The Miami Circle, Beimini, and the Ahistorical Weirdness of Modern Tainidad

There is a major historic site in Miami, called the Miami Circle. It is one of the oldest indigenous sites in South Florida, discovered during construction excavations. It is a circle marked with holes that once held 24 poles, suggestive of a clock, and it was found in association with many artifacts attributed to the Tequesta / Tekesta people who once inhabited this region of South Florida. Due to its highly urban location and the controversy surrounding whether it would be preserved as a historic site or built over as part of the property that encompassed it, the circle itself has been left underground and marked with informative placards. I’ve never stood at this site, but I have been on Miami River tours that went past it. Its riverfront location makes it obvious, as the only spot for miles where the buildings don’t edge directly onto the shore, even with the circle itself underground.

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The Miami Circle, Beimini, and the Ahistorical Weirdness of Modern Tainidad

Heroes in a God’s World: Religion in D&D

The classic Western-fantasy adventuring party, appearing across a wide variety of media and baked into what Dungeons and Dragons in particular expects adventuring groups to be capable of, consists of four very different characters. By default, there is a “fighter,” who wears armor and specializes in swordplay or another close-range martial art; a “wizard,” who is a combination mobile artillery piece, library, and miscellaneous magical toolkit; a “rogue” or “thief,” whose specialty is stealth, lock-picking, smooth-talking, acrobatics, and similar skills; and a “cleric” or “priest,” who provides the favor of the gods to their allies, usually in the form of magical healing and defensive magic.

That last person raises difficult questions about the overall shape of the fantasy universe, which every D&D setting tries to answer one way or another. It’s not difficult to imagine a fantasy world where the term “cleric” means something more like what it means in our world, and refers to someone an adventuring party might visit afterward for wound-tending and soul-cleansing rather than a steadfast and magical battlefield ally. Ivanhoe is probably the work of fiction most famously within this tradition. But most Western fantasy assigns clerics and other agents of the divine power well in excess of the demonstrated abilities of real-world religious figures, including the power to raise the dead on demand, instantly heal deadly injuries multiple times a day, and brandish holy symbols to disperse zombies. The deities of a fantasy world that is home to this kind of priest are, thereby, much more powerful than the god of Ivanhoe and any deity associated with real-world religious practice, and have far more direct and overt effects on the world at large.

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Heroes in a God’s World: Religion in D&D

Quale’s Privilege

Sociological concepts are controversial in the skeptic/atheist community. Many of its members don’t think of sociology as a “real” science, or otherwise dismiss the claims such a peculiar field makes as not holding up to the scrutiny expected in biology, geology, or physics. Criticisms of important sociological concepts like privilege tend to rely either on argument from personal incredulity or on hazy readings of introductory philosophy texts.

The funny thing is, philosobros who think they can undo sociological privilege with binary logic or harsh skepticism about the motives of other humans have only a few pages to flip before their own sources turn against them. Equally basic philosophical concepts and discussions underpin major sociological findings, and remind us to be aware of the limits of our own knowledge in other ways.

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Quale’s Privilege

Crack in the Womb

[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]

The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.”  In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:

The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:

I am a conversation.

I am made


Lo-o-o-o-ove o-o-o-o-of

And it’s stronger than you.

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Crack in the Womb

Anthropomorphic Terror

The human brain has a great deal of real estate devoted to the tasks of recognizing faces and recognizing emotions in those faces.  Neither of these tasks is foolproof: seeing faces where they are none is the most common form of pareidolia and has whole religions devoted to it, and prosopagnosia and difficulty reading emotions in faces are both common difficulties associated with autism.  One of the most common malfunctions of this facial recognition module is treating animals as though their facial expressions and other behavioral signifiers mean the same things as ours.  It’s from here that we eventually get snarling velociraptors in modern creature features.

A great deal of cruelty is had when people refuse to read animals for what they are saying, and instead read what they think ought to be there.

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Anthropomorphic Terror

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down

I am a scientist, and I am a leftist.  To many, these ideas are starkly opposed, and a cursory read of each area’s maxims would seem to corroborate that opposition.  But both modes of thinking are enthusiastically embraced by commanding fractions of the atheist community, often the same people, and there is a good reason for that, too.  This is how this particular leftist scientist reconciles those ideas. Continue reading “Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down”

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down

Apocalypse of the Week 11: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero

The giant earth crocodile with mouths at all of her joints.

Giant ape-men with backward feet and hanging intestines that waylay travelers.

The plumed serpent of the sun, wind, and mercy, who raped his human-shaped sister while divinely hammered and still got to keep the “mercy” portfolio, and is also the planet Venus for some reason.

Feeding the sun with the beating hearts of thousands of sacrifices.

And you thought Revelation was sick.

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Apocalypse of the Week 11: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero

Apocalypse of the Week 10: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith

Of all the figures to get famous making predictions about the future, none stands taller than Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus.  This French (no relationship to Claude “Raël” Vorilhon, probably) almanac writer, medical assistant, and amateur astronomer wrote 1,013 prophetic verses that have not ceased, in the 450+ years since his death, to inspire credulous grandfalloons to align events to them after they’ve happened.
One would expect prophecies to be useful before things happen, but whatever.  If one has read Nostradamus’s incoherent ramblings, one knows that getting useful information out of them is kind of like squeezing apple juice out of oranges.  It’s just not in there, and one is liable to burn out one’s eyes and start laughing at oneself if one tries.
Here’s one chosen at random, since the 1,013 verses are presented in no particular order and were meant to be 1200 before some publisher errors cut out most of the last two sets:

Amongst several transported to the isles, 
One to be born with two teeth in his mouth 
They will die of famine the trees stripped, 
For them a new King issues a new edict. 
(Century 2, Quatrain 7)

Which isles?  There are thousands.  Which king?  It’d have to be one who still has decree power, which does narrow it down.  Which edict?  This king will, presumably, make more than one.  More importantly, Nostradamus obeyed the One Rule of Pretending to Know the Future: don’t tell people when.

So maybe the next Sheikh of Bahrain, facing a famine in one of the world’s wealthiest archipelagos for some reason, will issue an edict that all non-synthetic pants are to be confiscated for food?  Perhaps the Sultan of Brunei will drive his also fabulously wealthy people to starvation by replacing his agriculture ministry with a new body devoted to pinning even more medals on his uniform?  Will the Tongans finally descend into theocracy and proceed to starve within a few years on their tropical, nigh-unfarmable paradise?  Which is it, Michel?  Which is it?

Except, of course, when he totally did put in a time reference:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
(Century 10, Quatrain 72)

This verse is the standard one trotted out to “prove” that Nostradamus was able to predict the future, since John. F. Kennedy, Jr. was on a plane that crashed in July 1999.  Also, a space shuttle exploded in August 1999, which is close to September 1999, which might be what “seventh month” means if Nostradamus’s guiding stars are using the old Roman calendar.  Either way, Zombie Genghis Khan didn’t rise from his grave and lead a renewed Golden Horde to kneeling before the Red Planet, which is apparently also a king now, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

But what does this have to do with the end of the world?

Well, after learning of the significance of 21 December 2012 to the Maya, some enterprising conspiracy loons decided to poke through the quatrains and found this:

Sun twentieth of Taurus the earth will tremble very mightily,
It will ruin the great theater filled:
To darken and trouble air, sky and land,
Then the infidel will call upon God and saints.
(Century 9, Quatrain 83)

Also this:
For the pleasure of the voluptuous edict,
One will mix poison in the faith:
Venus will be in a course so virtuous
As to becloud the whole quality of the Sun.
(Century 5, Quatrain 72)

Apparently keeping in mind that the quatrains are in no particular order, these hooligans turned that mess of random phrases into an apocalypse of earthquakes (“earth will tremble”) apparently slated for later in the same year that Venus transited (“as to becloud”) the sun, a rare and amazing astronomical event that took place earlier this year.  And then turned “later that same year” into 21 December 2012.  Even though nothing whatsoever links the two quatrains and they are based ultimately on the ramblings of a 16th-century amateur astrologer and an equally spurious eschaton from a culture that fell from its prime around that time.

I, for one, am more interested in this Voluptuous Edith…oh.  Edict.  Allow me to compose myself.  Apparently, in Nostradamus World, edicts can be voluptuous and are pleased by “mixing poison in the faith,” whatever the heck that means, and also a few cheap shots at non-Christians counts as predicting the future.  Maybe Michel got a little stoned on Revelation before he wrote those two.

Allow me to close with another random quatrain:

“Meysnier, Manthi” and the third one that will come, 
Plague and new affront, to tourble the enclosure: 
The fury will bite in Aix and the places thereabout, 
Then those of Marseilles will want to double their evil. 
(Century 11, Quatrain 91)

Remind me to be in Marseilles when the world ends.  A two-for-one special on extra-sinful Voluptuous Ediths is not something to be missed.  Especially when the tourbling starts.
Apocalypse of the Week 10: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith

Apocalypse of the Week 8: Your Mother Smelt of Subroutines

Those of us born in the 1980s came of age in an interesting time, as the Communist governments of eastern and central Europe fell, one country turned into 15 and somehow stayed the largest in the world, and computers learned how to handle four-digit years.

And you’d better believe it was a big deal.

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Apocalypse of the Week 8: Your Mother Smelt of Subroutines

Apocalypse of the Week 6: The Surf Shop at the End of the World

When I was in high school, my favorite history teacher would occasionally joke that his efforts to educate the students of South Florida would be for naught, as at some point a tsunami would wipe out the east coast of North America.  He also insisted that a similar event would demolish the west coast, leading him to toy with the idea of retiring somewhere in the Alps.  The idea of tectonic activity causing a cataclysmic wave sometime in the geologic future had enough prima facie plausibility that I didn’t think about it any further.
Now I have, and as it turns out, it’s bollocks.

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Apocalypse of the Week 6: The Surf Shop at the End of the World