Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poor Squirrels

There are many levels on which this is very, very wrong.

But it's still funny.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Little Hypocrisy in India

This isn't exactly earth-shaking news, but I do find it somewhat amusing. According to Indian Judge Dinesh Gupta...
[Richard] Gere and [Shilpa] Shetty "transgressed all limits of vulgarity and have the tendency to corrupt the society."
...when he dipped and kissed her (not on the mouth, btw) at an HIV/AIDS awareness event in Delhi. Consequently, he issued an arrest warrant for both of them.

I don't really care that Indian prudes were offended by Gere's behavior, and I don't expect the arrest warrant to amount to anything, but I find it amusing that...

Photographs of the clinch were then splashed across front pages in India — where public displays of affection are largely taboo.
... but the Judge doesn't seem to be issuing arrest warrants to papers for publishing all these "vulgar" photographs. Doesn't spreading these images all over the country "tend to corrupt the society". Better get some ointment for you signature hand, Dinesh, you've got a lot more warrants to sign.

Skeptics' Circle 59

The 59th Skeptics' Circle is up. You've read one of the articles, now read the rest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What They Say… What They Mean

This list could turn into something long and on-going, depending on how my readers respond (keeping in mind that I've turned on comment moderation to cut down on spam). Most of this is advertising related, although some of it is political. All of it puts a skeptic spin on a common claim.

What they say…
“Free high-speed internet!”
What they mean…
“All customers pay for high-speed internet, whether they use it or not.”

What they say…
“The media is biased.”
What they mean…
“Other media outlets don’t share our bias.”

What they say…
“Not available in stores.”
What they mean…
“Getting a refund for this product is too difficult to be worth pursuing.”

What they say…
“A $60 value for just $19.99.”
What they mean…
“We wish we could get away with selling this $20 item for $60.”

What they say…
“Money-back guarantee.”
What they mean…
“We’re legally obliged to abide by the ‘implied warrantee of fitness’.”

What they say…
“Three easy payments of just $19.99.”
What they mean…
“We want to confuse you into thinking of this as a $20 purchase, not a $60 purchase.”

What they say…
“Buy one, get one free.”
What they mean…
“The price is twice what it needs to be.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

Advice from Joseph Swetnam

Joseph Swetnam gives a bit of advice you might not expect from one of the Renaissance fencing masters.
“... when two good men meet, the conquest will be hardly and dangerously ended on the one side, except Discretion be a mediator to take up the matter before it come to the worst, if by friends it be not ended before hand; but if thou canst, hurt thy enemy, yes, although it be but a little, or unarm him of his weapon, which thou mayst very easily do if thou do fight with good discretion. And either of these are accounted for a victory....”
I’m not sure if he is unique in this attitude, but I’m fairly sure that many fencing masters (among them Salvatore Fabris, I’m told) advise their students that a duel is a death match. Don’t play nice; don’t hold back; the surest way to survive is to kill your opponent.

Swetnam actually advises his students to avoid killing an opponent, if possible, because the consequences of killing a man are dire even if your action is legally defensible. This basic attitude lies behind much of his actual technique; his favorite targets are the opponent’s sword arm and shoulder.

Renaissance dueling customs actually allow this kind of attitude. Typically, a duel would not be fought to the death. The purpose of a duel was to demonstrate courage and conviction, to show that you meant what you said and weren't afraid to stand up for it, not necessarily to kill someone. A duel would usually end when one of the combatants could no longer continue; the duelists would bring seconds and physicians to the duel to make that determination.

Swetnam thinks that most duels were the result of ill-advised challenges made by drunken hot-heads, and he was probably right. Most offended parties probably thought the offender would retract his words or otherwise repent when challenged to a potentially deadly struggle, only to find that the offender was just as drunk, hot-headed, or foolish as the challenger.

That being the case, it was probably best for all concerned if a duel ended with the loser disarmed or just slightly injured. There would be no murder charges, and the family of the loser would have little reason to seek vengeance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Returning to Practice

I made it back to fencing practice last night. I've been out of the loop for too long, so hopefully this will become routine again. I'm slowly learning that Swetnam's advice regarding distance really does make sense, at least if you're planning to use his techniques. I do much better if I keep to the very long range that he recommends; allowing my opponents to get too close leads to some rather desperate efforts at defense if not immediate defeat. Consequently, I'm learning to keep myself back to proper distance unless I'm actually launching an attack.

Jaime was at practice last night, and she has improved quite a bit since the last time we sparred. I have to go at full speed to successfully attack her now, and she's become quite the little demon in a dagger fight. We'll have to make sure to get her authorized soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What Transpired at Fools' War

I managed to arrive at Fools’ War early enough on Saturday morning to enter the rapier tournament. The list ended up with eleven entries, a small enough group to run a round-robin style tournament. Most of the competitors were people I do not face very often, and this turned out to be a good contest. I managed win seven of my ten bouts, tying for first place with Jean-Michel and Kurt the Hager (whose name may be hideously misspelled). Although I’d defeated both of them in the first round, Kurt defeated both me and Jean-Michel in succession, securing victory for himself in the final round. Nonetheless, I was quite pleased with my performance in the fencing tournament. I spent most of the remainder of the day learning drills from Jean-Michel and sparring with the other fencers present.

Saturday evening, Fjorleif and I enjoyed the hospitality of House Bohun for a potluck feast, and I don’t think we’ve ever had more enjoyable company for dinner. Fools’ War is frequently a “party war”, with several camps hosting parties with a variety of games. In addition, there is usually a European Revel with dancing. This year, however, there was freezing cold, so Fjorleif and I bundled ourselves under a huge heap of blankets after dinner instead of wandering about in the cold, dark night.

A Creationist's Argument

“Zor” at the BBS recently shared an email message from a Young Earth Creationist he met at his university. Apparently this message follows a conversation that the two of them had when she noticed him reading Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. It contains examples of pretty standard creationist thinking, so I thought I’d look into it a bit. I’m using Nicole as an example because she seems to be pretty sincere but misinformed, instead of being one of those creationists who routinely lie.

Hey [Zor],

Here is some food for thought concerning our discussion the other day!

I'm not exactly sure how to begin, but i think the origins of everything would be a good place to start. The heavens and the earth were created by God, in the beginning. God was, is and is to come...this would explain the origins of everything. We exist because we were created by God to exist, to serve Him, for His glory. Evolution cannot expain the origins of everything because there is no way that everything that exists today and the order in which it exists came from nothing and then evolved into what it is today by random chance and selection. (even if evolution were true, it still does not explain how everything got there in the first place).
A standard problem with creationist thinking is the assumption that the Theory of Evolution is supposed to explain everything in the universe. That’s expecting far too much from the theory. The Theory of Evolution only explains how all of the varied species of life on Earth are related, having diversified from a single common ancestor after life on Earth actually began. The Theory of Evolution does not even attempt to explain “how everything got there in the first place”, yet creationists seem to think it should. Please, folks, if you’re going to try to disprove a theory, at least try to understand what the theory actually claims to explain before you dispute those claims.

It takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does creation because creation has a Creator, a Maker of the earth, the heavens, life itself. Evolution says that everything came from nothing. Doesn't it make a ton more sense to believe that we were created by an almighty God than from nothing 'a bazillion' years ago?
This is a good example of a creationist using a “strawman argument” against the Theory of Evolution. The term comes from old military training exercises, in which trainers would set up a straw dummy that soldiers – swordsmen, archers, horsemen, etc. – could attack to develop their skills. The “strawman”, of course, doesn’t dodge or fight back, because it’s not a real opponent. Similarly, a “strawman argument” is a harmless imitation of the real argument that is easy to strike down.

In this particular example, Nicole’s claim that “Evolution says that everything came from nothing” is a strawman. As noted above, the Theory of Evolution does not say that. It’s easy to make a misrepresentation of the theory seem like nonsense – much easier than arguing against the real Theory of Evolution.

Take for example, an airplane. There is careful design and thought put into an airplane. It must be DESIGNED and then built, it wasn't as if there was an enormous storm and then POOF! one day there is a brand spanking new airplane sitting on the runway, ready for use. (the 'airplane' i am referring to is the earth and how everything in it works, for example-the water cycle, the human body, etc).
Here, Nicole makes another strawman argument, this time trying to compare the origins of the universe (which, as we’ve already noted, is outside the scope of the Theory of Evolution) to the construction of an airplane. The Theory of Evolution doesn’t involve a “Poof!” in which numerous animal species appear from nowhere. In fact, her analogy has far more in common with Creationism than the Theory of Evolution.

You had mentioned in class that there was plenty of evidence for evolution. I'm wondering what the specific examples are and the proofs behind them.
The sad part is that she probably really doesn’t know. Here are a few quickies:

Progressionism: Everywhere in the world, if you dig for fossils, you will find that as you get deeper, the fossils become simpler. This trend is known as progressionism and it indicates that highly evolved animals occupy only a small, recent portion of the fossil record, so they couldn't have been there from the beginning.

Structural similarity: There are fundamental similarities between divergent species within their families. For example, the forearm skeletal structures of hundreds of vertebrate species (including man and ape) are remarkably similar.

Biochemical similarity: The chemical makeup of numerous related species is profoundly similar. For example, human DNA is 98% identical to that of other apes. At a more fundamental level, the protein enzyme known as cytochrome is part of the respiration process and is found in everything from plants to bacteria, fungi, and mammals.

Embryological similarity: The embryos of different species are often indistinguishable from one another, even when the end product is radically different, eg- lizards, birds, and mammals. This early similarity indicates common origins.

Transformed organs: Many related species have similar organs in similar places, but altered to perform different functions. This is consistent with evolution from one species to another, but a staggering coincidence if one believes in individual species design.

Poor design: Many biological structures are obviously haphazard and less than optimal. For example, all vertebrates swallow and breathe through the same tube, which creates a choking hazard that can easily be fatal. Evolution accepts that these will occur when parts are pressed into new functions, but a Creator or Designer would be expected to correct these flaws.

Vestigial features: The human appendix, the fingerbones of whales, the hollow bones of flightless birds… there are many examples of features that serve no useful purpose for modern species. These features make sense only if the modern species descended from ancestors that actually used those features.

Geographical distribution: Thousands of separate species which are similar in every respect are coincidentally located in such a manner that they appear to have spread outward from a single place of origin.

Paleontology: The fossil record demonstrates that the structure of animals has historically been consistent with their environmental conditions. Some animal lineages – horses being a good example – have a well-defined “family tree” of ancestral species going back through time.

Observed adaptation: We have observed changes in populations of existing species in response to new environmental pressures. Examples include bacterial resistance to antibiotics and insects growing resistant to pesticides.

This list is a tiny sampling of the wealth of evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution. If you truly don’t know about any of this, you need to start studying the subject before you criticize the theory.

Also, you had mentioned that everything that exists today is derived from one cell. How is that possible, what with the diversity of living things on earth? If everything that exists is derived from one cell, why would there not continue to be more and more life forms evolving, coming into existence (like bacteria reproducing-wouldn't more and more life forms continue to be reproduced?) Its not as if the entire evolutionary process would be stopped!
This statement shows that the Nicole simply doesn’t understand reality, let alone the Theory of Evolution. The whole point of the Theory is to explain how today’s diversity of living things evolved from a single common ancestor over the course of time. The most bizarre question she asks is “why would there not continue to be more and more life forms evolving, coming into existence?” New species are evolving. The evolutionary process has not stopped.

I'm also just curious about what your basis for being an athiest is-do you just not believe that God exists at all, or is it that you don't want to acknowledge His existence?
Nicole doesn’t realize it, but she’s an atheist, too. Does she believe in Vishnu? Odin? Zeus? Quetzalcoatl? Zoroaster? Baal? The religious difference between her and Zor is that he believes in one less god than she does.

There is so much more that I could and would like to write (as proof for creation), but I'll just leave it at that for now. I look forward to your response!

In Nicole’s case, I’d settle for just one piece of testable, verified evidence supporting Creation. Nitpicking the Theory of Evolution – especially such bad misrepresentations of it as she has presented – simply doesn’t cut it. To make the case for Creationism, you’ve got to show that Creationism does a better job of explaining the physical evidence than the Theory of Evolution.

Acknowledgment: I borrowed the “quickie evidence” from

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Going to Fools' War

Fjorleif and I will be travelling down to Macon, GA, this weekend for Fools' War. As the name suggests, this is one of the sillier SCA events you can attend, including activities like the Anti-A&S competition. I'm considering entering that competition, but my ideal partner in crime for it won't be present; I would have to recruit someone on site, and I'm not sure who would be well-suited for what I have in mind. Further, Lady Julianna might take offense if I were to attempt this competition without her. Oh well, we'll see what happens.