About R.L.

Science fan, skeptic, and activist. Author of the new book, "There Are No Such Things As Ghosts: A Brief Guide to Critical Thinking" is now available on paperback and eBook on Amazon.

Change of pace: a Dungeons and Dragons post

Sometimes when the political environment gets too toxic, when Facebook gets too nauseating, when Twitter gets too trolly – all of which seems to be the case all the time these days – you must have somewhere to retreat. Sanity demands it.

For James Taylor, that place was up on the roof. For the Flock of Seagulls, it was just a matter of running away, running so far away. For me, that place is Dungeons and Dragons.

Of course, D&D is not a physical place, it’s a game. And it’s not a “regular” game where there is a defined objective with winners and losers, it’s a role-playing adventure game. D&D is more of a shared story-telling experience, set in a fantasy genre, than it is a game with boards, pieces, and moves.

I have a regular group of players that I play D&D with and each of us takes a turn “running” the game. The person who runs the game is affectionately known as the Dungeon Master or DM for short. A “game” can last anywhere between a single session of a few hours (called a one-shot) to an entire campaign which might last months, or even years! I’ve been the DM on this current campaign since early December.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after picking up D&D again, several editions and about thirty years since I last played. There are different kinds of players out there. There are the psychos: people who play evil characters who just want to roll dice and kill things. There are the grid lovers: people who spend an hour arguing over whether the shape of a particular spell hits a certain person because of the location and distance of all the stalactites and stalagmites in a cave. There are the rule hounds: people who keep their player handbooks open so that they can quickly question, check, and recheck every decision the Dungeon Master makes to ensure it comports with the rules.

And then there are guys like the guys I found. The role players.

For my money, this is where the game turns in to the retreat you want it to be. The role players create dynamic, flawed, interesting characters and play true to their character’s strengths and weaknesses. But more than that, they breathe life into the characters they have created. They give them accents. They create interesting back-stories for their characters and play them according to what baggage they might be carrying with them – figuratively and literally. They let the dice determine the outcomes – for better or worse. They trust the DM to sculpt the story in such a way that they are surprised, motivated, frightened, and above all, entertained.

The more immersive one is with the characters that he or she plays, the more fun everyone has.

If you enjoyed this change of pace, stay tuned because I’ll be writing more on D&D in future posts. I’m also working on some Dungeon and Dragons inspired fiction which I may share some snippets of here as well.

Happy gaming!

The world is not suffering from an overabundance of rational thought

The world is not suffering from an overabundance of rational thought.

I say this at least once a week. If this sentiment was true prior to our last presidential election, it’s become more relevant by a factor of about 100, since. In fact, I was inspired to write a book about it.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t respect opinions. Let me caveat that.  Of course, I respect everyone’s right to their opinion, but just the fact of expressing an opinion, doesn’t automatically grant that opinion some special dispensation from critique if it’s expressed around me. If your opinion has been formed using methods which lead you to conclude things that don’t comport with what is demonstrably true, then I will probably call you out on it.

For example, if you have opinions about vaccines not working, or global warming not being real, or the earth being only 6000 years old, or about all people of a certain skin tone being worthless, then I will take issue with you because you have come to conclusions which are factually incorrect, and in some cases, morally repugnant.

This is what Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham did to the President of the United States a few days ago. They held him accountable to his morally repugnant statement about people from Haiti and other African nations.

In a subsequent Facebook conversation I was having with a pro-Trump attorney, the attorney suggested that Durbin should have suspended his moral scruples in favor of getting an immigration “deal” done, because Durbin’s constituents are more important than his moral objections to Trump.

Never mind that that position complete absolves Trump from any responsibility for serving his constituents, the American people, in this case, but the line of questioning struck me as odd and frankly, a bit alarming.

I believe in speaking truth to power and holding all people accountable, irrespective of title or position, particularly if they are demonstrating irrational behavior or saying vile things. If the President of the United States wants to make “great deals” as he claims, perhaps Dick Durbin’s and Lindsey Graham’s vocal disgust will inform the president that he needs to adjust if he’s going to be taken seriously.

And to answer the attorney’s question, not only would Durbin’s and Graham’s constituents be better served by a more reasonable and compassionate President, but the entire nation would be better served as well.

In fact, who are any of us to remain silent in the presence of racism? The idea of suspending basic human decency in favor of political efficacy makes me wonder about the underlying morality of the trade-off the attorney was suggesting. In 1630, Puritan John Winthrop borrowed from Matthew 5:14 when he told his fellow Massachusetts Bay colonists, that this new community they had left England for, would be “as a city upon a hill”, watched by the world.

What do we want the world to see?

My public speaking adventure begins

I can’t think of a better day to begin a public speaking improvement journey, than on the day we as a nation, celebrate one of the most influential orators our country has ever produced, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

First a little background. I get the opportunity to speak publicly about once a year, usually to a large crowd at a work-related conference. While those sessions tend to go fine, once a year is just not frequent enough to truly get comfortable in front of a crowd.  Knowing this and knowing that I plan to do a lot more public outreach on topics that I’m passionate about, such as street epistemology and critical thinking, I gave myself a New Year’s resolution of delivering at least five public talks on critical thinking-related topics this year.

On MLK Day, I had the opportunity to knock one of the five off the list. It was also something I haven’t done since I was in high school….give an extemporaneous speech! With zero prep time, I picked a random Martin Luther King, Jr. quote from a basket, and then delivered a short speech based on that quote in front of a crowd of strangers.

It is great to be forced out of your comfort zone like that. Using inspiration from the quote, I’d like to believe that I put together a fairly cohesive speech about Dr. King, how he valued education, and how the real value of an education is in teaching children how to think, not just what to think. I wanted to make sure I reiterated to the audience, that education doesn’t stop once you leave the schoolhouse, and as life long learners, we all have to understand how to evaluate claims by honing our critical thinking skills. I could feel the ideas getting a bit jumbled at times, but fortunately – and for me this is a huge success – I only interjected one “uhh” in the process!

Finally, if I learned anything at all from the experience, it’s that I need to make sure I have a strong antiperspirant. 😂 On to the next speech!

Update on the Sunday Celebration idea

This past Sunday I wrote about an idea I had for a secular Sunday celebration of reality as an alternative to church, and I just wanted to share some of the fantastic feedback I’ve already received.

First off, I had a lot of people encouraging me to follow up with the Sunday Assembly folks in Atlanta. I also had a lot of people who visited the SAA and stopped, mostly because of the long drive from the suburbs to the city. I have a dozen churches – maybe more – within a 5-mile radius of my house, so convenience as a motivator is not lost on me.

Also in my post, I mentioned as an idea that during the “service” we might spend 15 to 20 minutes talking about some topic, which might even come from some “holy book,” among other sources. I was given a suggestion to revise that a bit from “holy” book to “significant” book, which I really like. The last thing we want to do is start conveying some special reverence to a book simply because a bunch of other people have been told that it’s special. On the flip side, I think it’s just as foolhardy to dismiss these texts in their entirety for the exact same reason. I’ve always enjoyed exploring the work of the world’s most influential contemplatives throughout history, but that doesn’t mean we suspend critical thinking and resort to worshiping them.

Along those same lines, someone said they didn’t want to be “preached” to, which I totally understand.

My idea here would be more like hosting a lyceum event than a church service, but his point did give me the idea to ensure these are bi-directional messages. I think we should always allow time for questions and answers. These would not be sermons, but lectures or conversations. The speaker, whether it’s me or anyone else, does not have some automatic authority conferred by a special title. We’re just sharing knowledge, ideas, lessons, observations, and so on. I also think it might be cool to occasionally do interviews with interesting guests.

There seems to be some interest, so stay tuned for updates.

MLK Day reflections on the progress liberals have made

On this MLK Day, I’m thinking about progress and ripple effects.

In trying times such as these, when the very leaders of the nation seem to be blind to their own thinly veiled racism, and when that racism seems to garner so much support from our friends and neighbors, it’s important to reflect on liberal values and progressivism. We need to allow ourselves to take some comfort in just how far we’ve come since Martin Luther King, Jr. rallied to the support of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama over 62 years ago.

With that, I want to write a few words about the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

If you ever been in an argument or debate with someone who says a business owner has the right to refuse to bake a gay person a wedding cake, then likely you heard your interlocuter say something like, “a business owner can turn away service to anyone they please!”

Enter the ripple effect of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v the United States is a case I remember reading about when I took Business Law way back in the stone ages, at what was then Kennesaw State College. This case was a civil rights doozy and it gave the US Supreme Court the opportunity to knock some pro-racist arguments out of the park, once and for all.

The background of the case is fairly straightforward. The Civil Rights movement, spearheaded by the man we celebrate every third Monday in January, culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law ended legal segregation based on color. It also created a problem for many racist, white business owners in the South. Among them was the owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel, because he did not rent his motel rooms to black people.

The owner sued the government claiming Congress overstepped its boundaries by placing motels under the purview of interstate commerce – which of course Congress has the express authority in the US Constitution to regulate. The owner also claimed that he was being forced to suspend his due process rights under the Fifth Amendment, and that by being forced to provide service to black people, he was essentially being forced into slavery which of course violated the Thirteenth Amendment.

Think about his argument. A white business owner being forced to stop discriminating against black people, is slavery. Isn’t that rich? The logic reminds me of some of the bizarre justifications, excuses, and “alternative” facts we hear from Trump’s White House, but I digress.

The Supreme Court dismantled each of the owner’s arguments in the landmark civil rights case, and the slow progressive march toward equality continued.

Keep this case in mind the next time someone says that businesses can refuse service to whoever they want, for any reason. They can’t. That said, I would like to believe there are not enough bigots and racists to keep businesses like the Heart of Atlanta Motel afloat, but sadly we all can see that’s not yet the case.

Despite our progress, we’re not quite there yet. But we are still making progress.