Friday, March 20, 2009


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

More on this later, but for the time being, FUCK YOU RON MOORE.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Player's Handbook 2

So yesterday the Player's Handbook 2 came out for DnD 4E, and damn is it awesome. While some of the races leave me with a resounding meh (I'm looking at you, Deva), the new classes absolutely blow me away.

Avenger seems to be the class I had in mind when I rolled up a paladin, which is great for multiclassing later. Too bad I can't change my race and become a Gnome.

I recommend grabbing a copy (if you can find it, a lot of places around here were selling out as soon as it hit shelves) and if you aren't in the middle of a game now, start one up with these new classes involved.

Great job on the part of the WotC and the R&D team, I think this is my favorite DnD edition yet.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Finding Morals Postgod

I am sure that many of us have heard the absolutely hilarious myth that if you do not believe in a deity, or subscribe to a religion then you amoral. This is patently absurd and is best met with a bit of a chuckle.
Morality, as I see it, is derived from the feeling of empathy that we have.

Often the response is "Well, if there is no after life, what is the point?" It bothers me when this is the first thought about our morality. A desire for reward, or a fear of punishment, should not be the motivating factor for us to do good in this world. That is selfish and barely above self-preservation.

Morality is not something passive. It is not following the rules, and making sure all of your i's are dotted. No, it is something active. Something we must try to do, and do it only for the reason that we are here, now, and must live with our actions.

I do not need a god to judge me on this, for the worst judge is the one I must face in the mirror each morning. If I cannot live with what I have done to myself and my fellow man, then who can? I do not kill because to kill another is to void my own protest against someone killing me or those I love. To steal is to give up claim against others who take what is mine.

To live a moral life, all one must do is look at what they enjoy, and realize that without the order instilled by a basic moral code derived from basic human empathy it would likely disappear. It is not given to us by higher powers, it is not even authoritarian.

It is simply a social agreement between people that agree that mutual survival is greater than individual hedonistic pursuits and the dangers that those bring.

So, you do not need to look to the heavens to find what is the good path. You need only to look into a mirror and walk in the other person's shoes.

The other common claim is that godless morality is subjective. This is also false. There are some absolutes that manifest themselves. The problem with these absolutes is that they swim in an almost endless sea of gray special instances.

Is it always a bad thing to kill someone? I would argue that yes, it is. But what about the case of self defense? I would still say yes it is bad, but damned if it would stop me in defending myself and those that I care for.

Is it wrong to steal? Yes, obviously, you are taking what someone else has earned for yourself. But in the case of survival? Then the above case applies, but once again, I would not begrudge those who did it if it was a matter of life and death.

So what we have is a big machine that we have designed to protect ourselves and each other, that is held together with duct tape and boils down to don't fuck with each other and keep your hands to yourself. Do not cause harm, and do not hurt others for personal gain. Thats not that hard a concept, and we do not need a deity to help us through it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pandemic! (New Board Game)

Last night I was introduced to Pandemic! by Zman games. It was so much crazy fun and unique in the fact that it was a cooperative endeavor between the players against the game itself.

The way it works is that 3-5 players are all assigned various roles and must work together to stop a global pandemic of four diseases.
The roles are:
Medic: Can heal all disease from a city and administer known cures for free
Dispatcher: Can move any player to a city with another player in it.
Researcher: Can trade any data with a player in the city.
Scientist: Can find a cure with 4 color cards instead of 5
Civil Operations: Builds research facilities to allow easier access for scientists and allow faster travel.

In a turn you have four actions: movement, curing, role abilities, ect. After that two player cards are drawn. These are usually color coded cities to move to a cure or special events. The only bad one is the Epidemic card. I think it speaks for itself.

Then, after that is done, you draw two infection cards and infect two new cities. This is where the epidemic card gets bad, because it makes you draw from the bottom of the infection deck, infect the city to maximum and then shuffle up all the previously infected city cards and place them on TOP of the deck, so you will find yourself with rapid reinfection.

Needless to say, we lost more than we won. But it was fun. Crazy fun. This description I have given you is a just the basics, and every game is different. You can find yourself on the easy road to victory only to lose right at the end, or you might struggle the whole way only to win in one round.

I recommend picking up a copy if you have the people to play with.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chasing the Dragon of Eden

When I was a young, I went to church. Like most middle income American families, Sunday was an affair as regular as clockwork.
1.Get up early
2.Put on 'church clothes'
3.Go to Sunday school (little of which I remember outside of cookies)
5.Stand around while old people talk

Somewhere along the line, I got really caught up in the whole affair. They had me in there, hook line and sinker. Hell, I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors. (Kinda like hella religious boy scouts, instead of just kinda religious.) I went to Vacation Bible School, and even to some summer camp that was just the bees knees and something to look forward other than catching up on reading over the tedious break.

I lived for this. I lived to try and be what I thought the Bible said I should be. I wanted everyone to do the same. I was excited when my parents gave me my very own personalized Bible for Christmas one year.

Then we moved. I was in the sixth grade, and we didn't just leave my neighborhood, or the city. We shipped out of state. Gone were the foundations of my life that I had built on for so many years.

My parents jumped around from church to church, but they never seemed to stick any where, and eventually we stopped going while we were in Austin. When we moved to Houston, more wandering but never settling.

It was during this time of exposure to the secular world, with no real religion in my life, the idea of any kind of deity took a back seat to my reading about epics and learning about history and science.

Man, science. It blew me away when I was first introduced to the method and really GOT it. The teacher honestly and whole heartedly cared about his subject, and I felt something awaken in me. A sleeping dragon woke, and it was more fantastic than any story I had read up to that point.
This dragon was voracious and insatiable. I had to KNOW things. How they worked, why they worked, what drove them. It burned through books and devoured journals and articles. It continued on like this, until my sophomore year of high school, when I changed schools.

I hung out with a group of people while there that were either into New Age nonsense, or devoutly Christian. Still just barely standing on my critical thinking legs and still in awe at the incredible vastness of the universe and I bought a lot of what they said hook, line, and sinker. I was drawn back into Christianity fast and hard. But even caught up in the fervent torrent of worship a small voice in my mind continued to doubt. It continued to question what I had been pulled back into. I had a habit of ignoring the answers, especially when they contradicted what I believed. But it got harder and harder to do so as time went on.

Especially one morning early in my second semester of that year.
An answer appeared. It wasn't gradual. It wasn't slow. It wasn't even nice. It came down on me like a ton of bricks and knocked me senseless.

I no longer believed that god existed.

A new dragon had reared its head. This one ancient, and from an age long past. I could not abide that this had happened, that I had become so skeptical. So I started tagging along to church with my friends in the hopes of easing this trouble in my mind as the two dragons fought for supremacy.

At first I tried to reconcile the two. I thought that they could exist together and that there was no problem. I would just go to church and reacquaint myself with god.
I prayed. I sang. I read. I talked with the minister about what was going on.

But the dragons never slept. One was always there, reminding me that nothing I was being told could be proven, and much of it contradicted what I knew to be true.
I prayed on, listening to the biblical teaching that god guides us when we call on him.

Finally, after so long, I explained it once again to my minister and he said. "Jarrad, you are trying to get something from god, but that's not the way it works. You must not be selfish. Instead, open your heart to Jesus Christ, and you will find peace. You must be honest and humble."

So I did. That night after everyone had gone to bed, I sat up to be alone with my thoughts and god. I closed my eyes, and prayed. I asked for forgiveness for my foolishness, and that instead of talking, I should have been listening and that I was ready to be the man I was called to be. That I gave myself willingly to serve god and that I opened myself up to him and his message of love and grace.

All I heard was the echo in my own mind. Not a literal one, but just an empty feeling as if I had been talking to the air except worse. At least the air had substance.
The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and I sunk with it, trying to implode on this hollow emptiness.

The dragons stirred once more. The Dragon of Eden, who I so much wanted to believe in because of the promise of life everlasting, guidance, and protection. But the dragon who I had been trying so hard to suppress, the one who knew how to find REAL, tangible answers. It could find things that I could touch, taste, and see their effect on the world around me. It promised me no comfort except that double edged blade of understanding.

While I just lay there, feeling lost and empty, these two notions raged on in my head. I was powerless to stop them, as my mind seemed out of control and in the grip of directionless emotion.

Then, it hit me. The reality of what I had thought. That this was the key to reality. I understood what I saw for the first time. There were no gods hiding in the wings, making magic and shooting rainbows and happiness.

The reason the world looked so harsh was because I compared it to a fiction. The fiction of perfection. This notion that I was not good enough, that the world was falling apart, all stemmed from this idea in my head that there was something better.

There wasn't. This was it. I had to make the best of my life under my own power. The wonders of the world blossomed before me. The wonders of the solar system, the beauty of the cell, all here just because. No reason, just IS. It was beauty manifest.

But a cold sunk in as well. If there was no god, who was there to guide my hand towards good? Why should I even be good? This passed quickly as I realized that I guided my hand, and that every action was my responsibility.

What need have I of gods or devils when both powers lay within myself?

As one image of heaven faded, and with it its totalitarian lord, a new one replaced it. In my young mind was planted a seed. A picture of a world undivided by petty tribal notions of angry deities. A world where we were free to love, and play, and help each other not because it was ordained, but because it was right.

The dragon of reason stopped fighting the phantom of Eden. There was nothing there to combat. No substance. Just empty promises and ancient folk tales. A shadow of the once ominous creature that had ruled over me.

Today I have grown, and with each piece of new knowledge the beauty and potential of our species and the planet we inhabit grows. The flames of reason burn brightly and magnificently.

I do not know if a god exists, and as those around me are fond of saying, yes, when I die I might just find out. But as it stands now, no matter the cost, I stand by my decisions. It becomes more and more apparent as time goes on that we must stop chasing phantom dragons. We must stop longing for a world beyond this one, and instead fight to make this life the best we can. If there is a god, and it has a plan (as many are quick to claim) then let it work, and if there is not, then we will die knowing we did the best we could under the circumstances. Either way we must cast off these shackles to our thought. Do away with the blinders that close our eyes to the beauty in THIS world.
Only then can we be free to explore our potential, be truly equal, to look on our fellow man as brother instead of enemy.

Then, when that is in our grasp, will the lovely, intricate, ever changing, delicate universe we live in open up to us.

Then we will see with unclouded eyes what we are.

I do not say this in an attempt to goad people into taking away religion. I say this only because it is the way I see it.

That is why I am an atheist.

That wonderful feeling

Sometimes, in my interactions with my fellow humans, I run across the opinion that people do not need to understand the world in order to live in it. They wonder why I read so much, study so many odd things that are not immediately applicable or relevant to the day to day challenges of life. The see no point in it, and on one level, I agree with this sentiment. You can even, at times, enjoy that life.

But one thing holds me back from just letting such thoughts slide, and that is a small feeling of unbridled joy at suddenly realizing you know what is happening, and why.

Often, growing knowledge is associated with sadness, bitterness, and a frustration with the world around you. That by becoming aware, you see the ugly that is the world. This is true. One need only look at history to see those who were the brightest were burned down faster than others. They aged quickly, were driven and dogged at every step, and often died young.

This, I believe, is not a symptom of the knowledge gained, but the loneliness you find in it. There is a great lack of passion for knowledge in the world today, an apathy if you will, and those who pursue knowledge for knowledge sake find themselves on the outside looking in.

But that is not the point of this article. No, the point is the answer to the question: Why? Why go out of your way to learn more about the world than you need to? Whats the point?

The easy answer is "you never know when you will need to know something." But that answer also does not do justice to the reason. The answer is because when you see life happening and understand it, you are struck by beauty.

To strike a match and know about the chemical process of oxidization, to picture in your mind millions of tiny electrons jumping orbitals to express light and heat. To see a flower bud, then bloom and you can think of thousands of cells to dividing at insane rates all to open itself up to the world and live. To know that those cells are an integral part of the system that we live in and sustains us. To understand that the bee who lands on that flower is off to do their part in this system, and to know that the honey you ate on your toast started this way just makes it that much sweeter.

That sudden, small burst of joy in your chest when you first realize that your pets are not only aware of you, but go through the similar processes you do. The sudden rush of relief to see, with open eyes, nature in all of its blind glory.
To cast off the shackles of ignorance and see my fellow human beings not as African, Indian, or Arab, but as just... people. To know that they share genes with me, and that we all came from the same place and are all part of the same system, and many of us are going in the same direction.

That burning candle of pride when you use that knowledge to make something work.

To see clouds in the sky, and know what they are and how they formed in the intricacies of the hydrological cycle. To look beyond those, and see the planets move in their orbits, and to understand the balancing act of gravity that is our solar system or galaxy.

To be able to understand that I am but a small piece of carbon, on a small rock, looking out at a sky full of stars around which, very likely, another creature is looking and doing the same.
To know that, despite being that insignificant piece of organic tissue, one piece of it allows me to stand on the shoulders of giants and see something larger than myself. To stand where these pioneers stood, and climb the steps they climbed, and not just see the awe inspiring beauty that is our universe, but to understand it.

Why do I go out of my way to study? I do it because it gives me the keys to unlock the mysteries of this world. It takes my one and only infinitesimal life, and fills it to the breaking point by cramming it full of the very nature of the universe and all of its secrets.

I do it because as simple an act as turning on a light switch becomes more than a banishing of the dark.
It instead becomes the summoning of vision.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To live again.

Posts here should pick up a bit now that I have my intracranial affairs in order.

I don't know how many people out there are on medication (statistics would indicate a lot of you), but if it is one you need and suddenly stop taking, damn do you notice. It isn't just the withdrawl, but what ever it was fixing comes back one hundred fold, or at least seems to since you had coped and forgotten about how difficult it was for you before hand.

I don't care if it is pain, neurological disorder, chemical imbalances, or any number of other treatable conditions, when you stop your meds, then those nice coping barriers you have been building up so that you can get on with your life come crashing down, drowning out any ambition or notion of having a productive life.

My advice: If you have a problem that can be treated with medication, do it. You aren't a weaker person for it, that is what these pills were made for. To help us have a normal and productive life. Life is too damned short to sit around muddled in fear, pain, or confusion.

Get out there and enjoy it.