Monthly Archives: June 2009

In Defense of Reason

I wasn’t sure whether to post this here or not.  I really wasn’t sure what stand to take on politics or religion on this blog, as talking about either, supporting any side of the debate instantly alienates a portion of the audience.  However, since my audience currently stands at a record 11 views in one day, I feel like that isn’t much of a concern for me.  In general, I plan to stay away from those topics, but here, I feel like I should lay out my views, what makes me tick, etc., so you know what kind of person you’re dealing with.  If religious weirdness seriously offends you, I recommend not reading the below, unless you’d like to leave hateful comments.

I am not an atheist.  Within the circles I inhabit (i.e. geekish, computery, internet circles), this feels like a minority position.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actively affiliate myself with a religion, and I believe in evolution and any other not-yet-disproven scientific principles just about as much as one can agree with them.  If I were to align my views with any specific faith it would probably be very close to Taoism, with Quakerism coming in as my nearest Western religion.  Some might say I’m almost a humanist, although I’m not going to delve into my spiritual beliefs at this point.  Rather, I feel inclined to list out some pet peeves I have about atheism.*

  • There are multiple faiths outside of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. So many times atheists will argue against the existence of God with something like “if God is a kind of loving God, why would he kill his only son?” or “if God talked to all those people in ancient times, why doesn’t he talk to us like that anymore?”  This could be considered a valid argument for a faith that holds that God is indeed kind and loving and killed his son (Jesus, I hope I don’t have to point out).  This is not, however, an argument against the existence of any sort of God.  In most Buddhist traditions, God is not personified.  In Taoism as well, there is no person God, but there is a force, the Tao, that not only surrounds people but includes people.  In other belief systems God does not have control over our lives, but he exists either outside our universe or as a creator of it.  So many times I’ve seen arguments that do a fine job of bringing down Christianity (there is an awful lot of killing in the Bible), a religion based on a book written by so many different authors, based on so many different “original copies” and subject to so much political meddling as to be somewhat questionable as a reliable source.  However, this does nothing to disprove the existence of any sort of God, just as disproving Bigfoot does not disprove the existence of primates.
  • Religion is a tool, not an opiate. Another argument I often see is “Christians killed millions of people in the Crusades, and now Muslims are killing people for their religion, there is no God.”  When I see this argument I instantly remember something Ralph Singh (a great man whom I sadly have little time to explain right now) said once: “There is no such thing as a Sikh terrorist, just as there is no such thing as a Christian terrorist or a Muslim terrorist”.  Calling oneself religious is not equatable to being true to a religion.  Historically, the Catholic church has indeed been held responsible for amazing tragedies.  People point to religion as a cause of the conflict without acknowledging the ultimate goals of these conflicts (the same as the ultimate goal for any conflict: power).  Religion, when manipulated by kings and warlords, can indeed be the “opiate of the masses,” as Karl Marx so lovingly labeled it.  Christians never attacked Jerusalem to kill godless heathens (although the illiterate masses were certainly duped into believing so), they attacked Jerusalem to plunder its wealth, and claim dominance over a holy landmark that could then be used to rally further support for the Catholic church, an institution which, at the time, was equally power-hungry as any feudal king or lord.  It is important to remember that there was not battle between Catholicism and Islam, there was a battle between people who called themselves Catholic and people who called themselves Muslim.  The driving force of the conflict is always people, greed, and powerlust.  God has never decreed anybody fit for death (unless you believe the Old Testament, but even mainstream Christians tend to shy away from all that Judges-like stuff).
  • Great things have been accomplished through religion. People focus on the negatives of religion, and it’s true that there have been a lot of deaths in the name of one God or another.  Never in those arguments is any statement made for any of the great people, truly modern heroes, who based a lot of their work on religion.  Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Oscar Romero, the Dalai Lama, all believed very deeply in a God.  Every single one condemned any kind of violence, even when most people, even very rational, moral people, would have deemed it necessary.  And every one of them has found some sort of success in their mission.  It’s a shame that the work of tyrants is remembered when the work of saints (I use that term both secularly and spiritually) is forgotten or pushed aside.
  • Belief in God does demand responsibility. One of the most convincing arguments I have heard for atheism comes from Penn Jillette for the NPR segment “This I Believe” (you can read it here, I would suggest it).  He argues that the existence of God makes people less responsible.  Belief makes it so people can be cruel or unmoral and simply ask for forgiveness later.  This is a hard one to justify, but by going into personal beliefs (which I know I said I wouldn’t do), I can justify it to myself.  In my worldview, God is and there is nothing but God.  This means that every life, every object and every law of the universe, is a part of the same whole.  In essence, we are God.  In this theology, there is no forgiveness to be found above.  Everything I do, I do knowing full well that if I have to justify it, it won’t be to a peronsified God, it will be to myself, and to whoever is affected.  I believe that this is the one leap of faith I have made explicit so far, and if one digs deeper into this line of reasoning, many things become clear.  Many things remain obscure as well, but that is only the nature of life.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone, and I apologise if anyone is offended (I know I was kind of hard on the Bible, but I really do not object to Christianity, and all the Christians I know are truly spiritual, moral people, and I wish more of them could be seen in the media as opposed to, oh, Jack Chick).  I didn’t really have anything else to write about, and I only meant this to go for maybe one or two paragraphs, but I see it’s kind of gotten away from me.  In the future, I’ll get back to more geekery and fun fun fun, so don’t worry about it.  Probably not too close in the future though, since I’m going out of town for practically 24 days, and I have no idea what the internet situation will be.  So fare thee well.

Also, Michael Jackson died, and the Mets are only a half a game behind the Phillies.  Maybe the Mets’ll actually make the playoffs this year, then we’ll definitely know there’s a God.

*NOTE: I am not anti-atheism.  I respect anybody’s personal belief.  This list is about the arguments for atheism that I hear so often in almost every single forum there is, arguments which always receive fanfare and ironic “amens.”  This is really the evangelcal atheism I have a problem with, the same way I have a problem with people of any ridiculous extreme not-necessarily-well-thought-out opinion.

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Dungeon Keeper for Vista: Review

I’ve recently felt the urge to play the classic game Dungeon Keeper on my six-month-old laptop, which just so happens to run Vista (the same way some people just so happen to be born without arms or legs).  So I dug out the ol’ compact disk (needs MS-DOS or Windows 95 or higher) popped it in the cd tray and bam!  The install took all of five seconds (no, I’m pretty sure my computer can handle DirectX 3).  I go into the directory, double-click the icon, and receive a splash screen featuring the demon Horney, getting myself prepped for some serious anti-dungeoneering and…

The game crashes to desktop.  No matter what I do.  Three installs, one as administrator, changing all sorts of settings, nothing works.  Booting it under WINE over on my Linux partition doesn’t work either (in fact, it doesn’t even return to my 1440 x 900 resolution, just stays at 640 x 480, a resolution in which the window to change the resolution does not display the “OK” button) .  Even when I put it into my ancient XP desktop computer, I get as far as the world map before getting some sort of monitor sync error (and I’ve played this game on XP machines before).  You’d think somebody would have a patch or something for this, but there’s not even a user-made one from someone who’s cracked the game.  I am eternally frustrated.

Courtesy of Randall Munroe

This comic comes to mind.

Incidentally, Velthur, I still have your copy of Dungeon Keeper.

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Happy (Belated) Father’s Day

This blog has had zero hits for three days in a row now, an unprecedented record for a site with such wide circulation.  To update you on why this blog hasn’t been updated in a week (and possibly why nobody has read it in this time, although I may be flattering myself if I attribute lack of readership simply to lack of content.  All I’m saying is, coincidence does not equal causality), here is what I have been doing:

Playing:

  • Dwarf Fortress
  • Spore
  • The Sims

Watching:

  • Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (for the first time)
  • Up (I’m waiting to comment on it here until I see the 3D version, hopefully sometime within the next two weeks)

Reading:

I’m technically reading Shogun at the moment, but I’m having some trouble getting into it, after a science fiction spree of Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, permeated by the geek-gasm inducing The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and various miscellaneous comics.  I’ve been listening to the stellar-but-not-God’s-gift-to-humanity-like-all-the-critics-seem-to-think-it-is Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (and if you don’t know who that’s by, it’s Coldplay, and you need to either get out more, or teach us how you escaped the shackles of the entertainment industry.  Please, enlighten us!) and the far-far-less-than-stellar-and-disappointing-but-still-somehow-garnering-good-reviews-despite-being-lyrically-on-the-level-of-an-artsy-fourteen-year-old-striving-desperately-to-cling-to-some-inevitable-revolution-that-is-both-improbable-and-unnecessary, Green Day’s “rock opera” (their words, not mine) 21st Century Breakdown.  It’s about two young people apparently exploring the ruins of post-Bush America or something.

So maybe I’ll get around to talking about some of those things at some point this week.  For now, yesterday was Father’s Day, and I have a shiny new iPod on the way (thanks mom, dad, Mary, Krystal, Anna, Scott, Sam, Allegra, Suzy and anybody else who contributed!).  I apologize for wasting the past few minutes of your life.  I hope you were multitasking, because you can never get that time back.

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Slaves to Armok and the Food Service Industry

“Cody, why have you gone so long without updating?” I can hear my undulating throng of fangirls screaming right now.  Well relax.  The reasons are two-fold.  One, I’ve been working all weekend.  Which would have been news enough, I know.

The second reason, is a little game called Slaves to Armok 2: Dwarf Fortress.

Better known simply as Dwarf Fortress. To those unfamiliar, Dwarf Fortress is the sequel to a game that was never actually released and really didn’t share anything in common with its successor at all.  In the game, you take control of a party of seven dwarves, who set out to mine the mountains dry of valuable minerals and establish a long-lasting, profitable fortress, all lovingly rendered in colored extended ASCII characters.

That is, of course, a gross over-simplification.  The game has been lauded since it was first released in 2006 for its depth and complexity.  The dwarves have minds of their own, and develop relationships, attitudes, diseases, etc. all on their own.  The player assigns tasks, and then the dwarves go about it according to their skills and personalities.  The gameworld, although rendered, shall we say, not un-hideously, is governed by complex algorithms detailing water and magma flow, and structures can collapse if there is too much open space beneath them.

I’ve probably clocked at least eight hours into the game, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.  Of course, an hour of that was mostly getting past the interface/graphics.  But it’s a good sign when, after coming home from a twenty-hour work weekend, you lay down, exhausted, and open your laptop to fiddle around for maybe ten or fifteen minutes before falling asleep, and end up sinking two hours, unwillingly, into the game.  And all this from an alpha game.

Click here to see a short after-action report to get a better idea as to the complexities of the game.  That’s the article that sent me down this path of no return.  The game has no winning condition.  Hence its tag-line, “Losing Is Fun.”  If the text graphics are intimidating, there are always user-made graphics-sets that you can download.  I’d link them, but I can’t be bothered with that when there’s Dwarf Fortress to play.

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Promethea: First Impressions

Some friends of mine recently gave me the first volume of Alan Moore’s Promethea (and I know they’re in possession of the remaining trade paperbacks).  For those not in the know, Alan Moore is one of the foremost proponents of the “comic books as art” camp, and is responsible for V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and one of the greatest comics of all time, Watchmen.

Compared to Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which are the only other exposure I’ve had to Alan Moore, Promethea is certainly interesting.  The plot centers around a college student, Sophie Bangs, who, after delving into research for a project, finds herself inhabited by Promethea, a sort of alter-ego that has been possessed by several people throughout history.  The series chronicles the unveiling of the secrets of Promethea, the mental world of the Immateria, and those who are trying to destroy her.

Promethea, so far (I am one chapter short of finishing the first volume), is fairly light on plot.  What it lacks there, it makes up for in exposition.  The characters talk about philosophy, magic, and the nature of reality quite a bit, and from what I’ve read it seems safe to say that these ideas closely mirror Moore’s personal beliefs.  This set-up is interesting to say the least.  In the hands of a lesser artist such digression would likely become grating.  Moore, however, gives us just enough characterization to keep us attached (although the protagonist is barely characterized at all, and I don’t feel like I have a sense of who Sophie Bangs really is), and just enough conflict to ensure the story doesn’t stagnate.

Part of what keeps the narrative interesting is clearly the artistic experimentation of penciller J.H. Williams III.  I don’t know how much input Moore had into the layout, but I think close collaboration between writer and artist can be assumed for a project like this.  Williams takes the traditional comic book format and throws it out the window, in favor of panels-within-panels and exotic layouts.  One double-page spread has a conversation between Sophie and her interviewee entirely contained within a frame depicting both her journey up and down the stairs to the woman’s house.  This type of experimentation is refreshing, although sometimes visual details or temporal sequence can get lost in the noise (on one spread I had to literally read about six or seven speech balloons at a time before I could discern their intended order).

Promethea is by no means perfect.  The characters are not developed beyond what is necessary for the lecture, the pacing is erratic in the first two or three chapters, the layouts can get confusing despite their artistic value.  It is certainly keeping me entertained, though, and you likely have not heard the last of it.  Click on the picture to go to the Amazon.com page.

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The Red Menace

Марионетки-гиганты (32 фото).

I find this strangely unsettling given zero context outside of “the intended audience speaks Russian.”  We see the giant man sitting and pondering life, and then he stands up, dons his scuba gear, and goes on to… rescue his daughter from drowning?  Maybe?  Then he gives her a raincoat and sends her off on her merry way in what appears to be an extremely unstable boat that’s just been dropped onto the water from twenty feet in the air.

Since the site is in Russian, we can only assume that these creatures are the first wave of an extraterrestrial invasion, and the men in red coats are the people that they have so far enslaved.  Thankfully, we’re safe over here, since this force’s unique brand of combat is really only useful in the Slavic countries and Japan.

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The Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step

Here I stand, poised at the base node of an infinite decision tree. The future, as it stands, is currently uncertain, by most schools of thought. There is a perpetual haze cast over what awaits just around the corner. What is revealed when the haze clears is determined by my decisions on the tree, along with those of countless trillions of people, animals, insects, and bacterium, not counting any potential extraterrestrial life that chooses to interact with our civilization (which of course they’ve been doing for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it’s just that their language has been misinterpreted by scientists as something called “static,” with the far-fetched hypothesis that it is residue of the universe’s creation).

Yes, the future will be decided by an infinite amount of decisions on an infinitely variable tree. My first decision on this tree, and that which is most relevant to practically anybody who should read this, is to register for a blog. Not a nice blog, mind you. I’m not spending a penny to host this, so far, which is one decision that I think will contribute to the non-inclusion of the “have drawn-out discussion about morality and the value of a dollar with parents, whose credit card I have made illegitimate use of to purchase online property of questionable value,” node of my future tree.

Upon embarking on this particular path, thereby collapsing an infinity of possible quantum realities (I sure am using that “i” word a lot, aren’t I?), the second major split in the tree involves choosing a name. This name will have far-reaching consequences, I realize. A boring name, like the standard “Karmuno’s Blog,” broadcasts nothing save for the fact that my name is Karmuno, which in and of itself is a falsity. On the other hand, an overly pretentious or exciting name like, for example, “The Bedrock of Sisyphus,” displays not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Greek mythology, but the implication that the author will, in some way, have some things to say about the myth, about mythology in general, about mindless toil, about the human condition, about geology, or some combination of the above, which I most certainly do not (and I if I do I am most certainly not conscious of it). In pondering this decision, I momentarily went over my list of potential band names. I quickly came to the realization that “Baunzhaüs,” “The Time-Traveling Neanderthals” and “Anal Byproduct” were all terrible names for blogs (with the possible exception of “Anal Byproduct”). So instead I turned to my other musical source of inspiration, potential album titles. Specifically, the title of my first EP which I am hellbent on one day writing, recording, and releasing to universal praise by everybody (redundantly enough). That album is “…duck, duck, DIE!!!

It is at this point worth noting that my first EP will not actually be entitled “…duck, duck, DIE!!!”, although there is a distinct possibility that I will one day release a “…duck, duck, LIVE!!!” LP, chronicling a three-day tenure in some dingy club where I first made it big. Keep in mind that I do have a title for my first EP, and you may even find out what it is some day (a few already know).

So now, with the vast sea of infinities (there it is again!) boiled down to slightly fewer infinities (though nowhere near the scale of the reduction of, say, aleph-two to aleph-one), I proceed. Instead of a sea, I surf the Internet. Instead of a board, I ride my words, my wit, and the seventeen dollars in my pocket. Instead of eloquent, concise, pointed thought or critique, I bombard the reader with incomprehensible, 1 o’clock am-written, bloated, pretentious, unfocused drivel. If you have bothered to read this far, welcome to paradise. You haven’t heard the last of me.

Unless of course I completely abandon the blog after this post, or if you are revisiting this post after my insanely popular articles on the values of various dishwasher detergents comes to a sad, tear-filled end, or I suppose if you simply go on to another site and never visit this page again, as I suppose the vast majority of my readers will. Or if you die. So it goes.

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