Saturday, October 27, 2012

Of Mice and Internet Chess

There are no takey-backies in big-boy chess. The chess I play is certainly not very advanced, but it's for-realsies chess. Hence: no takey-backies. Period. On the Free Internet Chess Server, via which I play Internet chess, now and again an opponent will send me a message asking me for a takeback. Luckily for me, I won't see that message during the game, because the interface I use with the Free Internet Chess Server allows me to choose a full-screen board which, during the games, completely blocks out the console containing all messages. It happens now and then that an opponent, waiting and waiting for a response while his clock ticks down, not sharing my no-takebacks policies, will send me a further message informing me that I am a **** for not granting the takeback request. These sorts of angry messages may continue for a while after the game is over. I never respond to abusive messages on chess servers, but if I were to respond I'd say something like this: "You're right, I'm a **** who never grants takeback requests. Please, tell everyone you possibly can. It'll be a win-win, because everyone who doesn't share my policy will now know that I'm a **** and carefully avoid playing me, while I will be spared reading tedious messages like yours."

Often the afflicted opponent will explain that what has just happened was a mouse slip. If I were to respond to these plaintive missives -- I don't, but if I were to I would say "I thought it probably was a mouse slip. You know what I do if I suffer a lot of mouse slips one after the other? I fix my mouse! Cause it comes under the category of my problem, just as this comes under the heading of yours." (Similarly, sometimes an opponent will ask to adjourn the game, saying that their boss is approaching. Naturally I won't grant the adjournment, as I won't see the message during the game, but I wouldn't grant it if I saw it. As regular readers of this blog know, in most things I'm decidedly pro-labor, but this would be one of those rare exceptions: I sat down to the game expecting to finish it in one sitting, it's usually a 5-0 blitz game, 5 minutes allotted per side, no increments, no extensions, no timeouts, no takebacks, no mercy! and if I have anything to say about it, no adjournments either, and my opponent's boss apparently expected him to be doing something other than playing chess. This one time I sympathize with the boss.)

Some time ago I discovered that I could disable the feature on the Free Internet Chess Server which enabled my opponent to hit one button and cause a "Takeback" button to light up on my board, which if I pressed would grant the takeback request. It was a good day when I disabled that feature. Now, I don't know whether the "Request Takeback" is not on the opponent's board when he plays me, or if it simply no longer responds. I suppose it might be different on different interfaces. And I don't care. I'm not there playing chess in order to be nice. Among other reasons, I'm there to vent some of my aggressive, less-than-nice tendencies, so that I might tend to be more nice when I'm not playing chess. It is said that precisely such an improvement in one's day-to-day behavior may have been the main reason chess was invented to begin with, back in India around the 6th century. Bobby Fischer said that the object of chess was to crush the opponent's mind. Like a lot of things Bobby said and did, that remark was a little over the top, but you get the idea.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"In 2000 Years People Will Believe Harry Potter Is True"

No, of course I don't believe that. I'm quoting stupid atheists, as I did in the blog post entitled We Possess the Works of Over Fifty Historians Who Were in Jerulsalem During Jesus' Supposed Lifetime, And None of Them Mention Him! And even if I ever did express such a harebrained notion, I would express it more elegantly, saying "nonfictional" rather than "true." ("Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?") This one about Harry Potter seems very popular, and it's staggeringly stupid, of course. (Was it actually started by someone like Dawkins or Hitchens? Harris seems a much more likely suspect.) When the Bible, or the Iliad,for example, was written, people regarded them as nonfiction. A lower percentage of their readers regards them as nonfictional today. Conversely, when the plays of Plautuswere first presented, over 2000 years ago, they were not thought of as depictions of actual people and events any more than Rowling's novels are today. And over the past 2000 years, people have not gradually come to think that they were depictions of actual people and events. Likewise, Dante's Divine Comedyand Shakespeare's Tempest,both clearly understood to be fiction right from the start, are not gradually being regarded as nonfiction.

If I were to argue in court that, indeed, there is a significant group of atheists running around loose who bear striking resemblances to religious fundamentalists, this garbage about Harry Potter just might be Exhibit A. (Hopefully 2000 years from now Rowling's mediocre children's novels will be long forgotten.) Just as a fundamentalist Christian will quote a verse or two from the KJVand stand there grinning smugly at you as if she just showed you something, so many a stupid atheist will say that 2000 years from now people will think Harry Potter is true, and stand there with the very same stupid smug grin on the front of his pointy head. When I first heard the term "fundamentalist atheist" a few years ago I found it to be ridiculous, and I wrote a blog post proudly claiming the intended insult as a label for my own, just like a punk rocker or a Gothic cathedral. Now I see that the term has its legitimate application. I still think that, by and large, the brightest folks tend to be atheists and the dimmest bulbs tend to believe in some deity or deities, but there are atheists who don't think about religion, but just parrot stupid memes about religion, just like the fundies. Let's make it perfectly clear now, I am not on their side. I am on the side of open minds, intellects which exert themselves and reach for more, people who are capable of being corrected. People who love to learn. It's never been atheists against believers with me. Scorsese and Cormac McCarthy and Kazantzakis and Kierkegaard are still my homies. Christianity is still stupid, but a person is often stupid in some areas and brilliant in others, and those four Christians are miles and miles brighter than these atheist yokels who just will not stop repeating their memes about Harry Potter becoming a religion over the next 2000 years and the Bible being written by illiterate [sic!] Bronze Age goat herders or by Constantine and the Pope at Nicea.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mitt Romney Is a Creep!

Well, there goes my career as a big-time journalist, unless MSNBC, Mother Jones or Rolling Stone will have me.

The US is cursed with a terrible misconception about "objective journalism." Actually, it's several misconceptions: 1) That there is such a thing as objectivity. 2) That objectivity is particularly important when reporting about politics. 3) That it is particularly important -- outside of exceptions such as editorials, but to a great extent even there -- for a reporter not to share whatever personal opinions he or she may have about particular politicians, as if anything anyone ever said was more than either a personal opinion or a lie, but to confine him- or herself to a narrowly-defined category of "facts."

Some sensible journalists and observers of journalism, including Hunter S Thompson, have put a dent in such silly notions, but it's still only a dent. And so most political journalists in our mainstream media feel it is part of their job description to carefully hide, as much as they can, how much they loathe Mitt Romney. Those who are both intelligent and forthright are accused of extreme liberal bias, nut just by the idiots and tools at Fox "News," but also by some otherwise-intelligent and upright citizens who have been infected with the "objective journalism" nonsense.

Still, despite this huge barrier between US voters and relevant information, I think the word has somehow gotten around, to wide enough circles, that Mitt, for religious and/or whatever other reasons, is a pathological liar, and a sadistic homophobe and a creep in other ways, that he will not be elected President.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"We Possess the Works of Over Fifty Historians Who Were in Jerulsalem During Jesus' Supposed Lifetime, And None of Them Mention Him!"

Well, no, we don't possess the works of fifty such writers, of course we don't. I put it in quotes because it's someone else's assertion, not mine, and I put it in the headline because it's so breathtakingly wrong. That's right, kiddies, it's Stupid Atheists Time again here at The Wrong Monkey!

The thing is, a meme is abroad in the land of those who feel qualified to pontificate upon the nonexistence of Jesus without first taking something like a good World History 101 course, to the effect that it is downright suspicious that there are no contemporary mentions of Jesus. I'm not the world's leading authority on the evidence for Jesus' existence, but clearly, I'm way ahead of some people. I could be wrong, but I believe that the number of historians whose works are extant who spent so much as a day in Jerusalem between 10 BC and AD 40 -- that's right, we don't know when Jesus lived if he did but if he did it was very likely somewhere in that time frame -- is not fifty, but zero.

I expressed this opinion to the person who holds the position immortalized in the headline of this blog post, and challenged him to name those fifty writers and more. He produced the following forty names: Apollonius, Persius, Appian, Petronius, Arrian, Phaedrus, Aulus Gellius, Philo, Columella, Phlegon, Damis, Pliny the Elder, Dio Chrysostom, Pliny the Younger, Plutarch, Epictetus, Pomponius Mela, Favorinus, Ptolemy, Florus, Lucius, Quintilian, Hermogenes, Quintius Curtius, Josephus, Seneca, Justus of Tiberius, Silius Italicus, Juvenal, Statius, Lucan, Suetonius, Lucian, Tacitus, Lysias, Theon of Smyran, Martial, Valerius Flaccus, Paterculus, Valerius Maximus, and Pausanias.

I pointed out that many of these writers were not historians, that many of them did not live during Jesus' supposed lifetime, and that to my knowledge just one of them, Josephus,had ever spent any time in Jerusalem. Even if they were just passing through. Upon closer inspection of the list, I see one other person who may well have spent some time in Jerusalem: Joseph of Tiberias. And he was an historian, too. But none of his works have survived. We know his name only because Josephus and, centuries later, Photiusmentioned him. And Justus was a contemporary of Josephus, who was not a contemporary of Jesus. It may be that a couple more from the list at least for a moment stood in Jerusalem or rode through it; still, we're woefully short of possessing the works of fifty historians contemporary with Jesus who were in Jerusalem. And, much more to the point, still many clowns short of a rodeo inasmuch as this guy is nowhere near ready to realize that his image of the extent of ancient writing we possess about Jerusalem is drastically mistaken, and perhaps even more to the point, nowhere near ceasing to assume that anyone such as your humble correspondent who attempts to direct him to broader knowledge and away from error is a Christian.

By the way, when this turnip gave me this list he chided me for not doing my own research. I let it go at the time, and mention it now to give you more of the flavor the whole experience. Also, another person mentioned to him that we possess no contemporary non-Roman evidence of Julius Caesar, to which he startlingly replied that there was an abundance of such evidence in Britain, that Julius Caesar had spent time in Britain after its conquest by the Romans had begun under his predecessor Claudius. I pointed out that Caesar was Claudius' predecessor and that he had been killed in 44 BC. Judging from my experience with him so far, that attempt at correction will not leave much of a dent.

It's all just breathtakingly stupid. Not just ignorant, but ignorant and bitterly determined to stay that way, determined not to learn. And I'm telling you all this because this individual is far from unique. There is a whole huge wave of stupid atheism rising, accurately diagnosed here by the very intelligent atheist and historian of early Christianty R Joseph Hoffmann, who is so intelligent that he's often mistaken for a religious believer by those among the atheists who cannot comprehend writing written in breaths longer than sound bites. This wave didn't rise spontaneously. It has leaders, and the leaders' conceptions of ancient history are crunked up. Just as the "moderate" Christians and Muslims energetically shirk responsibility for the extremists they breed, so do Dawkins, Hitch & co overlook their role in the spread of beliefs such as, "We possess the works of more than fifty historians who lived in Jerusalem during Jesus' supposed lifetime, and none of them mention him!" That's right, I'm finally coming right out in public and dissing New Atheism. It gets a C- or worse in Ancient History. I've been somewhat unclear about that for too long, but I finally decided to grow a pair.

Btw, Dawkins' work on biologyremains brilliant. Hoffmann seems to think so too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

He's Gotta Go!

That big scary Italian guy from the Lower East Side, Gyp Rosetti, ever since he first appeared near the beginning of the 1st episode in season 3 of "Boardwalk Empire" and killed that nice friendly dog-owner for absolutely no good reason, I've been thinking: somebody needs to kill that asshole. 3 episodes of the season have been shown now, and almost everything the character has said and done has only hardened my opinion that he needs to be made thoroughly dead without delay, for the good of all mankind and very likely some other animal species as well, and yet, unfathomably, he's still above ground and breathing. It's not right.

And it's not as if I can kill him myself, because, one, this is all taking place 89 years ago, and, two, of course, the big jerk doesn't even really exist, he's just a character on TV show. It's all very frustrating, as you might imagine.

What are all the other relatively sane and civilized characters (Rosetti makes Luciano look like Rothstein.) waiting for? Why can no-one except me see that he needs to go?

Or at the very least that he needs to be kept away from things like guns and cigarette lighters, and honestly, why do I even have to mention something like keeping him away from a gasoline pump? Do you let an untrained and ill-mannered dog chew on the launch button of a nuclear missile? No! You don't! And nobody had to tell you that you don't! Sheesh!

Seriously, though, Bobby Cannavale is doing a magnificent job playing Gyp Rosetti. He's menacing like Jack Nicholson was menacing in The Departed and like DeNiro was menacing in Goodfellas and Cape Fear. If you're an actor or you love good acting you gotta watch "Boardwalk Empire" to see Cannavale. (There are lots of other reason to watch the show, but damn! Bobby!)

Mainstream Media Coverage of Discoveries of Ancient Manuscripts Tends to Be Pretty Awful Generally --

-- but in the case of the papyrus containing the fragment of the text which has become famous as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, I wonder whether the coverage isn't really even much worse than average.

Let's compare it to news coverage of the Syriac gospel of Barnabas which was recently found on a shelf in a courthouse in Turkey, having landed there as evidence in a criminal case brought against some pirates. For a little while the media buzzed with reports, almost entirely untainted by expert evaluation, that this manuscript was thought to be 1500 years old. Then, when the fact began to circulate that it seemed obvious to experts that it was more like 500 years old, the stories dried up very quickly. Hardly anywhere was an update, with a revised estimated age of the artifact, to be seen in the more popular networks and newspapers. They pretty much surrendered the field to religious news outlets, who kept the story going for a while longer as they rejoiced at this contemporary crushing of heresy. And the readership for scholarly journals remained tiny.

Par for the course.

Now, in the case of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the artifact is being presented to the public not by layman government officials who just happened to stumble across it, but by an an expert, Prof Karen L King, who has thoughtfully made a pdf of her upcoming paper about it available to the public. The journalists of the world started off with an expert opinion at their disposal, although you wouldn't know it from most of the stories, not even the ones which linked Prof King's pdf. The stories jumble up things like the estimated dates of the papyrus and of the original Greek text of which the papyrus' Coptic text may be a translation, King's reservations about the papyrus' authenticity pending chemical tests, her interpretation of the historical and theological ramifications if the text is proved to be authentic, etc. Still all par for the course.

What's worse than par for the course is how the media are reacting to news that some experts believe that the text on the papyrus has been forged. Normally such doubts would be ignored, and the media would either stick with their original positions, or just drop the whole subject like a hot rock and hope not too many readers would remember it. Bad enough. Worse, though, in this case, headlines trumpteting that it's a forgery are now far outnumbering all of the previous stories about the document. And it's very far from having been proven a forgery. An expert in Coptic -- but not notably more of an expert than King or her collaborator on the pdf, AnneMarie Luijendijk -- has published his opinion in the Vatican's newspaper that the artifact is a "crude fake," and all the media seem to be running with that. "Crude fake" would have been a much more appropriate headline concerning the James Ossuary or the Shroud of Turin, to which these media outlets tend still stupidly to refer to as controversial. Everyone's quoting the Vatican's guy and the handful of experts who agree with him, and mostly ignoring the experts who think the artifact is genuine, and even the majority of experts who just want to wait for more evidence before they decide.

Was that Syriac Gospel of Barnabas a boy crying wolf, and this papyrus fragment a wolf being ignored because people don't believe the boy? Or is there some other explanation for this latest round of ineptitude?