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"Militant" Secularism

I'm going to headdesk forever next time I hear someone whining about "militant secularism" or "militant atheism". I understand what they mean by it, and I understand that they only mean the "militant" part as "confrontational" or "outspoken". But I don't think it's a very fair characterization, considering the nature of militant religionists. Militant religionists bomb innocent members of different sects of their own religion (not to mention members of other religions). What do "militant secularists" do besides write books, post rants on YouTube, and curse the Pope on Twitter?

And yet people on the religious right complain far more about "militant secularism" than they do about fanaticism in their own religion. But I'd be willing to make a bet as to which militants they feel more threatened by...

Quran Burning: Stupidity on All Sides

So there's this wingnutty church in Southern Florida (need I say more, really) that's promoting this mass burning of the Quran that they want to stage. Clearly they must have some clever media people, because the whole thing hardly sounds worth national news, let alone international news. I don't know how big this church is, but I'm sure this whole thing will just be an insignificant handful lunatic assholes throwing some books into a bonfire. I don't think I need to tell you why they're stupid. I'm no fan of the Quran either (but probably for very different reasons from these troglodytes) but I'd think that reading it and talking about it might be more constructive than burning some paper with ink on it (a waste of resources if nothing else).

But somehow news of this "event" found its way into international channels, and now Muslim extremists around the globe are in an uproar over it, as they are wont to do. They have every right to take offense, I suppose. I may disagree with their presuppositions, but in the world view they've grown up with, defaming this particular collection of printed words is serious blasphemy. Where it gets especially stupid is that there are reports, in light of this, of mass protests against America and even someone burning President Obama in effigy. Now that's just stupid--as if the actions of one podunk megaevangelical church in Florida in any way represents the entire United States, let alone Obama, the SEKRET MOOSLIM himself -_- Then again, given the utter insanity in this country in recent weeks over the Cordoba House, I'm more inclined to actually sympathize with Muslims who think that Americans are out to destroy their religion and culture. I'm not even certain of the accuracy these reports of protests and effigies specifically over the Quran burning. I'm just going by what's being reported in the mainstream media, which we all know likes to make shit up. So I'm giving them a lot of slack here--but they're still a bunch of whiny-ass titty babies who need to grow up and get over themselves.

And finally, we have reports to today that General Petraeus and others are warning that this book burning could enrage extremists in Afghanistan and put US troops in danger. Maybe there's some truth to that. But this smells just like another Cordoba House: Gen. Petraeus is suggesting that a particular group give up their first amendment rights because what they want to do might not be "prudent" or something. I think it is a tasteless, ugly, and maybe even dangerous thing to do, but they still have every damn right to do it, and not Gen. Petraeus or anyone else has the right to stop them. And honestly, it would probably be difficult to draw a direct line from "book burning" to troop deaths. Even if a violent Taliban extremist explicitly cited the book burning as a reason for attacking Americans over the next week, it's hard to say he wouldn't have anyways. The kind of person who would react violently to this already believes himself to be in a holy war with the Western world and Christianity, and would probably have at some point acted the same way anyways.

Of course, this warning from Gen. Petraeus makes the book burners look even stupider, with a healthy dose of hypocrisy. These are exactly the same kinds of people who slap "Support the Troops" stickers to their SUVs and whine about how we can never, ever second guess our military commanders. Of course, I'm constructing a straw man here. Maybe they're actually smart enough to realize what I just wrote--that their actions aren't likely to cause any more violence than there might have been anyways. But...I doubt that.

Edit: And speaking of Cordoba House, I just read Ed Brayton linking to this awesome New Republic article that states exactly my thoughts on the topic, but better written. Part of the article is behind a pay wall, but Ed quotes the best parts. "Why doesn't Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don't Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end."

More crappy science reporting

I just heard a "story" on NPR, which is apparently a popular science story today, that reads basically "Stephen Hawking claims god not required for creation of the universe in new book" or something to that effect. The only "news" here is, perhaps, that Stephen Hawking has a new book out, and it makes this point.

After hearing the story though, there's nothing newsworthy or original about the claim itself. Basically, he just points out that, prior to Plank time after the Big Bang, there is no distinct time dimension, and thus our anthropocentric notions of causality, as well as the question of the cause of the Universe, are meaningless. Physicists have been making this point for years.

And then of course they have to bring in the Anglican or whatever to point out "Well, this doesn't tell us anything about the meaning of the universe." Whoop-dee-fucking-doo. This question of the "meaning" of the universe is purely anthropic and is irrelevant to the discussion. I think it's an interesting question, and I can't say I haven't been kept awake by it at night. But it has nothing to do with the "how" of the universe.

And really, if you're going to ask "Why is there nothing instead of nothing?" I really can't accept WIZARDS MUST'VE DONE IT as a satisfying answer. It has no explanatory power whatsoever, and is just pulled out of thin air. It only leads one to ask "WELL WHY ARE THERE WIZARDS INSTEAD OF NO WIZARDS?" It's turtles all the way down... Some claim that this wizard exists completely outside our notions of logic. That maybe on some plane of existence a != a. Well that's all good and fine--I can make up arbitrary logic systems too and have fun with them all day in a sandbox. But show me that such a system can say anything about reality and then maybe you'll be worth listening to. Otherwise please just return to your mountain top and stay there until you've come up with something better.

Car Crap

It's been over a week now since I filled out the paperwork for my car. The one I wanted had to be transferred from another dealer, so I had to wait a little while for that to happen, but I was told it shouldn't take more than a week. I was hoping to have the car by last Saturday but...I never heard anything. Then I found out on Tuesday that the transfer order had been set up, and that they should have it by, well, today.

Well, it turns out the other dealer lied to my dealer--said they would trade the car to them, and then sold it a day later anyways. This this the e-mail I got from my dealer:


I just left you a voicemail explaining the situation. We were lied to by the other dealer, we were promised the car. The Manager would not return our calls on Monday or Tuesday. Finally, he called me back and said he had sold the car. I have had my owner call and complain to their owner.

I am truly sorry, but this situation was out of our hands as we were lied to.

I have attached the build of the two MINI Coopers with navigation available. The second attachment just the British Racing Green is still available. The pure silver one is in transit so it would be about 7-9 days before it was in the US and at our dealer.

Please let me know as soon as you can.

Once again, I am truly sorry for the behavior of the other dealer.


She also left me a voice mail explaining the situation in a little more detail. I've been really satisfied in my dealings with this dealer so far, so I'm inclined to believe them that the other dealer screwed them over.

The green one she mentioned is nice, and is the color I originally wanted, but it's a little out of my price range. It's loaded up with a bunch of options I don't care about (satellite radio, garage door opener) and at least one that I'm actively hostile toward (xenon headlamps--I fucking hate those). The silver one seems reasonable though, and that's a color I can certainly live with. She said she'd contact some people to try to rush it through customs and get it to me ASAP. So that's something anyways...

After work I tried to stop at Trader Joe's on the way home, but it turns out that one closes at 9:00 and I got there right on the dot of. Got back in my car and...it wouldn't start, even though it had been running just 30 seconds before. It could almost start but it just wasn't quite making it. I'm pretty sure it was the battery--it was showing just a hair under 12V, and I've known for a while that it needed replacing. I sat there for a little while and then tried again and it worked, thankfully. Otherwise I might've had to have called AAA since there was hardly anyone else around and I hate harassing people for a jump start.

Since I couldn't get anything for dinner from Trader Joe's I decided to stop at the supermarket near the apartment. For some reason the back entrance I normally use was completely blocked off. I hope this means they're finally repairing it (it looked like Godzilla had stepped there or something) though it hardly matters anymore since we're moving out of this place in a few weeks. But I had to drive around to the front entrance. The universe continued to conspire against me by putting a tour bus full of middle school-aged kids right in the middle of the goddamn parking lot. They were getting off the bus and swarming around the parking lot like small animals that I needed to avoid. And then the checkout line took forever and klq34jtQ#$%:KLJ%:^YJ$%Y%J:@:#%LM@$^ I HATE EVERYTHING. Didn't get home until 10:00.

And then my computer was dead. It was powered on, but completely unresponsive, even to pings. Did a hard reboot and when it started the CPU fan ran like a jet engine. After booting my hardware monitor showed the CPU at 52°C which is pretty hot. Though that shouldn't be hot enough to crash the machine. I opened the side of the case to get some more air flow and it's since cooled to 45°C. Still on the hot side, but I'm just using the stock heatsink/fan so this is probably about typical. It was really damn hot today, and the A/C wasn't on when I got home, so maybe it could've overheated. Though from my logs it looks like it was up until about 8:00 so...no idea.

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I wear black jeans almost every day. That's practically all I wear for pants. A few other things sometimes, but mostly black jeans. All my black jeans have holes in them now. This means I might have to go shopping for clothes at some point. This makes me sad :(

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Well that answers that

I was one of the four people in my division selected to go to Black Hat and DefCon in Vegas this year. So unless something really unexpected comes up, I guess I know what I'll be doing this summer. So much for Otakon, alas. As I wrote before, if I'd mostly be going to Otakon to see friends, and nothing more. I'll miss that aspect of it, but nothing else really.

Also, I got a raise today which was nice. Not an enormous one, but I can't complain.

At some point I need to write up a lengthier account of what I've been doing at work lately, but that will wait 'til later.

Growing up atheist

One of my favorite podcasts, Reasonable Doubts did a great show a few months ago about raising children as a non-believer. The blog post is here, while the actual audio file for the show is here.

While I have no intention of spawning any time soon, it's still an interesting topic to me, and they did a wonderful job addressing it. It discusses the difficulties of, on the one hand explaining to children why you don't believe in religion, while on the other hand not trying to force your own beliefs on them, remaining open-minded, and raising them to be critical thinkers so that they can come to their own conclusions. One of the best things about it is that one of the hosts brought his own step children, of varying ages, on to the show to interview them about their beliefs about religion so far. In particular the eldest daughter, who is 12, was wonderfully precocious and well-spoken.

The show made me reflect a bit on my beliefs growing up. As far back as I recall, before I even knew the term, I'm pretty sure I was always an atheist. I have memories of my parents and other relatives reading me Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. And right along side them they would read me stories from the bible, or stories about the Greek gods. To me they were always one in the same--all just part of different cultures' mythologies. It wasn't until somewhat later that it occurred to me that people actually believe these stories, and it rather shocked me for a time. I thought they were all just part of cultural tradition, and nothing more.

My parents also brought me to Unitarian Universalist church for a number of years. I always loathed having to go, though mostly because it interrupted my cartoons, or my sleeping in, or whatever else was more important to me at any given point. Though I do recall sometimes enjoying it once I was there. They had different Sunday schools for different age groups, though at every level it was in some form or another an ongoing comparative religious studies class. We learned about and talked about all the world's major religions (and even some minor ones), and I took it as a cultural education, and I didn't see one belief system as necessarily better than any other. They were all kind of silly, though sometimes interesting and fun. Incidentally, despite not really being aware that I'm technically a Jew through my mother, I always especially liked some of the Jewish traditions. I never believed the Passover story, but I loved the seder; I also enjoyed building a sukkah, and of course Hanukkah (though I don't think I'd have enjoyed Yom Kippur if we'd observed it).

It also made me reflect back to a brief conversation I was having with ennyousai yesterday apropos the goddamn teabaggers in DC yesterday, and their utter lack of understanding of their own religion and its history, let alone any other religion. It makes me wonder whether if we had better religious education starting at an early age it would make people reflect more on their own beliefs. I think that people would still have religious beliefs, and that's fine. But I wonder how much better the world would be if people realized that their own beliefs are not the end all be all, and that other people around the world hold their own very different beliefs just as strongly, which just as much certainty. And of course if your average fundamentalist teabagger type Christian understood their own damn religion better, they'd probably at least be much better Christians.

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Originally uploaded by Hyuga.

Got some pictures of my car from the body shop today. I kinda would have preferred not to see it like this. I wanted to just wait and see it all fixed up. Ah well, at least now I have a better grasp on the extent of the damage.


Cafeteria ick

I know I've said this before, and I'll probably be saying it again, but I REALLY need to get into the habit of bringing lunch to work.

For a long while there it wasn't all that necessary. Sure it cost time and money to go out for lunch every day, but it was fairly convenient, and there was a lot of variety in the area where I worked.

But now that I'm couped up on a military base all day my options are severely limited. Sure, I can go off base for lunch. But it takes much, much longer to get anywhere worthwhile. And parking is always an issue there.

And then there's the cafeteria. There is a cafeteria in the building where I work. That would be awesome and convenient, except for the fact that it's run by ~*~Sodexho~*~ and is about on par with a college dorm cafeteria if not slightly worse.

First of all, it's hideously overpriced, naturally. There are a few sandwiches that are passable, but not exciting. There's chili that doesn't taste bad (but doesn't have much taste to speak of in the first place). The french fries have no flavor (or much potato in them for that matter). The pizza is soaked in grease. There are virtually no vegetarian options to speak of (I'm not vegetarian, but I've been trying to trend that way when I'm just picking out food for myself). Even the few things that would be considered vegetarian are no good if you're strictly vegetarian since they're clearly being cooked in the same vessels as meat dishes.

There is, of course, a salad bar. But it has pretty slim offerings. Only the most basic things you can imagine, and not even some of them. Today, when I walked into the cafeteria, I was so disgusted by everything in there that I turned to the salad bar as a last resort. Took some mixed greens, broccoli, cucumber, and shredded carrots. Everything looked a bit off. In fairness, it's the first fully operational day for that building in a week and a half, so they probably didn't have much in the way of fresh stock. But still, it was pretty bad. I didn't even touch any of the dressings. Plastic canisters of disgusting gloppy "ranch" and "thousand island" type dressings, crusted over with old drippings. Probably infested with swine flu and botulism. Not healthy stuff in general. There was also oil and vinegar--old. The oil had no flavor and the vinegar was cheap shit that tasted like ass. So I left my "salad" bare. It cost me a little over $2 for no more salad than I could've carried in my bare hands.

Once I got to my seat to eat it, I found that the greens were more wilted than I'd realized, and some of them were outright rotting. The broccoli was edible, but also on its way out. Same with the cucumbers. But the carrots were slimy and sour...not edible at all.

Really don't want to have to bother with that again.

In other news, I worked 10 and a half hours today, and I'm pooped. Still have 2 more hours to make up for this time card. And several more after that. They want me to make up ALL the time lost from last week by March 19, which is ridiculous. I'm going to continue to push for an extension, but so far management and HR have been dumb.

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Otakon or Defcon?

They're both the same goddamn weekend this year. Which one should I go to?!

Otakon
Pros:
  • Nearly within walking distance for me.

  • Wouldn't even need a hotel room (though could be more fun to have one).

  • More people who I know would be there.

  • Possibly some good movies.

  • Video games.

  • Lots of cute girls.

  • Cosplay is likely, and that's always fun.


Cons:
  • Been there, done that. Wouldn't be all the exciting necessarily. There's not much it would have to offer me--there are always some funny panels, but nothing much that I care about anymore.

  • Kinda annoyed by the current generation of so-called "otaku". Why in my day we watched anime on 17th generation VHS copies straight from Japan, and we liked it. And we didn't fight over subs or dubs because we didn't have either! We just bucked up and learned fucking Japanese.

  • Just lots of stupid, annoying people in general.

  • Haven't really kept up with the latest anime. The only things I've seen in the last year are whatever I watched at Otakon last year, Wolf's Rain, which is old, and Princess Tutu, which isn't that popular (and also not all that new).


Defcon
Pros:
  • Interesting talks that I actually care about (as opposed to, say, "how to care for your pillow girl", or "meet some random English dub actor who you couldn't give two shits about").

  • More educational and interesting in general.

  • Cooler people in general. More opportunity to meet interesting people.

  • Might be able to get work to pay for it.

  • In Las Vegas, which I don't care for in general, but oh man the buffets. And free booze. And magic shows.

  • Might also be able to get work to send me to Blackhat (which I haven't been to yet). That should be interesting. That would mean like a week long Vegas vacation paid for by work.

  • Hacker chicks, many of whom are cute, and who are certainly smarter and more interesting than the average girl you'll find at Otakon (not that there aren't lots of awesome chicks at Otakon too--they're just much harder to find).

  • Toxic BBQ. Awesome parties where most people are actually over 21.

  • Also has video games.


Cons:
  • More expensive, even if I do get work to pay for it. Would still have to pay for Lisa's plane ticket and con membership (which is twice as much as Otakon).

  • And if I didn't get work to send me, it would probably cost anywhere for 20 to 30 times as much.

  • It's in Vegas. For all the things I surprisingly liked about Vegas last time I was there, it's still pretty awful. The air is incredibly dry, and there's a permanent haze of cigarette smoke, which would be hell on Lisa's asthma. It's like an even huger version of Disney World, but where everyone's wandering around drunk. To paraphrase Hunter Thompson, it's a fucking reptile zoo, and somebody's giving goddamn booze to those creatures.

  • Wouldn't get to see people at Otakon who I do like.

  • Wouldn't know as many people in general--and the fact that I'm so shy doesn't help with that. Then again, it is a smaller convention where it's easier to meet people. And having Lisa with me would help with that too.

  • Would have to get someone to take care of the cats.

Otakon or Defcon?

Otakon
3(37.5%)
Defcon
5(62.5%)

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