Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: fun (page 1 of 7)

Free de-baptisms

It was Orientation Day at UWA. Clubs (like the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society) set up booths and attract members. So do churches.

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It’s not my idea. I think I saw it here first.

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Where did I say that? Oh, yes: here. Why are atheists so rude?

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Chat with JW’s: Why the atonement is incoherent.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before: I always engage with street evangelists. If they’re putting their ideas out there in public, those ideas are fair game for discussion and ruthless examination.

Here’s a discussion I had with a Witness of Jehovah. It went pretty much exactly like this. Feel free to use and adapt.

There are loads of problems here. Human evolution and human civilisation go back way farther than 6,000 years. But it’s a mistake to get bogged down here. Keep it moving.

Sin is a problem of God’s own making. He decided that he couldn’t stand some things. Then, having created the problem of sin, he decided to blame humans for the problem that he created.

Another problem: Jesus came back to life. You don’t get the ransom back! How is that a sacrifice?

Yet another problem: If God wanted a sacrifice, then he got one; he should be satisfied, and the process should be over. But it’s not; God expects us to believe in him. When someone pays a ransom, the kidnapper doesn’t then require the parents to ‘believe’ in him.

This is problem of its own; isn’t justice simply what God says is just? in which case he could do anything, and then declare his actions just by fiat. On the other hand, if there’s some external principle of justice that even God has to obey, then he must be subordinate to some principle. Then why worship God at all? Why not skip the middleman, and worship the principle instead, since it’s higher than God is?

This is a dodge to terminate the thought process. You could say any wild thing, and then refuse to defend it on the grounds that humans can’t understand it.

And again, why did God decide to make a solution that makes no sense? If humans need to believe this to be saved, then it needs to make sense to humans.

I think we can understand it. God is a bloodthirsty maniac whose ultimate idea of compassion is a human sacrifice. And he’s that way because he was imagined up by bloodthirsty people. That’s not hard to understand.

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Thanks for stopping by! If you like this cartoon, I got more.

I swam naked… and survived! Reflections on skinny dipping

Today I got naked with 800 people and jumped into the ocean. It was an attempt at the world’s biggest skinny dip at Perth’s Swanbourne Beach.

You may not know this, reader, but at one time I was a rather enthusiastic nude beach goer. In my Mormon days, no less. Even though I normally wore the g’s, I loved the opportunity to throw off the constraints of clothing and swim freely with nothing on.

The first time I went to a nude beach was in Barcelona in 2004. I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was people, doing people things. Some old, some young. Gay couples cuddled, a professor-looking type strode au natural across the sand. But the thing that stood out most to me was a young couple kissing. He drew a modest towel around himself, and he and she kissed like boys and girls have kissed on that same Spanish beach for millennia. I was seeing something primal and human. I was watching Orpheus and Euridice. The eternal dance.

I’ve had that kind of experience at nude beaches several times. Once on a stroll, I saw a nude man and woman, and as I got closer, I saw their baby was with them. The human family. Somehow the lack of clothing made the moment transcendant.

Then I would go back to church, with their conventional views on ‘modesty’ and ‘morality’, and I’d think, What a small worldview. This world is so much more than they can imagine. It was one more thing that got me thinking, and put some mental distance between me and the church.

The people at Swanbourne Beach are not much of a draw really — lots of dudes, some younger couples (shy female, won’t undress), and gangs of leathery 60-somethings sitting around talking, being entirely too comfortable around each other. But that’s okay; I don’t care how people look. There’s something about getting nude in public that’s very come-as-you-are. Everyone looks fine to me. Which was the message of the Skinny Dip: everyone’s body is fine. Proceeds are even going to the Butterfly Foundation, which raises awareness about body image.

So this was a good chance to get back to the dear old Swanny. Oldest Boy (now 19) opted not to come along because a) Dad naked, and b) there might be too much penis for his liking. He’s quite right; these things do tend to get rather penisy.

I wondered what the headline in the West would be: perhaps Naked Skinny-Dip for Charity: 800 Nudists Hit Swanbourne for World Record Attempt. I actually ran into some friends at the event, and we chatted in our sarongs, provided by the organisers. It was a cold grey morning, but no one seemed to mind.

But when we all got to the water and got our gear off, there was a plot twist: choppy seas and huge waves. A horn sounded, and in we went, the front line getting battered by walls of water. Now the headline was Terror Dip: Sexy Swim Becomes Desperate Race for Survival as 3-Meter Waves Pound Shore. It was such a struggle to get into the water that I could hardly concentrate on the boobs. The trick to avoiding waves is to get out past them, but the 600 or so people who made it that far found themselves on a roiling roller-coaster that was quite worrying, but actually really fun. Good thing the Surf Life Savers were out there on their jet skis, watching everyone like hawks.

Did we make the world record? No, for that to happen we’d all have to be in the water for 5 minutes, and about 100 people looked at those waves and said NOPE. I don’t blame them, especially if they didn’t feel they were strong swimmers. That stuff was dangerous. I was dumped by a serious wave on the way in and lost my hat, but hats can be replaced. It was still fun, and I’d do it again next year.

Letterpress: Great new iOS word game

If you’re hooked on Words with Friends, there’s a new game in town: Letterpress. It’s the best new word game I’ve seen in a long while, and it’s got me hooked.

It’s a word game with elements of strategy, sort of like Scrabble plus Go. No, wait, it’s Boggle plus Risk. Perhaps Upwords plus Ataxx? Actually, the best description would be Boggle plus Reversi. You have to build words from the letters on the board, but when you use a letter, you claim it as your territory and it turns your colour. You win if the most letters are your colour when all the letters have been used.

Your opponent can change your letters to their colour by using them on their turn, but if you manage to completely surround a letter with other letters of your colour, it’ll turn a darker shade of your colour.

Not looking good for red.

That means it’s protected — your opponent can use it, but not flip it. So you have a number of things to do in every turn: make the longest words possible, defend your protected letters, and mount attacks on those of your opponent. And since words can’t be replayed, you’ll be burning through your vocabulary fast.

Strategy
As in Reversi, the endgame is really important, and there’s a huge advantage for the last player. So part of your strategy will be to watch which letters are left, and make sure your opponent can’t use them all on one massive final word. (Typical scenario: Q, J, and W.) In the most intense games, my opponents and I have had to circle each other, setting up territories and picking off each other’s letters in an ever-diminishing list of available words, until one of us has a healthy bank of protected letters. Then you start knocking off the unused ones when you’re certain that your opponent can’t get enough letters to win, even if they do go out.

Another strategy could be termed the ‘Samsung strategy’: take whatever word your opponent makes, adapt it slightly, and then play it. They played SIFTING? Try (ahem) FISTING. They played THICKETS? Play THICKEST or THICKSET. Progress will be incremental and hard-won, but you’ll be draining your opponent of options if it comes to a game of attrition. And it does.

Improvements
You’re not allowed to use words that have already been played, or forms of that word. That prevents pointless tit-for-tat wars. The problem is that the game has a really strange idea about what constitutes a form (or, mistakenly, a ‘prefix’) of a word. If INCITEMENT is taken, it allows INCITEMENTS, even though it shouldn’t. However, when I played BLIT, it said that was a form of the already-played word BLITZ. It is so not.

Should it disallow only inflections like plural -S? What about -ING or UN-? It needs to be consistent.

There are other improvements that I hope will come in a future update. It needs a chat function. It needs a rematch button. It would also be nice if it could uncouple itself from Apple’s Game Center, which suffers from inexplicable errors and won’t let me start games with certain people.

Even with these problems, Letterpress is still a fantastic game that’s very worth trying out. There’s a free version; the paid version allows you more than two games and a change of colours.

So this is me calling y’all out on Letterpress. I will challenge all comers. I’m ‘fontor’ on the Game Centre. Come and get me if you think you can.

UPDATE: One mystery solved. Are you getting this error message when you invite friends to play?

“Unable to create match. Please try again later.”

It’s because your friend isn’t set up to accept game invitations. Tell your friend to enable them in Game Centre under the “View Account” setting. Now why couldn’t the Game Centre just say that? That’s a terribly unhelpful error dialog.

Tim Minchin’s Xmas song: Woody Allen Jesus

If you liked “White Wine in the Sun“, you’ll be sure to enjoy his new offering for the season: Woody Allen Jesus.

Sadly cut from the Jonathan Ross show, due to an unscheduled failure of courage from some contemptible executive.

Still a wonderful life

Last night I sat down with the boys and Miss Perfect, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. It may not be my favourite Christmas movie (that would be Brazil), but I find it lives up to its feel-good status.

And what’s not to feel good about? George Bailey is a heroic everyman who’s not out to gouge the people who borrow from him. Mr Potter is an old-school plutocrat.

Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!

Remember when wealthy “fat cat” bankers were villains in movies, instead of being held up as paragons of virtue and job creation? And when George is down and money goes missing from the bank, the 99% step in and save his building-and-loan from closure and him from arrest. Thanks goodness these themes are becoming relevant again.

For me, though, the peak is George’s new-found elation at being alive, his joy for life, even with its unmet ambitions and frustrations. Okay, so there’s a warning for religious themes (what the hell was Zuzu’s teacher thinking, telling schoolkids that?), but all that aside, it’s still worth a watch if you haven’t seen it for a few years.

Shape Type

The makers of Kerntype have made another typographic game: Shape Type.

When you’re making a font in a digital program like Fontographer, you spend a lot of time pulling the handles of Bézier control points around, trying to massage curves into a plausible letter shape. So can you drag the big pink circles to make a letter that looks good?

This one’s a bit harder than Kerntype — I managed an 86. Beat that, I dares ya.

I sort of like “The One”.

If you’re not in Australia, you may not have heard of “The One“. It’s a TV programme on Seven, which attempts to find Australia’s best psychic. This is sort of like trying to find Australia’s healthiest cadaver.

I’ve only seen one episode — the psychics try to divine the famous owners of sporting equipment, find a boy in an underground tunnel system (without going underground), and pick out the fake fencer out of a group of six.

Can we have them take the masks off? I’m having trouble cold-reading them.

At first, I was expecting to hate it. The fact that there’s an industry of charlatans (and a culture of people that believes them) drives me nuts. Also, it seems wrong that someone will win the title of “best psychic” even if they do no better than random chance, just by outlasting the other contestants. And it was painful to see all the contestants — deluded people (at best) convinced that they had Teh Powerz. But I ended up really enjoying it, and here’s why.

First off, there’s a “skeptical judge”, Richard Saunders, who keeps things on track. At first, I was worried that he was being played by the format, and lending credibility to the silly newage nonsense. And in fact, he does make noises about being sometimes “intrigued, but not convinced”. But there’s nothing wrong with staying open minded; that’s one of the things about being a skeptic. He certainly does a better job than I would. I’d be making catcalls and rolling my eyes. He’s much nicer than I am, and he explains random chance and probability, to the annoyance of the “gullible judge”. (She’s suitably woolly-headed.)

It’s also fun to watch the contestants make ad hoc justifications for each new failure. Will the psychic-believing viewers start to notice the constant dissembling? It seems unbelievable to me that someone at home wouldn’t become more skeptical after watching excuse after excuse, though that might be offset by seeing the occasional random hit.

The thing I’m most glad about, though: While the show does give a forum to psychics, it’s also promoting the idea that it’s good to test paranormal claims in a somewhat controlled way. Does “The One” do this ideally? Probably not, but I’m glad someone’s doing it at all. Even though it’s meant to promote psychics and the paranormal sub-culture, it inadvertently sets them up so they can fail publicly, again and again.

Prescriptivism with attitude

A graphic from Facebook. Honestly, some people get so touchy about correct usage.

Better do what they say, though. Looks like the writer of this has been driven to the brink by one too many “your”s. One more dropped apostrophe, and they might snap.

Terry Jones would “think twice” about satirising religion today

I’m always up for a bit of Monty Python, so I read this interview with Terry Jones with interest.

The Life Of Brian star says he never believed the 1979 comedy about Jesus would be as controversial as it was at the time. He certainly never expected people still to be discussing it now.

Jones, 69, says he and his fellow comics were able to make the film only because, at the time, religion “seemed to be on the back burner”.

He said: “I never thought it would be as controversial as it turned out, although I remember saying when we were writing it that some religious nutcase may take pot shots at us, and everyone replied, ‘No’.

“I took the view it wasn’t blasphemous,” he tells Radio Times. “At the time religion seemed to be on the back burner and it felt like kicking a dead donkey.” But he says: “It’s come back with a vengeance and we’d think twice about making it now.

It’s true that religion has come roaring back since the secular 70s, and we’re still feeling it now. But why would he think twice about making Life of Brian now? Python usually dealt out their surrealism with a light touch, but they certainly didn’t shy away from institutional targets. It wasn’t all kicking dead donkeys. (Usually it was dead parrots.) I hope it was an off-the-cuff remark.

Asked if he would make a satirical film about Muslims now, he replied, “Probably not – looking at Salman Rushdie. I suppose people would be frightened.”

I can’t tell you how disappointing I find this comment. I guess our heroes don’t stay young and argumentative forever. But it shows me that we really can slip backwards. Religions, more today than ever, take themselves too seriously, and try to claim for themselves a respect that’s way out of proportion to their truthfulness. The antidote is blasphemy and satire — the kind Monty Python was so good at. Thankfully, a new wave of skeptical satirists has arisen, and we can now enjoy Ricky Gervais, Tim Minchin, Sue Ann Post, Eddie Izzard, Julia Sweeney…

I’m missing people. Who’s on your list of funny atheists?

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