Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dark Warning


I quite liked the second book in Judy Watson's Last of the Jedi YA series, Dark Warning. It's very much a hand-off between Obi-Wan (who anchored the first two books) and a character named Ferus Olin, a Jedi who left the Order before the Clone Wars but is now being hunted like all the others by the new Empire. Obi-Wan has left Tatooine to investigate a lead that an Imperial Inquisitor is looking into records at Polis Massa (the place where Padme had Luke & Leia), and along the way he finds Ferus and the two stumble upon a plan to create a safe refuge for any remaining Jedi. Obi-Wan returns to Tatooine, leaving Ferus to continue the mission. Along the way, there's several scenes set at the Caves of Ilum (the snow-covered planet scene in the original Clone Wars t.v. series), where Jedi go to be tested and gather crystals for their lightsabers. A nice benefit of reading the novels is that I get good ideas for the role-playing game I direct, and now (should I ever have a young Jedi PC) I have a better idea of how to handle lightsaber construction.

Football: The Darker Side

I love watching football, but I found Malcolm Gladwell's article comparing football to dog fighting made quite an impression on me. Researchers are increasingly finding that football players at all levels of the sport can suffer severe brain injuries from the constant repetition of contact to the head caused by normal activities like blocking and tackling. Helmets help, but the force of normal football contact is equivalent to being in several severe car accidents in a single day. Often this damage isn't apparent at the time (except in the case of concussions), but appears a decade or two later in the form of personality changes, memory loss, and dementia. In this respect, football is increasingly starting to look like boxing, where researchers think about 20% of pro boxers are suffering lasting damage. Gladwell's point is that, if this is true, and every Sunday we're witnessing dozens of guys virtually lobotomizing themselves for our entertainment, how does that make us better than people who watch dogs tear each other apart? One answer is that the players can know the risks and give informed consent, unlike the dogs; but that logic would also mean voluntary Roman-style to-the-death gladiatorial matches would be moral to watch. This New York Times column discussing recent Congressional hearings over dementia offers some additional info.

I haven't given up watching football, but this issue is percolating in the back of my mind now whenever I watch a game. Every sport holds the risk of accidental injury--a pedestrian can get hit by a foul ball in baseball or a point guard can wrench a knee in basketball--but knowing that severe brain damage is a potentially widespread and inevitable result for players of a sport is an entirely different thing.

Fantasy Football Week 7: Best Game EVER

I kicked ass in Week 7--by far my team's best performance of the season, coming up with 141 points. It was especially sweet because, like a bit of a doofus, I forgot to look my players over until late Sunday night and realized that my starting WR and TE were on byes--so I had to hurriedly pick up free agents from either Washington or Philadelphia (the Monday night game) to slot in their spots. Fred Davis, Washington's back-up tight end who was averaging one catch a game when I picked him, ended up starting after the Redskins' normal TE went out with an injury early in the first quarter--Davis stepped in to have the game of his career. The Steelers D/ST also came up big on Sunday, with the two touchdowns on defense. My opponent also forgot to look his players over, as his WR and K were out on byes and not subbed for.

Next game is going to be much tougher, however, as Ochocinco and the Steelers D/ST are out on a bye and my opponent has quite the team--I'll likely get massacred.

SUN RUNNERS: 141 Points

Peyton Manning, Ind QB 21
Steve Slaton, Hou RB 18
Ricky Williams, Mia RB 27
Pierre Garcon, Ind WR 2
Chad Ochocinco, Cin WR 23
Jeremy Maclin, Phi WR 5
Fred Davis, Was TE 13
Steelers D/ST, Pit D/ST 21
David Akers, Phi K 11

OLIVET KILLA: 75 Points

Matt Ryan, Atl QB 9
Matt Forte, Chi RB 4
Frank Gore, SF RB 4
Thomas Jones, NYJ RB 18
Reggie Wayne, Ind WR 14
Brandon Marshall, Den WR ** BYE **
Antonio Gates, SD TE 5
Eagles D/ST, Phi D/ST 21
Rob Bironas, Ten K ** BYE **

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Canadian Blasphemy Law in Context: Press, Legislative, and Public Reactions

My new article on how journalists, social crusaders, and legislators reacted to Canada's blasphemy law is now up at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1496596. I'm really happy with how this one turned out & I think it'll be a nice contribution to the dissertation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Marie Quatdoigts


The interesting thing about Roger Des Roches' Marie Quatdoigts is its rather unusual point of of view--it's not exactly first person, but rather like reading a transcript of a conversation where only one of the two speakers is recorded. In other words, we see everything Marie "Quatdoigts" Gladouas (the young protagonist, who has, as you can surmise from her nickname, four fingers on each hand) says but nothing else in terms of narration or how other people respond to her words. It actually works pretty well as a story-telling device, though with a rather artificial use of rhetorical questions (e.g., "What's that? You want to know why I'm here? Well, I'm here because . . ."). The middle portion of the book is told from another character's point of view (her best friend, Roger, who has red hair and thus joins with Marie in their homemade Bizarro Club) in the form of diary entries. The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as social outcasts Marie and Roger find their friendship threatened when Marie finds a boyfriend--someone with six fingers on each hand! It looks like there's three more in the series, and I would probably read them if I saw them at the library like this one.

The World's Most Famous Jeremy Patrick (For Now)

According to Google, a search for "Jeremy Patrick" turns up a reference to me in the top spot. What will happen in a couple of days when my website at Geocities goes defunct? Damn you Jeremy Patrick McGrath of Wisconsin and your MySpace page!

Torchwood E-mails: March

Here's a few interesting things found on the final set of in-character e-mails on the Torchwood website:

* Owen (after getting show and ending up undead), asks Jack to take a look at his proposed obituary: "The passing of Owen Harper (1980-2008) will be deeply mourned. Mostly by his friends and colleagues, but hopefully also by his parents, despite them never having been that close to him. They didn't know what they were missing. His passing will also be mourned by the many bar-owners of Cardiff, where he lived, worked and drank. His loss will also be keenly felt by the womenfolk of the city, to whom he gave so much, so often. He didn't do too badly with his life, all things considered: he was a bloody good doctor and saved a fair few lives on the operating table, and for an encore he saved the world, more than once. He died in the line of duty, shot by some evil bloke with some evil plan, helping keep the people of Wales, and the world, safe." Owen also wants Jack to calculate exactly how many times he saved the world, so that he can have it engraved on his tombstone.

* Owen grumbling about a trip to the cinema that Ianto has organized for everyone (leading into From Out of the Rain).

* Gwen asking Tosh for information on the Barrage, a reference to Adrift.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fantasy Football: Week 6

Well, I scored my most points yet in Week 6 (89), but my opponent still scored more (119), which drops me to 2-4 and probably out of the playoff race. I was surprised by how many points I got considering many of them were bye-week substitutions, but I can't imagine how I could match the 66 combined points that Tom Brady (5 TDs in the second quarter alone--an NFL record) and Wes Welker (Brady's WR) scored for my opponent.

SUN RUNNERS: 89 Points

Brett Favre, Min QB 23
Steve Slaton, Hou RB 18
Jamal Lewis, Cle RB 3
Johnny Knox, Chi WR 9
Chad Ochocinco, Cin WR 10
Jeremy Maclin, Phi WR 0
Todd Heap, Bal TE 5
Steelers D/ST, Pit D/ST 11
David Akers, Phi K 10

GREENVILLE GONZO'S: 119 Points

Tom Brady, NE QB 39
Knowshon Moreno, Den RB 4
Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG RB 10
Pierre Thomas, NO RB 7
Wes Welker, NE WR 27
Braylon Edwards, NYJ WR 4
Heath Miller, Pit TE 14
Vikings D/ST, Min D/ST -1
Mason Crosby, GB K 15

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Torchwood E-mails: February

The February 2008 Torchwood e-mails don't have a lot of excitement:

* Martha's e-mail to Jack that she'll be arriving in Cardiff to help investigate a spate of unusual deaths (leading into her mid-series two appaerance). Jack asks Ianto to book her a hotel room, and tries to head off any potential jealousy.

* Ianto sends a group e-mail complaining about how much stuff people have left in the Hub fridge:

1x energy drink (half-empty)
1x sparkling mineral water (half-empty, flat)
2x apples
1x pork pie
3x milk (actually just 1 now, I threw the others away)
1x tomato ketchup
1x leftover beef chow mein (probably inedible)
1x Cornish pasty
1x alien blood sample (OWEN I WARNED YOU ABOUT THIS)
4x probiotic yogurt drinks
2x salami snacks

Owen admits to being responsible for the salami snacks and chow mein (which he reluctantly allows to be thrown away), but disclaims knowing anything about the alien blood sample--he suggests, in fact, that it may in fact be "that horrible soup that Gwen made."

Former Employee Challenges Civil Liberties' Status Quo

For the sake of posterity, here's the Lawyer's Weekly piece on my (failed) run for the CCLA board back in 2006. I haven't heard much about the organization lately or how it's doing with the next Executive Director.

Former employee challenges Civil Liberties' status quo

Vol. 26, No. 17, Sep. 8, 2006

By Cristin Schmitz

A law professor who contends the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) needs “major reform” says his bid to join the CCLA’s board was undercut by an election ballot “skewed” in favour of all the other candidates.

When he tossed his hat into the ring last spring, Jeremy Patrick, a CCLA policy analyst for three years until he left last May to join the faculty of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, forced the 42-year-old organization to hold a contested election for the first time in decades.

The move was controversial because by then 15 candidates for the 15 seats on the board had already been chosen by a nine-person national nominating committee, after the customary call for volunteers from the members last Fall.

Traditionally the nominating committee’s slate of candidates, which includes people solicited by the committee, runs unopposed and is acclaimed.

Patrick told The Lawyers Weekly the CCLA’s education director pointed out to him that an election would cost what the organization now estimates is between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars. She suggested that he defer his candidacy to next year when his name would be considered by the nominating committee for inclusion on its slate. In 2005, the CCLA’s revenue was $437,302, while its consolidated revenue with the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust, with which it shares a five-person Toronto staff, was $874,686. The consolidated revenue in 2004 was $668,553.

Patrick became the 16th candidate. “I think it’s very important to get into the habit of holding elections,” he said. “I think the CCLA needs major reforms,” he explained, arguing that its priorities are too much set by Alan Borovoy, the group’s general counsel since 1968. Patrick criticizes the CCLA’s boards for not exerting enough influence on the group’s activities.

Voting by the association’s 6,000 members closed Aug. 24 and the mail-in ballots are now being tabulated by a chartered accountant.

“I think likely I am going to lose because of the way the ballot was situated and there is not really an opportunity to communicate with the members about why I am running,” Patrick said.

The two-page ballot instructs the voter to fill in Part A or Part B, but not both. In Part A, on page 1, the names and affiliations of the 15 people endorsed by the nominating committee are listed in alphabetical order.

The slate includes such prominent Canadians as filmmaker David Cronenberg, novelist Joy Kogawa, and several well-known lawyers, among them Toronto criminal lawyer Frank Addario.

The ballot also names members of the nominating committee, including ex-CCLA presidents Nelligan O’Brien Payne senior partner John Nelligan, former York University president Harry Arthurs and former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney. The voter is asked to mark one X in a box if he or she wishes to endorse the nominating committee’s slate.

Alternatively, if the voter wants to pick amongst all 16 candidates, he or she is directed to Part B on page two. There the voter is faced with the same list of 15 names and affiliations, numbered from 1 to 15, in alphabetical order. The voter is again informed that the first 15 names were chosen by the nominating committee, who are again named.

Additionally Jeremy Patrick’s name and affiliation is listed as number 16, out of alphabetical sequence, at the end. The ballot points out that Patrick was nominated by Daniel Justice and Kelly McFadden. The voter is instructed to draw a line only through the names of candidates “you do NOT support” and warned “for your ballot to be valid, you must cross out at least one name.”

A CCLA spokesperson said the design of the ballot was considered, and intended, to be fair, but the organization is open to suggestions for improvement in the future.

As for this year’s election, “it’s not a bad thing to have [an election], but it is expensive,” observed CCLA vice-president Kenneth Swan. “There is never any intention to exclude anybody who wants to be on the board, but there is a process in place [and] bypassing the process is expensive for everybody. The only idea of sending out the ballot the way it was ... is that we thought our members should be able to know who was nominated by the nominating committee in accordance with usual fashion and if they decided they wanted to be able to vote the slate, to vote the slate as it was, and if they decided they wanted to vote individual candidates to have all the names and have an easy way of dealing with them which is to strike off at least one name from that list.”

Patrick said the CCLA and Borovoy deserve “tremendous credit” as the country’s “leading voice” on civil liberties issues relating to national security, and for their successes in making police and other government authorities more accountable for the way state power is exercised.

But he argued the national group’s membership has been stagnant for more than a decade because it concentrates its efforts too much in Ontario, does not litigate enough, and frequently ignores important areas which implicate civil liberties, such as the rights of prisoners or the disabled.

Borovoy “is really interested in issues such as freedom of speech and national security and that’s great,” he said. “But then there are some issues like ... corrections and GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirited] rights, physical and mental disability and ... the organization just doesn’t do very much in those fields.”

Swan noted the CCLA’s efforts are directed by board “consensus” but remarked it is “not unusual” that Borovoy would play a pivotal role in helping set priorities. “That’s why you have an executive director.” Swan added, “the organization does do good work in some areas and it misses some other areas,” he explained. “It has limited capacity, limited resources and limited time, just like any other organization in the world.”

Asked to respond to Patrick’s view of his role, Borovoy told The Lawyers Weekly “I think he is attributing far more clout to me then I could ever dream of having.” More broadly, he remarked that the CCLA does more public interest litigation than almost any other organization. He said the group used to be more active in issues related to racial equality and gay rights, for example by challenging police discrimination and abuse in the Toronto bathhouse raids. “Since then there have been so many more organizations coming into the field,” he explained.“There’s no built-in resistance to doing a lot more of these things. You just tend to go in the directions where others are not going so that there will be more impact.”

A Student's Random Musings

Here it is, my last Daily Nebraskan column.


A Student’s Random Musings

Jeremy Patrick

(jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

April 23, 2001

"NOTICE: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By Order of the Author."
--Mark Twain, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled atheist-vegetarian-socialist-bisexual-existentialist rantings in order to bring you a special edition of worthless pap.
When one is a columnist long enough, one starts to pay attention to the work of the big boys - syndicated columnists. For example, one learns to admire the thoughtfulness and wit of certain columnists (such as that cunning linguist, Bill Buckley) and deplores the intellectual laziness of others (such as Thomas Sowell). I read Sowell's column for the pleasure its rich irony brings to me: Every other column includes a paragraph condemning the evils of the "liberal media," but Sowell never seems to realize that this is the very same media that provides a forum for conservatives such as himself, Cal Thomas, Buckley, O'Reilly and others.
Additionally, for all his condemnation of our educational system, Sowell frequently substitutes for an actual coherent column that he calls "Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene." That is a set of completely unrelated thoughts with a pretty asterisk between each paragraph.
I dream of someday being paid to write such pieces and see them published in hundreds of newspapers across the country. In honor of Mr. Sowell, and in recognition of my own intellectual laziness, I now present my "Incoherent Ramblings on Nothing in Particular."
***
People who don't read comic books should. We have beautiful museums devoted to art (pictures) and grand libraries devoted to books (words), but for some reason people seem to think that books with both words and pictures belong in the children's section. Granted, many comics are for kids, but anyone who's read "The Sandman," "Strangers in Paradise" or the Pulitzer-prize winning "Maus," knows that they're for adults, too.
***
My boyfriend and I have a pug. He (the pug) sleeps on the bed, sneezes in my face constantly and suffers from occasional bouts of anal leakage. However, I love the bug-eyed creature dearly and just the other night had a dream where I paid $313 in order to save him from a mobster-type who was shaking us down for money. I don't know quite what the dream means, but I speculate Freud would have a hissy fit.
***
I love Guyla Mills. If it were my responsibility to choose the head of Nebraska's largest anti-gay group, I could not choose better (except for perhaps Fred Phelps). Having Guyla's inane quotations appear in every newspaper article on gay issues does more to help our cause than all of the Teach Tolerance campaigns in the world.
I love the sheer irony of the fact that she often proudly proclaims that she once had an abortion and now sees the error of her ways, without acknowledging that if the abortion laws back then were the way she wants them now, she would be guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder and likely sitting on death row. Or, for example, take her recent response to Ernie Chambers' attempt to add sexual orientation to a nondiscrimination clause in housing legislation: "It will teach children that homosexuality is okay."
So let's do a thought experiment. Picture a 16-year-old high school student (we'll call her Mary) sitting on her bed doing algebra homework. She glances at her friend Kimmi, who is sitting on the floor doing social studies. Now, Mary is thinking to herself that her friend is rather attractive.
She thinks to herself, "Due to the Nebraska Unicameral's recent passage of legislation prohibiting real estate agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, I feel justified in engaging in hot lesbian sexcapades with my friend." I don't think it happens that way either, but then again, I'm not a teenage girl or a potential lesbian. Fortunately, I'm also not Guyla Mills.
***
Christians should read Kierkegaard. I am not a Christian, but if I were, I would adopt Kierkegaard's position. He makes clear that the very definition of faith, a belief in something without evidence, undermines any attempts to prove the existence of Christ through reason.
Real faith is a leap without looking, a chance taken without consideration of the consequences.
Thus, by attempting to argue His existence through science or logic, Christians deny the need for faith. Since faith and reason are mutually incompatible, one cannot have it both ways. Either faith is not needed or reason is not needed. Thus, Kierkegaard's famous line "Yea, Christianity: He who defends it has never believed in it."
***
I love quotations, and I'm not sure why.
I think part of it is that I constantly find out that someone who lived 200 years ago has said exactly what I want to say and (unfortunately) much better. I also like the idea of integrating the works of others into my own and giving a sense of continuity between writings of such different eras.
Aside from the DN's Quotes of the Week, to my knowledge I've only been quoted once. A little newspaper called the Sun Advocate in Utah plagiarized heavily from a paper I did on same-sex marriage, and I had to force them to print a retraction.
I'm working on thinking up great quotes for posterity. This is what I'm working on right now; if you see it in Bartlett's "Quotations" someday, remember that you saw it here first:
"Great writing is the art of tying together excellent quotations from people long dead with passable transitions."

--Jeremy Patrick, American essayist and pretentious bastard (1977- )

Torchwood E-Mails: January

Just before series two aired, the BBC put up an on-line Torchwood game where the player is cast as an investigator helping out with an unsolved case. I haven't gotten around to playing the game yet, but I have read the in-character e-mails sent by Gwen, Tosh, Ianto, and Owen that are on the site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/torchwood/sites/arg/pages/messages.shtml?1 Many of them have nice ties to elements of prior or future episodes, and here's some of the highlights of the first (of three) months of e-mails:

* An e-mail from Gwen to Owen telling him to write "a report of the Himalayas mission" so they can file it with the MOD (Ministry of Defense?) "so we can get to the bottom of who sent us out there." An e-mail from Tosh mentions the "slow-acting poison in that thing's spines" has kept her from coming into work, but that she's come up with an antidote--Tosh also praises Gwen for coming up with the tactics for "taking that thing down." The reference to a mission in the Himalayas was in the original script for the first episode of series two and the e-mails further the notion that Gwen took the lead after Jack's disappearance.

* A series of e-mails about Gwen's wedding. Gwen starts the trouble by sending the group a weird passive aggressive e-mail: "All I wanted to say was, I appreciate that it can be expensive and whatnot, going to weddings, and I don't expect a gift or for you necessarily to come. I won't be offended if you don't come. Really, I won't." Which of course, leads everyone else to think that they've been disinvited (and rather rudely, to boot) until Gwen apologizes and explains that she didn't want things to be awkward. Well, the wedding was really awkward, but it wasn't Torchwood's fault.

* A short e-mail from Gwen to Ianto, saying she was going to follow up on a report of a stolen car driven by a fish--which is the opening scene of the series two premiere. In a later e-mail, Gwen asks him if Jack has said anything about the mysterious "Gray" or "Grey" that Captain John spoke of at the end of the premiere--Ianto replies that Jack is never forthcoming about serious things.

* An e-mail from Tosh to Ianto, asking for his help in picking out clothes for Tommy (the soldier who is defrosted for one day every year). Tosh puts the kibosh on Owen's suggestion that they prank Tommy by telling him that "in the future, every one wears silver jumpsuits."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding a God-less Morality

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Finding a God-less Morality

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

April 16, 2001

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."
--George Bernard Shaw

When certain people become distraught - such as by another school shooting, rising HIV rates, or an increase in teen pregnancy - they often proclaim that the problem is that we have drifted away from God. The idea, in its most basic form, is that a belief in God is essential to "morality." With a little work, one can find that both theologians and statesmen historically favored this view. Even many of the so-called founding fathers, largely deists, took this position. For example, in his farewell address as president, George Washington stated that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
The idea that a belief in God is essential to morality is a provocative one because it can erase the need for a dialogue on whether God actually exists. Advocates of this position can argue that whether or not he exists, people should believe in God for the benefit of society.
In its crassest form, this is purely a utilitarian appeal. Without morality, the argument goes, there will be no sanction against evil, and therefore, people will be unhappy because crime will run rampant. Of course, if the mechanism of religion's promotion of morality is through fear (of Hell) and reward (of Heaven), there is no reason a secular society cannot provide equally powerful inducements for "good" behavior. Although perhaps not as grandiose as eternal punishment, life in prison, death or torture are all powerful ways to induce desired behavior.
Similarly, many people would gladly act for earthly wealth and power and could never be swayed by promises of a future paradise in the sky.
There are, however, more serious arguments from God to morality that merit our consideration. In his Herculean attempt to provide a purely rational morality that was categorically (universally) binding on all people, Immanuel Kant argued that all actions should be taken in accordance with predetermined maxims and all people should be treated as ends, not as mere means. Although he believed we should not seek happiness for its own sake, he believed that by following the categorical imperatives, we would make ourselves worthy of happiness.
Ironically, although he believed that there were no rational reasons for believing in God, Kant argued that a belief in him was necessary for morality. He believed that a God must exist who rewards virtue in a future state, "for otherwise all the subjectively necessary duties which I am under obligation as a rational being to perform lose their objective reality. Why should I make myself worthy of happiness by means of moral conduct if there exists no Being who can secure me this happiness?"
The problem with his view is quite clear: He is treating a belief in God itself as a mere means to an end, thereby violating his most sacred principle. He is unconcerned with the truth of whether or not such a creature exists and is instead using the idea to further a consequentialist agenda. As Kantian scholar Theodore Green said, "God still remains, in Kant's argument, deus ex machina introduced to resolve our moral perplexities, the great Paymaster who is to reward us for our moral efforts. But surely, if on Kant's own principles, it is wrong to use men merely as means to our own ends; we are not entitled to bring God into our scheme of things primarily as a means to our ultimate happiness."
Finally, we come to the third and perhaps the most important use of the argument that God is essential to morality. This is the view taken by many modern theologians. It holds that although a secular society can provide means to reach any end, it cannot choose which ends to seek without religious belief. This argument has some merit: after all, it follows Nietzsche's greatest insight: "Skepticism about morality is what is decisive. The ending of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction after it has tried to escape into some metaphysical beyond, leads to nihilism."
But while this proves that there is no rational way to prove that our ends are "correct" and our "morality" is binding on individuals, it does not prevent a society from coming to a consensus on what goals it wishes to seek.
So while we cannot prove that everyone should seek happiness, for example, we can understand that the vast majority of us do seek it and attempt to fashion a society that fosters it. Such a society might institute the maxims of utilitarianism. Similarly, we could decide that justice, understood as fairness, is the most important end we want to seek and institute a Rawlsian view of society.
In the end, we should not simply ask whether morality is possible without religion, but whether morality exists with religion. In Hill and Cheadle's book "The Bible Tells Me So" they demonstrate how identifying oneself as "Christian" tells us little more than that one believes in the divinity of Christ. On every single pressing moral issue there have been Christians on both sides of the debate. Whether it's homosexuality, slavery, pacifism, capital punishment or abortion, if God is necessary for morality, we still don't know which side is correct.
Those who think that immorality is rampant today because of a lack of religion should heed the words of Bertrand Russell: "In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were [thousands] of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion."
Perhaps people who live in glass houses . . .

(c) Jeremy Patrick, 2001

The Necessity of Latex Seat Belts

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)
The Necessity of Latex Seat Belts

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

April 09, 2001

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light."
--Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia
We should not be spending tax dollars to teach our children to wear seat belts.
Doing so gives them the illusion that it's "okay" to drive recklessly and that the seat belt will always be there to protect them. Science proves that seat belts are not 100 percent effective, and it only takes one crash to ruin a life. When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as "safe driving." Wearing seat belts does not "prevent" traffic deaths, it only delays them. The only way to prevent children from becoming involved in traffic accidents is to teach them that driving is wrong and encourage them to abstain from it altogether.
Of course, we're not really talking seat belts and driving here. This is the exact kind of logic used by some conservatives to prevent schools from teaching about condoms, birth control and other methods of safer sex.
In the earliest days of combat aviation, the military refused to allow fighter pilots to wear parachutes. The idea was that if pilots were allowed a safe way to escape from being shot down, they would either be less cautious with their expensive planes or would intentionally get shot down in order to parachute into a neutral country and sit out the rest of the war. The result, obviously, was that hundreds of pilots who could have survived by bailing out died instead. If the logic is absurd when applied to seat belts and parachutes, why do people still use it when it comes to condoms?
On Friday, the State Board of Education refused to pass a measure that would include HIV/AIDS prevention education in its sex education program. The measure would have altered the state's abstinence-only education policy. Although local schools are still free to decide what they want to teach, the board will not dispense state or federal funds for it. John Diggs of the Family Research Council said teaching about condoms would encourage teen-agers to have sex, and Board Member Kathy Wilmot agreed with his concerns. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 4/7/01)
The result is that more kids will get STDs and become pregnant. Condoms, though not 100 percent effective, drastically reduce the transmission of STDs. In 1993 a study was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes that examined 245 couples in which one partner had HIV. Every couple who used condoms every time for four years prevented transmission of the disease. The disease was transmitted in at least 10 percent of the couples who did not use condoms every time. Similarly, studies prove that condoms drastically reduce the chances of pregnancy.
None of this matters to religious conservatives, however, who see premarital sex a sin in itself. They think that by refusing to teach about condoms they will succeed in encouraging abstinence. The facts show differently. Deborah Haffner argues that "there is no reason to believe that these claims are true. There are no published studies in the professional literature indicating that abstinence-only programs will result in young people delaying intercourse."
A number of studies have established that providing condoms increases condom use among sexually-active students while having no effect on the number of students who abstain. This makes perfect sense; so far as I know, reckless driving has not drastically increased since seat belts were installed in cars.
This does not mean, of course, that we should refuse to provide all of the facts. Students also need to be taught the problems with condoms and birth control, including statistical evidence of their failure rate. This is the only way to foster good decision-making.
As Bertrand Russell said, "A person is much less likely to act wisely when he is ignorant than when he is instructed, and it is ridiculous to give young people a sense of sin because they have a natural curiosity about an important matter."
By refusing to teach students about proper condom use, we sacrifice the 54 percent of them who are having sex in the vain hope of convincing others to abstain.
Religious conservatives should be ashamed of themselves. Yet this is invariably the result when ideology triumphs over reality: kids die.

Domestic Partner Catch-22

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Domestic Partner Catch-22

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan April 02, 2001
"Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism."
--Mary McCarthy, The New Yorker magazine

We are angry, we are frustrated, and we are tired. But we are not going to be quiet until NU stops spouting "equality" and starts delivering it. The history of domestic partner benefits at NU is like something out of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22."
The University-Wide Fringe Benefits Committee says it is not itself "a decision-making body" and tables the issue of domestic partner benefits. Higher-level administrators say that the issue must be decided by the regents or by the Legislature. The Board of Regents avoids addressing the issue because the benefits committee is supposed to decide it but asserts that the "public policy" of Nebraska is against it. Legislators, who decide the state's "public policy," point to the Nebraska Constitution, which leaves responsibility for deciding issues like faculty benefits to the Board of Regents and the committees it creates.
Everybody has excuses; nobody has answers. And the result is that gifted faculty members who have spent their entire careers at NU are denied the benefits any heterosexual teacher acquires: funeral leave, sick leave, family medical leave of absence and the institution's crisis leave sharing policy. Additionally, faculty members with same-sex partners are denied equal access to NU's health plan, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars more on private health insurance. The net effect is that heterosexual teachers and staff earn several thousand dollars more than gay or bisexual faculty members.
Although UNL's Academic Senate and ASUN have repeatedly called for domestic partner benefits and two-thirds of NU's "peer institutions" offer them, no visible progress has been made.
It all began in 1992, when the Annual Report of UNL's Homophobia Awareness Committee called for domestic partner benefits. After a meeting, then-Chancellor Graham Spanier stated that he "supported a revision in the proposed family leave policy to accommodate gay and lesbian couples." No real action was taken until the University-Wide Fringe Benefits Committee considered the issue in 1996. The committee permanently tabled the idea on a 6-3 vote and "agreed not to reconsider the matter until legal, financial and other matters are resolved." (Omaha World-Herald, 8/16/96)
Unclear as to what the "legal, financial and other" questions were, the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns offered to provide more information. John Russell, an administrator at NU, wrote back and stated that the committee didn't need any additional information and wouldn't reconsider the question until "such issues ... are resolved by the appropriate jurisdictions (judicial, legislative, etc.)."
And thus, the dissembling begins.
One should ask exactly which "judicial" and "legislative" issues the committee was waiting on. The benefits committee is not made up of lawyers, it did not ask for legal advice, and if it really did do its research, it would have seen that dozens of "Tier 1" universities implemented domestic partner benefits without difficulty. The benefits committee could have addressed the issue and simply chose not to. Their decision making is controlled by two factors. First, is offering benefits in the best interest of the faculty and staff? Second, is it economically feasible? Of course, the answers to both questions are a resounding yes. By permanently tabling the issue, the committee was cowardly able to avoid justifying its actions by placing the burden on vague "legislative" and "judicial" shoulders.
Fast-forward to 2000. The issue is still tabled in the benefits committee. In August of 2000, UNL's student health plan goes into effect, which allows students to claim their domestic partners for health insurance. Now, not only are GLBT faculty members denied benefits that straight faculty members receive, they are denied health benefits that both undergraduate and graduate students receive.
Questioned about the effect of Initiative 416 in the Daily Nebraskan, University General Counsel Dick Wood states that it would not prevent the university's offering domestic-partner benefits. This makes sense, especially considering that the amendment is of dubious constitutionality and that resolving the legal dispute is likely to take years.
The most recent blow came on February 5, when NU President Dennis Smith sent an e-mail to all faculty and staff about the new tuition credit for faculty family members. He began the letter by saying, "I want to share a development with you that, if approved, will positively impact all full-time university employees." (emphasis added) It quickly became apparent that the tuition-credit plan would only benefit some faculty members: GLBT teachers and staff would suffer an additional inequality in benefits.
All of this, then, comes in the face of NU's written policy that it makes "all decisions regarding recruitment, hiring, promotion, and all other terms and conditions of employment without discrimination on the basis of ... individual characteristics other than qualifications for employment, quality of performance ... and conduct related to employment." (emphasis added)
Further on in the policy, NU vows to administer all of its "employment programs" without discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "marital status."
The university simply cannot have it both ways. Retaining such a policy under current conditions is dishonest and deceptive to both current employees and those considering employment here. The university must either offer equal benefits to all persons based solely on merit or stop claiming that it doesn't discriminate.
In this case, sincere malice would be preferable to blatant hypocrisy.

Behind the Waxy Myths

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Behind the Waxy Myths

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

March 26, 2001

"Truth: n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time."
--Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary"

I wish Ambrose Bierce were alive today. Author of "The Devil's Dictionary," he had the rare ability to see what we actually mean when we use certain words. One of the current buzzwords in academic discourse is "critical thinking." It's recited like a veritable mantra by many intellectuals. I expect if Bierce were around, he'd look at the term's current usage and give it an entry in "The Devil's Dictionary" like this: "Critical thinking: n. That which one has obviously failed to do whenever one disagrees, for whatever reason, with the views of the speaker."
But at the same time, it is clear that our society is dangerously lacking in critical thinking. When the National Enquirer makes millions, thousands call the "Psychic Hotline" and every 3 a.m., infomercial touts a new "miracle" product, something is probably wrong. If, as the textbooks say, an informed public is necessary for a well-functioning democracy, the reason for many of our country's various debacles suddenly becomes crystal ball clear.
Of course, we're all guilty of lapses in critical thinking at one time or another. The problem with such lapses is they can be terribly embarrassing and strike anyone, anytime. They are not relegated solely to the "uneducated," as shown by the fact that just about every scam in existence has had testimony from a doctor or scientist of some sort.
So as penance for my own lapse in critical thinking, I share a story: Several months ago my boyfriend, Daniel, told me about this new product called "ear candles." He told me that they were a great way to remove earwax and that he had personally seen how well they work. So with such "evidence," we trudged on down to Open Harvest and plunked down several dollars for tapered tubes made out of wax. Daniel filled me in on how they "work." First, you lie down on the couch. Second, you place the narrow end of the tube in your ear so that the other end is sticking in the air. Third, you light that end on fire.
Now, If you're picturing someone with a flaming cone sticking out of their ear and it sounds suspicious, you're right and a whole lot smarter than I was. But alas ...
Although I almost set Daniel's hair on fire, we were both amazed by what happened. After a few minutes, we snuffed the lit end and looked inside the tube. It was filled with a crumbling brown substance, obviously earwax. We weren't able to figure out how they worked, but I remember hypothesizing something about a vacuum.
So it was much to my chagrin when, a few days later, I walked into Barnes and Noble and picked up the newest issue of Skeptical Inquirer. There, on the cover in big bold letters, were the words "Behind the Ear Candle Myth." The article discussed experiments the authors had done and stated what should have been very obvious: the brown, crumbly substance found after lighting one end of the candle on fire was the remnants of the candle itself.
In reading Kant's thick, obfuscating works, there has only been one time I have ever laughed. It was when, in the "Critique of Pure Reason," he said, "Deficiency in the faculty of judgment is really what we call stupidity, and there is no remedy for that."
I hope he's wrong about that last part and that a rigorous use of critical thinking can compensate for at least some inherent stupidity. At its core, "critical thinking" is nothing more than the application of the scientific method. When it comes down to it, the method of science is even more important that the results it helps us to achieve.
As Stillman Drake said, "Facts ... constitute only a part of what science has to teach us, and they make up neither the most interesting nor the most significant ... the truly influential and pervasive aspects of modern science are not its fact at all, but rather its method of inquiry and its criterion of truth."
In his book "The Demon-Haunted World," Carl Sagan wrote about what he called a "baloney-detection" kit. In short, a few principles everyone should keep in mind when evaluating a claim. The "tools" in Sagan's baloney-detection kit are simple but effective: finding independent confirmation of facts, encouraging substantive debates by knowledgeable proponents on both sides of an issue, examining multiple hypotheses, avoiding arguments from authority and asking if the hypothesis can (at least in principle) be disproved, are all good methods of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Or at least separating the ear candles from the Q-Tips.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Area Man Has Far Greater Knowledge of Marvel Universe Than Own Family Tree

I'm probably a lot more like this guy than one should publicly admit.

From The Onion:

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/area_man_has_far_greater_knowledge

Philosophy Doesn't Make a Tyrant

FROM THE ARCHVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Philosophy doesn't make a tyrant

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan
March 19, 2001

"An idea isn't responsible for the people who believe in it."
--Don Marquis, New York Sun

Ideas are funny things because our brains work in funny ways. Our minds have several strange habits, such as forgetting things that are terribly important while highlighting the utterly banal. Sometimes our memories conflate two very different ideas, such as when we meet a woman for the first time when she's wearing a yellow dress, and for years after, whenever we think of her, we picture her wearing that same yellow dress.
History, or at least our memory of it, works along the same lines: We forget some things, remember others and conflate ideas that don't necessarily belong together. A perfect example of this latter phenomenon is the widespread belief that communism (or socialism) causes tyranny, while capitalism is all that is necessary for democracy and freedom to flourish.
When Americans think of communism, they almost invariably think of Stalin, "Iron Curtains," Gulags and the KGB. This view - that a country's economic system is inextricably linked to its political system - was shared by America's most famous libertarian economist, Milton Friedman.
In his classic text, "Capitalism and Freedom," Friedman argued that "a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom ... [because] economic freedom is ... an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom." (p. 8) By casting his argument in such a way, Friedman leaves himself open to a powerful criticism: The facts simply speak otherwise.
If we define what we mean by "political freedom" - such as a robust respect for human rights and free and full participation in democratic government - it quickly becomes apparent that several countries with comparatively little economic freedom offer a much stronger array of political freedom than a capitalist stalwart like the United States.
Countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, or even England and Canada, have economic systems much more socialist than our own, but every civil rights advocate looks towards Western Europe as a model of social freedom the United States should aspire to.
In almost all areas, such as GLBT rights, reproductive freedoms, abolishment of the death penalty and treatment of drug offenses, these countries fare far better than the United States.
On the other hand, Friedman himself was directly involved with a country with a rigorous degree of economic libertarianism and drastic human rights abuses. In 1973, after almost 150 years of civilian democratic rule, the government of Chile was overthrown by right-wing military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Shortly after coming to power, the Caravan of Death, a military group operating under Pinochet's name, toured detention centers across the country and summarily executed perceived opponents of the new regime. The curtailment of political freedoms and condonation of human rights abuses continued throughout Pinochet's long reign. (He is currently under indictment by various countries for his crimes.)
Who were Pinochet's economic advisors during this period? Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys, Chilean economists who studied under him at the University of Chicago. For all of the libertarian economic policies Pinochet instituted, political freedom was nowhere to be found.
Ironically, the democratically elected president of Chile he assassinated was a socialist.
A similar comparison can be made in our own country. From the New Deal to today, America has drastically increased its economic regulation. But can it be honestly said that our civil rights and political freedoms have decreased during this period? If you ask most minority groups, the answer would clearly be no, but this is what Friedman's thesis logically entails.
The fact that a bloodthirsty dictator used Friedman's ideas does not necessarily make them wrong. The question must always be whether the actions carried out can be logically linked to the ideas held. The Inquisition invoked Jesus and the Nazis invoked Nietzsche, but neither man could be held fairly responsible for the evils done in their name.
Similarly then, to attribute the evils of Stalin to the ideas of Marx is also irrational. As scholar David McLellan said: "After the success of the 1917 Revolution the ever-growing power of Stalin entailed the formulation of Communist doctrine as far removed from Marx as were the decisions of the Council of Trent from the New Testament." This is further borne out by the fact that many people who believed in Marx's ideas used democratic means to further their cause. The United States' Socialist Party, for example, succeeded in electing 56 mayors and one congressman and received almost one million votes in the presidential election of 1912.
However, the fact that economic systems and political systems are not invariably linked does not mean that they are not important. As Keynes said: "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."
We must be aware of these ideas - and the sometimes subtle differences between them - if we are to have any hope of choosing the best form of government, both economically and politically.

The Deserts of Meaningless Words

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

The deserts of meaningless words

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

March 05, 2001

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice. "Whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

--Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventuress in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass"

Frequently, I think of a cartoon I saw in a magazine several months ago depicting a stereotypical college professor standing in front of a chalkboard. At the top of the chalkboard, written in big block letters, were the words "THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF PHILOSOPHY IN THE 20TH CENTURY." And under these words are various questions, taking up the bulk of the chalkboard:
"What precisely do you mean by 'accomplishment?'" "What exactly are you referring to by the term 'philosophy?'" etc.
Jokes, of course, are funniest when they contain a kernel of truth. Much of the philosophical scholarship of the past 100 years (whether under the rubric of post-modernism, post-structuralism, moral relativism, emotivity, or even existentialism) was devoted to exploring what various concepts meant and, specifically, whether the moral language we use has any real meaning beyond the expression of personal preference.
Philosophers in the 20th Century understood that we often use words in everyday speech that are incoherent or internally inconsistent. Some questions, such as the meaning of "love" or "friendship," are pedantic and generally irrelevant. Exploration of other concepts may help resolve academic debates that have continued for centuries, but have little significance to most people. Nietzsche took us "Beyond Good and Evil," while philosophers like Anthony Flew and Kai Nielsen have argued that the question "Does God exist?" is irrational because the entire concept of "God" is contradictory and incoherent.
A few special concepts, however, have been the cause of bloodshed, war and even revolutions: honor, pride, virtue and liberty. The problem is exacerbated when these problematic, and possibly meaningless, terms are used, not just in everyday speech, but in scholarship and policy-making.
A brief example: In 1976, the Supreme Court was faced with one of its most controversial issues: whether capital punishment, after a four-year moratorium, should be reinstated in the United States. If capital punishment didn't further "legitimate state interests," it would violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Interestingly, of all of the possible arguments for capital punishment the Supreme Court may have considered (such as its cost-effectiveness or ability to provide "closure" to victims), it held that only two were legitimate: deterrence and retribution.
Deterrence, of course, is almost universally seen as a valid purpose of punishment. If deterrence were the sole legitimate purpose, the issue would be resolved by asking if the death penalty deterred. The answer: a resounding no. Instead, we have an additional purpose of "retribution," which is generally understood as making sure that people get what they "deserve." And here, the problem becomes apparent.
What does "desert" mean? Unlike deterrence, there is no objective way to measure "desert." It was, is and always will be a simple expression of personal taste. It embodies the dangerous belief that mere intuitions or feelings are sufficient justification for general rules.
As Kant said, "A knowledge of laws, and of their morality, can scarcely be derived from any sort of feeling ... unless we wish to open wide the gates to every kind of fanaticism."
History provides ample support for this view. Michael Foucault's classic text, "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison" details the history of punishment from roughly the 17th Century to the 20th (he died in 1960). Upon reading the book, one fact becomes starkly apparent: the punishments society has inflicted on its own members have varied drastically in intensity, duration and viciousness, but one common factor remains: it was always "deserved."
It was not very long ago that England had more than 200 crimes punishable by the death penalty, including theft. Several cultures, including Puritans, believed in flogging or maiming. Death penalties varied from drawing and quartering, boiling in oil, ritual disembowelment and probably any other form of cruel torture imaginable. When anesthesia was first introduced, many religious leaders objected to its use during pregnancy since the mother "deserved" the pain because of Eve's sin. Any infliction of pain, no matter how cruel, irrational or unnecessary, could be justified if you could simply argue that the person "deserved" it.
The problem is not that there is a gray area. With almost any category, we will have some difficulty deciding what belongs and what does not. The problem is that there are no black and white areas, no grounds where everyone in society can agree. And even when a majority of our country votes on what the appropriate "desert" for a certain crime is, we have no way of knowing if we are correct or if medieval England (or any other society in any other time) is. As Karl Menninger, a prominent critic of our penal system said, "It does not advance a solution to use the word [desert]. It is a subjective emotional word ... the concept is so vague, so distorted in its application, so hypocritical and usually so irrelevant that it offers no help in the solution of the crime problem ... but results in its exact opposite - injustice, injustice to everybody." John Rawls, the most revered American political philosopher of the 20th Century, had a similar view of desert.
In the context of capital punishment then, America is left without guidance. No fact, no evidence, no argument can ever "prove" that the execution is not a just "desert."
So long as a majority of the public (or at least five members of the Court) believe that it is "deserved," things will not change. I suppose I would not be so concerned about letting a democracy decide questions of "desert" if I had the least confidence that it knew what the term actually means: absolutely nothing.
Modern philosophy is often criticized as having destroyed faith in everything that is important: morality, God, goodness, patriotism. Perhaps that faith was never justified to begin with.

Autumn Spring


I've often grumbled in the past about the surprisingly crappy movies I've managed to see thanks to Rogers Video Direct, but all is forgiven since they sent me Autumn Spring. It's a Czech movie with English subtitles, but don't let that turn you off--it's an extraordinarily funny and bittersweet story about an elderly would-be prankster/con man (he's not particularly good at either) named Fanda. Fanda refuses to "grow up" and pay attention to all the things people his age are "supposed" to think about: nursing homes, funerals, hospitals, etc. Fanda is quite the character, but after one of his pranks goes awry, Fanda's wife of 44 years threatens to divorce him unless he mends his ways. Fanda tries to give her what she wants: he stops smoking, stops drinking, stops joking around--basically, he stops living and it becomes clear he's miserable. In order to get back the man she fell in love with, Fanda's wife proposes they share a con job for the first time. My description may not do it justice, but this is a great movie that really has something to say about life and getting older.

Friday, October 16, 2009

John Wilbert Dill, Spiritualist

Since Halloween is approaching, I managed to talk one of the players in my Star Wars campaign to direct a Call of Cthulhu one-shot. I've never directed a Cthulhu campaign before, but I've had some great experiences as a player--someday I'll tell the story of Caleb McKay, intrepid journalist. But for now, I thought I would share with you John Wilbert Dill, a character I created for a late 1800s/early 1900s d20 Cthulhu game several years ago. Dill was an "Ordained Spiritualistic Medium and Minister of the Gospel of the Spiritualistic Church" and I remember reading a couple of books on the history of spiritualism before I made him up--the faith has a really interesting history and its aura of mysticism and gullibility seemed to fit a Cthulhu game quite well (I also thought seances would be a good way to get adventure hooks or meet interesting NPCs).

I honestly can't remember whether I actually ever played John Wilbert Dill though--I'm guessing not, because his character sheet is pretty clean. (doing research prior to character generation tends to be a bad omen for me--I once read some really boring books on Byzantium for a character in a historically realistic medieval game that ended up only lasting a single session).

NAME: John Wilbert Dill
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
AGE: 20
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6'1
WEIGHT: 190
APPEARANCE: Plain
LEVEL: 1
EXPERIENCE: 1
SAVINGS: $ 4000
SALARY: $ 1000
PROFESSION: Spiritualist
EDUCATION: High School

STRENGTH: 13 (+1)
DEXTERITY: 14 (+2)
CONSTITUTION: 7 (-2)
INTELLIGENCE: 13 (+1)
WISDOM: 14 (+2)
CHARISMA: 15 (+2)

FORTITUDE SAVE: -2
REFLEX SAVE: +4
WILL SAVE: +4

* Defence Option

CURRENT SANITY: 70 (Max Sanity: 99)

MELEE: +1 (fist: 1d3+1)
RANGED: +2

HIT POINTS: 4

FEATS: Sensitive, Spiritual Medium

RANKED SKILLS (all others base ability modifier only)

Bluff +4
Concentration: +2
Gather Information: +4
Innuendo: +3
Knowledge: Spiritualism: +5
Listen: +5
Performance: Seance +6
Read Lips: +3
Sense Motive: +6
Sleight of Hand: +4
Spot: +4
Psychic Focus: +6

NOTES

--sickly

--grew up & attended seminary at Central Massachusetts First Mission

"A medium is one whose organism is sensitive to vibration from the spirit world and through whose instrumentality intelligences in that world are able to convey messages and produce the phenomenon of spiritualism."

--charges $ 15/seance

Torchwood: Small Worlds (S1,E5)


"Jack and I have always disagreed about the faeries. I only see the good ones--he only ever sees the bad."

Small Worlds, Season One, Episode Five ("What are the supernatural forces stalking the Cardiff suburbs--and what do they want with the seemingly normal Pierce family?"

What I Liked

* Jack's gentle affection for Estelle--she think's he's the son of the man she knew in WW II, and of course he can't tell her otherwise.

* The faeries and the young girl they plan to steal away, Jasmine, are suitably creepy.

* The ending, where Jack decides he has no choice but to let Jasmine go, ties in perfectly with his character as seen in flashback in Children of Earth, where delivers an entire busload of kids to an alien race.

What I'm Not Sure About

* Why was Jack in charge of soldiers in 1909? This was before World War I even. Was he on sabbatical from Torchwood or what?

UPDATE: Wikipedia allows me to answer my own question--according to some extras on the Torchwood website, Jack was apparently leading the soldiers because they guarded a diamond mind and he was hoping to scam some gems.

What I Didn't Like

* The performance of the actress playing the Mom after Jasmine was taken--just too cliche and melodramatic.

Commentary

By: Alice Troughton (director), Ben Foster (composer), Eve Myles (Gwen)

Tone: A lot of laughing over incomprehensible in-jokes

Interesting Bits:

* Although it seems pretty feeble, apparently John Barrowman got a big kick out of making "faerie" gay jokes. He's gay, so I guess it's forgivable.

* The director "fired" the first cat chosen to play Estelle's Moses because it was too skinny.

* All three commentators wondering about what SUV stands for and putting forth incorrect guesses.

Deleted Scenes

* As far as I could tell, the deleted scenes option on disk one only went up to episode four, and I haven't yet found any for later episodes.

Torchwood Declassified: "Away With the Faeries"

* Interviews with the young actress playing Jasmine and discussion of what it was like filming the school scenes with the giant wind fans

* Interviews with P.J. Hammond, the writer of the episode, who is apparently a big deal in England because of an old show he created named Sapphire & Steel

* Discussion of filming the big party scene at the end of the episode, with the usual stuff about how difficult it is to react to CGI creatures.

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 28

This guest-directed story arc ended with a bang, thanks to the cinematic and very-epic feeling final battle.


SESSION # 28

Sian, Kasa, and Lee continue deeper into the cavern. Eventually they reach a wide cavern that contains an acidic pool, a catwalk and some equipment, and one of the deadly giant tunnelling snakes. Working together, the three Jedi manage to sneak past the snake and cut a hole in a nearby door. On the other side, several stone sarcophagi and statues lay guarded by what looks to be an animated, dessiccated corpse wielding a lightsaber. After a long and difficult battle, Lee decapitates the guardian and the illusion fades to reveal a dead Rodian wielding a vibroblade.

The trio continues on until they reach an ancient library, full of crumbling scrolls. In an adjoining room, the three Jedi come across a female Zabrak huddled in the corner near a corpse. The Zabrak, sent by Count Dooku to recover a mysterious egg-shaped artifact, sobs under the delusion that she has stabbed her friend to death. In fact, moments after she kills herself, another illusion fades and the "body" of her "friend" is revealed to be another one of the Archons, a mystic order of guardians tasked with keeping the egg away from outsiders. Somehow, however, the Archons are being slowly corrupted by the dark entity contained within the egg and falling under its control.

When the Jedi finally reach the egg-like artifact, they find it guarded by several possessed Archons and under attack by the Separatist delegation, which is attempting to remove the artifact by attaching cables and pulling it up with a stolen ground-boring machine. A long and furious battle breaks out between the Jedi and the Separatists and their battle droids. Sian touches the artifact and is drawn into the center of it, which appears to her eyes like a vast, featureless plain. She encounters the manifestation of a Zabrak named Luni, who was the first to enter the artifact. By combining their spiritual strength, along with that of the recently-arrived Lee, the evil entity appears to be destroyed and the three emerge. Outside, Kasa has used his martial arts ability and mastery of the telekinetic Force to defeat most of the Separatists. When the last of the Separatists are finally defeated, all three of the Jedi are badly hurt and exhausted. The remaining Archons say that the danger presented by the artifact has passed, but little do they know that the entity has hidden itself inside one of the Jedi.

After a trip back to Pentanossus in the ground-borer, the Jedi present Mirmark Karpok with a carefully-edited version of the truth. He thanks the Jedi for their help, but refuses to declare Dramos V's allegiance to either the Republic or the Separatists. With Lumzoz and Sgt. Jett, the three Jedi take a civilian ship towards Coruscant.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Fantasy Football Week Five

Week Five of the NFL season will be memorable to me for the Browns winning one of the worst football games I've ever seen, a 6-3 victory of the Bills. NFL Total Access called it "The Game of the Weak", and I've gotta agree. Basically, the Browns won because their punter was really good and kept pinning the Bills behind their own ten yard line.

Anyway, my fantasy football team suffered a (relatively) narrow 82-73 loss. Peyton Manning once again did awesome for me, and my RBs did a solid job as well (if Ricky Williams could have come up with a touchdown and about thirty more yards on Monday Night, I would've won). My normally good receiving corps didn't put up many points however, and that was the difference. The loss leaves me with a 2-3 record half-way through the fantasy season.

Next game is going to be tough, as Peyton Manning, Ricky Williams, Patrick Crayton, and Pierre Garcon all have bye-weeks so I've had to try to salvage some players from the bench and waivers to make up the difference.

Sun Runners: 73 TOTAL
Peyton Manning, Ind QB 22
Steve Slaton, Hou RB 8
Ricky Williams, Mia RB 13
Patrick Crayton, Dal WR 2
Chad Ochocinco, Cin WR 7
Pierre Garcon, Ind WR 0
Todd Heap, Bal TE 4
Steelers D/ST, Pit D/ST 9
David Akers, Phi K 8

Liquor Store Porkchop: 82 TOTAL
Eli Manning, NYG QB 14
DeAngelo Williams, Car RB 3
Clinton Portis, Was RB 18
Glen Coffee, SF RB 12
Mario Manningham, NYG WR 9
Sidney Rice, Min WR 6
Vernon Davis, SF TE 5
Patriots D/ST, NE D/ST 6
Ryan Longwell, Min K 9

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I ain't 'fraid of no (holy) ghost!

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

I ain't 'fraid of no (holy) ghost!

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan February 26, 2001

"Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part whatever in the construction of religious systems."
--William James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience"

Dear Mr. Holy Ghost,

I don't really believe in you, and I hate to bother you because I know you're busy doing whatever Holy Ghosts do, but, you see, I have a rather pressing problem, and I think you're the only one who can help me with it.
I was reminded of your existence the other day after seeing these posters hung all over campus by the Abundant Life Campus Ministry. Apparently, the Ministry is putting together a Word Seminar for February 26 and 27. I believe the posters were written by George W. and proofread by Dan Quayle.
Anyway, to quote: "The baptism of the Holy Spirit is one area many Christians have avoided because of a lack of understanding, confusion, misconception and sometimes controvercy (sic). But the Bible has a lot to say about it. The Word Seminar intends to address this subject with an indepth (sic) Biblical view."
So if you help me with my little problem, I'll loan your servants my New American Pocket Dictionary. Admittedly, it's a few years old, but I still think it's a fair trade.
Now, I suppose my problem really deals with Matthew 12:31-32: "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come."
You see, a few years ago, I came across this verse and thought I had stumbled upon a virtually foolproof way to get a little peace of mind from my Mom's and other Christians' constant attempts to re-convert me. I immediately blasphemed you, both orally and in writing, and thought I had therefore made myself immune to any future attempts at "salvation" (or should I say subjugation).
Now, the last time my dearly-beloved Mother mentioned that all atheists repent before they died, and that she would pray for me, I became flushed with excitement: I held the trump card! Or so I thought; after reciting the verse and telling her of my previous blasphemies, my Mom only paused for a moment and then said: "But Jeremy, you can't blaspheme something you don't believe in; so when you try to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, I know that you still, deep down, believe in it."
Now, you can't imagine my frustration. But what could I do? If my Mom was right, and I could only blaspheme you by admitting I believe in you, then that would kind of ruin the whole point. However, I received slightly different guidance from my friends at the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (www.carm.org). They informed me that: "There is no biblical support for a believer committing this sin. It just hasn't happened. Also, if you are worried that you may have committed the sin and can't be forgiven, then don't be concerned. If you are worrying about it, then you haven't committed it. If you are worried about it, then that is a sign that you have not committed it. If you had, you wouldn't be concerned."
I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, but admittedly, I don't exactly understand this passage. But from what I can make out, I'm in a pretty bad position.
If my Mom's right, I can't blaspheme you without confessing that I believe in you; but according to the Research Ministry, if I believe in you, I can't blaspheme you. What gives? I'm saved if I do, saved if I don't!
Like I said, I know you're pretty busy and everything, but if you could help me out with this I would really appreciate it. It's not like I'm asking you to give a coherent explanation of the Trinity or something. Maybe we can stipulate that if I knew how to blaspheme you, I would do so?
I mean, you've got to give me a little bit of credit: I'm doing the very best I can.

With the Utmost Sincerity,

Jeremy Patrick

Behind Closed Doors

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Behind closed doors

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)
The Daily Nebraskan

February 19, 2001

"The government being the people's business, it necessarily follows that its operations should be at all times open to the public view. Publicity is therefore as essential to honest administration as freedom of speech is to representative government."
--William Jennings Bryan (1915)

Last week, a controversy erupted over a suggestion Timothy McVeigh made in a letter published by the Sunday Oklahoman. McVeigh, observing the problems prison officials were having in finding room for relatives of his victims (more than 250) to view his execution, suggested that "a reasonable solution seems obvious: hold a true public execution." (OWH, 2/11/01)
Predictably, Bureau of Prisons spokesman Dan Dunne said: "It hasn't been considered. It won't happen." (OWH, 2/11/01) Instead, the prison system will set up a closed-circuit television system for the relatives to view McVeigh's execution.
Many newspaper commentators oppose showing McVeigh's execution publicly because they believe it is playing into his vision of himself as a martyr. Of course, it's bad policy to promote general rules based on exceptional instances. The "normal" convicted murderer is certainly not happy about being executed and would probably be adverse to having his death seen by all.
In fact, public executions have gained support from people on both sides of the political spectrum, including liberals such as Jesse Jackson and Nat Hentoff and conservatives such as George Will and James Philip (President of the Illinois Senate). By turning from an unusual instance (McVeigh) to a general policy applied to all convicted murderers, it seems clear that both supporters and opponents of capital punishment should favor public executions.
Supporters of capital punishment are motivated by a variety of factors, but at least publicly they espouse three reasons for their belief that the death penalty is justified: deterrence, "closure" for victims and retribution. The idea that the death penalty deters future murders has never been supported by a shred of evidence (in fact, recent studies show that 10 of the 12 states without it have homicide rates below the national average, even when one controls for demographic differences), but even if it somehow does prevent crime, presumably, deterrence could only take place if people know about it. Public executions would increase public awareness that evil people get what's coming to them and would thereby increase the deterrence effect of capital punishment generally.
A belief in "closure" also should entail a belief in capital punishment. The victims of a crime include far more than one's close relatives; they include friends, coworkers and the public in general (often we hear about how a murder was a crime against an entire community). By this logic, the more people able to view the murderer's execution, the more "closure" will be available.
And for those who believe in some cosmic notion of retribution or justice, public executions will have the exact same effect in ensuring that the offender gets what he or she deserves. For those who believe that capital punishment is unjust, the major objections (e.g., its disproportions, its violation of religious law or its racist and classist application) are not changed by having public executions.
Some concerned citizens, except those who support a deterrence rationale, may be afraid that it will make the public bloodthirsty or that it will harm children emotionally. But death by lethal injection, for example, is tame compared to the gruesome deaths we can all see on cable television or in comic books or, for that matter, on "Faces of Death," available in most rental outlets. Like the public's choice for all other forms of media, those who wouldn't want to watch it wouldn't be forced to.
There is, however, an important benefit to having public executions: increased awareness of exactly what the government is (or is not) doing. There is often much confusion over what happens during executions: Does the convict feel pain? What exactly were his last words? Was the execution team gentle or rough? According to some reports, inmates have burst into fire during electrocution or gone into convulsions after lethal injection; if denied by prison officials, how do we know who is telling the truth? Allowing the media access to executions would solve these problems.
According to Justice Brandeis, "Publicity is justly commanded as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Government action, especially action that is so potentially fraught with abuse such as capital punishment, needs to be in the public's view. Justice cannot exist in a world of lies or in a world of shadows. When prison officials refuse to even consider the idea of public executions, one wonders what exactly they are afraid of.
As Camus said, "One must kill publicly or confess that one does not feel authorized to kill."

The Paradox of (Un)Intelligent Design

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

The paradox of (un)intelligent design

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Daily Nebraskan

February 12, 2001

"A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering."
--Bertrand Russell, from "Why I am not a Christian"

Like zombies in a horror movie, some ideas are slain repeatedly only to rise from the grave for yet another try at success. Creationism, the idea that the earth and every living thing on it were created instantaneously by God, is one such idea. Although the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to teach Creationism almost two decades ago, supporters of the idea have not given up.
Kansas' removal of all mention of evolution from educational guidelines (though reversed in a recent election) is one example of their continuing power. A new movement is on the horizon, however, that promises to reinvigorate the controversy over science, religion and their respective places in our educational system.
The "intelligent design" theory holds that everything in the universe was designed by an intelligent being, not the result of natural processes. Like Creationism, intelligent design theory is embraced by only a tiny handful of scientists. But unlike Creationism, the proponents of intelligent design avoid base appeals to religious fervor or references to the Bible. Instead, their position is argued on certain scientific critiques of evolution and other evidence they believe proves that our universe could not be the result of chance.
It's still too soon to decide the merits of this theory. Books like Phillip E. Johnson's "Darwin On Trial" argue that the fossil record fails to support evolution, and Michael Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" argue that the biochemical and genetic make-up of life is too complex to be the result of natural processes. Both are fascinating reads and deserve consideration by evolutionists. On the other hand, the intelligent design movement has gained few followers in the scientific community and rarely succeeds in getting its ideas published in peer-reviewed journals.
Whether this reflects the scientific community's obstinacy to new ideas or simply its rational assessment of the merits of intelligent design theory only time will tell.
The most interesting thing about any movement, however, is the difference between its stated goals and its real motivations. On its face, the intelligent design movement simply pursues scientific truth through the best evidence available. In reality, however, most proponents of intelligent design theory believe it is a way to cure the primary ill they associate with belief in evolution: loss of faith in God. Design theorists are "overwhelmingly Christian." The 10-year-old Discovery Institute and its offshoot, the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, "are at the center of the intelligent-design movement." (OWH, 1/22/01)
The Institute sponsors intelligent design conferences and its scholars write articles, which they publish in special intelligent design journals. According to its mission statement (entitled "The Wedge Strategy") the goal of the Institute is not the pursuit of scientific truth, but "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."
T.H. Huxley said, "Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men." Let us, just for a moment, assume that intelligent design theory is 100 percent correct and that the universe and everything in it was created by an intelligent being. What follows logically from this?
Will the Discovery Institute succeed in convincing rational people that God exists and, in turn, change their behavior? In a word, no. The Institute has placed its urge to proselytize over an objective scientific search for truth.
Even if we knew that there was a designer, we would have absolutely no information about this designer. We wouldn't know if the designer was a race of advanced extraterrestrials (which some intelligent design theorists believe), a sentient computer, a collection of gods, one god, a beneficent god or a malevolent deity.
David Hume, speaking through the voice of Demea in his "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion" said, "While we are uncertain whether there is one deity or many; whether the deity or deities, to whom we owe our existence, be perfect or imperfect, subordinate or supreme, dead or alive; what trust or confidence can we repose in them? What veneration or obedience pay them? To all the purposes of life, the theory of religion becomes altogether useless."
Supporters of the intelligent design movement who simultaneously believe in the classic omnipotent yet beneficent God logically commit themselves to believing, like Voltaire's "Candide," that this is the best of all possible worlds. In a world where millions of infants starve to death, a third of the world is engaged in war and natural disasters (like the recent earthquake in India) kill thousands of innocents everyday, this idea is laughable. Ironically, if the earth is the result of design, the designer appears either unintelligent or purposefully malevolent.
Bertrand Russell said it best: "Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae, would consider Himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and the H-bomb."
The debate over evolution and intelligent design is important and deserves to continue. At the very least, it forces evolutionists to defend their belief with evidence instead of authority, and it may even lead to new understandings of our universe.
For now, however, I tend to agree with Russell: "The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis."