Mr. Eccles Presents | Alpha quadrant 6 – Best Sci-Fi Spaceships

Tonight, I’m sharing something from the crew of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, an episode of their science fiction review series, Alpha Quadrant 6. Here, Bob, Steve, and Jay Novella talk about their all-time favorite, iconic spaceships in well-known franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek’s various incarnations, Babylon 5, and others like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What ships would I add to this?

For my own part, I’d also add the Zentradi starships of Macross, with their alien, ancient, vaguely dilapidated and menacing look and size. The pluses I would suggest are their powerful drives, the vast crew and troop carrying capacity, with the ability in many of them to deploy thousands of heavily armed and armored combat craft. Other pluses include the real-time hyperspace communication systems, and the built-in weaponry, not just the enormous number of beam cannons and missile launchers, but for many, the powerful particle cannon taking up much of the vessel’s long axis.

In many of these ships, the command centers are protected within the vessel’s core, not exposed to attack like in some franchises.

The downsides?

Oh, there are a few!

The first is the disrepair most of these ships are in, with whole sections abandoned and walled off from access. The vessels are fitted for ten-meter tall crew members, not human-sized personnel, which is inconvenient, and the worst is the fact that these ships use ancient tech, about half a million years old, with a crew that lacks the technical skills, and the factory facilities, to fix their stuff and keep it in good condition. Make Britai Krydanik’s command ship with adequate repair crew and facilities, and size the accomodations for humans, it’d be an amazing ship to go to war in or just explore the galaxy. Or the ship commanded by Quamzin Kravshera, with its ability to separate itself into two vessels! Just a thought there.

Anyway, watch this one to the end, as there are others the Novella brothers discuss as well!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Mr. Eccles Presents | Rogue Catnip – Public Figures & Cosplay . . . Why?

It’s time for more from the Rogue Catnip channel as Montel Talks about those cosplayers who find or who place themselves in the spotlight. and wind up running afoul of their egos by catering only to a small segment of the public instead of a wider fanbase. This is a good one, and Mr. Eccles gives it two jelly beans up!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Ubi dubium… | Why Fear Hell?

Why should I believe in, and so fear, anyone’s conception of an unpleasant hereafter?

Why fear hell?

Whether it involves nothing ‘worse’ than eternal separation from the Infinite, or nastier, forever burning in a river or lake of fire, or being eternally flayed alive by zombies, being repeatedly and horribly stuffed into the cheek-pouches of Xuleus the rabbit god, or being stuck in an infinite loop of birth and rebirth on a Karmic wheel, there appears little good reason to believe that anybody’s version of hell, whatever its name or description, exists.

Afterlife? Probably not.

I’m not a believer in an afterlife of any sort, good or bad, as there seems to be no strong evidence showing any such thing, alleged near-death and out of body experiences aside. To date, no human being has ever verifiably, truly died and returned to tell of it. Cardiac arrest and medical resuscitation don’t count. So called near-death experiences are called that for a reason: NEAR death experiences, not TRUE death experiences. So far, the syllogistic statement “All men are mortal” has consistently held true throughout credible human history.

Syllogisms?

So, what I have no reason to believe is real, I don’t fear. If I didn’t believe because I feared, by that logic I should be terrified of elves, boojums, jabberwocks, and the boogieman, because I don’t believe those exist either. Sadly, this is not the case. It depends on evidence, not the scare tactics and empty syllogistic abstractions of apologetics.

To date, no one has gone to hell and brought back a demon’s pitchfork made of unambiguously otherworldly metal. No one has ever returned from that same hell with a piece of brimstone from a pit with an isotopic sulfur content unlike any found on Earth.  The idea that this unpleasant afterlife exists, or any afterlife, no matter how it’s imagined or believed, is dubious at best.

But let’s for once set that aside and consider the implications of a benevolent god, or gods, and the torture chambers of eternity some are said to have created for the “wicked,” or “infidels” and why yours truly has no concern for the safety of his alleged soul. Let’s examine some of the reasons that the concept of hell is inconsistent with the notion of a truly merciful, just, and morally superior Embodiment of the Infinite.

So many gods, which to choose?

There have been countless gods worshiped for as long as we have been human, all of them believed absolutely real in their own times and by their own followers. The fact that a religion is hundreds or even thousands of years old is no indication that it is the One True faith, even if it is still practiced today. The Babylonian religion and that of Sumer were the mainstream religions of their day, but both faded into relative obscurity over time, and are now practiced by, at most, perhaps, small groups of modern neo-pagans if by anyone at all.

The classical Greek and Roman religions were similar in their status during their own age, and now claim only a handful of followers, again, mostly modern neo-pagans. Christianity is older than Islam, and Judaism older still, but the current-day extent and age of these so-called Abrahamic religions is no guarantee that any of them is metaphysically more True than the others or to other major religions.

If the history of religions past is any indication, all will fade into obscurity, and none will show itself to have greater truth than any other of its time, or thereafter. Hinduism and Buddhism are older than any of the three Abrahamic faiths, yet none of these has held sway over even most of the world’s population either. This tells me that antiquity and current popularity are no real measure of truth. We need better criteria for this. If we cannot correctly, objectively, show which religion is true, and they can’t all be true, for their tenets contradict each other, how can we know whose god or gods are real?

And if we can’t determine that, how can we know whose hell to rightly fear, and so take steps to avoid?

Religions many and multifarious!

With countless religions known and unknown, in the entire history of our species, it’s clearly futile to try them all on for size and pick the right one. One would spend forever, doing nothing else, not even sleeping, just trying to select the ‘correct’ religion, much less following them all. Clearly an impossible task. We could just settle with the religion our parents brought us up in, but that has problems too; what if we were raised in the ‘wrong’ religion and it’s those other people with strange practices, across the water from us, who have the right idea?

Should I worry about having my soul devoured in the Outer Void by Azathoth because I was not fortunate enough to be raised a devout worshiper of Yog-Sothoth? Should I fret about going to the Catholic hell for being brought up a pious Hindu? Or for that matter, should I concern myself about going to the Seventh-Day Adventist hell for being raised a devoted Catholic? These and similar questions present themselves. With no objective way to know which is the ‘right’ religion, how is it possible to choose and avoid damnation? It’s telling that only those who already believe in a religion consider it the True one.

Pascal’s wager? Not so much.

This is why I don’t take Pascal’s wager seriously. Even if we grant the argument, with a possibly infinite number of gods and afterlives to choose from, some yet to be imagined, it has no unbiased criteria with which to choose, and tells us nothing of what god and eternity we should bet on. Never mind the complex issues that incorporating infinities into decision-theory problems causes!

A truly just god (and almost invariably, many though not all worshipers consider their gods not just just, but often supremely just, and therefore the Ultimate Moral Authority of the Universe™) would not intentionally create a place or condition of suffering that lasts for all eternity, just for not being up to snuff, or be so thin-skinned as to torture people forever for finite and petty crimes committed in a life on Earth that doesn’t matter anyway as it’s just a prep for something better or worse. Or worshiping the wrong gods by accident of being born into the wrong culture. Or questioning the faith. A morally superior being would not torment anyone forever for minor violations of code, or accidents of birth, or, if that being granted us the gift of Reason, (without error, and a perfect being by definition never errs) using it to exercise a supposed libertarian concept of free will.

Punishment to fit the crime?

Such everlasting punishment would rightly be considered unjust by mere mortal standards alone, and to everyone I’ve asked, it is: one would expect a god to be more just than we, not less. Such everlasting punishment with no parole or appeal would likely only be dealt out by at the very least an uncaring deity, certainly not the way many people view their religion’s divinity as an ultimate power for Justice.

Clearly, it is logically inconsistent to claim that a god, or anyone, is unconditionally loving, more moral, more forgiving, in short far better than we are across the board, and yet claim that this same Power would create a torture chamber to punish those who didn’t measure up to His (or Hers, or Its, or Their,) standards of conduct, accidents of birth into the wrong family, using our alleged free will in ways not commanded by said deity, or using our allegedly god-granted gifts of Reason, forever. It makes no sense to me, and it’s a cop-out to say that this being “works in mysterious ways,” or that I do not understand a “subtle doctrine of free will,” because those arguments are nothing but special pleading and indefensible. It’s also completely absurd to match the crime to the magnitude of the offended. Finite crimes should be less heinous, not more to a greater being. It’s an inverse relationship, not a proportionate one.

Even if there is a hell, so what?

Even if hell does exist, what if it’s not like how it’s described? What if all the apologists and prophecies are wrong, and hell is a great place? What if hell, and not heaven, is were you really want to go? What if hell is were all the fun, interesting people go when they pass on, not the boring, stuffy, hypocritical tight-ass people? What if hell totally rocks? What if it’s an endless party, not endless torture? There is just as much evidence in favor of these (zero, to be exact) as any other concept of hell, or heaven, so why not?

But what may happen anyway?

Well, I imagine perhaps one of three things will happen to me upon my death: I might enter something like a timeless, dreamless sleep, experiencing not even my own nonexistence; I could wind up in somebody’s version of an afterlife, good or bad (or maybe good and bad, if ours is the best of all possible worlds, and so logically none can possibly be better); or, I could be reincarnated as something better or worse off than I am now. I just don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

The only way to know for certain is to find out on that day I embark on a journey to the ultimate mystery and see for myself. But if human history is a reliable guide, that will be a trip with no return ticket. But that’s okay. We shall see, we shall see.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Farewell, Harlan Ellison

Just this last Thursday, we lost SF writer and critic Harlan Ellison, who died of natural causes at the age of 84. I have a confession to make: 

I have heroes.

But all of my heroes are human, not graven images on a pedestal, and all of them have the proverbial feet of clay. I prefer my heroes that way, human, flawed, with warts and all. That goes for skeptics and writers I’ve read and learned from over the years, from even the late Carl Sagan, to Michael Shermer and his current controversy, and yes, the irascible Harlan Ellison.

So…I’ll waste no time saying that Ellison was a ‘great’ writer, much less a ‘great guy.’

From his own words, I can rightly guess that he would laugh in my face at the very suggestion of him being ‘great.’ And he would be right to do so. So there will be no sycophantic bullshit or lionizing from yours truly. A word of advice: never try to flatter or piss off short people, especially when their name is Harlan Ellison. They will learn you, or burn you, with words, and that made Ellison not only a successful writer, but a fierce critic of publicly promulgated bullshit in a number of areas, from social criticism, to films, and even takedowns of pseudoscience in the public square. He was not known as a very nice guy, but in my view, he was fundamentally a good man, however unkind he may have been when annoyed.

Why?

It was in late 2006, I think at a place I used to do volunteer work as an administrative assistant, and I was reading one of Ellison’s collections outdoors in a quiet spot near the building. I think the collection was Edgeworks: An Edge In My Voice, volume 1, and I came across something I’d not read from other authors (I was just beginning to expand my reading horizons to something less sheltered), or at least not the way Ellison put it in a moment of self-critique: the notion of being scrupulously, ruthlessly honest with himself. His was self-honesty even to the point of accepting short-term self-loathing over longterm self-loathing by not telling himself pretty lies, or deceiving himself over personal motives.

This is, I know now, and I’m sure he knew then, a tall order indeed, and impossible to fully achieve. But that’s the whole point of an ideal: you don’t adopt one to actually reach it with finality, but to get as close as possible to it, asymptotically, not as any kind of ‘destination.’ An ideal is perfectably strived for, never perfectly arrived at. That’s why it’s an ideal, an abstraction, not reality. But it doesn’t have to be reality to be worth striving for.

But that idea burned itself in my brain as I stood there, reading on, and since that day, it has been something that I truly believe is worthwhile. For how can you be truly honest with others if you can’t be honest with yourself? Integrity matters. Even when it’s not coupled with a pleasant demeanor or a kind disposition. It was also that year when I was introduced to the world of podcasts with my aging Classic model iMac, and my first iPod. It was that year I began listening to The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and had two particular books gifted to me that Christmas: Lynne Kelly’s _The Skeptics’ Guide to the Paranormal_, and Michael Shermer’s _Why Darwin Matters_.

A lot’s changed since then, but I’d like to end this post with a sendoff: Peace out, Harlan. Whatever happens to your memory from here on, you wrote a thing that has real meaning to me, and I think that counts for something. For what it’s worth, I’m a skeptic. And I’ll remain one for the foreseeable future. I know that doesn’t make me better or smarter than anyone else.

But with that in mind, I don’t need to be.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Mongo Fiction | The Last Dance, Part 7

Than’yhidre and Meenakshi were back in Chennai’s Old Quarter at the hotel. The two women had taken a different route this time to throw off several suspicious pursuers trying to shadow them. Than’yhidre’s role as a Null-Dancer involved some training in detective work and espionage, or at least skills in those areas that lent themselves well to avoiding pursuit and attempts to throw her off the trail of a perp. Than’y had pulled from her bags an odd looking box with several studs attached to it, placed the device on the coffee table, and pressed one of the studs. A low hum issued, barely audible to the human ear, almost a register too low. “This is a wide-field DataNet scrambler. It’ll prevent even the best media snoops, and most spy agencies that may be working for our target from hearing anything we say. That’s why I screened this suite for nano-dust and any other bugging devices.” Than’yhidre had just finished a data-dump into a small hand comp from her wetware drive. Wetware as trendy but incredibly useful brain-apps were all the rage among the Kai’Siri upper class, especially those who travelled often. It’s all the better for adapting quickly to new cultures once interstellar travel was reestablished post-Shutter. Than’yhidre continued briefly, “It’s how I manage to avoid the paparazzi and fanboys (The fangirls are less annoying!) on every world I visit, and why I contacted you as my guide.” 

“What is it you’ve found? It must be enormously important or you wouldn’t have come all this way to find it. Sirug is kiloparsecs away from here!” Meenakshi leaned in closer, as her seemingly alien friend spoke in low tones.

“I’ve found the file for the girl I started life as. Better, I’ve found out who, or what, was responsible for taking me from this world. I’ve found the source of my dreams, of the nightmares I’ve had since girlhood!” Than’yhidre paused a bit, breathed, then continued,“I’m Indian Tamil by birth. The cosmetic surgery was done when I was only three years of age to make me appealing to Kai’Siri adoption agencies none too concerned about paperwork on where the children come from. It’s permanent, but I’m Tellusine, not Kai’Siri. It’s why I can only eat the foodstuffs of Earth. I found my name and the names and identities of the traffickers who took me.” Than’y hesitated for a moment, as the hint of a tear began to make its way down her cheek, “My birth-name is Lavyani, and I found out that you and I are family. We’re second cousins!” 

Meenakshi looked as though a bomb went off in her head, “Lavyani…You’ve come home!” The two women embraced for just a few seconds, before a loud thump! came from the locked hotel door. The thump! came again, louder, followed by the sound of something trying to rip the door off its hinges, but the two women were already out of sight. Two unnaturally tall and absurdly muscled men wearing featureless masks strode into the room, one dropping the wreckage of the suite entrance door, as the other dropped a canister on the floor, this followed by a billowing gas cloud filling the suite. There was silence, followed by quick search of the suite. One of the men removed his, or rather, its mask, revealing a metal skull-face and glowing eyes beneath. No, not a man, but a synthedroid. Whoever was after the two women was cautious enough not to entrust their capture to mere humans. Inhuman eyes caught a blur of motion to their left, and dodged a Miduuk-Yokku blade just in time to catch a depleted island-metal sabot round to the braincase from Meenakshi’s gauss rifle. Both women were wearing protective masks for the gas.

The other synthedroid, still functional, had caught Meekakshi’s weapon arm, threatening to wrench it off, as Than’yhidre’s blade split its biomechanical body in half from crown to crotch. Two down…

…And that’s when the third stepped in. 

It had waited outside the doorway, just out of sight, and strode into the room with nearly blinding speed on spider-like legs, catching both women unawares as it ejected a thin mesh net, trapping them before a jolt of high-voltage current put them out of commission. Unconcerned for any reward or praise, it destroyed the DataNet scrambler with the crunch of a metal tendril and opened a channel to its master.“Mister Shade, the targets have been procured, and are ready for transport. Units D8T5 and G7B9 have been damaged beyond repair. This unit survives undamaged. This unit will return to base with the quarry after eliminating all traces of damaged units. Communications out.”

To be continued next month…