God hates gays? Not quite.

Do Gays Cause Hurricanes? by Janis Walworth

Do “Unnatural” Acts Cause Natural Disasters?

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, recently warned Orlando, Florida, that it was courting natural disaster by allowing gay pride flags to be flown along its streets. “A condition like this will bring about … earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,” he said, apparently referring to his belief that the presence of openly gay people incurs divine wrath and that God acts through geological and meteorological events to destroy municipalities that permit gay people the same civil liberties as others. (Robertson also warned Orlando about terrorist bombs, suggesting the possibility that God may also employ terrorists.)

Before Pat and his Christian cronies get too carried away promulgating the idea that natural disasters are prompted by people who displease God,they should take a hard look at the data. Take tornadoes. Every state (except Alaska) has them – some only one or two a year, dozens in others. Gay people are in every state (even Alaska). According to Pat’s hypothesis, there should be more gay people in states that have more tornadoes. But are there? Continue reading

In Defense of the Human Species

I read a number of online forums every day–LiveJournal, mailing lists, newsgroups, tech support forums, and so on. Recently, someone on one of the Macintosh-related tech support forums I read left a message decrying the voracious appetite for mass destruction that represents the whole of the human condition, and said, rather dramatically, that it’s high time to “pull the plug on the human experiment” and wipe all of humanity off the face of the universe.

This idea is rather trendy, and always has been rather trendy, among a certain breed of cynic. Humanity, so the reasoning goes, is an unstoppable force of pure destruction, eradicating nature and exterminating other species wherever it goes. Human beings, according to this line of reasoning, are a violation of the normal natural order; we do not respect the balance and harmony of nature, we spread like a disease and corrupt everything we touch.


Bullshit on the harmony and balance of nature; there is no such thing. Bullshit on the natural order; competition and destruction are writ large into it. Bullshit on the entire lot of it.

Now, it is true that humanity can and often is destructive to other species. Countless thousands of species of life on Earth have been rendered extinct through the direct or indirect action of man. This loss of species, and the attendant ecological damage that goes with it, is an appalling waste that can not and should not be justified. So clearly, the world would be better off without us, yes?

No. As appalling and wasteful as it is, if you take man out of the equation, nothing changes. Widescale, rampant species extinction is a part of natural history, and man, for all his inventive, monkey-brained destructiveness, isn’t even terribly good at it.

Remember all that stuff you’ve heard about the balance of nature? It’s bunk. There is no such thing. “Balance” occurs in nature only when competing species fight one another to a stalemate. The stalemate never lasts; as soon as one species gains the upper hand, it’s curtains for the loser. Nature is not about balance and harmony; nature is a ceaseless war, with no quarter given and no mercy granted, and the loser is wiped out, never to return. This has always been the way of nature, since long before man with his high cranial capacity and penchant for language and tool-use, arrived on the scene, and it will continue to be the way of nature if we all disappear tomorrow. The way nature works is pretty straightforward: get resources, at the expense of every competitor and by any means possible, or die.

Our big brains–those ones that give us language and reason and analytical cognition and spears and flint knives and bulldozers and iPods–are tools of survival, just like fangs and claws. We use them to do what every species uses its tools for; we use them to survive.

There’s an interesting thing about those who want to end the human experiment; they don’t apply the same values to the rest of nature that they do to humanity. If a predator like a lion hunts some prey animal into extinction, they don’t see this as a tragedy. If a new species arises that entirely dominates its ecological niche, displacing and then destroying all its competition, they don’t call for that species to be exterminated. Only humans get judged that way.

And if you say “That’s because only humans know better,” you’ve just made my next point for me.

Humans are hardly the most destructive species ever to rise on Mother Earth. That honor would have to go to the lowly cyanobacterium, the first photosynthetic organism and in terms of raw biomass arguably the most successful organism on Earth. Yes, I’m talking about plain old ordinary blue-green algae.

You see, when life first arose on Planet Earth, there was no oxygen in the air. This planet, like all rocky planets reasonably close in to their star, began with a reducing atmosphere, not an oxygenating atmosphere.

Life evolved here in a reducing atmosphere; and to an organism whose metabolism is not based on oxygen, oxygen is a deadly poison. The problem with anaerobic life, though, is that it tends to be rather sluggish. Metabolisms not based on oxygen aren’t very energetic; oxygen is a boon, because it allows for a very fast, high-energy metabolism, but it’s also a curse, because it’s corrosive and toxic and tends to degrade and destroy complex organic molecules.

Life got along quite splendidly without oxygen, until the arrival of blue-green algae and a newfangled survival tool called “photosynthesis.”

Photosynthesis is a complex and fiddly process, which is why it took a very long time for any organism to make it work. When it works, it works well, though, because all you need to power your cells is carbon dioxide, sunlight, and a few other trace elements. But it releases oxygen, and oxygen is bad news.

For everyone else.

The arrival of photosynthetic cyanobacteria forever altered the planet’s atmosphere. Cyanobacteria spread like wildfire, because they had a great schtick: they could produce energy from sunlight, and the metabolic byproduct–oxygen–poisoned everything around them, wiping out their competition and providing fertilizer at the same time.

If you weren’t a cyanobacterium, it was a disaster. Species were exterminated everywhere the cyanobacteria went. As the atmosphere changed, species were exterminated everywhere, period. Only two species of life are known to have survived the catastrophe–one of them a type of anaerobic bacterium that can sometimes infect people, and the other a pesky anaerobic bacterium that causes botulism. Everything else? Gone. Destroyed. All wiped out–down to every species on the whole planet save two–by blue-green algae.

A commendable accomplishment, if one values this sort of thing. Certainly an accomplishment man has yet to equal.

Now, nobody I know of has ever called for an end to the “photosynthetic experiment,” nor said that oxygen-producing life is a disease on the planet that must be eradicated. You see, when blue-green algae causes an ecological catastrophe on a global scale, wiping out countless species, it’s all part of the natural order of things. Yet when man does the same thing, we’re a blight on the planet. The difference? We know better.

And that illustrates a very important point.

The idea that species should be preserved? The idea that extinction is bad? The idea that natural living things have value in and of themselves? These are human values. They are not found in nature. Only human beings hold these values. These values are only meaningful to human beings. Humans are alone among all forms of life in the sense that we alone can form abstract ideas about good and bad, we alone can see and appreciate the value of things beyond their value as food or competition.

Nature is a bitch. Nature is fine with mass extinction. Nature is fine with smacking an asteroid the size of Boston into an inhabited planet, killing every land animal with a body mass over five kilograms or so. Nature is ruthless, uncaring, and indifferent to whether something lives or dies. To nature, a planet teeming with life is just as good as a sterile bolder; it’s all the same. Ideas about whether or not something “deserves” to live are not natural; these ideas exist only as human ideas. And that makes all the difference.

The person who wants to pull the plug on the human experiment does not realize that doing so would not actually accomplish anything. It would not create order or harmony; it would not stop the endless cycle of competitoin and extinction. All it would do is destroy something unique, something which has never in the history of this world been seen before.

It would remove the one species of life on this planet that has the power and the ability to destroy another species, and can choose not to.

Humans are not unique in their ability to upset ecological systems and destroy other species. It’s pure hubris to believe that we are. Indeed, it’s arrogant to believe that we could destroy all life on earth; even our entire nuclear arsenals would likely not be able to do this. Destroying all life on earth, down to the last bacterium, is a more challenging problem than it seems. The cyanobacteria came pretty damn close, but there are nontrivial problems like deep-sea volcanic-vent organisms, bacteria that can withstand enormous doses of radiation and form spores capable of surviving for thousands of years, and pesky things like that which would quite likely thumb their noses at any attempt on our part to wipe out all life on earth.

But we are unique nonetheless. Our uniqueness lies in the fact that of all forms of life this planet has ever seen, only one has ever chosen not to compete with another species–indeed, even chosen to support another species, and sought to preserve it–when there is no direct and immediate gain in doing so. We as a species do know better; and the fact that we are capable of holding values which say that extinction is bad, and are capable of acting on those values, and indeed are even capable of saying that we should eliminate ourselves in order to protect competing species (species which, it must be said, would have no similar qualms about driving us to extinction were our roles reversed), is proof that we are not merely an unchecked destructive force.

We alone among all the billions of organisms which exist or have ever existed on this planet can form value judgments about the consequences of our actions. We alone among all the organisms which exist can see the beauty in other life simply for its own sake, and choose not to use the tools nature provided with to survive at their expense. We alone can say “I have the ability to use my big brain to out-compete this species, and I see gain in doing so, but I will not.”

A predator that drives its prey into extinction soon follows; and in fact this happens all the time. I’m not suggesting that protecting other life is entirely altruistic; the same can happen to us. But that, too, makes us unique; other species do not see the consequences of their struggle to survive, and we do.

The law of nature is “survival at all costs.” Only human beings, alone of all species, can say “this cost is too high; I choose another way.”

A virus…

…contracted from mtfierce. When you see this on your Friends list, quote Shakespeare.

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!

Shelly and I were just talking about Shakespeare on Saturday, at Busch Gardens.

Brilliant man, that Shakespeare. It’s a pity the language barrier keeps people from really appreciating him.

Life imitates computer games

So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve at least heard of “World of Warcraft,” the Blizzard game where players create characters on a Blizzard server and play simultaneously with other people–LOTS of other people–in real-time. At any given moment in time, thee are over 200,000 people logged on to the World of Warcraft servers playing the game; Blizzard has over two million subscribers total, making WoW the most popular computergame…well, ever.

I play myself; I have five characters, including a level 60 warrior named Ragnarokkr on the Medivh server.

Recently, Blizzard released a new WoW patch. They do this from time to time, often to add new content–new quests, new areas to explore, new dungeons for groups of characters to adventure in. The last patch, which was released about a week ago, introduced a new elite dungeon designed to be played by groups of 20 high-level, powerful characters.

The main adversary in this new high-level dungeon has an ability to infect a player with a disease called “Corruption of Blood.” It kills the payer rather quickly and it can be spread to other, nearby players. Blizzard didn’t think a player infected with this disease would have the opportunity to leave the dungeon before dying of it. (Death in the game is a minor nuisance; if your character dies, you become a ghost, and you can reincarnate by returning to the place where you died or by having a priest or shaman player ressurect you.)

They were wrong.

Last Thursday, someone infected with this disease and playing on the Eonar server, where two of my characters live, managed to make it to one of the capital cities in the game world, a place called Ironforge. At any given time of the day or night, you can reasonably expect to see about a thousand players running around in Ironforge, meaning that this virtual non-existant city has a larger population than almost every real city in the world through three-quarters of human history.

Anyway, the capital cities have a very high population density, and the disease can be transmitted from character to character. You can tell where this is going, right?

My character died almost immediately when I entered the city. The entire place was littered with corpses. People would die, resurrect their characters, and then promptly die again–or worse yet, become infected just as they were leaving the city. It took hours before it was safe to move in Ironforge.

Well, it turns out that the problem has totally run away from Blizzard. On some servers, it’s impossible to go to ANY city without becoming “infected.” It’s bad enough that there’s an article about it on The Register:

It’s said that attempts have been made to quarantine the infected, but the efforts of what might be called the World of Warcraft Health Organisation (WWHO) appear to be ineffective. Plague-carrying players escape the curfew to lug the lurgey out into the wider WoW world.

The Corrupted Blood disease is, in short, out of control and rapidly taking on epidemic status.

Of some interest is the fact that when I read the article, Google Ads paced an ad for a site which sells online game currency for genuine real-world currency. There are many such sites, and they have become big business. How big? People make six figures a year doing nothing but generating online currency and then selling it for real money. That big.

It really is a World of Warcraft world.


Just finished uploading a major update to my BDSM Web site, which includes an entirely new page on So You Want to Be a Dom and a major update to the BDSM Glossary that nearly doubles(!) its size. The entire Glossary is now 12,995 words long(!!).

Planned over the next few days: at least one new page in the BDSM section, a new addition to the Polyamory section, and a whole new wing on my Web site containing more information and a list of resources on transhumanism and extropianism.

Weekend stuff, computer peripherals as a metaphor for relationships, and an olive branch

Saturday evening, Shelly and I went out to the Castle to do some danng,a nd hooked up with S, her other boyfriend, nekidsteve, nihilus, phyrra, and their friend and housemate. (Tried to shoot you an IM, johnnymoon, but you weren’t online and it was a really spur-of-the-moment, last-minute thing…)

The main DJ sucked. The alternate DJ ruled. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, that I’m too lazy to dig out. Anyway, the alternate DJ played the Second Best Song to Dance To Ever Written1, which I’ve heard before but didn’t know the name of. Shelly talked to him after. Turns out the song is by a band called Wumpscut, and the song is called Wreath of Barbs. (Note: direct MP3 download; 6.3 megabytes.)

datan0de, if you aren’t familiar with this song, you should be. 🙂

In old-school computer hackerspeak, a situation can arise between a computer and a peripheral which is called “deadlock” (or, for those of you who hail from MIT, “deadly embrace”). Modern computer protocols have largely done away with it, but generally speaking it’s a situation where a computer and a peripheral stop talking to one another because each is waiting for some sort of response from the other.

There are two basic varieties of deadlock: “starvation,” in which the computer and the peripheral are each waiting for data from the other, and “constipation,” where the computer’s buffer is full and it’s waiting for a signal from the peripheral to receive the data, and the peripheral’s buffer is full and it’s waiting for a signal from the computer to receive ITS data.

It seems the same sort of thing can happen between two people, especially if some kind of problem has existed between them. ach ends up feeling marginalized by the other, and each ends up feeling that the other wants nothing to do with him–so each ends up not reaching out to the other.

Computers can be rebooted, and there’s no hard feelings. With people, it’s a bit more tricky.

So. We had a blast at the club, except for tension etween phyrra and I. I can tell she doesn’t feel comfortable around me, so I don’t try to impose on her, so she feels like I’m avoiding her, so she feels uncomfortable around me, so… starvation deadlock.

And there’s no reason it should be this way. phyrra is a warm and wonderful person who I like very much. Just so y’all know. 🙂

And, just as a bonus, I bring you, courtesy of felisdemens, English As She Is Spoke, the worse English dictionary and phrasebook ever written. From the site:

This 1883 book is without question the worst phrasebook ever written. The writer, Pedro Carolino, who was Portuguese, did not particularly speak English, nor did he have a Portuguese-English dictionary available. Instead, he worked with a French-English phrasebook and a Portuguese-French dictionary. The results, I’m sure you’ll agree, are staggering.

This text is that of a book of excerpts compiled a few years after the book was first published. Anything that looks like an error is, in fact, the way it actually appears in the book. I’ve transcribed the complete text of that book; I do not, unfortunately, have a copy of the original. I’m sure you’ll notice bits that look like typos. They’re not; that’s all part of the fun.

The phrasebook contains such useful gems as a handy list of common English colours (White, Gridelin, Cray, Musk, and Red), popular English games (Foot-ball, Pile, Bar, Mall, Gleek, Even or non even, Carousal, and Keel), handy English phrases (“Give me some good milk newly get out,” “He burns one’s self the brains”), and English idiotisms and proverbs (“He has fond the knuckle of the business,” “So much go the jar to spring that at last it break there”). This stuff predates Engrish by a good century, and is, if anything, even more bizarre. Great stuff!

1All decent, God-fearing people know, of course, that in the great cosmology of Songs to Dance To, nothing can compare to the pinnacle of human achievement, Front 242’s Headhunter v1.0.

A bit of merriment in my email this morning…

Headers included.

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I have a wicked and evil heart. Is there a support group for that? 🙂

Sex and math, and sex

Ugol’s Law states that no sexual fetish is unique–that is, if something turns you on, then someone else, somewhere, is turned on by the same thing.

Shelly is currently in school, pursuing a degree in chemical engineering with an eye toward using it to get a doctorate in biomedical nanotechnology. More and more universities are offering graduate-level degrees in nanotechnology, mostly interdisciplinary degrees that bring together people from medical, physics, and chemical engineering backgrounds.

As you might imagine, her coursework involves rather a lot of math. And, as it turns out, Shelly is uncontrollably aroused by math. No, there isn’t a word for it (I looked), but math gets her hot. Really hot.

And she’s started doing her homework on my body, using a fine-point marker pen to work out problems on my back. Which is beyond hot. By the time she’s finished with her homework, she’s usually uncontrollably aroused and very aggressive. I won’t bore you with what happens afterward, except that it involves numerous implements, floggers, and other things which might offend those with delicate sensibilities. In fact, I went in to the office today with a complex problem in analytical geometry written on my back.

So it should come as no surprise, then, that the Intellectual Sexiness Test meme that’s been making the rounds these days says: