2013 in review – for the stats nerds out there

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – the possibility of extraterrestrial beings and religion

alienIn that my dad has just started watching Ancient Aliens (I know, I know, but it gets him thinking), we’ve been discussing the implications of aliens for religion and humankind.  It happens that there is a new column from the God Squad rabbi about such things.  Someone wrote to ask Rabbi Gellman what the implications of the possible discovery of thousands of “goldilocks”, aka “good for carbon life”, planets has for religion.  What do the major religions say about aliens and would this compromise the supposed status of human beings as a god’s “chosen people”? (the person supposedly asking the question said “Cinderella” not “goldilocks”.  I suppose they have bad stepsisters?)

The rabbi starts with claiming that if there are other conscious beings that can rise to “comtemplate God”, God loves them too.  Gellman states that there is no “biblical” reason to think that being made in the image of God is limited to only humans.  There is a problem with stating that since Jews, Christians, etc, can’t agree on what the “image of God” means.  Some are quite certain that their god is of a certain sex, has a set of gluteous maximi, and that humans are made to look just like him.  Others are sure that the “image of God” has nothing to do with actual physical characteristics but we are mentally or spiritually like this god.  In either case, those of us who have read science fiction know that we can postulate all sorts of aliens that have different mores, gods and lack of gods.  Indeed, just watch some Star Trek: The Original Series, to see how just one milieu dealt with aliens and gods.

The rabbi then states a rather curious thing that in the very first sentence of the bible there “might” be evidence that this god of his has created life elsewhere.  This depends on the usual theist claim that things might not be interpreted “correctly”.  Most everyone is familiar with the first sentence of the bible “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  We got to hear it a lot on the popular media this December since those words were read when the first humans orbited Luna back in 1968.  The words aren’t quite as enthralling when one translates them as Gellman say is the “correct” way.  “In the beginning of God’s creating this heaven and this earth…”  The closest I can find to this particular translation is in Young’s Literal translation “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth “ (which also has God “fluttering” around). One can guarantee that other theists will have some problem with Gellman’s claim.   We also have no more word on what other religion say about aliens, just what you would expect from religions that were from cultures that didn’t even think about such things because they were sure the stars were just points of light on a dome. Again we see that for a supposedly clear and magical book that reveals truths, it is anything but.

Gellman does bring up an interesting idea.  Is consciousness required for having some kind of spirituality?  And if a being is conscious (the definition of this is still debated), has this consciousness led aliens to “conceptualize a God [sic] in which they believe.” One can immediately see that the rabbi is still sure that monotheism is correct though he has no evidence of such a thing.  However, this idea that consciousness gives rise to an idea of a god is nothing new and definitely doesn’t mean that gods are real.  If consciousness allows one to “conceptualize” e.g. form an idea about something, it does not support that gods are actual beings.  It could simply be a side effect of intelligence, the debated tendency of humans to see agency behind everything or the need for humans to be credulous at least as children so they obey authority and don’t get eaten by tigers.   God, and the supernatural, can be, and indeed seem to be, completely human ideas with no more reality to them than the idea of Russell’s Teapot which can be imagined but does not have to actually exist.

The rabbi wonders “would they have independently evolved a moral code like ours or would they have grown into a people with no freedom, justice or love?”  Well, if one assumes it’s a god like the rabbi believes in, there is no reason to think that there would be a different code, considering that the rabbi must believe that his god interferes with humans constantly if he agrees with his bible and that this god is some constant.  Of course, there could be a god that is just toying with mortals, but that’s not God.

Unsurprisingly, the rabbi appears to use an old theist bit of nonsense, the assumption that no one can have “freedom, justice or love” without his god. But, he appear to try to give a sop to those of us without gods.   He is sure that “do unto others as you would have done unto you” is a “universal moral truth accessible through both reason and revelation”.  So, we have that the rabbi admits that one does not need his god at all for morality.  I rather doubt he intended this, but there you have it.

Of course, he backpedals furiously from this claim that human (or alien) reason can lead to a morality in the very next paragraph. He asks whether “Could another species of intelligent life violate rational and religious moral truth in their speculations?”  He is sure that they could not.  And why is he sure?  Because Judeo-Christian God simply must exist and thus “do unto others” must be from this god.  Yes, it’s that silly, and again shows how Sophisticated Theologianstm are no more gifted in reasoning than your average one.  We first have an admission that one does not need a god to teach morals, but then we have that only this god of Gellman’s can teach morals.  Sigh.  We also get a de rigeur invocation of Nelson Mandela and Dr. King of how this universe “arcs toward freedom”.  Alas, no one got the memo until humans decided that slavery was wrong. There was no voice from on high that ever declared this, certainly not the Judeo-Christian god.

Finally, Gellman decides that it is possible for us to be the only ones that this god gave “both physical and spiritual grace”.  Now, that does scare me but doesn’t surprise me at all.  If we can decide that aliens haven’t been given this “grace” then we can decide that they aren’t worthy (see Curse of Ham to see how myths are used to justify nonsense in all sorts of odd ways. Also take a look at how things can change with other claims that are still around: Annio da Viterbo).  If they can be declared to be soulless monsters, isn’t it easy to decide that we can do with them what we want?

It seems that again we have another very good reason to eliminate the ignorance and arrogance that most, if not all, religions are based on.  Of course, we do have to hope that the aliens have done the same thing…

Klaatu Barada Nikto!

What the Boss Likes – One of the “newer” songs….. with Lawrence Welk

Hello!  Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it.  Axial tilt is the reason for this season!

A gift for all of you. Lawrence Welk and a couple of his very white singers doing…

One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus

Knowing how backstage folks are always rather counter-culture (props to stage crew!) , I can just imagine them snickering about how these very white, very TrueChristian people have no idea what toking is.

Those of you of a “certain age”, and who have watched “The Muppet Show” will recognize Wayne and Wanda

And Dr. Teeth with human sacrifice

From the Back Room – John Palmer’s Elevenses, aka hobbit beer aka boggie slobber

elevensesFinally, we have a new beer brewed by us. This is Northern Brewer’s Elevenses, a recipe that they co-created with John Palmer, evidently a well-known homebrewer, but you couldn’t prove it by me.  In that both my husband and I spend inordinate amounts of time imagining what our sword and sorcery characters eat and drink, of course we had to make this.

We used the partial mash version rather than the all-grain version, but the partial mash has all of just over 3 pounds of malt syrup and the rest is grain. So, in that, it’s a great way to get your courage up to start brewing all-grain recipes.  One thing you will need is one very large sieve (VLS) or a large colander to drain the boiled grains.  I got my VLS at a second hand shop.   Another piece of equipment that you should have is a hydrometer to determine the amount of alcohol in the ale.  I broke mine into about a bazillion tiny pieces and thus have no idea what the ABV of this is.  It’s designed to be a session beer so it’s likely around 4.5 or 5%.

One other thing that we did that may be a bit unusual: I toasted the oats as recommended but I did it in the microwave, 15 seconds at a time and stirring, until I got the color and aroma I wanted.

The ale is described as a brown ale.  The head is light brown and settles to a skim after about 20 minutes.  The ale a dark brown more toward a porter in my opinion.  It looks like a mug of cola when the head dies down.  The smoke flavor from the oak smoked wheat malt is a little too strong for my absolute pleasure but it’s not undrinkable like  I consider rauchbier to be.  I just like my smoke in my pipe and in my fish not in my drink.  🙂    This is lightly hopped, only three-quarters of an ounce of German hops.   Incidentally, we used the Wyeast Thames Valley Ale option.  No reasons except that I like the smack packs puffing up.

We’re thinking of making this again but with some tweaks.  My ideal ale for a bunch of hobbits would be a little less smoky and a little more full in mouthfeel.  To achieve this, I think backing off the oak smoked malt and adding more flaked oats.  This ale does need a decent amount of time in the bottle, at least a month, to fully come together.

As an explanation of what “boggie slobber” has to do with this ale, some of you may be familiar with Lord of The Rings.  Some fewer of you may be familiar with the parody Bored of the Rings (beware, it’s a TV Tropes link and I’m not responsible for the hours you may lose), by the folks at the Harvard Lampoon back in the late 60s (these folks became the National Lampoon later).  This is a hilarious, utterly filthy parody that I first stumbled upon in college at a book sale.  Thanks to that sale, I have an original copy complete with rather psychedelic cover.  I’ve rarely laughed so hard over a book.

It is dated, with references even I had to research, and I know loads of useless trivia.  It can be a little like listening to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”  if you were born after 1990.  Tom Bombadil becomes Tim Benzedrine, to give you an idea of just how bizarre this book is.   You can read a little of it here on Amazon thanks to their “look inside” feature.  If you get easily offended and will get in a snit as a LOTR purist, don’t read it.

That’s it. Drink well!

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – those who doubt gods should seek answers… whoa, only the ones Billy approves of!

Knowing-how-to-thinkI was going to do a blog post about the myth of the “war on Christmas” that is so popular this time of year.  However, it’s just low hanging fruit, since one can see that there is anything but a dearth of Christmas celebration and awareness in December.  On my way home to visit my parents this past week, I was inundated by Christian radio stations, and wondered how many there are in the US.  One source, christianradiolist.com, has 1420 stations listed.  Other lists have fewer but they seem to only consider those who agree with them as TrueChristian radio stations, not surprising at all.

So rather than yet again point out how silly the “war on Christmas” claim is, I thought I’d address another one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s newspaper columns.   This one amused me because the title that accompanied it was “Those who doubt God should seek answers.”

The column starts out with the usual letter of inquiry. Today it was from a freshman college student who has doubts about the religion that they were raised in. Z.B wants to know how to tell their parents that they don’t go to church anymore.

You may already see where this is going.  Oh the horrors of a college education where you’ll be taught to question things you’ve been told are true!

“Billy” is right, college is a place where you encounter questions you’ve never thought about even asking.  Any place beyond where you grew up, college, military service, travel, volunteering, is a place where you encounter such questions, when you meet people who are different than you and where you meet authority figures beyond your parents, your grade school and high school teachers and in a theist’s case, your pastor/priest.  A student suddenly realizes that they aren’t the center of the world and that their beliefs aren’t held by everyone.

When I went to college, my first college was a women-only college (it has since changed).  For the first time, I had the chance to talk to people who had skin darker than me.  My friends were Jewish, Christian, Wicca, and Muslim.  And that was an eye-opening experience for a gal from very very rural, very very white and very very Protestant western Pennsylvania.  (yes, I was 18 before I talked to an African American person… sigh).

Billy wants to chalk up this doubt to social pressure and homesickness.  It’s those bad “other” people who are at fault and it is simply a weakness to doubt what you’ve been told.  Billy asks Z.B: “What are you doing with your doubts? Are you seeking answers to them or are you content to let them take root in your mind and soul?”   Continue reading “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – those who doubt gods should seek answers… whoa, only the ones Billy approves of!”

What the Boss Likes – It’s beginning to look a lot like fish men

Yes, this has been around the ‘net for years.  But I still love a holiday song about the monsters of H.P.  Lovecraft.

You can read the story this song references, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”,  here.

Awesome parody of Bohemian Rhapsody here on Greta Christina’s blog.  (Correction: audio link to awesome song here.  Warning, autoplay)

And Invader Zim’s rather insane Christmas special. The clip is of the Santa song but I’m sure you can find the entire episode in parts on youtube.

What the Boss Likes – Mob City, and a few movies

In the last month or so, I’ve had a chance to watch a few things that I have found worth the time.

The sequel to the first Thor movie, Thor: The Dark World was a lot of fun.  The plot was simple but it gave a lot of chance for interpersonal interactions.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the man was born to play the part.  I’ve read Marvel comics from the mid 70s until the mid 90s and was first introduced to them by a comic, Spider-man and Nightcrawler vs. Jigsaw, that my aunts got my brother (who never read it) and then the Marvel compilations in my school library.  I picked up the “Art of” book for the movie since I do love the Asgardian costuming in it.

A man with his own code, a woman dangerous and in danger, plus those willing to prey and profit on every weakness of mankind.   Yep, it’s noir and TNT’s new limited series “Mob City” (website launches video of first episode, and sound automatically, annoying but it does play an awesome torch song) delivers the goods.  Set in 1947 Los Angeles, this is a lovely period piece full of details. There are gorgeous suits, hats, dresses and cars. We get to see two clubs, the Clover Club for the upper crust and Bunny’s Jungle Club for everyone else, including our protagonist, Joe Teague.  Teague is a cop, a good cop, but one who’s halo has more than a few dents, not to mention the tarnish.  Bugsy Siegel is the high-level gangster du jour and Mickey Cohen is the gangster that runs LA.   Simon Pegg (yes, the fellow from Shaun of the Dead and Paul) plays an amazingly well done American comedian.

Please do watch it if you like dieselpunk and a good story of a black and white man in a gray world.

Another movie with noir in its DNA is Dark City, a very stylish and odd movie.  It did “this world isn’t real” before the Matrix did in 1999, beating it by a year.  It has Rufus Sewell as the hero, and he also made a great villain in one of my very favorite movies, A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger.

Last movie to be reviewed is Rango, an animated movie with Johnny Depp as a chameleon who becomes a western hero.  I have no idea what the audience for this movie is other than….my husband and I.  You have to know a lot about westerns, some about Hunter S. Thompson, and enjoy wonderful animation to really get this movie.  It’s really great and really strange.

That’s all.  Back soon!

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Having “faith” that atheists don’t really exist

image source: atheistmemebase.com and freethunk.net
image source: atheistmemebase.com and freethunk.net

Recently, and indeed many times before that, I’ve encountered Christians using this argument that since “everyone” has faith, then there can’t be atheists, and therefore, leap of logic, their god exists.  The biggest problem with this argument is that the idea of having faith in something, in the classic “belief in things unseen” sense, still doesn’t mean that atheists have “faith” in gods or, of course, that gods exist.  Though it’s not very common in my experience, some may have faith in aliens, fairies, astrology, alchemy, etc.  “Faith” isn’t interchangeable, and faith in anything that seems squiffy can always be contested by requests for evidence, for gods, for fairies, for the planets controlling one’s actions, etc.   Even for this Aries with Capricorn rising atheist, the facts don’t stand up, no matter how much I might wish they did.  🙂

It seems this insistence of atheist “faith” is part of the desire of theists to pretend that atheists don’t exist.  The existence of atheists poses a problem for theism. If we do lack belief in these gods, then these gods are not as advertized. The claims of the “obvious” creator of the universe are severely weakened.  To attempt to negate the problem, some theists feel they must claim that we are just like them so we don’t “really” disbelieve in their nonsense (just Google “atheists know god exists” for a great display of this).

To add to the above “biggest problem”, we have the claims that the theist knows that atheists “really” believe, and this does make theists seem to be claiming that they can read minds, which is a nifty trick.  Unsurprisingly, atheists supposedly believe in the god that the theist does in the way that the theist does. This is despite repeatedly stating that they, the atheists, do not believe in god/s in any form, no matter a friendly god or a god of fire and destruction.

This of course depends on insisting that the atheist doesn’t know what they *actually* think.  We are simply ignorant simpletons who can’t even think “correctly” and who don’t realize that the particular deity/force in question is right in front of them. Or, we are too “rebellious” to acknowledge it.  It can’t be that atheists are concerned with evidence; we must be accepting what others tell us to come to the conclusions we have or we supposed ignore evidence though none has yet been found.  Of course, the theist cannot show that their god is indeed the one that really exists.  Out of the thousands of gods/forces that religions claim, so many theists are sure that the atheist knows, but rejects, theirs.  If one goes with the “rebellious” idea, just how rebellious are each of these theists against those other religions?

The reasons that these theists assume they know atheists have to believe in their god, at least Christians and Muslims?  Well, their supposed holy books say that “everyone” knows about the god in question by just looking around, that no one has any excuse not to believe in the god.  We have the Christians making the claim in Romans 1.  Islam makes the same silly and baseless claim, that everyone knows that Allah exists, so no excuses, eh? (before birth, in sura 7, I believe.)  There is a problem with assuming these claims are true and aren’t just propaganda.  These are books that are full of errors, contradictions, etc. Each theist interprets what they want their god to “really” mean, and ignores what they find as ridiculous.  Also, we’ve seen competing claims of existence that no one can support.  There is no more reason to accept that the Christian god is the only one than there is to accept Allah  or Tezcatlipoca for that matter.

In my opinion, this set of claims is from a herd mentality that insists that everyone belongs to the herd so they may increase their appeals to popularity e.g. look everyone really believes like we do, so we *must* be right!  (see logical fallacy: appeal to popularity aka ad populum)

In a similar vein, some theists claim that their god doesn’t believe in atheists.  I’ve never been quite sure what they think this means or why they think atheists would care, though it strikes me as simply a childish response from someone with nothing else to say, “well I don’t like you either.”  If we go by the supposed holy books of many of these religions, it seems that these gods do know that not all people will believe in them.  Since people do exist, and I’m a person who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, this seems to indicate that these gods do believe in atheists.

The only other meanings seem to be from the universalist  theist: one type who  is sure that their god will make everyone believe, after a finite period of “punishment”, and that all will come to accept this god; and the other that this god doesn’t need belief in it but will accept anyone who is honest decent, etc when they are dead. The basic problem with all of this is that we have no evidence any god exists, so its belief in me is a moot point without that evidence.

Finally, we come to a common claim that atheists must believe in their god/force *because* we say that faith/religion is wrong.  In effect, if we actually didn’t believe, we’d not argue against the idea.  This makes no sense, and it doesn’t take long to show why.  I can argue against an idea of a god that exists, that judges, that punishes and rewards, and no actual gods need exist. This would be similar to theists who argue that other religions are wrong.  Do they need to believe in those gods/religions to argue against them?  If so, then so much for the religions’ claim that their gods are unique and the sole entity.

We have a series of assumptions, all of which are baseless until any evidence is presented. All seem to be attempts at denying the reality of my, and others, existence.   It also seems to miss the point that I could have faith in fairies, and that still would not mean that any gods exist.  Faith in any god/s doesn’t make apples fall or uranium decay.  One can trust that such things will continue to happen as long as physical laws remain in place.  It’s quite a few billion years and they don’t seem likely to change anytime soon (yes, there are some hypotheses that they were different in the very very early universe. That ain’t now.)

If a theist would like to compare faith, e.g. trust in something, we can have a competition. Two altars, both the same. The theist can have faith that their god will light the altar; I’ll take gasoline and a match since the scientific method has given me reason to trust that they will go up with a highly exothermic woosh.

Or even powdered creamer and a flare:

Science tells you about dust explosions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_explosion

From the Bar – Five new wines

wee chicken!
wee chicken!

For Thanksgiving, we did a couple of Cornish hens, aka little chickens.  They came out nicely, roasted for nearly two hours at 375.  Nothing special with them, just stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and my husband’s favorite cranberry orange sauce (recipes for the last here).

This weekend we made my husband’s fabulous seafood chowder.  Along with that, we had a few bottles of wine.   Yes, it’s a lot.  Just drink the same amount of water as you are of wine and most of the hangover effects will be eliminated.  🙂  Not all though….sigh.

Calling All Angels Chardonnay (2012)from Save Me, San Francisco winery. This is the winery by the band Train and their products are all titled from their songs.  I don’t know much about music but I do like some of their songs. We got this bottle because I liked the label (something that happens often). This is a very nice chardonnay, not too vanilla-y by being overoaked.  The wine reminds me of a chardonnay that we had years ago when we were first getting used to wines, the 1996 Meridian Chardonnay that was well reviewed back then.  It has a lot of pineapple notes to it.

Apothic Red and Apothic White – I really love these wines. They are very much from human hands, not just what nature gave.  Them both being blends doesn’t hurt either.  They are intentionally blended, intentionally adjusted and it gives a very stable product.  The red is a lush berry stoked blend. The white is slightly sweet and the moscato in the blend gives it a honey aroma.  A very nice way to be introduced to the idea of moscato without being brained by the sweetness that usually accompanies it.

Wine for Dummies Chardonnay –  This is actually pretty darn good. It’s a basic chardonnay, neither too fruity or too oaked.  I think that this serves exactly as it should, an introduction into varietals for those folks who don’t know where to start.

St. James Winery Cherry Wine – Oh my, this is sweeeeeet!  Far too sweet for  my palate anymore, so it got mixed with some cheap cabernet sauvignon.   For my money, if you want a good cherry wine that won’t give you a cavity just looking at it, get Nissley Wine’s  Montmorency Cherry Wine.  It’s a semi-dry wine and is perfect with chocolate.

muffinAnd last, an obligatory cat photo.  This is Muffin, our little terror, being caught in a rather silly position. I suspect she wishes those eyes were lasers…..