Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Truth (in comic form)

My career in online gaming started back in 1988, playing some text-based precursor to StarCraft on a local BBS. My gaming adventures eventually wound through games like NHL '95 PVP over modems, Diablo2 on, Counterstrike, up to World Of Warcraft (all PC games, of course - as a true nerd, I don't do consoles).
Having such a lengthy history of online gaming is one of the main reasons I found this comic at the Oatmeal so compelling (click to see the whole thing):

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Compassionate Conservatism, Example # 1,232,847

President Obama to gay victims of bullying: "It gets better."

Family Research Council to those same kids: "No, it doesn't, you goddamned queers!"

Is it any wonder that North American youths are leaving Christianity in droves?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beer, the "natural health product"

Canada, being a weird conglomeration of liberal and conservative ideals, has a lot of restrictions on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. That same conflicting set of ideals also has led to a relatively unfettered "health product and supplements" industry.

In my year and a half of brewing beer, I've had a number of people implore me to start selling my homebrew. In an admittedly cursory look into the type of licensing I'd require to begin selling my homemade suds, I've noticed that it looks like a very large and extremely pricey endeavor to obtain permission to produce and sell alcoholic products here in Canada.

Then I noticed this expired can of energy drink that was gifted to me about two months ago, which wound up being left sitting behind the speakers at my desk. Its label claims that it contains taurine, and is a "natural health product".

I hate energy drinks. They are basically over-priced sugar water with the extract of some obscure root or leaf that's supposed to either keep you awake, give you some kind of dexterity bonus, or polymorph your penis into the same shape as a tiger's genitals. Most of the herbs are pretty much benign, and of course offer no real effects other than placebo. However, labeling these drinks (not to mention a host of other herbal medicines and remedies, beyond mere sugary beverages) as "natural health products" essentially frees the manufacturer from much responsibility, especially when it comes to efficacy claims and performing tests on the product.

In Canada, natural health products are a relatively unregulated market, especially when compared to pharmaceuticals and alcohol brewing. Although there is a lot of noise coming from the alternative health industry that Bill C-36, passed in 2010, allowed the government to regulate the natural products and supplements industry a lot closer.

Typically, "health product" claims are fairly nebulous, as most snake oil salespeople always want to avoid assigning any quantifiable and testable quality to their creation that could be used against them, especially in court of law.

So here's what I'm thinking: Add ginseng, willow bark, dandelion leaves, or some other herb or additive that won't affect flavour or color to my beer, and begin marketing it as a natural health drink. Maybe I can get all the altie health nuts to join me in my crusade against government regulation of my health drink. After all, it's no more than steeped grain and herbs, infused with yeast and left to age for a month before bottling. What could be more natural than that?

Dandy Lion Pale Ale, anyone? Harnessing the twin powers of yeast and dandelions, it has been anecdotally proven to provide energy, improve joviality, maximize well-being, and has been noted to increase sexual attractiveness. Warning: consuming large quantities of this product can lead to loss of balance and social skills, vomiting and memory vacuums.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The response to every theist I've ever met

It seems like any lengthy discussion about I have with a religious person about Christianity and the Bible always contains some comment along the lines of "things are worse now than they've ever been, which is what the Bible predicted for the end times."

Thanks to SMBC, I have a much more succinct rejoinder than my usual response:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trolling for fanbois

A buddy of mine linked to this picture entitled "How to inspire Nerd Rage":

Infuriating, ain't it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Know Thine Enemy

I'm sure it doesn't come to any surprise for anybody that knows me or has browsed this blog, but I tend to have a fair amount of discussions about religion, both online and in real life.

In meatspace, I've been having some casual discussions with a couple of Mormons, I have some religious coworkers that occasionally spark a conversation, and my wife has regular weekly visits from Jehovah's Witnesses.

One very common theme that seems to run through these discussions is that most proselytizers don't seem to have much first-hand experience attempting to convert atheists.

The most recent, and I think humourous, example was last week when the Witnesses came by to deliver their latest magazines for my wife. One of the ladies came up to the house, and her husband, waiting at the end of my driveway with a couple of his fellow religionists in his car, beckoned me to come over and talk.

After the typical pleasantries, he told me that he had a scripture that he wanted to share with me that he felt would be applicable to my "situation", since I am an atheist and don't believe in God. I've had lots of scripture thrown at me over the years, and although I was curious to see what valuable pearl of wisdom this gentleman had pulled out of the hot mess that is the Bible, I was a little confused by his selection.

He proceeded to read out James 2:19 (New World Translation), "You believe there is one God, do you? You are doing quite well. And yet the demons believe and shudder." I don't think that my facial reaction to this revelation was quite what he was expecting, so he followed up the scripture reading by commenting, "So this scripture show us that since the demons believe in God, don't you think it's reasonable that you should as well?"

I paused for a short second before I replied, "Well, no. Not really. I mean, I don't believe in the existence of demons." His friend in the back seat looked at me quizzically and commented, "Did you just say you don't believe in demons? What about angels?"

I replied, "Nope. I also don't believe in ghosts, leprechauns, and the tooth fairy."

The discussion then evolved into a short two-minute discussion on the nature of spirits and why I dismissed the existence of the spiritual, before the driver's wife returned and they had to leave to go drop off more magazines. So we said goodbye, and, as the vehicle pulled away, I couldn't help but grin widely as I returned to my deck to relax in the summer sun.

I have to admit, I found it amusing that they were so surprised that an atheist wouldn't believe in demons. Granted, atheism is not a monolithic block of beliefs, and there certainly are atheists that believe in spirits, reincarnation, and lots of other (what most skeptics would consider) ridiculous phenomenon. However, you'd think it would be a good idea to learn something about your target when you're trying to evangelize. I know I certainly wouldn't try to convince a Jehovah's Witness that their religion is incorrect by performing a thorough and blistering critique of transubstantiation.

But then, what do I know? I'm just an atheist.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Behind the Black Horizon

My family experienced its third death in just over the last two months just over two weeks ago. The string of unfortunate circumstances (which should qualify as the pathetic understatement of 2011) started with my grandfather (on my father's side) passing away from natural causes at the end of May. Two weeks later, a cousin on my mother's side committed suicide. Fifteen days ago, the husband of one of my mother's sisters passed away from a heart attack in his sleep.

Three funerals in nine weeks has pushed me to post on what death means to me, an atheist.

What is death? Quite simply, death is the permanent interruption of the chemical process that we recognize as "life". Essentially, death is a part of existence on this planet of ours. We might be able to use medical and other technologies to lengthen our life spans and delay death, but it is an inevitability for each and every human. Large amounts of resources are dedicated to research into figuring out if technology will allow us to live forever, but I'm not so certain that eternal existence wouldn't be as much of a curse as a blessing.

So what do I think happens after we die? I haven't encountered any good evidence that leads me to believe in life after death. Consciousness is brought about by the electrical impulses of our nervous system, which is fed by a series of chemical reactions, which is in turn fueled by the food we take in. Any breakdown of that chain of reactions means the brain will cease functioning and die. I see no possible means by which those electrical impulses that form our personalities can survive outside of the device (our bodies) that houses them. I had no experiences from before my brain formed and began functioning, and I expect to return to that state of nonexistence after my body dies and decomposes.

I've been told by some people that this seems like such a bleak outlook, and that the idea of heaven (or reincarnation, the "New System", or becoming a part of the universe's "life force", etc) or any other type of afterlife in which they are reunited with their loved ones gives them the strength to go on in the face of such loss. At best, this seems like wishful thinking to me, and at worst, I find that it strips life of much of its meaning.

The idea that this life is nothing more than a precursor to an eternity of pleasure seems to childish way to deal with pain and suffering. I'm surrounded by religious family members that seem to dwell constantly on how terrible life is, and instead of working to improve their lives (or the lives of those around them), they are almost obsessed with how awesome it will be to die and find themselves in Paradise, or they express their sincere hope that Jesus will return and they'll never have to feel the sting of death at all. This even goes so far that one family member won't offer any ideas on what he'd like to have done at his funeral, because he's convinced he is never going to need one.

To me, that is a bleak outlook on life. The idea that the pleasures of this short life we live will pale to the perfect life we'll be blessed with after we die cheapens the entire experience we have on our little planet. For an analogy, imagine, if you will, that you spend hours toiling to make enough money to purchase or craft a thoughtful gift that you hope a loved one will appreciate very much. When the time comes to deliver the package, you are practically tingling with excitement as you hand them their gaily wrapped present. As they tear the wrappings off half-heartedly, you hope to see their faces light up with joy at that item you've worked so hard to obtain for them. Instead, your loved one looks at the object, then at you, then back to the gift. They shrug their shoulders and say, "Not bad, but Uncle Gerry is going to give me a much better one next year. See how flimsy this is, and notice how the paint doesn't match up here? The one I'll get later is going to be so much more perfect than this piece of thing." Yet when people talk of how wonderful the afterlife is going to be, this is what I think of.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that life is certainly far from ideal, and we in North America have it better than most humans have ever had life, but to gloss over the best that life has to offer in order to focus on the blemishes and spend most of your life wishing for perfection seems like such a waste.

So, if I don't hold to the fantasy that I'll ever see my friends or family again, how do I deal with it when my loved ones die? Quite simply, I recognize what it means when somebody passes away: I will never see them again. Hopefully, I have many cherished memories of that person, and some lessons in life that they've taught me, making my life that much richer for having known them. Those thoughts will help to carry me through the pain of losing a person I cared for.

Again, an analogy: a while back I did a bunch of work, toiling for a couple of hours to make some money, for which I had plans. Unfortunately, shortly after I received that money, it fell out of my pocket and I was unable to recover it. I didn't start fantasizing that once I died, I'd be rewarded with great riches in order to make myself feel better for losing that money. Instead, I merely resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be able to fulfill my plans that I'd had for that money, and instead found other ways to compensate for the loss.

Death is loss, albeit on a much more intense level. Losing a small amount of money is disappointing, while losing a loved one can be crushing. It is terrible to have to lose someone you care deeply about, but I find that the pain in feeling that loss is also a bit of a comfort, because the intensity of the sense of loss is an indicator of just how valuable that person was.

The worst part about the death of a loved one is that the universe continues to coldly unravel, regardless of the losses we humans encounter here on our rocky outpost called Earth. The whole planet does not grind to a halt to mourn for anyone. But for me, death serves as a reminder and the impetus to cherish and strengthen those relationships with family and friends that I do have.

Now, please excuse me, but I have to go call my Mom to see how she'd doing and tell her I love her.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Photographic awesomeness

I just saw this shared on Weird Al's Twitter account (note: I don't actually follow Twitter, I just saw a link and had to click on it):

How awesome is that? Weird Al, John "Bermuda" Schwartz, Tim Minchin, Garfunkel & Oates, and Bo Burnham all together in one room - and they're all undead!