Archive for November, 2009

It’s just a game people

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Tue Nov 24, 2009 5:07 pm by rabbitpirate

For a long time now the claim that violent video games cause people to commit real world acts of violence has been floating around the planets collective consciousness, without any really supporting evidence to my mind, but now it seems that things are going one step further. A recent study into games carried out by two Swiss human rights organisations, Trial and Pro Juventute, investigated a number of recently released games to see which of them allowed their players to break humanitarian laws with regards to war crimes. The study focused on how games treat civilians, combatants who surrender and “protected objects” such as churches and mosques, looking for violations of the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.

Twenty games were scrutinised to see if the conflicts they portrayed and what players can do in the virtual theatres of war were subject to the same limits as in the real world.

 

“The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is… astonishing,” said the study.

 

 

The games were analysed to see “whether certain scenes and acts committed by players would constitute violations of international law if they were real, rather than virtual”.

 

Unsurprisingly they found that many games violated the rules of war with reckless abandon. But what exactly is the problem with this and what do they want games designers to do about it?

 

It said games were sending an “erroneous” message that conflicts were waged without limits or that anything was acceptable in counter-terrorism operations.

 

“This is especially problematic in view of today’s reality,” said the study.

 

In particular, it said, few games it studied reflected the fact that those who “violate international humanitarian law end up as war criminals, not as winners”.

 

The authors said they did not wish to make games less violent, instead, they wrote: “[We] call upon game producers to consequently and creatively incorporate rules of international humanitarian law and human rights into their games.”

 

Ok seriously, we are talking about computer games here right? The games they looked at included Far Cry 2, Metal Gear Solid and 24: The Game. Does anyone think that these games have anything to do with reality? Do they really think that playing a game like Army of Two will cause people to go out and commit real life war crimes? Just as playing Doom doesn’t cause people to go on a homicidal rampage, playing war games doesn’t turn you into Hitler or Stalin. Computer games are a form of escapism and as such should, first and foremost, be entertaining and fun. Sometimes after a hard day at work there is nothing more relaxing than loading up your favourite game and taking out your frustration on a few innocent civilians. This doesn’t mean for a second that I would ever do the same thing in real life and no matter how realistic the blood spatter or how convincing the cries of pain I, and the vast majority of games, are intelligent enough to remember that it is, at the end of the day, only a game.

 

This just strikes me as yet another pop at gamers from a group of people who neither understand them nor the games they play.

Please don’t label children

AndromedasWake
AndromedasWake
Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:36 pm by AndromedasWake

Atheist Billboard Last year, comedy writer and contributor to The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ Ariane Sherine devised and headed a campaign to display non-religious adverts on the sides of London buses. This was in direct response to adverts run by a Christian group referencing a website informing atheists that they would “…spend all eternity in torment in hell.’ Surely believers wouldn’t mind atheists exercising their free speech by spreading such a gentle and positive message* as “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” would they? Well, they did mind, but that didn’t stop the campaign (funded by donations alone) from growing to become an international success.

Ariane Sherine speaking at TAM London, October 3rd

Now a little over one year later, Ariane and the British Humanist Association are rolling out a new billboard, pictured above. Regarding this new campaign, Ariane told The Guardian, “We thought it would be beneficial to try to change the current public perception that it is acceptable to label children with a religion.”

The idea for the latest ads was born out of supporters’ concern for the growing influence of faith schools, “Many felt strongly that children should be given the freedom to decide which belief system they wanted to belong to, if any, and that they should not have a religion decided for them.”

As someone who often works with children, I am strongly in support of this initiative. Don’t label your child. Let them grow up and gain their own perspective of the world. If your position, ideology or philosophy is best, trust in your adult sons and daughters as freethinking human beings to see that for themselves.

For further info on the Atheist Billboard Campaign, visit the Atheist Bus website. You can also follow PlsDontLabelMe on Twitter for updates.

* Sadly, my own gentle, positive message proposal didn’t make the cut.

Just take an hour

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:18 pm by rabbitpirate

With the flu season practically upon us and the media full of stories and misinformation about H1N1 and vaccines in general it is great that a couple of the internet and podcasting’s more prominent skeptics have taken the time out to set the records straight on this issue. This week both Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.com and Steven Novella of The Skeptics Guide the Universe have both released episodes dedicated to correcting the misinformation and allying allaying the fears related to these topics. With a combined running time of less than hour this is the quickest and easiest way to get up to date on this important issue.

 

But then seeing where I am I imagine that you lot already know all about these podcasts and have already listened to them. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. 😉

With regards to shanedk and MasterGhostKnight

AndromedasWake
AndromedasWake
Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:40 pm by AndromedasWake

Recently, two videos were posted to Youtube which are generating some controversy about the League of Reason website. I know what you’re thinking: controversy, the coveted fuel that powers our warp engines! In reality, both videos have almost nothing to do with the site, and are only related by the inclusion of the Leauge logo and some words by Youtuber shanedk. For this reason, I have not embedded the videos into this post, but you can watch the first – by MasterGhostKnight – here, and the response – by shanedk – here.

As an administrator and founder of this website, I wish to set the record straight regarding two allegations made by shanedk during his video. I have no intention of throwing fuel on the fire of internet drama, so I’ll keep this brief and to the point. The accusations to which I am referring can be found in a single quote from shanedk’s video:

“Most extreme of all of them was this idiot, MasterGhostKnight, who posted a pathetic attempt at a rebuttal under the auspices of the completely misnamed ‘League of Reason’.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Let me make it abundantly clear that including the League of Reason logo in your Youtube video does not endow you with automatic help, support or protection from this site or its contributing bloggers. As such, MasterGhostKnight did not post his video under the auspices of the League of Reason. In actuality, he posted a video with the logo attached. And that’s it. Anyone is free to include the logo in their video, as it is intended merely to advertise the site to a wider audience. Indeed, a fundamentalist creationist can freely use the logo, as ultimately, visitors will see that the content provided by the contributors satisfies the site’s mission statement, as it stands on the ‘About Us‘ page:

“Together we endeavour to protect and promote the voice of reason, and we welcome you to join us.”

I maintain that the site’s contributors have done just this. We also protect the free speech of their readers with a commenting system and message board with extensive forum categories. MasterGhostKnight is not a contributor. He is not listed as a contributor. Even if he was, videos made by him would not automatically reflect LoR policy. The fact is, the site does not have an official policy. The closest we come to having such a thing is the collective opinion of the contributors, but as many of them specialise in one field or another, I would likely be best suited to speak for them regarding these two videos (the topics being physics, astronomy and the detection of extra-terrestrial life). As such, I’m dismayed that shanedk did not contact me for an ‘official opinion’ (as he knows I administrate the site) before accusing it – and by proxy me – of supporting MasterGhostKnight’s bogus claims.

In his video, shanedk also accuses the site of being completely misnamed. Once again, I maintain that our contributors are strong proponents of reason. Their readers need not be to participate in the forums. By extension, one could suggest that the Richard Dawkins network message board is completely misnamed if any of the posters disagree with his beliefs and opinions, or to take it further if a single user is not called Richard Dawkins. This is clearly ridiculous. Our forum provides a facility for a wide variety of people with a wide variety of opinions to discuss and debate any topic they like. They are not required to do anything other than obey the forum rules, which permit the most zealous of unreasonable folk to make their case, provided it is not copypasta spam.

I suspect many of our regulars will be aware of what I have said above, and If you are a new visitor, having just left shanedk’s channel, I hope you will see the error of his comments about this site, in what is otherwise an informative and well-made video.

…about that last bit

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Sat Nov 14, 2009 5:37 pm by rabbitpirate

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now and today a number of tangentially related posts over on the excellent Pharyngula blog reminded me that I hadn’t, plus they also gave me some great up to date examples to use as ammunition when making my case. A few weeks ago now I had to attend a mandatory Equality and Diversity training course at the place where I work. Even before it started I knew that I was going to find some of the things they said objectionable. After all I live in the UK, that great fortress of “multiculturalism” and all the subtle racist undertones that idea incorporates. In this country we are told that outright de facto respect for all beliefs and opinions is more important than rationally evaluating those beliefs to see if they are beneficial or harmful to the society in which we live. As such I was not at all surprised when, early in the training, a slide was put up that gave the following description of how the company views diversity (emphasis original):

 

Diversity is about recognising, accepting and valuing difference. It is an appreciation that while we are all part of a single nation with shared rights and responsibilities we are also individuals with our own talents, ambitions and priorities.

 

Reading that my hand immediately went up with a question. Why, I asked, had they applied special emphasis to the word “valuing“? I continued by stating that I had no problem with recognising and even accepting the fact that other people hold different views and beliefs to me but why was I expect to value those different beliefs, especially if said beliefs were in direct opposition to beliefs I myself hold? A look of mild horror crossed the face of the lady doing the training and I got the feeling that no one had ever questioned her on this before. Somewhat reluctantly she explained that she didn’t know why the word “valuing” had been singled out like that and that they were not really expecting us to value beliefs that directly conflicted with our own. Now if she had left it there I might have, begrudgingly, let her get away with it. However she continued with this wonderful sentence.

 

“By valuing what we mean is that we expect you to be tolerant of the beliefs of others.”

 

You can bet my hand shot up with more questions about that one.

 

(more…)

And now for something completely different

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Tue Nov 10, 2009 7:02 pm by rabbitpirate

Ok firstly, seriously people am I the only person posting on this blog at the moment? I mean one more post and the entire first page will be nothing but posts from me and I’m pretty sure our readers don’t want to just be hearing from me all the time.

 

Secondly I have to acknowledge that there is a very good chance, judging from the reactions of people I know, that no one else is going to find this as remotely cool, interesting or hypnotic as I do. I completely expect that many of the comments on this one will be along the lines of “erm ok then” or the ever popular “WTF!”

 

So a while back, inspired by similar things from the likes of CDK007 and Thunderf00t, I decided to try and write a little program that would visually demonstrate the principles of evolution by natural selection. I know, my life really is that exciting. I decided to create a little population of computerised bugs and by simply applying selection pressure to them show how they could evolve over the generations to be better suited to their environment. The main difference, between my program and those of the afore mentioned YouTubers, is that I wanted to make my version interactive so that people could play around with it to their hearts content. With that in mind I made a whole host of changes to the original version of the program I had written before so that it is now possible to play around with a number of different selection pressures and change the environment in which the bugs live at will. Finally I made the decision to share it with the rabid horde here at the League of Reason. So with no further ado, and with some trepidation, I give you:

 

Bug Evolver 2.0

 

For more details of exactly what is going on in this program check below the fold.

 

 

(more…)

Drugs are bad…mmm’kay

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:00 pm by rabbitpirate

Ok firstly let me apologise for not posting anything in ages. No excuse really, I just didn’t get around to it. But hey it seems as if no one else did either so I don’t feel all that bad about it now. Anyway on to what I wanted to talk about.

 

Now I am sure that by now many of you have heard about Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, being fired by Home Secretary Alan Johnson for comments about the government’s cannabis policy. I have no doubt there is more to the story than is being reported but it does seem to indicate that, despite Mr Johnson doing his best to avoid saying so directly, Professor Nutt was let go because he publicly pointed out that the government’s policy with regards to certain drugs was in no way based upon scientific evidence nor the advise provided by the advisory council itself.

 

Now I don’t know what your thoughts are with regards to the legality of drugs, though I would be interested to find out, but I think the point to focus on here has to do with the intersection of science and political policy. Here is a section from the BBC report on the matter that I think highlights my point:

 

Prof Nutt was sacked on Friday after using a lecture to say that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

 

He also said it was upgraded to Class B – against the council’s advice – for political reasons. Earlier in the year he had suggested that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than horse riding.

 

Hitting back in the Guardian, the home secretary said Prof Nutt was not sacked for his views “which I respect but disagree with” but because “he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy”.

 

It is that last sentence that really stands out. The job of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is to provide the government with the best information there is about the dangers of drugs. If the evidence says, to use Professor Nutt’s own example, that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, and you say this, does this really make you “a campaigner against government policy“? Are you not just telling the truth? So is the truth against government policy? Fellow council member Dr Les King, who resigned in protest over this matter, had this to say:

He said ministers had used the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as “a rubber stamp, as a poodle, by coming to the advisory council with a pre-determined agenda about drug classification”.

 

What do we do when the science says one thing but the political wind is blowing in the other direction? If the government wants to put out the message that cannabis is a killer and should be illegal but all the evidence says otherwise where should we, as skeptics and rational thinkers, side on this matter? With the Law or with the science?

 

I’m not going to say any more on this right now as I am still formulating my own thoughts. I would, as always, be interested to hear what you think about this issue.

 

Oh and on a completely unrelated note 2009 Golden Crocoduck winner Ray Comfort has used a comment from me as the basis of his latest blog post. That’s fairly cool…in a weird way.

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