Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chess Log: 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 ♘d4 4. ♘xd4 exd4 5. d3 c6 6. ♗c4 ♗b4 7. ♗d2 ♕e7???

5-0 blitz, I played White. When Black resigned I had 3:58 left on my clock, Black had 3:27 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 ♘d4 4. ♘xd4 exd4 5. d3 c6 6. ♗c4 ♗b4 7. ♗d2 ♕e7 8. a3 ♗xd2 9. ♘xd2 d5 10. ♗b3 dxe4 11. O-O e3 12. ♖e1 exf2 13. ♔xf2 ♗e6 14. ♗xe6 fxe6 15. ♕g4 ♕f6 16. ♘f3 O-O-O 17. ♖xe6 ♕f7 18. ♖e7 1-0 {Black resigns}

For crying out loud, don't leave your Queen right in front of your King FOR 8 MOVES early in the game while your opponent still has his Queen and both Rooks! A halfway-alert opponent will punish you for this. Black got the Queen out of the way eventually, but after White's 18th move, Black would still either lose the Queen with 18. ... ♔b8, or be checkmated with 18. ... ♖d7 19. ♕xd7+! ♔b8 20. ♕b7#. I am not a great player, not even close, but I saw this coming from my 11th move.

If you're going to put you Queen in front of your King early on, make sure you know how you're going to move one or the other, and make sure that move happens soon. SOON.

Why Don't People Mention The Last Temptation Of Christ And The Gospel Of Judas In The Same Breath?

In 1953, Nikos Kazantzakis published his novel The Last Temptation of Christ, a version of the story of Jesus in which Judas was Jesus' closest disciple, and betrayed him to the Romans on Jesus' instruction, in order that Jesus might fulfill his mission and the will of God. That is to say, he published the original Greek version of that novel in 1953. The English translation appeared in 1960, spreading the controversy and scandal over Kazantzakis' unorthodox tale, and the controversy was spread much wider still in 1988, when Martin Scorsese's film version of the novel appeared, with Willem Dafoe in the role of Jesus. It was Scorsese's 3rd attempt to make the movie. In the 1st go-round Robert DeNiro was going to play Jesus, the filming was to take place in Jerusalem, and the budget was going to be around $40 million dollars. But the film's financial backers backed out, afraid of the controversy. The 2nd attempt went as far as Aiden Quinn growing a beard in order to play Jesus. Again, just like Peter after Jesus' arrest being accused of knowing Jesus, the money people became sore afraid for a 2nd time and the project was abandoned again. When Scorsese finally got it done with Dafoe as Jesus, he filmed in Morocco on an $8 million budget.

And a lot of people flipped out. In Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1988, someone drove a car through a wall of a theatre planning to show the movie, and behold, the theatre owners were sore afraid, and The Last Temptation of Christ got its Knoxville premiere a couple of years later when it was shown by the University of Tennessee Film Committee, a dedicated group of film lovers notable not only for their good taste in movies but also for their guts.

Meanwhile, in the 1970's, the Coptic Gnostic text now known as the Gospel of Judas was discovered in Egypt. It was published in 2006, and widely remarked upon and exclaimed over for its "novel" version of the story of Jesus, in which Judas was Jesus' closest disciple, and betrayed him to the Romans on Jesus' instruction, in order that Jesus might fulfill his mission and the will of God.

And apparently, out of all of the billions of people on Earth, I'm the only one who has noticed the similarity between the Gospel of Judas and Kazantzakis' novel, written 2 decades before the Gospel was discovered and 5 decades before it was published, the novel also having been made into a famously controversial and scandalous Hollywood movie in the meantime also.

Well. I guess it's a darn good thing I'm around to point out things which somehow weren't already obvious to everybody! Can I have that Nobel now?

PS: Just as with the similarities between Homer and the Pentateuch which I pointed out in a recent post, I suppose that it's possible that an entire community of scholarly folks has been excitedly discussing the similarities all along, and I've simply never noticed. Possible but not bloody likely.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Agnostics Say Nothing Is Absolutely Knowable. They Are Wrong.

I am not absolutely certain about very much, but I am absolutely certain that agnostics are unbearable. I am absolutely certain that they are wrong when they claim that they have grasped certain aspects of knowledge which have escaped all of the rest of us, atheists as well as religious believers. I am certain, without reservation, that their smug sense of their own intellectual superiority is mistaken. I am absolutely certain that that smugness masks a subconscious insecurity about their intellectual prowess, and I am absolutely certain that that that insecurity, although unfortunately subconscious, is well-justified.

And I am as certain that I have no need whatsoever to prove any of the above, as I am that Bertrand Russell had no need to prove the inexistance of his hypothetical teapot:

"Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."

Spot on, old man! Spot on! Well done! So wrote Russell in a magazine piece first published in 1952, in response to demands that atheists prove that God does not exist. A demand that I should demonstrate that agnostics are icky, horrible, unloveable motherless bastards with halitosis and bad manners is every bit as unreasonable. Anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to meet an agnostic, any atheist who's ever been cornered by one of them and made to listen to him recite things which he, the atheist, went over long ago in his own mind before moving on, anyone who's listened to an agnostic swelling with unjustifiable pride as he goes on and on as if he'd just come up with an ironclad, easily-verifiable unified field theory, knows that I'm going easy on them.

They're the worst! All the rest of us, atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Bahá'ís, Southern Baptists, ironical Episcopalians -- all of us can agree about that!

Stuff it, agnostics! Nobody wants to hear it (again)!

Why Aren't Homer And The Pentateuch Mentioned More Often In The Same Breath?

They come from the same part of the world. Greece and the Western coast of Turkey aren't so far from Egypt and Israel. They each occupy a central, dominating place in a culture, first the Greek culture in the one case and through it the Graeco-Roman and its heirs; and in the other case the Jewish culture, and then through it Christendom and Islam and very many of the same cultural inheritors. The events portrayed by each of them occurred, if they occurred, in the 13th century BC or thereabout. They each existed as oral epic passed down for some time before they took written form. Each one took roughly the written form with which we're familiar no later than the 6th century BC.

In hindsight, we can see both Greece and Israel for the first time after what is called the Ancient Near East Dark Age or the Late Bronze Age Collapse: a period of chaos and destruction in Egypt and the Hittite and Canaanite civilisations in the 13th and 12th centuries, from which we have very few written documents. As with the European Dark Ages between AD 476 and 800, this period in the ancient Near East is sometimes called a Dark Age because very little contemporary writing sheds light on what happened, and also because what we do know about the era seems to have been very desolate and bleak and bloody. After this gap in the historical record, we can see Greece in what had been the territory of the Mycenaeans, and Israel in what had been Canaan. It's unclear to what extent the Greeks were descended from the Mycenaeans, and to what extent the Israelites were descended from the Canaanites. The Mycenaeans and the Canaanites had written with a syllabic script, and the Greek and Israelites both wrote with alphabets which both came from some original alphabet. We don't know exactly when or how the Greeks and the Israelites began to write.

Homer and the Pentateuch both describe events which may or may not have actually happened -- the Trojan War and its aftermath, and the Exodus -- but which if they did were no doubt significantly altered in the written versions. It's debatable whether there ever really was a Moses or Joshua, or an Achilles or Helen. Or a Homer. The parallels just don't stop.

Can it really be that these parallels are not often remarked upon and investigated?

Well, they should be mentioned in the same breath, for countless reasons, and if it's really the case that nobody before me has done so, then it's high time someone did and I'm someone and I'm mentioning them, so there!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chess Log: Too Aggressive

5-0 blitz, I played White.

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 ♕xd5 3. ♘c3 ♕a5 4. d4 e6 5. ♗d2 ♗b4 6. a3 ♗xc3 7. ♗xc3 ♕d5 8. ♘f3 c5 9. dxc5 ♕xd1 10. ♖xd1 ♗d7 11. ♘e5 f6 12. ♘xd7 ♘xd7 13. ♗b5 ♖d8 14. ♗a5 b6 15. cxb6 ♔e7 16. bxa7 ♘h6 17. ♗c6 ♘e5 18. ♖xd8 ♘xc6 19. a8=Q ♖xd8 1-0 {Black resigns}

This opponent and I seem pretty evenly matched at present, having split a number of victories lately. My overall tendency as a player is pretty aggressive, but this guy is significantly more aggressive still. He often comes up with moves which are just wild, and may not be perfectly sound upon careful examination, but remember, these are 5-0 blitz games. We've got 5 minutes apiece, total, for all of our moves in the game. I examine things as carefully as I can during the game, of course, but I've got to hurry. He has often succeeded in flustering me enough to gain a decisive advantage, but this time I managed to keep my head and weather the storm. (I knew this guy by now: I knew a storm was coming, so I had installed my mental storm windows, so to speak.)

Up until 4. d4 this is a standard Center Counter Defense opening. Black's 4. ... e6 takes us out of the book. By 13. ♗b5 Black is in serious trouble: his unsuccessful attack beginning with his 5th move, which by his 10th move had seriously fizzled, has left him overextended and out of options.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Academics Haven't Convinced Me That Jesus Existed. With Very Few Exceptions, They Haven't Convinced Me That They've Really Begun To Investigate The Matter

Here we go again, round and round and round, getting all worked up, getting nowhere. Isn't it all just perfectly dreadful.

Historicists, people who believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed, including many atheists who don't believe any of the New Testament stories of supernatural things, often correctly point out that the great majority of academics are historicists. And they often correctly point out that most of the mythicists, the people who have doubts about Jesus' existence, are amateurs, and often do a spectacularly poor job of making the case that it's less than certain that Jesus existed. To be clear: mythicists don't merely doubt the supernatural stories about Jesus. They (we) are not convinced that those stories are even based on a real person, named Jesus, who came from Nazareth. We figure: so much of the New Testament is clearly legend, the existence of Jesus might be just one more legendary detail -- a rather small detail when one considers the proportional of legend in the New Testament.

I agree that there are a lot of zany mythicists. I've criticized some of them so harshly in this blog that some of them, apparently having stopped reading before the end of one post or another, have assumed that I am an historicist, or even a very devout Christian. So, for the billionth time and the 2nd time in this post: I'm an atheist and I'm not convinced that Jesus existed.

Yes, I've criticized some mythicists very harshly. I've also pointed out that the fact that some of them argue the mythicist case very poorly says nothing at all about the soundness or unsoundness of the case itself, the soundness or unsoundness of the position: it is not certain that Jesus existed.

There must be a term in formal logic for this sort of fallacy: the fact that A argues the case for 1 poorly does not say anything about the soundness or unsoundness of 1. Whatever logicians would call this fallacy, it's the primary argument of the historians.

Surprisingly, historicists who are also academic specialists in Biblical studies very often assert that the evidence for Jesus' existence is more extensive and solid than the evidence for the existence of Socrates or Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. Surprisingly, because it's so obviously wrong: we have writings from 3 of Socrates' contemporaries, compared to 0 for Jesus. Besides Caesar's own writings we have those of his contemporaries Cicero and Sallust. We have likenesses of Socrates and Caesar and Alexander in the form of sculptures which were obviously based 1 real person. We know what each of them looked like. Not so with Jesus. And in the case of Caesar and Alexander there's the little detail of them having been the leaders of huge armies and huge states, which means that huge numbers of people would have had to have been silent about them being fictional.

And you know what? Just like the historicists pointing out unsound mythicist arguments doesn't prove that Jesus existed, my pointing out unsound historicist arguments doesn't probe he didn't exist. Far and wide here, no one is proving anything one way or another about whether Jesus existed.

Still, the fact that the academic consensus that Jesus existed is so solid impresses many people. And the consensus shouldn't just be dismissed. However, it is not quite proper to compare mythicists, people who challenge that consensus, to global warming deniers and Holocaust deniers, people who oppose the consensus of climatologists and historians of the 20th century respectively, as Bart Ehrman has done, because Biblical studies is not exactly the same as climatology and 20th century history. Biblical studies is problematic, as scholars say when they suspect that some nonsense may be afoot, screwing up the work of serious people. Biblical studies is not always distinguishable from theology: sometimes a person whom everyone would think of as a Biblical scholars has diplomas which say that his or speciality is theology, and sometimes a theologian has diplomas which say that he or she is a theologian. There is a certain amount of overlap.

And theology is certainly not at all like 20th century history or climatology. It simply isn't, and if you want to insist that it is, I have nothing to say to you about it. Instead, I'm trying to communicate with serious people here.

Christians theologians are the people whom made the Dark Ages dark, who wiped out pagan religions, who tortured and killed fellow Christians for not being the proper sort of Christians and not believing the correct things about the way the world was. They imprisoned Rogar Bacon, over academic differences. They killed people for saying that they believed Copernicus' theories. They threatened to torture Galileo, and kept him under house arrest for the last several years of his life. All over academic differences. They condemned Darwin's theories when they were although by that time, the mid-19th century, they were no longer allowed to torture and kill the people who disagreed with them. They were slow to come around concerning 20th- and 21stcentury physics. They're still interfering with stem-cell research.

I'm not claiming that present-day theologians want to torture and kill people who disagree with them. (Not all of them.) I also don't deny that, although they're very opposed to even discussing the question of whether or not Jesus existed, most of them presently do acknowledge that Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham are mythical figures. Most of them. Many have even stopped arguing altogether for the existence of Moses.

But they haven't led the way in academic consensus, they've never been cutting edge and they're still not.

That's the theologians, though. Not the Biblical scholars, the very ones who have dismantled our belief in the literal truth of the earlier stories in the Bible, the very ones who've shown us that Bible, supposedly the inalterable word of God, has indeed gone through some revisions over the course of centuries.

Except that you can't always tell who's one and who's the other, who's a theologian and who's a Biblical scholar, and who's partly both. Except that sometimes it seems that the theology still corrupts almost every single scholar in the field. Times such as when people try to discuss Jesus' historicity, and the scholars almost all insist that that already has been thoroughly studied, and that Jesus' historicity has been solidly proven. And even more so when many of them go even farther than that and needlessly insult people for thinking that there could be any doubt, for merely wanting to discuss the question. I get a really unpleasant traditionally-Christian, Medieval whiff at such times.

Nobody's proven anything here. The academics haven't proven that Jesus existed. Not to me, anyway. Not yet. I certainly haven't proven that Jesus was made up by St Paul or someone else. But maybe, just possibly, I've gotten one or two people to begin to wonder whether the academic Biblical scholars sometimes cease to behave like 21st-century academics in fields like meteorology or chemistry or 20th-century history or physics or Classical studies or math, and begin to get a little Medieval, when it comes to the question of the Historical Jesus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dream Log: An Ineffective Approach To The Issues Facing Detroit

I dreamed I was in a part of the main branch of the Detroit Public Library unlike any part I've seen in waking life: circular hallways bent around the center of the building, and the circles got smaller as I climbed to higher floors. The circular hallways were carpeted and lined with bookcases, and crowded with people who all seemed very serious and aggressive and efficient, like the more serious characters in His Girl Friday. On a rather high floor someone took me by the hand and dragged me to a television studio. In the studio everyone started treating me as if I were the Mayor of Detroit. (I'm not.) No one actually came out and said that I was the Mayor or called me "Your Honor" or "Mr Mayor" or anything like that, and I also didn't get the impression that anyone present actually thought I was the Mayor, but they all clearly had decided to act as if I were. And I didn't like this. It annoyed me quite a bit.

I was shown onto the set of a morning talk-show. Someone attached a microphone to my lapel, and a makeup woman fumbled around briefly with me. One of the hosts of the show was also on the set, as well as Katy Kay, the anchorwoman of BBC World News America. Not only was everyone treating me as if I were the Mayor, they were also treating Ms Kay as if she were a lifelong resident of Detroit and deeply involved with the minutiae of its politics. Ms Kay didn't seem to care for the situation any more than I did.

The TV people turned on the cameras on the set, and we were on the air, and the host started peppering both Ms Kay and myself with questions to which we had no answers whatsoever. Ms Kay glowered, removed the TV microphone from her lapel and walked off of the set, and I followed suit. She and I assured each other that we had had nothing to do with this bad idea. Then I woke up.