Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back on Dawkin's Ass

I want to pick on Richard Dawkins a bit more.  I don't feel a bit bad about hammering away at him time and time again because on one hand he fairly begs for the attention and on the other hand I have no quarrel with his actual scientific work, work he abandoned for his current crusade against religion.

In each of his books on religion, Dawkins justifies his crusade by saying over forty per-cent of Americans take the bible literally, and he takes this large number as a great threat because they spread their views on their children and they have, (he thinks) vast political power.

This idea that American Christians have vast political power is quite wide-spread.  You see it all over the English-speaking world, and even in the Muslim world (although they have quite a different view on it).  From reading Dawkins' books, one could get the idea there is a great pending threat coming from the Christians of the United States.

There are a number of points he omits though that I'd like to make quite clear.

First, this forty per-cent figure fluctuates wildly, and has for the last fifty years.  Asking people whether they take the bible literally covers quite a lot of ground, from the miracles of Jesus to the whale swallowing Jonah.  Whether these people believe in all these things or just some of them isn't covered in that forty per-cent figure.

Secondly, unlike Dawkins own country, the UK, the United States places a constitutional restriction on religion, preventing it from ever acquiring the power of the state.  This restriction has held strong despite its many challenges over the years, including most recently, the judge in Alabama who wanted to display the ten commandments in his court house, but was over-ruled by one of the most conservative supreme courts in decades and forced to remove them.

This separation of church and state is probably responsible for the growth of religion in the United States, which is also home to the greatest diversity in types of religion on the planet.  It fights for the concept of free thinking and free believing, which I posit is an even greater good than Dawkins' love for science.

Dawkins loves to point out that there are museums in the United States devoted to spreading the idea of creation as told in the book of Genesis as fact.  This is true, there are two larger ones and many very small ones.  I don't think Dawkins has ever visited these though or he'd know they're a rather pathetic joke.  He also fails to mention that the second largest creation museum (the one in Florida) was shut down when the owner went to jail for income tax evasion, leaving us with only the one in Kentucky to contend with.

In Dawkins' own country of the UK there are museums dedicated to garden gnomes, the Loch Ness Monster and the active practice of Druidism, but somehow he doesn't see these as an equal threat.

American Christians are politically active yes.  Dawkins sees this as a great threat to the world.  American Automobile Dealers are also politically active, as are American Diary Farmers, American Steel Workers, American Nut Growers and American Shopping Mall Owners.

Politically active American Christians have supported candidates who won (they nearly always support one or the other of the final two candidates) but they have never elected their own candidate.  Mit Romney was their man in the last presidential election and he was brushed aside by John McCain.

In his books, Dawkins clearly sees Americans as crass and backward.  We are.  We also have done more with science than any other nation in the history of the world.  Out of the U.S.A. came the electric lamp, the motion picture, the airplane, the atomic bomb, flights to the moon and mars and, most recently, the internet.

Americans may very well be crass and backwards, but we've managed to be pretty productive as well. Darwin's Evolution which Dawkins spent most of his life studying and advocating isn't in any danger from the U.S.  There are those of us in the U.S. who are quite fond of Dawkins when he applies the science he loves so much, but not quite so when he spends his days evangelizing for it.  Science has a built in evangelic system: it works, and it's fairly easy to demonstrate it works.  That's all the evangelizing any concept needs. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Paula Deen Sex Sim

OK, so I went to this voice sex place with a bunch of gay trolls.  Don't ask why.  Sometimes I just decide to take in the freak shows and this seemed like one.

So I get there and there's seven or eight people already there and the show was about to start when the trolls and me show up.  There was this bed sort of thing off to one side and, as I understood it, an orgy was about to commence.

The "orgy" consisted of two men and a woman.  Kind of a small orgy, but it was my first time so it was ok.

The first guy, let's call him Roger.  Roger works as an air traffic controller in real life and proceeded to describe his voice sex experience with precision and clarity in a perfectly monotone voice.  Never raising nor lowering his inflection he sounded, well, like anything but a guy having sex.

The second guy was grandpa.  Grandpa had already told us about his ranch and his cows and chickens and how "back in the day" he was something of a wild man, even riding a motorcycle on occasion.  Grandpa claimed to be fifty-two, but sounded more like seventy-two.  I was worried for his heart for most of the evening's performance. 

The star of the show was the girl, of course.  There are lots of women on TV I'd like to see have sex, Paula Deen isn't one of them. 

There's usually an oral element to most orgies and Paula was somehow simulating this with her voice.  I don't know if she was using a prop or something, but to me it sounded very much like every so often she was taking a great big bite out of a grinder sandwich.

At some point, I have to say that listening to Paula Deen have sex with an air traffic controller and an old crusty cowboy on SecondLife was just about as sexy as listening to Paula Deen have sex with an air traffic controller and an old crusty cowboy in real life.

I doubt if I'll go back to the voice sex joint.  In fact I may never have sex again.  There are some things you just can't un-hear.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Origin of the Universe is in Danger

For nearly a hundred years now, we've taught our children that the universe began with a naturally occurring big bang.  This idea replaced the earlier concept of God creating the universe presented in the book of Genesis.

The Big Bang theory has two principal prefaces.  The first is Christian Doppler whose work with light enabled us to tell that stars are moving away from us and in which direction.  The second preface was Albert Einstein, whose relativity equations made it possible to build mathematical models around the concept of a singularity. 

It was Georges Lemaître who, in 1927, combined his own observations with the observations of Edwin Hubble and proclaimed that the universe was universally expanding from a central point, and that, at some time in the past, the universe must have began with all its matter and energy compressed into a single spot called a singularity, which (for reasons yet unknown) exploded one day in a big bang creating the universe.

Big Bang was a beautiful and elegant theory.  Even the Pope liked it so much he offered to make it catholic dogma with a papal edict, despite it's negative conflict with the book of genesis.  Perhaps he knew people weren't going to be satisfied with "let there be light" forever.

There is a problem with the big bang theory most people don't know about though. 

Lurking in the shadows is a mathematical problem that threatens to ruin big bang as a viable theory forever.  It seems the matter and energy and velocity of the big bang must balance in a particularly sensitive way.  At one end of the balance the universe doesn't have enough energy to ignite the stars, and without the stars there can be no matter and the universe is dead.  At the other end of the scale if there is too much energy, the universe flashes out in a giant explosion at the moment of creation leaving nothing but inert cinders behind.

It turns out this balance has to be incredibly precise or we have no universe.  By precise, I mean something like 10 to the eighty-second power to one against.  In other words, our naturally occurring big bang universe is mathematically impossible without someone like God holding down the odds for us.

Scientists don't like invoking God in their business so they've come up with something called Dark Matter and Dark energy to balance the universe.  They call it "dark" because we can't see it.  We can't detect it in any way.  In fact, we have no reason at all to believe in dark matter and energy, except that without it the big bang would be impossible, which coincidentally, is precisely the same reason why others invoke God changing the odds in our favor.  Without it, we have no universe.

Another theory some scientists employ add extra dimensions to the big bang concept, as in the popular M or String Theory.  Although absolutely fascinating and beautiful and elegant, there's a fundamental problem with String Theory in that there's absolutely no proof.  It exists, at this time, as only mathematical models which might solve the problem, but only as mathematical models, we haven't managed to actually observe any of its parts.

Stephen Hawking spent the first three-fourths of his career trying to work out the Unified Field Theory to resolve problems with big bang, but in the end abandoned it in favor of M-Theory.  In his last book, The Grand Design, Hawking proclaims God is no longer necessary and the universe is something of a tremendous spiral.

The only problem is that the, long-awaited and much-acclaimed, Hawking-Hertog theory of the cosmos has precisely as much proof as the God-turns-on-the-light switch theory from Genesis, which is absolutely none.

It's a beautiful theory, and I presume absolutely functional, although, I confess, I am personally utterly incapable of doing the math myself.  I do, however, know people who are capable of doing the math, and they speak quite highly of it.

They don't like bringing God into it either.  I'm afraid they may have no choice though.

Nature is simple.  Nature is elegant.  Nature's solution to vastly complex problems is to create a vast number of simple machines, each working away at a small bit of the problem.  This is how evolution works and it works very well.

That the creation of the universe is so utterly complex that we can only observe it mathematically strongly suggests some sort of outside influence.  I wouldn't look for the popular concept of God though.  This isn't an entity who looks like man, with flowing white robes and choirs of angels.  The creator God is more likely an entity of pure math himself, an immense field of ratios and equations which holds the universe together.

God may not even be sentient, at least not in the way we are sentient.  But, until men like Stephen Hawking can show the universe created itself by wholly natural means, we very much require a God to explain it.

Just like with the origins of life, close won't do it.  Close gets us nothing but dead rock or a dead universe.  Science either must show how it was done by their means or they must accept the influence of some force outside science.  If it offends them to call this outside influence God, then call it Harrold, or Petunia or Glibbity-Glop, I don't care.  Logic still requires it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Finding Life

Evolution really is one of the greatest things human beings ever came up with.

It, quite neatly, answers many of the questions people for thousands of years used God for, so neatly that, for people like Richard Dawkins, God has become quite unnecessary.

Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist.  I consider myself an evolutionist, although not nearly as well studied as Dawkins.

While evolution does a great job at explaining the breadth and depth and diversity of life on earth in a way that makes God quite unnecessary, there is an important step that both Dawkins and Darwin rarely ever mention, a step so important that it threatens to bring God back into the equation, that is: once you have a genome evolution explains it all, but how do you get a genome?  How do you get life from non-life?

There are a number of theories on this, but if you're dealing with an honest scientist he'll admit none of them are quite complete and have a number of short comings, among them are:

Whatever theory you have on the origin of life, they all lack evidence.  While we have evidence for any number of, what we consider, very primitive life forms, they're still life forms, we don't have any fossil or contemporary evidence explaining how they came from lifeless chemicals.

Similarly, and most confoundedly, whatever caused life to come from non-life, it seems to have stopped happening.  If it were a natural process, you'd think we could witness it happening even now, but we don't.

There have been a number of, what were thought at the time, very likely candidates, but they all proved insufficient.

One was lightning.  During the electric age of Tesla and Edison, many scientists believed life arose from lighting striking the ocean, and indeed lighting on water does some very remarkable things to the chemistry of the water, but it doesn't produce life.

Another likely, more recent, candidate was the volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean.  These were very promising because the local chemistry and the temperature and the water pressure produced something very like amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of the genome. 

The phenomenon was studied closely for almost fifty years, but there was a problem, creating chemicals very like amino acids was as close as it got, there were no further developments after that, no chain leading to life.  If life once came from these deep-water volcanic vents, it's not happening now.

Even more recently, a tantalizing meteorite from Mars revealed evidence for what might have been genetic material within it.  Perhaps we don't see evidence for the beginning of life here on Earth because it didn't happen on Earth, it came here from outer space.  Perhaps life was seeded  here, accidentally by natural forces or intentionally by intelligent extra terrestrial beings.

That's still not an answer though, it just moves the question of how life began from here to Mars.  Whatever it was must have happened there.

Until we can answer the question of how life arose from non-life, it might be premature to dismiss the concept of a creator God.  Many scientists, like Dawkins, would answer me saying, science may not have these answers now, but they have complete faith it will develop them.  I would argue, that this faith in science answering all questions is not all-together different from religious people who believe God will one day answer all questions.  Perhaps it will, but don't count your chickens before they're hatched.

The story in Genesis of God creating life from dust is unlikely in the highest degree, but, for the moment, it comes as close to an explanation as science does.  Perhaps the Genesis story works, not as a scientific delineation for creating life (which bronze age people lacked the ability to understand anyway) but a metaphoric explanation meant for the ages.

We know that life came from dust or water or mud or some simple lifeless matter, but we don't know how.  Perhaps calling the process, whatever it is, the breath of God is as close as we're going to get for a while, and even when we do one day know how it happened, can you really say it wasn't the hand of God doing it?

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Moment of Hesitation and Regret

I've been feeling a bit guilty about my decision to mute most Australians on sight.

It's a whole continent of people, after all, with their own culture...surely they can't be that bad.  It's not even that they're "bad" so much as they're just so stupid and vacuous and childish and boorish and brutish.

I came to the decision after hearing Cane pretend to be Kurt Cobain, again and hearing Slick beat his wife, again and concluded that there were somethings I just didn't need to hear.

So I'm in Korea 1 and I hear this bogan pipe up, and I hesitated.  "We'll see how this goes", I thought and didn't mute him.

I should have known better.  Whiskey the guido public deficator was there complaining nobody would bake him a lasagna, so the tone was already set.

I hesitated and because I hesitated I found myself hearing this bogan describe how he gave his ex-girlfriend a dirty sanchez in about as much detail as his limited vocabulary allowed..

There are some things I just don't need to ever hear.  I shoulda muted this idiot at the first notes of his Crocodile Dundee accent, but I didn't, but I didn't and was punished for my lack of resolve by having to hear about his less than hygienic amorous activity.

Not all antipodeans are worthy of the insta-mute feature.  Some of them are quite cleaver.  I've gotten pretty good at predicting which are and which aren't, now I just need to stick to my guns and act on it more quickly.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Richard Dawkins vs Ben Stein Death Match

Usually when you see Richard Dawkins arguing with a person of faith the cards are stacked decidedly in his favor.

It's, perhaps, to our discredit that most people of faith in the modern world aren't trained as thinkers or in the art of discourse.  These people, armed only with their dogma, generally fall like plastic ducks at a shooting gallery before Dawkins.

Ben Stein is another matter though.  Trained as a lawyer he confronts Dawkins for his film "Expelled".

I admit this clip is heavily weighted in Stein's favor since he has the power to edit out anything showing Dawkins taking the upper hand, but it's still good to finally see someone who can turn the argument back on Dawkins who's grown accustom to always winning these confrontations.

I would love to see these two go at it without either side editing the results.  So far I haven't been able to find a recording of it though.

Stein here pulls out all the stops of good lawyering, including arriving late to Dawkins' "deposition" to set him on edge.  The rest of "Expelled" offers far less to support Stein's argument for the scientific exploration of intelligent design.

In this clip, Stein argues not for the existence of God (for which he has no proof), but against Dawkins' claim there is no God (for which there is also no proof).  On the surface this may seem like equal arguments, but Stein forces Dawkins to try and prove a negative, which is impossible.

For example: I can say there is an absolute vacuum inside this jar on my desk.  My only proof for this is that you cannot show there is any matter inside the jar. 

Dawkins' argument is similar.  He says there is no God inside my jar, and challenges me to prove that there is, knowing I cannot.  Positing that there is no God inside my jar because I can't prove there is only proves that I haven't the means of detecting God, not that my jar is empty.

His argument is something of a bluff.  He can only posit my jar is empty so long as I am unable to prove anything in it.  Intellectually we're at a standoff and can go no further.

For some people that's enough though.  For them, not being able to show something exists means it doesn't.

The fallacy is obvious though.  A dark room seems completely empty until you trip over the couch you didn't see because the room was dark.  Because you couldn't see anything in the room only proved it was dark, not that the room was empty.

More Ghosts

There are currently three ghosts in Hanja.  One has been there for over a week.  Re-starts don't seem to fix it this time.

The server software in Hanja, Hangeul and Gukeyol is RC Magnum, with Idu reserved for a special version of the server code that enables people using the web client to rez there.

The snowstorm development process apparently causes Linden Labs to break some things as they fix others.  I suppose that was predictable.  The good news is that, with snowstorm, they're offering updates and fixes on a near weekly basis so whatever they break should resolve itself sooner rather than later.

In other news: 

Ratcloner has returned to SecondLife and he's out for revenge.  Ratcloner wants W-Hat to suffer the same fate as Woodbury and lose their virtual land holdings.  Why he wants this is something of a mystery since his mental processes don't work like other people.

Boogar-nose has apparently given up on the rouse that he's written his own destruct-o client and now says he's gotten hold of Onyx which he's using to (wait for it) ... crash sims. 

I don't think you have to be retarded to repeatedly crash sims, but it sure seems to help.

On the bright side:

Some of the more annoying people from Moose Beach have decided to spend their time at the new "info hub" built by the guy who was taking his daily bowel movement on mic at Moose.  God bless them, every one.  Perhaps they can arrange some sort of group ablution.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on Assange

Further details about the sex charges against Julian Assange came out last week.  It turns out they are both more complex and legitimate than originally stated.

Assange stands accused of not forcing sex on a woman but of not using contraception when she asked him to.  This sounds like a nightmare of he said/she said complications to me, but it's statutory law in Sweden so they kind of brought it on themselves.

Rape is a special case in most cultures.  It's one of the most serious crimes, but one that leaves almost nothing considered traditional evidence, making it difficult to prosecute.  Many times there is simply no evidence other than the accusation itself.

Feminists will tell you that women never falsely accuse men of rape, yet more objective studies show somewhere between three and twenty per-cent of rape accusations are false with the broad range of that figure as a testament to just how difficult it is to get to the truth of the matter.

The motive for false accusations range anywhere from revenge to greed to regret to simple emotional or psychological confusion.  A example of psychological confusion would be the woman on SecondLife who accused another SL user of raping her by astral projection.

It's hard to say how much trouble Assange is in here.  Some pro feminist systems prevent defense lawyers from attacking the credibility of the accuser.  In a case where the accusation is the only form of evidence offered, not being able to challenge the accuser might render it nearly impossible for someone like Assange to defend himself.

We do know the woman accusing him once made a series of blog posts speculating on how to falsely accuse a man of rape, but whether that can be offered as evidence defending Assange remains to be seen.

My gut feeling is that Sweeden is a pretty sane country and they should be able to work this out in a reasonable manner, but there's almost no way to prevent it from being a circus, particularly when groups like anonymous get involved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lawyers Suck

Most people don't remember the Resolution Trust Corporation.

Back in the 1980's, Ronald Reagan fostered a plan to de-regulate the financial sector.  I (and many others) maintain that the final act of this drama was the financial collapse of 2007.  To date we  have yet to do anything to restore adequate safeguards on the world's financial systems destroyed by Reagan.

One of the first victims of this de-regulation was the Savings and Loan sector, which by 1990 was nearly 100% destroyed.  Depositors in the S&L's lost billions, so congress commissioned a corporation made of lawyers to try and recover some of this money.

Once created, the RTC began systematically suing anyone ever associated with the hundreds of collapsed Savings and Loans that still had money, the vast majority of which were absolutely innocent of any wrong-doing.  Included in their attacks was future (now former) president George W Bush (who, thanks to his political connections, settled his RTC suit for a mere $50,000).

The RTC contracted private lawyers all over the country to prosecute their claims costing billions of dollars.  In the end, the RTC recovered only slightly more than the expenses they incurred and none of the injured S&L depositors for whom the act purported to protect saw a dime, despite the billions made by law firms across the country.

In 2009, Bernard Madoff was arrested for running a ponzi scheme (a scheme which would have been impossible had Reagan not de-regulated the financial sector) leaving his many investors empty handed.

Enter lawyer Irving Piccard, who on the behalf of Madoff investors who lost money began suing... Madoff investors who lost money.

You might ask, "why would people hire this guy to sue themselves?"   They didn't, the court authorized his actions as part of a class action.  You, as a private citizen, have no choice but to be part of the class if the court says so.

So, Lawyer Piccard sues these people, many of which lost everything they invested in Madoff, on the premise that when the fund was in business, they made profits on it, with the promise that, in the end, the money will be redistributed fairly amongst the injured, less (of course) Piccard's vast legal expenses.

In other words, they pay out the ass and get nothing in return while Piccard makes millions (if not billions).

Way to make the victims pay twice courts.

Most people aren't going to care very much about this story.  Most of Madoff's victims were already wealthy, even if they lost the bulk of their life's savings in his scheme.   I've written for years about how the system of class-action law in this country is broadly and obviously corrupt, but most people really don't care much because it's mostly successful, wealthy people who are sued while the working class and lower middle class are the ones who might one day receive a share of the proceeds after the lawyers take most of it.

Maybe they're right.  Maybe it doesn't matter very much if a bunch of rich old people get screwed over twice.  If there's anything you take from this article though, remember this, Ronald Reagan didn't do you any favors.  Most of the hardships we now face lay at his feet.  He was a stupid, corrupt man and I hope one day people will realize it.  Oh yeah, lawyers suck.  Remember that part too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Using the Mute List

I've noticed broad differences between what I'm willing to accept in real life and SecondLife. 

There have been many times when I've wondered: with all I've seen and done in life, why am I sitting on the computer listening to this bullshit?

To try and bring SecondLife and real life into more of a balance, I've decided to make better use of the mute feature.  From today forward I will add the following to my mute list:

  • Stupid people
  • Insane people
  • People who are drunk/stoned beyond the point of logical comprehension
  • Trolls who aren't funny
  • Tittering adolescents
  • Most Australians

If you speak to me and get no response, check and see if you're somewhere on the list.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The End of the World

To listen to many modern christian evangelists, one might think christian thought focused on the idea of the world ending soon through the ages.  That's simply not true.  There have been only two periods where Christians focused, in the beginning and fairly recently.

The modern focus on the Apocalypse began in the 19th century with the Dispensationalism movement.

They took bits and pieces from all over the bible and put together an elaborate mosaic describing what they believed were imminent events, culminating in the destruction of the modern world, replacing it with what they called "the Kingdom of God".

While their version of the Apocalypse doesn't match what we see in the bible itself, they believe their concept is blessed and biblical because it's made up of pieces from the bible.

This focus on the end of the world proved very popular with evangelists and still is today.  Its popularity lead to the development of several doomsday and suicide cults, including The Great Disappointment in 1844 when thousands of followers of William Miller gave away all their belongings and sat on a mountain top awaiting the return of Jesus, only to realize they were duped when the day came and the world didn't end.

A lot of people would take this as proof that Christianity and the bible aren't very valid models of thought, and indeed you don't hear believers discuss these things very often.

I think it's important for believers to know these things though to warn them away from the many logical pitfalls faith can lead you into.  If the prophesies on the end of the world were literal, they would have happened by now, which means logical Christians must assume these parts of the bible mean something other than the obvious, including the possibility that they were never valid predictions of the future at all.

The book we call Revelations is a beautiful, remarkable piece, written by someone who is obviously very devote, that it doesn't actually foretell the future is no shame on it.  The shame is ours for not applying our beautiful minds and remembering that no man can tell the future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Fonzie

Waterfalls told me she heard I'd hired lawyers to stalk Leslie so I could be Fonzie on the internet, and I should blog about it because she wasn't going to fall for it like those others.

With all those crazy, unrelated memes I kinna thought I'd be able to come up with something clever to say...but I got nothing.  It's too far out there even for me.  It's good to know these two are working together though, it should produce much fruit in the future.

It should be noted this conversation took place in Violet rather than her Ahern throne which has been full of nothing but noobs and foreigners for weeks, so maybe her batteries weren't properly charged.

She says I disappointed her as a leader.  The new leader over at Moose Beach likes to take a crap with his microphone on, so maybe not being a leader is kind of a good sign.

In other news, Stefanos has his own blog now.  Stefanos, you'll remember, came to Hanja dressed as a giant, three-headed, abortion to discuss the new fox hunting laws in the UK.  From a preliminary scan, his blog makes about as much sense. 

That's about all for now.  Stay cool kids, Eyyyyyeeeeeee!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks and Truth

There's no particular reason to believe any of the documents published by Wikileaks.

They guarantee protection of their sources so we'll never know who the document came from. If they have a vetting process or journalistic standards, they refuse to divulge it.

For all we know, these documents could be typed up as a joke by stoned seventeen-year-olds in-between games of Team Fortress, and yet many people accept their veracity without question.

When Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks found himself accused of raping a sleeping person (he must suck as a rapist) people all over the world assumed it was "the man" retaliation for all the stuff published on Wikileaks.

There are some important differences between Assange and the people damaged by Wikileaks though.

Unlike the people on his website, Assange has the right to face his accuser.  He has the right to cross-examine her evidence and testimony to verify or refute it.  He also has the right to appear before a judge and a jury of his peers, who will probably (based on what I've read of the charges) exonerate him.

It's often very hard to find the truth of any given situation.  That's why we have things like courts, trials and journalistic standards.  I have a hell of a lot more confidence in the ability of the Swedish judicial system in determining the legitimacy of these charges against Assange than I have in the ability of Wikileaks to verify the legitimacy of any of the documents on their site. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Gang

Often cited as an example of the terrible things that happen to child actors, some of the veterans of the Hal Roach Our Gang series did have unhappy lives, but most went on to have pretty happy and successful lives after the series.

Joining the cast at age two, George McFarland who played "Spanky" was one of the most popular and memorable of the Little Rascals. Some biographers include him among the kids with a tragic outcome, but that's simply not true.

McFarland went on to work in local television for several years, but eventually settled on sales as a career and was pretty happy. After retirement, McFarland was a popular featured guest at many film conventions and enjoyed meeting his many fans from around the world. McFarland was in no way connected with the band "Spanky and Our Gang".

Below is a clip from a 1993 episode of Cheers where McFarland plays himself avoiding an encounter with Cliff Clavern.

Below is an incident I had forgotten about. Billie Thomas played "Buckwheat" in over three dozen Our Gang shorts.  After returning from WWII, Thomas had no interest in acting but worked for many years as a technician in the famous Technicolor motion picture film developing plant.

He died in 1980, but by 1990 a man in Arizona surfaced claiming to be him.  Below is a clip of Spanky McFarland confronting the fake Buckwheat on ABC

I don't feel bad for the guy exposed for not being the real Buckwheat, but in his little Arizona town, kids loved the idea that they could see the real Buckwheat at their mom's grocery store.

McFarland probably wouldn't have exposed the guy, but Eddie Murphy was doing an impression of Buckwheat at the time on SNL that really upset Thomas' family and the other surviving members of the cast, so he wasn't very willing to let another pretender walk all over his friend's legacy.

Watch Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa and Porky in the 1936 short "Spooky Hooky"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Movie Meme of the Day : Lame Satanists

When Anton LaVey invented the Church of Satan, he intended it to be a rather theatrical endorsement of atheism.  He put Satan on the throne of his church, not to battle a God who would control us, but the religious right that controls so much of the world as we know it.

It was satire.  He was trying to be clever.  A bit too clever though, because some of his followers lost sight of the joke and started believing in the thing as if it were real.

In the clip from the History Chanel below, one of Lavey's followers puts a curse on somebody.  His words are bitter, painful, and yet, hauntingly beautiful -- and for me pretty familiar.

Below is a clip from the 1964 film The Seven Faces of Dr Lao, where Tony Randall as Apollonius tells the sad future of a shallow woman. LaVey didn't start his church until 1966 so clearly those pesky satanists stole their cursing ceremony from the George Pal Film.  I bet none of them even have a clue.

In case you're worried the film is all like the dark scene above, consider this one a little later, again with Tony Randall, this time playing Dr Lao explaining how there is magic in everyone's life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The New Religion

The other day, the topic came up at the Hanja Discussion group of "Has Scientific Athieism Become a Religion".  In this article, I'd like to discuss at least one area where it clearly has.

For many people, science destroyed their religion so they let science replace it with another.

For most of them, the vague sense that there are intelligent aliens out there simply replaced the idea that one day Jesus might return to earth. While most aren't particularly into it, polls clearly show that in the English-speaking world, more people believe in intelligent life off the earth than believe in God.

With the publication of his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods?, Erich von Däniken was the first to suggest that the aliens and our ancient religions were actually the same thing.

For millions of people wanting to switch from "bad" magical thinking to "good" scientific thinking, Von Daniken's book couldn't have come at a better time.  He, quite cleverly, took many of the most notable artifacts of our religious past (the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Sphinx, The Bible) and re-purposed them to support his U.F.O religion.

Some of these artifacts, like the Sphinx, already had a long history of getting new meaning every time a new religion moved into town.

U.F.O. religions had a distinct advantage over traditional religions in that the new ultimate priestly authority on these matters was science, and although scientists themselves poo-pooed UFO "evidence" as swamp-gas, weather-balloons and the like, they had to admit, at least, that it was possible, indeed likely there were other intelligent beings out there (whether they ever bothered to contact us or not.)

High Priest Carl Sagan Holds one of the
Pioneer Gold Plaques prior to lift-off.
They even made quite a show of their own search for the intelligent aliens and from their radio telescopes, as grand and impressive as any temple, they listened hard to the blips and boops of space for the unmistakable message of "we're here!" that one day must come from our neighbors.

They even went so far to fashion gold plaques with messages of greeting attached to our Pioneer satellites, knowing it would be millions of years before the satellites passed close enough to a foreign planet to be discovered.

There is no logical, scientific reason to waste precious satellite fuel with these heavy gold plaques.  The odds that ET will ever see them are actually greater than the odds that an omnipotent God might hear the prayer of a lonely child somewhere on this troubled planet, and yet we persisted with the practice with each of the Pioneer vessels, and nearly all of its successors, including the Cassini–Huygens exploratory craft.  This was not a scientific practice, but a religious one.

Though the scientific establishment ripped von Däniken's work apart, they clearly supported his first premise that there is intelligent life out there and that was priestly authority enough for him to make millions of dollars off the idea.  To date he has published some twenty-six sequel books to Chariots of the Gods? translated into dozens of languages, and he even has an ancient astronaut theme park in Switzerland.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Last Conspiracy

From their deep hidden stasis chambers, the Nephalim began to stir.  The hour is at hand.  They shall return.

Five thousand years ago they retreated to these places, waiting, planning, for the day they would rule again.

As the preserving disulphide mist dissipated around his giant body, Lucifros, king of the Nephalim contacts his brethren by radio.

"Is all prepared for our rise to the surface, my brothers?"  He asks.

"NO!" Shouts Vulcan.  "I don't know how to explain it.  These human assholes have nearly destroyed the Ozone layer on this planet!  It will take us at least a thousand years to rebuild it.  We can't live here under these conditions, the skin will bake off our bones."

Lucifros sends out the order: "Prepare the escape pods.  Rendezvous on planet X.  We will reform our strategy there."

From deep within his secret Flemish bunker, the Grand Master of the Illuminati transmits a signal to his co-conspirators.  Video shows disc-shaped vessels accelerating out of earth orbit.

"Preliminary reports show a hunnert percent success rate.  All of our enemies have retreated to their dark little asteroid.

"Congratulations Grand Master Bush.."

"Couldn't have done it without you, brother Kissinger."

As a computer projection draws the telemetry lines of all the Nephalim vessels making their way to the furthest reaches of the Solar System, the Grand Master sips his brandy.  "See ya in a thousand years, assholes."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Greatest Griefer Ever

Griefers are so proud of the stuff they come up with to mess up SecondLife, but they completely ignore one basic fact everyone knows:  SecondLife barely works to begin with, so coming up with ways to break it is kind of like fighting your way out of a wet paper bag.

That's not to say Linden Labs shouldn't be proud of what they've accomplished here.  After all, SecondLife is far and above all their competitors as a technical achievement.  Riding the crest of the wave is never a stable place to be though.  Often they're dealing with technology that's just a few years old if that, so, of course there's going to be tons of ways to make it go astray.

One of the most popular means of griefing has always been to simply rez a cube, then put a script in it so the cube replicates itself, then map some sort of stupid image on it from 4chan or, add annoying sound and you're done.  Instant grief.  Infantile fun for infantile minds.

They say they do it because they're bored.  That's probably true.  Adolescent minds are almost always bored.  I've always been annoyed by the people who somehow believed it was our responsibility to give them things to do to keep them from being bored.  That mindset is probably why adolescents see malls, parking lots, and SecondLife as an offering to the god of their boredom and gives them license to trash it.

What's great about SecondLife though is restoration from any grief takes only a few seconds, if you have estate powers.  Now finding somebody with estate powers can sometimes take a while, especially if it's mainland and you have to find a Linden, but once you find somebody who can make the magic buttons work, normality is just moments away.

Recently Boogar-Nose asks that I write something and call him the greatest griefer ever.  I wouldn't mind really.  Seeing how easy it is to mess up SecondLife, being the greatest griefer ever is kind of like winning the sack race at the Extra Special Olympics.  He is kind of retarded, so maybe Greatest Griefer Ever wouldn't be such a bad title.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Three Trollateers

In his novels of the Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas begins each story with the famous friends at odds with one another but manage to come together again to defeat a common enemy.

SecondLife once had its own version of the Three Musketeers, only they aren't french cavaliers, they're trolls.

Traveling the sims of cyberspace, many residents still bear the rapier scars of Waterz, Constance and Rachel.

Like the french swordsmen, their differing troll styles worked perfectly in concert with the other two making the trio nearly unassailable.

No troll union lasts forever though, and somewhere along the way Constance got drunk one night and decided to troll her mates.  As a result she was banished from the trio and is now a favorite target of the other two.

I have to suspect though, just like Porthos, Athos and Aramis, the Three Trollateers of SecondLife will one day come together again when a sufficiently distasteful common enemy arises.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Peter Greenaway on the Future of Cinema

In a recent speech at the judging of SecondLife Machinima, Peter Greenaway tells us that cinema is already dead, and media like SecondLife is its inheritor.

I would love to refute Greenaway's requiem for the cinema, proclamations of its death were premature before, often just before extremely productive periods like the film boom of the seventies.

This time though, the patient may really be terminal.  I read recently where something like eighty percent of all cinemas ever built are now either abandoned or demolished, with another ten percent converted to other uses, that leaves us with less than ten percent still showing movies.

Overall, movie attendance is way down, even though revenue is up slightly due to the increase in ticket prices for 3-D films.

It's particularly unfortunate because it took us about a hundred years to learn how to use the concept of motion pictures and develop a language for it, and now its most remarkable and beautiful venue teeters on the brink of oblivion. 

As many blissful hours as I have spent sitting in the dark with strangers, I'm afraid my grandchildren will never have the same experience.  Cinema will probably go the way of Opera, preserved as a revival in a few municipal centers, but unavailable to most of the world.

As for the second half of Greenaway's prediction, I have felt for quite a while that the future of the motion picture probably lies in video game like formats and services like YouTube.

Recently, Peter Jackson remade the 1933 original King Kong.  His production stands as a testament to the use of digital technology for motion pictures, technology originally developed for video games.  His production of King Kong exists only because Donkey Kong came before it.

Greenaway says he's disappointed with the entries he was given to judge in the machinima contest, but he offers no guidance or clues on how to make better entries for the next contest.

At some point I'd like to say that, although Greenaway has said many times how much potential he sees in SecondLife as an art form, he doesn't seem to be using it very much as an artist.  I've seen his name attached as a consultant on a number of pieces, but never as the principal artist.

With his training in painting and cinema, I would think he has the ability, but perhaps lacks training in how to use the tools.

I agree with Greenaway that virtual reality can be the next big thing in art, but we're lacking the few key artists to make it possible.  That's not to say there aren't any at all.  There are some people I would consider giants in these early years of virtual reality as an art form.  People like AM Radio, for instance, or Rachel Breaker.

Perhaps Greenaway is wrong and the future of the medium is not machinima, but rather the experience of being in the virtual spaces live.

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