, big-footed midgets are who I'm choosing to represent an entire country. And why not? They're four individuals that, in broad strokes, adequately represent the people fairly well. All of them have the same goal (the destruction of the Ring, or in real life, improvement to the general state of the economy, foreign relations, and general societal health). All of them go about it a different way, however. Merry and Pippin barely seem to care, though you can tell they have some concern for the country, despite some of their actions actually being counter-intuitive (who doesn't remember that "fool of a Took" moment?). They almost seem more concerned with getting second breakfast than getting the Ring destroyed at points, and yet they continue on the journey. Meanwhile, Frodo and Samwise think through their problems, make sacrifices and take real risks, and throughout it all, never truly faltered. They represent the hardworking, intelligent people who are not being served by their government, who are being held down by the rich who lobby to create an oppressive tax system, to dismantle the social safety nets that are in place and prevent new ones from emerging, and who are doing their damnedest to keep positive change from happening. These are the Occupiers, the engaged individuals who are trying to make whatever difference they can, and frankly, we need more of them.

Had they not dropped out of the race, here's what I'd have said about some of the others who ran:

Michele Bachmann: One of the Ring Wraiths, but not the Witch King. Scary and shrieky, there's really no other choice for her.

Donald Trump: An orc. Not an Uruk-Hai, an orc. I seem to remember a few deformed orcs that were fed back into the orc-making machine (though maybe I'm misremembering...) Anyway, imagine that one of them thought it was Sauron, and that's the Donald.

Rick Perry: The Witch King of Angmar. Looked pretty scary and powerful until it was discovered he had a pretty big weakness. The Witch King was an arrogant sod who thought he was invincible when literally half of everyone everywhere could kill him, and under some interpretations of his prophecy, any elf, dwarf or hobbit could kill him too. Rick Perry was an early leader who looked like a shoo-in, until we found his weaknesses: debates, ridiculous and bigoted political ads and an overused joke about a third thing I can't remember. Oops.

Jon Huntsman: Figwit. Quite an attractive candidate but, well...who is that?

Herman Cain: Arwen. In the books, she did nothing, but in the movies she was given a much larger role, partly to show that the movies weren't (as much of) a sausage fest. Herman Cain was a joke candidate, but he ended up getting a bunch of support early on because the Republicans needed to show that they weren't racist against EVERYBODY. Just the Mexicans and Arabs.

All illustrations were done by Petar Gagic, who does reviews of horror, action and exploitation flicks as the Cine-Masochist. Go like his show!
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