Quid Novi? | 2019.08.24


Vanakkam. Posting this on this blog has been slow over the last couple of weeks, as you’ve probably noticed, and that’s because of a major transition for me and my family, one that I’m not at liberty to discuss on a publicly accessible blog.

So, through the rest of this month and the next, I’ll continue posting on this site from time to time, so it’s not a complete blogcation. I simply cannot find (or make) the time to post on anything close to a regular schedule.

But I’ll return to regular or semiregular once the current mess boils down, so till then, and in romanized Soruggon…

…Talotaa frang. Talotaa kas. Talotaa tranga suulaat.

Cat Thursday | Bad Bois, Bad Bois!


Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and sometime hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite LOL cat pic you may have come across, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It’s all for the love of cats! Enjoy! This meme is hosted by the True Book Addict!

Ricky’s Quick Picks | #001, August 17, 2019


Welcome to this weekly or fortnightly column, where I provide links and other items on skeptical topics, as well as items from other domains of interest. This weekend, Ricky the Maine Coon offers the following tidbits of coolness. Enjoy!

I’ve been going through the feeds for the Skepticality podcast, currently 30-ish episodes away from finishing a favorite show which seems to have podfaded since January of 2018. So here is, in its entirety, the music which for a good part of twelve years defined one of the first skeptical podcasts to grace the Internet…

…The Skepticality Theme Song:

There is also,…

An interview with Dr. Lynne Kelly on the ABC radio show Conversations: The Memory Whisperer.

And,

Science-Based Medicine Versus Other Ways of Knowing, by Dr. David Gorski

On the so-called Paleo Diet:

How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer, on Scientific American

Here’s an entry on the Skeptics’ Dictionary on…

The Bias Blind-Spot

And to close out the weekend:

xkcd: Geologic Time

Ubi dubium… | Skeptical Inquiry in a Fantasy Setting


There’s a thing that seems to me to result from sloppy storytelling and a deep failure of the imagination in many genres of fiction: the so-called “skeptic in a mystical world” trope I’ll call it. I’m side-eyeing here the first MCU Doctor Strange movie, many episodes of Supernatural, and Stargate Atlantis in particular.

Such poorly written, poorly imagined fare is an ill fit for the magical, superhero, and monster-ridden worlds it’s often portrayed in.

I’d like to discuss an alternative I’ll call Arcane Inquiry, a fantasy-based version of the thinking and methods of real world skeptical inquiry that offers a much better fit story-wise to a fantasy milieu. Why arcane? Because of the implied meaning the word carries of things not generally known, even secretive knowledge. Unless the world-builder involved has a good rationale for it, critical thinking and a firm literacy in the known workings of reality will likely not be widely known, much less universally taught, in a typical fantasy milieu.

In these worlds, often based on earlier fantasy literature or popular RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, magic and monsters are a demonstrable, repeatable, and actionable reality, and plausible Inquirers would be straying from their own methods and ethical values to deny these things, or even to deliberately hide or refuse to look at the evidence for them.

It’s my understanding that even when monsters and magic abound, modern skeptical inquiry, properly translated as the intersection of critical thinking, literacy in (the milieu’s) science, and consumer/buyer/customer protection would flourish among knowledge-experts like clergy or wizards.

Who hasn’t played a fantasy RPG and occasionally failed a perception check, fumbled a saving roll against mind-befuddling spells, or thought they were fighting one monster but really another masked by a disguise or spell of some sort? Clearly, skeptical thinking should and would convey some advantage when planning strategy or tactical choices.

Then, there are also those beings of various kinds who pose as gods and similar entities through their powers or guile; powerful wizards, witches, or sorcerers, undead like liches or vampires, and nether-worldly beings like demons, daemons, or devils.

Even in a world where everyone can conjure demons or djinn to do their bidding, opportunities for skullduggery and shenanigans abound. Sometimes the conjured djinn seek to subvert their master’s intent, or a summoned devil seeks to pervert the spirit of a bargain by brilliant lawyering of the contract; always look at the fine print before signing!

Every fantasy RPG I’ve ever played has rules, a system for its magic, to define the procedure, power limits, and the sometimes draining costs of casting magic. These rules translate well to the implied laws governing the setting, and at least in part amount to that setting’s science along with whatever real science the GM includes specifically or is otherwise implied in that game’s rule mechanics.

From my own previous experience in refereeing Call of Cthulhu in the late 1990s, magic is the physics of the true (CoC) universe, that true but thankfully hidden reality concealed from everyday scrutiny by a veil of sanity, obvious and comprehensible only to the mad and the horrors from beyond space-time with which they traffick.

Far more extraordinary to me than a world whose laws allow magic and monsters would be one in which there are no attempts by anyone to deceive anyone else, in which no one ever fools themselves, misperceive, misremember, nor misinterpret and misreport what they think they perceive and remember, and in which there are no attempts by anyone to cheat, con, or defraud another for spite, fun, or personal gain.

Such a world would be an incredibly unchallenging, boring, and implausible one. Most fantasy worlds in literature are rife with deception of some sort. In those worlds, there are scads of beings that make it their business to fool others. Outstanding examples include demons, devils, human and nonhuman thieves and assassins, fairies, tricky sellers of rare “magic items,” mischievous elementals, actual gods, and quite a few of the smarter dragon species…

…but most of all, those all-seeing Dungeon Masters, or GMs if GURPS is your thing. 

Even in a fantasy world, clear, clever thinking and thorough investigation can be your strongest weapon against the most powerful magicks or extra-planar beings, and any engaging, well designed setting will account for this.

Even in fantasy, superhero fiction, or the realms of horror where monsters bring vast and frightening powers to bear, using your brain instead of thinking with whatever supernormal powers the setting permits will often be your greatest asset. 

Mr. Eccles Presents | Skepticism and the Law (P. Andrew Torrez)


“Skepticism and the Law: Or, How to Earn Billions With Your Birth Certificate AND Make Bernie Sanders President Using this ONE WEIRD TRICK” 🙂

“Presented by P. Andrew Torrez, Law Offices of P. Andrew Torrez “

“Video contains strong language and adult content which may not be suitable for children. Skeptics are well-versed in applying the tools of critical thinking to a variety of claims we see in everyday life, from quack medicine to religion to agriculture.”

“But for some reason, skeptics tend to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to equally preposterous claims about the law. As the co-host of the popular Opening Arguments podcast, Andrew Torrez shares some of the most preposterous and unbelievable real-life questions that he’s gotten from skeptics just like you about the law. Is there really a shadowy cabal of international bankers to whom your entire life has been pledged as collateral from birth? Did a watchdog group really file a petition before the Supreme Court to undo the 2016 Presidential Election? Do criminals frequently escape justice due to technicalities? “

“This talk will equip you with the tools to help separate legal fact from legal fiction — without having to earn a law degree of your own.”

“After nearly 20 years in big firms, P. Andrew Torrez founded his own law firm in 2015 to serve start-up and small businesses in Maryland and the District of Columbia. In 2016, he started the podcast Opening Arguments to explain legal concepts in the news to non-lawyers; today, the show is one of the most popular news & politics podcasts with nearly 2.5 million downloads to date.”

“Andrew Torrez is a 1997 graduate of Harvard Law School with honors, is a member of the Board of Governors of the Maryland chapter of the Federal Bar Association, has been named a Fellow of the American Bar Association, and has been repeatedly honored as one of Maryland’s top lawyers by Benchmark since 2011.”

“Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.”