This week's minimalist Doctor Who recap

This one was perfectly decent, too.

Highly suspicious Doctor

Good casting including non-annoying kids, at least two dumb solutions to problems being shot down as such, and a much-needed villain upgrade for the Number Two Doctor Who Major Baddies. I think Matt Smith dropped the ball a bit in his Gollum-and-Smeagol number, but that was good enough too.

OK, perhaps they could have done a little more to blunt the distracting similarities between the New And Improved Cybermen and a certain other iconic sci-fi cybernetic-baddie-race, beyond "but our ones have blue lights on their heads!"

But I think that's entirely compensated-for by Cybermen that are, one, not avoidable by anybody capable of jogging, and, two, now able to "upgrade" any other sentient life.

Given the Cybermen's numerous previous extremely bad strategic decisions, they will of course now be making a beeline for the nearest repository of Kaled genetic material.

Or just somehow upgrade an actual Dalek. The result would surely be-

Cyberdalek v1.0
(Source.)

OK, the first attempt might not be terribly impressive. But I'm sure they'd get it right after a few iterations.

On Human Freedom, and Education, and Boobies

Instead of writing stuff here where thousands of people read it, I've been arguing with people on Reddit, in posts old enough that about seven people will read them.

I would now like to rescue some of that wasted time on my part and waste some more of yours, by asking you to check out this Reddit post about a teacher in Florida who got in trouble for bikini pictures and was going to be fired. She then basically said, "screw you guys, I can make way more money posing for photos than I can teaching anyway", which is not really a heartening outcome for that situation.

My first comment is here. Someone took exception.

Comment there, comment here, heave a sigh and skip the whole damn thing; the choice is yours.

What I'm trying to get at is that the USA has managed to get itself into a royally messed-up position with regard to sex (and race, and religion, and government, and capitalism, and war, and numerous other things), and the USA is so damn big that you drag large amounts of the rest of the "Western" world along with you, including us here in Australia.

The kind of mess I'm talking about is the one in which logical connections between concepts and arguments fade away, to be replaced with mere associations and "common knowledge", that're given the weight of a logical connection. Or there are logical connections, but they're based on unjustified premises.

So, for instance, sex plus children equals sex with children, which we've arbitrarily decided is the worst crime that can ever happen. (No, I am not suddenly joining NAMBLA, I'm just saying that I think killing a hundred children might very well be worse than groping one of them.) Therefore when sexy photos of a teacher come to light, whether taken professionally or by a boyfriend/girlfriend or at a party or whatever, that teacher must be fired. Teachers must apparently teach kids morals (I don't remember any of them doing that for me, but perhaps it's different in the States), but sexy pictures are immoral, therefore teachers with sexy pictures are ipso facto unable to do their job and must be fired.

Countries that managed to dodge that Puritan bullet cast from solid Original Sin (Bodies are dirty! Women are evil! God spends a lot of time thinking about penises!) find this particularly hilarious today. Today, kids with the slightest particle of computer/smartphone knowledge can see all the boobies and peeners they like. So it is I think preposterous on its face to argue that teachers' Adult Activities outside school time have any further impact on their effectiveness or otherwise as a teacher.

Back when department-store underwear catalogues were among the more treasured possessions of many schoolboys, and kids looked up anatomical terms in the encyclopedia in hopes of finding something exciting, you could make the argument that a teacher appearing in Playboy or a "naturist" magazine or whatever would have a shattering effect on their classroom authority. It'd still be because of unfounded associations between being a functioning mammal and pedagoguery, but there would at least be a massive effect.

Today, though... even if you do think bodies are dirty and teachers should be asexual, what further harm is done by adding the pink bits of a particular teacher to the vast and ever-increasing storehouse of other sexual imagery accessible to the entire class?

(And yes, "pedagogue" is a fun word to keep in your knapsack when discussing this stuff with someone whose vocabulary you suspect does not contain it. Deploying "pedagogical", or "niggardly", or "penury", or "titillate", may reduce your chance of changing their mind from slim to none, but it is good for a laugh if they take the bait. You've no-one to blame but yourself if this gets out of hand, though.)

Argue with people infected with this puritan virus, and they'll say of course the teacher should be fired, even if the kids already have daily access to hard-core goat pr0n, because that's what it says in the teacher's employment contract!

Except I was saying not that it's legally permissible to fire the teacher, but that it's wrong.

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, teachers are meant to teach and they can't do it if the class is all a-tizzy, or a-titty if you will, with knowledge of the teacher's unclothed appearance.

Except, again, there's been no explanation of what the great qualitative difference is supposed to be between the general knowledge that people are naked under their clothes, and the specific knowledge of exactly what this person looks like under their clothes.

(Particularly true in the case of this one particular teacher, called Olivia Sprauer in real life or "Victoria V James" when getting her gear off in front of a camera; in the latter situation she always seems to be so massively airbrushed that you're not really seeing her at all.)

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, there certainly aren't any other countries that're less hung up about this stuff! And they absolutely certainly don't have better educational outcomes than the States!

And on it goes.

(Does anybody know where I can find data on different countries' definitions of teacher misconduct? I don't read Japanese or the highly implausible languages of the alleged Belgium, so I just had to kind of say "Japan, dude", without primary-source support.)

I'm uncomfortably aware that some of what I've said in that thread sounds as if it may have something to do with Men's Rights Activists, so let me make this perfectly clear: MRA is in my opinion a few per cent perfectly legitimate (for instance, bias in divorce proceedings that gives a terrible mother a better chance of getting custody of the kids than an excellent father). But the rest of it is outrageous atavistic nonsense, surprisingly often being espoused by people who seem to think it's a good idea to be known as "the Blackshirts".

The thing that had me commenting in that Reddit thread in the first place was my constant low-level resentment of one important part of this general sex-in-any-way-associated-with-children panic in the USA, and Australia, and the UK, and umpteen other countries. It is, of course, the popular belief that that every man in particular is constantly quivering with the desire to interfere with kids.

So if you see a man talking to your children, your best course of action is to call the police at once.

I really like talking with kids. (Not enough to actually have any though, you understand, let's not go crazy here.) But if I'm not related to them, I have to avert my eyes if I see any approaching. I wouldn't even consider saying more than "hello", and I'd feel nervous even about that.

(In the real world, kids are much more likely to be molested by someone who is related to them, or by a friend of the family or neighbour or babysitter or suchlike, than by a stranger. And abuse by relatives is likely to be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. But we don't cotton to facts 'round here, pal.)

Again, this is one of those things where incorrect premises lead to a demented result: Child molestation is the worst crime possible, Crime Value Infinity, and child molesters do exist. So even if the chance that a given person is a child molester is one in a million (and according to the conservative press it's apparently more like one in three), the magnitude of harm times its probability remains infinitely high, and the situation must be avoided at all costs.

If the cost in this case is glaring at a man as you lead your children away or calling the police because he's got a camera and is in a park and so are some children and holy shit better get the SWAT team for this one, and making damn sure the strange man knows you're implicitly accusing him of being a criminal that makes Pol Pot or Doctor Mengele look like pikers, then so be it. Think of the children, et cetera.

(It's like the ban on Saying Any Words Related To Terrorism in airports: No matter how small the possibility, the thing you think you're guarding against is infinitely bad, so logic calculations all go to zero or infinity and actual thinking cannot occur.)

Thank you for making it to the end of this post. Your reward is the Brass Eye paedophilia episode.

It's got Simon Pegg in it!

Something is amiss

Crimson! Horrifying!

Quite a good episode of Doctor Who, this time. That's unsettling.

Diana Rigg making sure no piece of scenery lacks her tooth-marks and being beastly to her real-life daughter, while someone else gets to wear one of Diana's outfits from 1966. Strax pushing the rating back down to PG by continuing to not quite manage to kill anybody at all. Throwaway moments of comedy weirdness, one of which involves a street urchin. And at no point is evil thwarted by the Power of Love.

There are some minor concerns, like "how's she paying for all this?", and "shouldn't they all have just been burned to ashes?". But nothing too terrible.

Seven out of ten.

Journey To The Nowhere-In-Particular Of The TARDIS

What she said.

Time Lord engineering

The most recent episode of Doctor Who, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, started very well. As they tend to, these days.

Yes, there was yet another moment of strange vulnerability from the TARDIS, which is supposed to be about the most durable thing in the universe. But we were promised a safari inside the thing, which is a tremendous idea. TARDISes are infinitely large inside, giving rise to some interesting possibilities if you, for instance, park one on the bottom of the ocean and open the door. There could be anything in there, and with modern effects you can see that anything, as indeed you do in this episode in brief glimpses that don't go anywhere.

And then there was timey-wimey gibberish, and dude-in-a-rubber-suit monsters chasing people, yet again.

The monsters, spoiler alert, had a particularly disappointing origin story.

They are the protagonists, you see - including the Doctor! - after the protagonists were barbecued inside the TARDIS engine room and then looped back in time to menace their un-barbecued selves. The Doctor mentioned this danger of barbecuing, but forgot to mention that the burns would also make you incapable of communication and violently psychotic, even if you started out as an interdimensional wizard with immense physical and mental durability.

The actual reason for the monsters is of course "because we always have to have a monster lurching after the protagonists, since this has become a show largely about running away from monsters. Even if the monster just wishes to be reunited with its lady love, it will choose to express this desire by acting like a stereotypical bogey-man, rather than standing in the open waving cheerfully".

You'd still think the Doctor could have devoted a few words of dialogue to the "you will become a mindless killing machine" part of the symptoms of staying too long in the engine room. Perhaps a small Health and Safety warning poster would be in order.

I was hoping the monsters would be some kind of beastie that's developed within the TARDIS's infinite volume of infinite wonders. Perhaps they evolved all the way from bacteria (or a cat) in the time between two bongs of the Cloister Bell. C'mon people, this is Doctor Who, you can do that if you want.

But that was asking too much. Good people become bad when they become ugly, people are terrified of other people one moment and lovey-dovey when the scary person decides to enfold them in his arms, an interdimensional wizard spends time tricking scrap merchants into helping him search an infinite maze for someone the scrap merchants don't give a damn about... and there's always a dude in a rubber suit running after them all.

Back from Columbia

I've played through BioShock Infinite.

I should probably put some sort of eye-catching screenshot of this very pretty game here.

How's this?

(I think almost everybody ate them.)

My review, in a word:

"Ehh."

BioShock Infinite wasn't bad, you understand. But I didn't find it particularly compelling, either. I often kept playing only because the last save checkpoint was seven minutes ago (try to quit and the game will tell you when it last saved, if you didn't notice the little autosave thing in the top right corner), and I didn't want to replay that section.

And now that it's over, I don't want to replay any of it at all. You can change the gameplay considerably by specialising in one or another kind of magic ("Vigors") or gun, and the "gear" you find through the game (things like a hat that somehow lights enemies on fire when you hit them, or pants that make your shield recharge faster) is partially randomised too.

But I'm done with it. It just didn't grab me.

Which is not to say, again, that there's anything wrong with this 800-pound gorilla of the gaming world, which cost as much to make as a Hollywood blockbuster. There are a lot of places where BioShock Infinite could have gone wrong, but it almost never did.

Checkpointed saves, for instance, shouldn't be necessary even in console games today (I played the PC version). But BioShock Infinite checkpoints frequently enough that it should only be a problem if you can only manage your gaming in ten-minute instalments.

(The game also works fine with alt-tab, by the way. Well, it did on my computer, at least. So as long as you don't have to actually turn off the computer or something, you can just pause it and get on with other stuff until the boss goes away.)

BioShock Infinite also starts with a console-standard narrow field of view which feels poky on the PC, and I don't think there's an in-game console to change stuff like that. But there is a field-of-view slider right there in the options! You can't take it quite as far as I'd like, but it was good enough.

And you know when you see some giant terrifying thing or ultimate super-overlord in a shooter game, and think, "that bugger's going to be a frustrating boss battle at the end, isn't he?"

Well, in BioShock Infinite, not to spoil too much, but no. There are boss-ish battles and one enemy that acts as a quite classic multi-battle boss, but not many of them, and you're always pretty free to move and hide and just bull through with brute firepower if necessary. At no point do you have to shoot the tentacles, then shoot the missile launchers, then shoot the eyes, then shoot the brain, IN THAT ORDER.

Oh, and you're in Columbia, a city in the sky, but there's no fear-of-heights at all. You sure can jump off any number of edges into miles and miles of vertical fresh air, but you then just instantly teleport back to where you were, with a distinctive noise that may help clue you in to the fact that almost nothing in Columbia is as it seems.

The bizarre glowing steampunk Gilded-Age-With-Extra-Racism Founding-Fathers-worshipping universe-hopping setting of Columbia is almost all brightly lit and cheerfully coloured, and realised very well indeed. I'd put this game up there with Just Cause 2 for prettiness. But because BioShock Infinite has to run on 2006-technology consoles as well as on the PC, the engine actually isn't terribly demanding. At almost-top graphics settings, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti in my rather antiquated Core i7 PC gave me perfectly playable frame rates at full 2560 by 1600 resolution. The price for that is a lot of bits of game that don't look great close up, but I'll take two-dimensional flowers and wheels with corners over having to play in Duplo Chunkyvision Mode any day.

There's also no map in the game, just a navigation key that draws a green arrow in the direction of your current quest target. Many sections of the game are quite enormous, so again this had me worrying about something that a lot of games get wrong: Not telling the player where the hell they're supposed to go next. The Overlord games, to pick one example among many, had this problem in spades; I spent ages trundling around levels in those games trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. Nothing short of YouTube cheat videos helped. (The Overlord games had some extremely frustrating bosses, too.)

But, again, BioShock Infinite dodged the bullet. I only had a navigation failure once in the whole game.

(The navigation key managed to draw an arrow up onto one side of one of the whizzy "Sky-Line" transportation thingies, and the arrow then did a U-turn and pointed the other way on the same Sky-Line. So I just Googled it. Ah, the Market District. Frustration concluded.)

There are also a few side-quests where you find a secret code, and have to find a book to decode it, these two items probably being a long way apart. There's no navigation help for these things, so you'll probably get to enjoy some good old Classic-RPG Where The Hell Was It gameplay. Or you'll go on to a new area and discover you can't go back any more. But the side quests are entirely optional, and don't offer any huge game-beating bonuses - just "elixirs" to boost one of your three stats a bit, and another piece of magical clothing, and another interesting audio log.

Boy, BioShock Infinite is grand. Not necessarily particularly comprehensible, but grand, all right. And I like incomprehensible; as I've written before, I much prefer coming out of a movie or game or whatever saying "what the fuck was that all about?", than having everything spoon-fed to me in mainstream Hollywood style. I don't think BioShock Infinite really is especially inventive, story-wise, but it's like The Fifth Element or The Avengers or that Doctor Who episode where all history happened at once; sumptuous popcorn entertainment best not thought about in any great depth.

BioShock Infinite has no Super-Famous Actors cluttering up the place with strangely lousy voice acting. And no frustrating Do It Again, Stupid gameplay (as in earlier BioShocks, death is only really a minor inconvenience; you come back with not quite all of your health and a little bit less money, and all living enemies get a small health boost, but that's it). And it has difficulty settings you can change whenever you like. And it has quite slick and responsive keyboard-and-mouse controls (many recent console ports play better with a controller). And there's plenty of pleasing filigree on the basic mechanics. And a companion who never needs to be baby-sat. And the story may be... blurry... but it's every bit as grand as the graphics.

(The confusingness is probably unavoidable given that there are multiple universes and even a certain amount of time-travel... ish... ness... involved, which I don't think is a spoiler, given some central features of the setting and stuff you're told before you even kill anyone. I found one of the central end-of-game revelations, though, to be extremely hard to digest. It felt to me like a plot twist that perhaps made sense early in the development of the story, but the final story ended up being very different. Or maybe it was thrown in toward the end of development. Either way, and again not to spoil, I think there are basic but-just-look-and-listen-to-them-for-pity's-sake problems with it. You'll probably know which bit I mean when you get to it. If you don't detect it, congratulations on being less annoyed by the game than I was!)

Is BioShock Infinite worth buying at full price? If you loved the previous BioShocks, probably yes.

For me, though, regrettably no.

Perhaps you'll just adore the setting, in the same way I adore the settings of Fallout 3 and Saints Row: The Third and don't care about their nonsensical stories. There's only about twelve hours of gameplay in BioShock Infinite, though, so no matter how awesome you think it is, you'll pretty much have to get a lot less gameplay per dollar from it than a big open-world game gives you.

(EDIT: Actually, I don't really love the setting of SR3, which is just Interchangeable Simulated City To Commit Mayhem Within #726. What I like is the game's craziness, and the integration of that craziness with the overall feel of the city. Contrast this with Grand Theft Auto's bizarre attempt to graft conversations in which killing one person is treated as important, to gameplay in which you ran down 53 people on the way to have that conversation. Also, the first time you get in a helicopter in a Saints Row game, you will actually be able to fly it.)

You probably will enjoy a second playthrough at the very least, though. There are piles and piles of things that are suddenly loaded with new meaning in a second playthrough, now that you know all the great revelations of the end of the story about how everybody in the game is actually a robot built by Nazi moon vampires. That just doesn't tempt me quite enough.

(The more I read about the game now that I've finished it, the more I also want to replay it just to make less of a hash of it. "Wait, I wouldn't have had to fight all those unreasonably tough dudes with cudgels in that place that had almost no health and ammo if I'd just sneaked around their creepy boss-dudes instead of shooting at them? I thought it was only one boss-dude and eventually he'd stop teleporting away so I could kill him! Dang it.")

I don't really find myself disappointed, since I wasn't one of the people waiting impatiently for the year BioShock Infinite slipped from its original release date. (There's a joke about that in the game, too, along with quite a lot of other adroitly-placed jokes that break up the horror and seriousness nicely.) Actually, the biggest disappointment I had was that there were only a few Olde Tyme Remakes of modern pop songs in the soundtrack.

And I shouldn't complain.

This is a game that lets you sic clouds of highly carnivorous ravens on your enemies while shooting at them with a man-portable crank-operated Gatling gun, after all. What else do you want?

Death By Pinkness

The MechWarrior Online people have done something new with the latest "Hero" 'Mech, the "Heavy Metal".

Heavy Metal hero 'Mech

It's a ninety-ton Highlander, the heaviest jump-capable 'Mech in the game, and it's also the only model of Highlander in the game thus far. Every previous Hero 'Mech has been a variant of some other chassis already in the game, but regular Highlanders won't arrive until the 16th of this month. So if you want a Highlander early, you have to buy the Heavy Metal. Numerous people have; last night I saw at least one in almost every game that, you know, started, after the patch gave the servers some personality defects.

(I recommend you minimise your exposure to the comments in that thread, because the MechWarrior Online forums are trying very hard to win the MOBA Trophy for people complaining about problems with a game which they plainly hate but for some reason continue to play. If you absolutely must stare at a MWO forum car-crash, I recommend this one, where a guy complains about the game forcing him to play against people of similar skill so he can't just keep easily murdering newbies. According to him, this is is SOCIALIST, capitals his.)

And yes, the Heavy Metal is PIIIIIIINK, because it's a copy of the signature 'Mech of one Rhonda Snord from the fluff. You won't have to suffer through the pink forever if you buy it, though, because repainting hero 'Mechs is promised to be possible Real Soon Now. (I think they'll keep their paint patterns, but you'll be able to change the colours.)

True to Rhonda's version, the Heavy Metal has speakers on the outside, but all they do is play a snippet of guitar music...

...whenever you kill someone.

(There are only two snippets, one rockabilly-ish and one more on the Wyld-Stallyns-ish side.)

The chief problem with the Heavy Metal is its price. Hero 'Mechs can only be bought for "Mech Credits", and you can only get Mech Credits by paying real money. The Heavy Metal costs 6750 MC, more than any other 'Mech in the game. That adds up to about $US25, depending on how good a deal you got whn you bought your MC.

The only Hero 'Mech I've ever bought was a Yen-Lo-WAAAAAAANG when they were half-price. The Wang's not really very useful; Hero 'Mechs usually aren't the best version of a given chassis, to at least slightly reduce the clamour of forum complaints about pay-to-win. But the Heavy Metal gives you quite a powerful platform for the money.

Here, for instance, is a Heavy Metal with lots of close-to-medium-range punch, retaining four of its maximum five jump jets and with lots of heat sinks for its three Large Lasers. It becomes almost harmless if the laser arm is shot off, but apart from that it has no major weaknesses.

Here's a gauss build, with a bigger engine but no jump jets. Here's a sniper that isn't too horrifyingly slow. And here's an Artemis LRM monster, with three medium lasers as backup. All of these should let you listen to that guitar music more often than you probably really want to.

I won't be buying a Heavy Metal unless a bunch of donaters order me to. But its alarming price does give you an interesting imaginary Internet robot to play with.

A crafty religious ambush

The other day a reader contacted me (I'll identify him if he asks me to). He'd read my piece about collecting old technology, and in lieu of a donation sent me a Diamond Mako for free.

How cool is that?!

Diamond Mako PDA

The Mako is a Psion Revo with different stickers on it. So it's a fold-open PDA, marginally bigger than a really humongous modern smartphone. It dates from those peculiar few years when having a phone-book on a digital device that couldn't make phone calls was normal.

The Mako/Revo is about the cutest thing ever to be decorated with a QWERTY keyboard. The battery in this one is pretty clapped-out, though; I'll need to replace it if I don't want to charge the thing, via this well-thought-out setup...

Variac step-down electrical mishap waiting to happen

...pretty much daily.

Along with this PDA-I-might-take-notes-on-one-day-if-I-can-get-it-to-IrDA-to-a-modern-computer, though, also came that most earnestly offered and least frequently appreciated of gifts...

Religious tract cover

...a religious tract!

Fair enough.

New rule: I'm perfectly happy for anybody to proselytise at me, as long as their religious literature is accompanied by an interesting piece of superannuated technology.

I haven't quite worked out my full schedule of fees yet, but an Amiga 600 that can run Speedball II from a CompactFlash-card "hard drive" will earn you complete perusal of a volume of religious literature not exceeding 100 pages. Give me a working NeXT cube and I will attend any service, no matter how long, at any church you specify within 150 kilometres of my home.

This tract is pretty standard stuff, but my correspondent asked me to read it and tell him what I thought, so that's what I'm going to do, in my usual buys-ink-by-the-tanker-load style.

I can't imagine that I'll be telling him, or any of you, anything you've not heard or thought before. But the fact that he sent me this thing, presumably in the expectation that it might cause the scales to fall from my eyes and the majesty of Jehovah to sweep me away, bothers me more, the more I think about it.

Just saying why this tract, to spoil the ending, does not persuade me at all, may be worthwhile.

(I did Google and Tineye image searches on the rather gaudy cover picture, to see if this particular tract is online anywhere else; I didn't get any matches, though Google's "Visually similar images" are pretty darn spectacular, and probably include Captain Goodvibes somewhere. Searching for a chunk of the text of the tract, which I'll include in this post for the convenience of future searchers, turned up one hit, at "Evangelical Tract Distributors". They have this tract with a boring non-psychedelic cover, "on sale" for zero dollars and zero cents. They'll send me in Australia up to a thousand similarly free tracts for only a $US20 shipping fee. It's twenty bucks for one tract too, though.)

Side one of religious tract

Side 2 of religious tract

Mercifully, this tract has only four small pages, making the old-technology-gift to religious-enthusiasm ratio pretty darn favourable, if you ask me.

Legibly larger versions of pages one through four are here: One. Two. Three. Four. And here's the text:

SEARCHING, probing, questioning, people are always looking for answers. From the vastness of outer space to the tiny world of microcircuits, all questions demand answers. But there is one question, life's greatest question, that many avoid. This question darkens the brow and fixes the gaze on eternity for it asks, "Where will I go when I leave this world?"

As people get older they often try to escape this question. Nonetheless, the question remains and all must face it [all underlining my correspondent's, not the tract's]. Perhaps you are avoiding it because you are not sure if there is an answer.

There Is an Answer

God has assured us in His Word that we may know the answer. Here is God's statement about it: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life" (I John 5:12-13).

So we see that we may know where we are headed after this life and that there are only two possible choices. We may know if we are safe in Christ having eternal life and on our way to heaven, or if we have rejected Christ and are on the way to the terrible place awaiting all those who despise God's offer of salvation.

He that "hath the Son" hath life, eternal life. He that hath not the Son of God as his Savior hath NOT life. It is not a question of how good a life you have lived. It is a question of God's Son. Do you have Him as your personal Savior? Can you truly say that you know Him, that you have come to Him, that you have placed your faith in Him? "Acquaint now thyself with Him. and be at peace" (Job 22:21).

In Which Class Are You?

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). So again you can see, God's Word describes some people as "them that perish," and others as those "who are saved." In which class are you?

Perhaps you are living a good. respectable life, and you feel that you are good enough already, and do not need a Savior. Or perhaps you are in the opposite class, and feel that you are too bad to be saved. God's answer in either case is plain: "...There is none righteous, no, not one" and "...there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10, 22, 23). We are all sinners. God's Word says that we are all "dead in trespasses and sins." We all need a Savior.

"But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

And God's invitation of mercy and salvation goes out to all alike. For He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). We beseech you to receive Him into your heart as your Savior. For "as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12).

It Is Up To You [handwritten: "Daniel Rutter!"]

You, yourself must decide the answer to Life's Greatest Question, "Where will I spend eternity?" It all depends on what you do about God's Son. For, "He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

Answer the great question today; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and KNOW that when you leave this old world that you will spend eternity in the presence of your great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

GRACE BIBLE CHURCH
152 W. Prairie Ave.
Coeur d' Alene, ID 83815
772-2717

[This would appear to be that church.]

Oh, boy.

Here's what this tract says, boiled down:

"If you accept the Christian belief system, why don't you accept the Christian belief system?"

That's it. That's all it's got. It says that you have to be a Christian to go to heaven and avoid hell, and it says that again, and then it says it a couple more times.

And, in the immortal tradition of all religious certainty, this tract cheerfully ignores the fact that several of its claims aren't even agreed upon by all Christians.

There are plenty of Christians who don't believe hell exists, for instance. This is not surprising, since it is exceedingly difficult to imagine why a loving god would visit hideous screaming flaming-sulfur acid-burning fingernail-peeling eye-gouging lye-drinking tooth-ripping knee-smashing genital-mincing torture for a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion et cetera years on Adolf Hitler, much less people who just thought religion was a load of claptrap and lived a good life.

(This tract actually has a bit of a bet each way there, because it doesn't actually mention hell, or lakes of fire or eternal torment - it just talks about a "terrible place" or where one might "spend eternity". This is compatible with the idea of eternal death being the only non-heaven option, rather than eternal punishment.)

There are also plenty of Christians who believe heaven, if it exists, is where good people go, whether or not they've kept any particular day holy or prayed on any particular schedule while pointed in any particular direction. Again, it's difficult to figure out why a loving god made us with this demonstrable inability to determine which, if any, of our thousands and thousands of contradictory religions, is the one true path to paradise. But this tract says he did, and we'd better choose right, or else.

And then there's the odd modern invention of the concept of a "personal relationship with god". This, also, is very far from universally accepted, even among Christians.

If you've got a personal relationship with someone they probably at least occasionally say things to you, after all.

It can also be argued that the very notion of a human having a personal relationship with the infinite creator of the universe is far, far more ridiculous than the notion of an E. coli bacterium having a personal relationship with the human whose gut it inhabits.

Now, this is all just part of the miraculousness of the Lord, of course. He's someone you can have a chat with, even if he doesn't seem to say anything back in a way that can't be blocked by appropriate medication. And he's simultaneously someone who sees the totality of reality spread out before him like a vast polydimensional tapestry, yet you also have free will, unless you're a member of one of the religions that says your eternal destination is known to God before you are born.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

If your religion were true, then just showing someone a tautological tract like this one would be likely to convert them in a flash of spiritual magic. You should be just dripping with miracles, like all of those people in the Bible. Some or all of the true believers should, to give one way in which a true religion might manifest itself, be able to speak in tongues - which is to say, your words should be comprehensible to everyone who hears them, no matter what language the astonished listeners speak.

Instead, religious people who "speak in tongues" have decided that it's actually just babbling away nonsensically in ways usually linquistically connected to languages of which the speaker has experience. It's often alleged that this is the language of angels, and it can be understood by some other members of the congregation, who stand up dramatically to "interpret" the doodly boodly boo boo boobly. (Or maybe it's a "private prayer language", whatever that means.)

I presume you're not a glossolalist, though. You probably have some sort of cessationist explanation for why the sun no longer stops in the sky and bushes no longer spontaneously combust and then start talking. You probably think people who do believe in ongoing but silly-looking modern miracles of one kind or another are misled. Perhaps to the point where the ones who say they're Christians are in fact not true Christians at all, any more.

But how can you tell?

What is it that suggests to you that the mainstream Christian ideas in this tract are the correct ones?

The tract, once again, presents no argument.

One wonders why such a thing as this tract even exists in the Western world, where we all know the basic Christian beliefs.

Even if we manage to avoid organised religious instruction, after all, those of us who live in societies where Christianity is commonplace are entirely familiar with the highly sensible idea that God sacrificed himself to himself in order to expunge the stain of original sin upon all humanity which was there because God allowed the most persuasive liar in the universe access to God's favourite creations and then they disobeyed God and ate something which apparently made evil suddenly exist or something and God then punished not only Adam and Eve but also arbitrarily decided that their disobedience would now sin-stain all of those first humans' offspring even though the offspring were not the ones who committed the sin but it's all right now because the temporary death of the human-like aspect of God during which that aspect might or might not have visited hell or some place like it freed all humans from the abovementioned arbitrary damnation brought upon us by God because of one bad act by our distant ancestors provided we follow the appropriate rules during our life which may or may not involve cutting off a piece of one's penis or being very respectful towards special little biscuits.

For some reason, many people outside the Western world find it hard to take this stuff seriously.

If you've been marinated in it all your life, though, then you definitely already know about these basic Christian beliefs, along with blatantly ahistorical nonsense like Caesar Augustus bizarrely deciding that for tax and census purposes everybody in the Roman Empire had to return to wherever their distant ancestors lived.

People who don't believe evolution is true - who are often quite convinced that God has communicated the truth of creationism to them via another of those "personal relationship" deals - sometimes ask "if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"

This argument fails for at least two reasons, but applying the same logic to religion does not, because religions usually claim to have invalidated previous faiths.

Christianity, for instance, says it superseded Judaism. But if that is the case, why are there still Jews?

And Islam says it superseded Christianity. But there you Christians still are, and the Jews, and the Muslims. And don't you Abrahamic siblings all just get on like a house on fire. (Or a church, or a temple, or a mosque, the setting-on-fire of all of which is apparently often also strongly encouraged by God in those personal conversations people keep alleging they have with him.)

And all this time the Hindus and Buddhists have been sitting there too, not being persuaded by any of you guys. People convert one way or another from time to time, usually to the great alarm of conservative members of whatever faith they converted from, but the overwhelming determinant of your lifelong religion remains the religion of your parents.

Which, once again, is exactly what we'd expect to see, if all religions were fictional.

If one religion were true, with an all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent deity, then that religion should be more persuasive. Its followers and prophets should be distinctly different too. You certainly shouldn't see everybody in every faith bumbling around in the same way, and every faith producing the same few great people, few terrible people, and great mass of ordinary people.

And yet, that's what we do see.

Most religious followers have plenty of stories of events that plainly prove that they're on the right track. When I worked with Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, many of them had stories of encounters with the malevolent spirits that constantly strive to tempt us from righteousness. Some Catholics hold forth about the effectiveness of their various sacramental adornments, many Scientologists have seen their "tech" work wonders, many Muslims think you might as well drive with your eyes closed because they've seen many times that you'll only crash if Allah wills it, believers in reincarnation from the Hindu to the New Age think the evidence couldn't be more clear, evangelicals are surrounded by miracles and portents every day, and umpteen religions claim some great practitioner didn't need to eat or didn't rot after they died.

The closer you look at such claims, though, the more tenuous they become. Most religious claims are exceedingly difficult to test in any empirical way, but the very fact that most religions say they have hard evidence that they are the only correct religion indicates that, as in the case where two men say they're Jesus, most of them must be wrong.

For pity's sake, even the three flavours of Christians whose job it is to mind the place where Jesus was allegedly crucified and interred keep getting into fistfights when someone moves a chair. And heaven forfend anybody shift the Immovable Ladder. I am not making this up.

I also have to quibble with the tract's statement that "all questions demand answers". The question of the preferred sock colour of Fran├žois Mitterrand does not, to my knowledge, keep many people up at night. And this isn't just me snarking; I find "it doesn't matter" is a perfectly satisfying answer to that question, and to many others, some much more important to religious people than the sartorial preferences of deceased Gallic statesmen.

Take, for instance, the question, "do gods, which do not intervene in the universe in any way, exist?"

The logical answer to this question is "it doesn't matter", because a god who does not interact with the universe is a god who might as well not exist.

This is not the sort of god that Christians believe in, of course. Some Christians believe Jehovah interacts with the world in profound and obvious ways, because otherwise humans and roses and organ music and the laughter of little children and preachers who can cure terrible diseases by magic - though, again, not in any empirically-verifiable way... - would not exist.

Many Christians believe Jehovah stopped performing miraculous party tricks many centuries ago, but that he does still definitely interact with the world, once again because of that direct personal relationship with their deity which they solemnly believe they have. This would be impossible if that deity did not interact with at least the minds of his followers, in some way.

This is a pretty solipsistic justification for belief, though. "I feel God's presence in my heart and mind" is all very well as a justification for your own belief, but it won't convince anybody else unless they independently find such thought processes going on for them as well.

And this certainly isn't a reason for any unbeliever to believe in any particular one of the hundreds of different allegedly-holy scriptures out there. If your only evidence is your God-filled heart, then what answer have you to someone who apparently feels as internally convinced as you, but says that God has called upon him to spread the new doctrine of invisible pink unicorns and eating nothing but geranium leaves, and heretics must be put to the sword?

(Or, of course, someone who starves their baby to death on the grounds that he's insufficiently pious, and then waits patiently for him to resurrect and the murder conviction to thus be quashed. They honestly believed it! Who are you to say the baby won't pop back up any minute now?)

This tract doesn't even make it to the level of Pascal's Wager. All it says is, "We reckon heaven exists. Why don't you want to go there?"

Given the paucity of this question, I shall conclude with the answer I most enjoyed delivering to the more dim-witted Jehovah's Witnesses who asked me, "Don't you want to live forever?" I don't believe it, of course, but at least I was doing them the favour of inserting a new idea or two into their brain.

No, I don't want to live forever.

Forever is a long time. Forever is a trillion trillion trillion trillion googolplex trillion trillion, et cetera, years.

If you could carry one atom at a time, at walking pace, you could move the whole observable universe from where it is to somewhere far, far beyond its borders, and still have made no inroads whatsoever on forever.

God, presumably, has lived, and will live, forever.

Christians seem pretty definite about that.

God needed to keep himself amused.

So he made the world, and maybe many other worlds. And heaven, and that's where he lives, and he'd like you to come and join him.

To be in heaven with him.

Forever.

He could let you die, but he won't.

Have you ever wondered why God didn't just kill Satan, given that Abrahamic doctrine makes clear that he could have done so any time he liked?

God's not going to let the bastard die.

All Jehovah has left is sharing the misery.

"Or, if you had a really galloping variable on your hands..."

I'm reading A Random Walk in Science, a compilation of science humour from rather ancient times to shortly before the book was published, in 1973.

It contains some, but not many, things I've seen before - the turboencabulator, The Contributions of Edsel Murphy to the Understanding of the Behavior of Inanimate Objects, A glossary for research reports et cetera.

The art of finding the right graph paper...
(legible version below)

My favourite bit so far, though, is The art of finding the right graph paper to get a straight line, from an almost-fifty-year-old volume of the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

This piece is not on the JIR Web site (though this other excellent graph is), and it doesn't seem to be online anywhere else, except for this site that lets you read a who-knows-how-legal copy of the whole book. (Or of course, you could download the book from a hive of scum and villainy.)

A Random Walk in Science is also still in print, too, though ridiculously expensive. So I've taken the liberty of image-ifying those two pages. Click for more legible versions.

Finding the right graph paper, page 1 Finding the right graph paper, page 2

This is probably still copyright to somebody, no warranty expressed or implied, et cetera.

I also rather like this quote from Sir Arthur Eddington:

When an investigator has developed a formula which gives a complete representation of the phenomena within a certain range, he may be prone to satisfaction. Would it not be wiser if he should say "Foiled again! I can find out no more about Nature along this line."