Friday, December 21, 2012

So This Is the End of the World, Huh?

I pictured it looking and sounding very different than this. So far, around here, anyway, it's been very quiet -- but not spooky quiet, as if all life had died. I can still see people walking their dogs and driving -- and it looks as if there's been a light snow shower, and now a moderate wind is blowing the snow around.

Oh, well. The world was fun. Goodbye, everybody!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chess Log: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 a6 5.Bxc6+ bxc6 6.dxe5 Bg4 7.exd6 cxd6 8.Qd3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Nf6 10.o-o Be7 11.e5 Nd5 12.c4 Nb6 13.Qxc6+ Nd7 14.exd6 Bf6 15.Re1+, Black resigns.

This was a 5-0 blitz, I played White, my opponent was rated more than 100 points higher than me, when Black resigned we each had almost 4 minutes left on our clocks. It's not unusual for me to beat someone rated that highly -- in fact his rating was lower than my personal all-time high. And no, my high didn't come when I was new and my rating was still close to provisional, it came recently, after I'd played thousands of games -- but it is rather unusual for me to beat someone with a rating like that in so few moves and so little time. Some of the questions which analysis of this game presents to me are:

Did I win because my opponent made an uncharacteristic blunder, or did I beat his best game?

If it was the former, how soon did he blunder? I couldn't see anything which looked to me like a terrible move on his part. To me. That is not to say that none of his moves looked like a blunder to him, making him wince a second after he'd done it. And of course much less that a Grandmaster observing the game wouldn't have seen blunders. As an Expert once told me, chess is a game of mistakes. He who makes the least mistakes wins. Weaker players constantly make mistakes which stronger players spot and exploit, this is why the stronger players win. I assume that a Grandmaster observing a game between players on this level would almost always easily spot blunders all over the place as soon as the 10th move or sooner. I say that with the caveat that I know that it's risky to assume anything about Grandmaster-level chess. What they do is way, way, way over my head. More often than not even the commentary they write for the general chess public is over my head. When it comes to chess, in short, Grandmasters and I represent two entirely different species of primates.

Was 11. ...Nd5 a terrible mistake? Or was Black doomed much earlier, perhaps as early as 4. ...a6? I'm used to seeing 4. ...exd4 at this point, followed by 5.Qxd4 Bd7 6.Bxc6. Modern Chess Openings, 13th ed, 1990, refers to this line as "old" and "better for White." I can't find 4. ...a6 in there. (Which doesn't necessarily mean it's not in there.) I googled "1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 a6," though, and I couldn't find anyone putting a bunch of "???"'s after. 4. ...a6. Not that that necessarily says more about the soundness of 4. ...a6 than about my ability to find sound chess analysis.

Was Black right to resign after 15.Re1? Black is down by three Pawns, White's Queen, his Rook on e1 and his Pawn on d6 all looked pretty well-placed. If two Grandmasters were playing, it would probably be reasonable for Black to resign at this point. I qualify it with "probably" because, again, I can't keep up with what those guys do. Maybe there's a shockingly-obvious advantage for Black by the 25th move for those who can see 10 moves ahead. If I'm really cookin' I can sometimes see 5 moves ahead.

How much better than me would a player have to be to take over for Black at this point and be reasonably confident of beating me?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hi-Ho, Mr Rove! Rrrring the Bells! reports that Karl Rove has accused President Obama of wanting a civil war within the GOP.

Well clutch my pearls, Karl! A lot of us want to see conflict within the Republican Party! Or to be more precise, we've been seeing it, and loving it. We would like very much for the GOP to destroy itself, leading to decades of Democratic domination of the US, or even better, competition between Democrats and some party like the Greens for control, with the Republicans as dead as the Federalists. Yeah, that'd be great, thank you very much, Mr Rove! That'd be extra-swell! The President, naturally, because he is the President, must be discreet about wanting to see the GOP terminally implode, just as he must be discreet about so many other things. But us little people? We've formed into circles, Karl, and joined our little hands, and in our squeaky little voices we're singing:

Ding-dong, the witch is dead
Which old witch? The wicked witch!
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is deeeeeeaaaaaaaad!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Are the Biblical Scholars Partly to Blame For the Shortcomings of the New Atheists?

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Bart Ehrman is wrong to associate people who question whether Jesus existed with people who question the overwhelming consensus of meteorologists when they say that global warming is catastrophic, getting rapidly worse, and caused by humans; or with people who think aliens landed in Roswell in 1947; or even with people stupid enough to doubt that the Holocaust happened. Meteorologists and serious historians and journalists have gotten through with great ease to these people who aren't sure Jesus really existed; with tremendous ease compared to Biblical scholars who seem, the very great majority of them, to be sure that Jesus existed. Perhaps the problem isn't really so much that the doubters are terribly uninformed or resistant to reason, but that the Biblical scholars are, quite simply, unconvincing.

Perhaps even worse: maybe the Biblical scholars aren't even particularly interested, when push comes to shove, in sharing their findings to a broad public in a convincing way. If there is a general lack of a feeling of pedagogical responsibility in this academic field vis-a-vis the general public, an ivory-tower mentality, then it should surprise no one if that general public is more poorly-educated about the background and creation of the Bible than it is about most subjects.

Yesterday, online, I came across someone whose tagline reads "question everything," and who expressed the opinion, which is widely found among New Atheists and people who question Jesus' historical existence, that the Genesis story of Noah and the flood was "obviously directly plagiarized" from the Epic of Gilgamesh. I responded to this person that apparently the assumption that this "plagiarism" had not only occurred but that it was obvious and direct did not appear to be included in the "everything" of the person's tagline. This person hasn't gotten back to me yet. I've been wondering whether the response, if and when it comes, will include the assumption that I am a Christian interested in upholding a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Such assumptions are quite common when I make such remarks. I'm so often prematurely labeled a Christian by New Atheists that I've been getting quite weary of correcting them on that point. Some friends of mine don't usually bother to make such corrections. Yesterday I thought for a short while about joining them in that respect, when I had a, you will please excuse the faddish expression, come-to-Jesus moment. Why had I bothered to communicate with this person at all? Was it only for the sake of making them look (even) sillier to a small onlooking group of my friends and admirers? Or was I actually trying to make them question whether their assumption about Gilgamesh and Noah might be, not necessarily wrong, but perhaps hasty?

It was the latter. I was actually trying to get through to them and convince them not to believe everything they read at or, and not to mistrust everything said by an academic Biblical scholar other then the famous (in our circles) few who are skeptical on the Jesus question.

I have a feeling that the mainstream of today's Biblical scholars, who are so annoyed with all of these New Atheists for showing their scholarship so little respect, indeed so little heed whatsoever, have themselves brought about this state of affairs, by the lack of the will to make themselves and their work understood. Let's not forget, the New Atheists, who make the Biblical scholars cringe with their constantly-showing lack of competence in Biblical scholarship, include, indeed to a great extent are led by, Richard Dawkins. Who is about as far from a tinfoil-hat-wearing, global-warming-denying conspiracy theorist as one can be, so much for Bart Ehrman's thesis, with a mention of which I began this essay. Dawkins and many other New Atheists are in fact superbly well informed about global warming, aliens etc. The Biblical scholars are right that the New Atheists, even including Dawkins, are appallingly ignorant about fields of inquiry involving and overlapping with theirs. But how long are they going to stand pat with explanations of this state of affairs such as that the New Atheists are former fundamentalists who still apply fundamentalist preconceptions to the study of the Bible, and smile at the others in their little clique about how ignorant those people are who criticize them, before they actually decide to take responsibility, some responsibility, for the public being so ill-informed about their specialty? In the final analysis, whose fault can this be except the specialists'?

It's certainly easier simply to find fault and shake one's head and tell one another in the clique how learned and misunderstood you are.

Let's take the historicist/mythicist fooferah. 1) If on the one hand the number of specialists in the New Testament who are not strictly historicist is actually higher than the public perceives, whose fault could that mistaken perception possibly be except the specialists'? 2) If on the other hand the firmly-historicist position is so obviously correct to anyone with a basic grasp of the evidence as Ehrman, Crossan, Smith et al have insisted, whose fault can it possibly be that this obviousness has yet to be disseminated among people bright enough that they have no trouble understanding a consensus of meteorologists or evolutionary biologists?

I've been continuing to read the standard works of New Testament scholarship. And over and over I've been reading about how, although it's now agreed that the New Testament can tell us little if anything about what Jesus did or said, it has nevertheless by now been so firmly established that Jesus did exist that mythicism has been relagated to the realm of extremists and cranks, to tinfoil-hat territory -- wait wait, what?! Where was that firmly established? And how exactly? Yes, I missed it too, this convincing evidence they all insist is there. (WHERE?! Why TF can't any of them just point it out to me, or summarize, as the case may be, the dizzyingly-complex process by which clarity was achieved?) Gentle readers, I promise you, as soon as I gain the faintest glimmer of what these people are talking about when they say it's firmly established, if and when I ever have that come-to-Jesus moment, I will let you know.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is There Any Statement Beginning "You Imagine Yourself[...]"

-- or words to that effect, which couldn't be greatly improved by replacing it with a question to the effect of: "Do you imagine yourself[...]?" I can't think of any examples where the question isn't a substantial improvement over the assertion. Personally, I know I much prefer to be asked what I'm thinking or intending than to be told what I think or intend. For the sake of accuracy if nothing else, clairvoyance being, so far as I can tell, non-existent.

I know I'm not exceptionally polite, and no, I'm not proud of that, not at all, nor do I imagine myself -- and thank you so much for asking! -- to be any sort of authority on the subject of etiquette. But every couple of years or so, it seems, a modest contribution to the subject occurs to me. So. Until late in 2014.