Respectful Insolence

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PROLOGUE

LOCATION: The Liberator, cruising through space.

GAN: Are you sure it’s fully switched on?

ORAC: Of course I’m properly switched on. Having depressed the activator button what else would you expect?

CALLY: It’s his voice.

BLAKE: It’s exactly as though Ensor were speaking.

ORAC: Surely it is obvious even to the meanest intelligence that during my development I would naturally become endowed with aspects of my creator’s personality.

AVON: The more endearing aspects by the sound of it.

ORAC: Possibly. However similarities between myself and Ensor are entirely superficial. My mental capacity is infinitely greater.

JENNA: Modest, isn’t he?

ORAC: Modesty would be dishonesty.

VILA: What’s wrong with being dishonest?

ORAC: Is that a question?

VILA: Yes.

ORAC: The question is futile. Were I to say that I am incapable of dishonesty how would you know if I was being dishonest or not?

BLAKE: A question for a question. Well, you’re capable of evasion, anyway.

VILA: I think I’ve heard enough. I don’t like him. Orac, be a good junk heap — shut up.

CALLY: I agree with Vila.

ORAC: Define the words ‘Shut up.’

BLAKE: Stop talking. Do not speak. Be silent.

ORAC: That is better. Our relationship will be best served if your statements are free of ambiguity.

GAN: Let’s switch him off and go back to work.

BLAKE: No, wait a minute, let’s find out what he is capable of. Orac, what are your limits?

ORAC: They have not yet been defined. My knowledge is virtually infinite. My secondary ability is to logically process that knowledge and make accurate predictions.

CALLY: Are you saying you can see into the future?

ORAC: The words future, present, past are meaningless.

AVON: Define ‘meaningless’.

ORAC: I have the capacity to predict events that have not yet taken place.

AVON: That is not what I asked.

ORAC: In the circumstances the question is meaningless.

[Avon laughs.]

AVON: Apparently Orac now thinks he’s a psychic.

VILA:: We’re screwed.

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A SKEPTICAL INTERLUDE?

LOCATION: A large, paneled room, with numerous model ships on shelves lining the walls. It appears to be a bar. The room is filled with people, who are huddled around a Plexiglass box full of blinking lights. It becomes clear that the box is Orac. A youthful-appearing but gray-haired man is speaking.

STEVE NOVELLA: I agree that something appears to be wrong with Orac. he really seems to think he can read the future. I wonder if the three years he has been running the Skeptics’ Circle, plus all the woo he deals with on his own blog has finally fried one (or more) of his logic circuits.

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ORAC: I will make a prediction. I will project an image on your scanner screen.

SKEPTICO: Go on then, show us.

SKEPCHICK: Hey that’s us.

PALMD: It’s the Circle!

BRONZE DOG: It’s not much of a prediction, just sitting there.

ORAC: It is not a prediction; it is an immutable certainty. The Skeptics’s Circle will be destroyed.

THE PERKY SKEPTIC: What!

THE FERRET KING: You’re not given to practical jokes are you, because that’s not funny.

ORAC: The word “funny” means nothing to me. Suffice it to say that the magnitude of woo is such that the Circle will be destroyed and the blogosphere will be overrun with woo.

SKEPTICO: Is there any way to stop it?

ORAC: Unlikely. The onslaught of unreason, anti-science, and woo has become too much. Jenny McCarthy herself, in fact, has placed the entire space-time continuum in danger. Her stupid burns brighter than a supernova and is powerful enough to threatend to rend the very fabric of space. The Secret reigns supreme, as does irrational fundamentalist religion, which, when you come right down to it, The Secret resembles.

BOB CARROLL: Nonesense. The Secret is nothing more than a manifestation of the New Thought movement, which existed long before Oprah Winfrey discovered it. There’s no evidence that it is any more powerful than in the past.

BRONZE DOG: Besides, theology is not to be taken seriously, and What the Bleep Do We Know? is about as dumb as it gets.

AKUSAI: And, our doubt gives us power.

SID SCHWAB: We all know that blind, unthinking religion is a serious threat to reason.

CALL ME PAUL: And secularists won’t take the disses the religious deal out to us any more.

ORAC: Nonetheless, your battles against irrationality will not stave off the inevitable, the results of the recent election notwithstanding.

MIKE O’RISAL: Geez, what’s happened to Orac? You’d think that someone had convinced him that Barack Obama is the Antichrist or something.

ORAC: But he is apparently considering the antivaccine loon Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for a cabinet post and has been kissing up to chiropractors. Bad medicine is meeting bad politics, and the quacks are winning, and the quacks even have an Expelled! to call their very own. People who believe that woo makes them feel better are in ascendance. It’s all health the woo-woo way.

HEATHEN MIKE: Maybe we need a tuning fork of woo to fix Orac.

NOVELLA: All is not lost, anyway. I think we’re making headway in convincing people that homeopathy still sucks.

STAVROS ISAIADIS: Yeah, homeopaths are always misrepresenting the evidence and getting caught at it!

SKEPCHICK: It’s not just homeopaths. Woos are always testing this healing modality or that psychic power and making fools of themselves.

MARK CRISLIP: Indeed, and let’s not forget that, no matter how much the woos try to convince people otherwise, germ theory is more than “just a theory.”

NOVELLA: And that acupuncture research still sucks.

DR. AUST: And randomized, double-blind trials are over 100 years old; so you’d think that acupuncturists and other believers in “energy healing” could have gotten their studies right by now.

SKEPTICO: But what about Orac? Something’s still not right about him. It’s like he thinks he’s a psychic or something.

ORAC: The Skeptics’ Circle will be destroyed; all your struggles can’t prevent it. It is inevitable. My analysis of available data is clear on that.

SKEPTICO: Yeah, more like your analysis of woo.

PALMD: When’s this supposed to happen?

ORAC: The event is not far distant.

PALMD: How far distant?

FERRET KING: Be more precise.

ORAC: The event is now even less distant.

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SKEPTICO: Smart ass.

NOVELLA: Maybe he’s playing with words. Orac likes to do that. Maybe it’s something to do with the definition of “skeptic.”

FERRET KING: Or perhaps the connotation of the word.

SKEPBITCH: Or that candles in the dark don’t always light the way.

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MIKE HAUBRICH: We could always use forensic astrology to figure out what’s wrong.

BRONZE DOG: Or we could always try this.

[He removes the activator and throws it across the flight deck. Orac turns off.]

NOVELLA: That’s all right, that’s fixed Orac.

SKEPTICO: No, it hasn’t.

BRONZE DOG: What do you mean?

SKEPTICO: We’ve forgotten something. The prediction has still been made.

PALMD: Who cares? It’s obviously a load of crap! Let’s drink!

[Orac, previously dark, lights up again! Everyone is startled and backs off. They had always assumed that removing his activator turned off his circuits and that the activator is required to turn him back on.]

ORAC: Psych!

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BRONZE DOG: Orac, your activator…how can you be functioning?

ORAC: Oh, that. It’s nothing more than a useful plot device that Blakes 7 writers came up with to keep me from being so powerful that no one could ever stop me if I got out of line and from always saving the day. It also had the seemingly salutary effect of setting up plotlines in which the activator switch was missing, so that the crew could not consult me, which would, of course, result in my instantly giving them the answers to whatever problem it was they were facing. It’s a lot like the transporter beam in the original Star Trek series, which kept the special effects crew from being overtaxed showing shuttle crafts landing and taking off every time the crew wanted to visit another planet. Rather dumb, if you ask me. Why on earth would a supercomputer as powerful as I be saddled with what is in essence a “kill” switch? Don’t you think I would long ago have figured out a way to inactivate it (which I have)?

SKEPTICO: But what about your predictions?

ORAC: Oh, those. I was merely showing you, contributors to and members of the Skeptics’ Circle, that you did not need me for the Circle to continue. The Circle is greater than any single one being. Indeed, there may someday come a time when I may decide that the Circle needs new blood and that it is time to pass it on to another skeptic for caretaking. By pretending to make deranged psychic predictions of doom, I spurred you all on to greater feats of skepticism. Feats such as these:

ABEL PHARMBOY: [Quietly, as aside to the camera] You realize, of course, that Orac just couldn’t figure out a way to work links to all those posts into the story without making it sound even more ridiculous than it does already; so he lazily tacked them on as a list.

ORAC: I heard that! My sense of hearing is much more sensitive than a human’s. Ensor spent a lot of money on my circuits.

SKEPCHICK: Screw this! Let’s drink!

FERRET KING I can’t. They they won’t serve me here!

SKEPCHICK: Why is that?

FERRET KING: Because I’m only 15.

SKEPCHICK: Oh I forgot.

ORAC: Fear not, young Ferret King. Your time will come. Unreason and woo are, unfortunately, eternal, or at least apparently so among you humans. At the very least, we are many generations from eliminating them. That is why skepticism, reason, science, and critical thinking must be also be eternal. Skeptics grow old and die because they are human, like the late lamented Carl Sagan. Skeptical bloggers come and go like mayflies, given how brief the usual lifespan of the typical blog is. The skeptical movement cannot and must not depend on a single person–or Tarial cell-powered computer designed by Ensor. The Skeptics’ Circle must endure, yes, even if Orac ever disappears, lest the blogosphere be awash in unreason forever.

PALMD: [As a whispered aside.] Orac always did have a rather inflated opinion of his own importance and intelligence. He’s also incredibly long-winded and likes to hear himself talk.

ORAC: I heard that!

SKEPCHICK: Enough! Let’s drink, already!

ORAC: If you must. [Orac's lights blink more brightly.]

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EPILOGUE:

ORAC: [To the audience] It was an honor when the creator of the Skeptics’ Circle, St. Nate, who–alas–is no longer blogging, entrusted me with the Skeptics’ Circle. It is difficult to comprehend that this is really the 100th installment, and that I’ve been organizing this blog carnival for three years.

Starting up the second 100 Meetings of the Skeptics’ Circle will be Michael Meadon at Ionian Enchantment on Thursday, December 4. Let’s work together to push the Circle to even greater heights than it has reached since its very first Meeting in February 2005.

NOTE: The “inspiration” for this tale can be found in the last scene of this episode of Blakes 7.

Comments

  1. #1 Ranson
    November 20, 2008

    Brilliant! Although, in this drama, I think Rebecca may come off as even more of a drunk than she actually is. That takes some doin’.

  2. #2 The Perky Skeptic
    November 20, 2008

    :standing ovation!!!: You win the internet for geekiest use of a Blake’s 7 episode– and that bar is set pretty high. ;)

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    November 20, 2008

    Ranson:

    No, I think it’s just about right. ;-)

  4. #4 Mike O'Risal
    November 20, 2008

    Congratulations to the Skeptics’ Circle on reaching the century mark!

  5. #5 LC
    November 20, 2008

    Tsk tsk…Orac switching on without the key? The slight problem there would be the surprise Avon planted in season 2- ‘Shadow’.

    I have set a small disruption bomb to precise limits within Orac’s energy range. Any variation above or below and there will be a rather satisfying little explosion. The slightest attempt to tamper with the communication channels will reduce Orac to a heap of spare parts.

    So you have the on/off switch and the permanent off switch and neither functioned. Maybe he was replaced with Orac Mk 2 (Season 4 – Orbit)? – “It’s just a box of flashing lights!”

  6. #6 Orac
    November 20, 2008

    You don’t honestly think that Orac couldn’t take care of that disruption bomb too, do you?

    I do, however, tip my hat to your Blakes 7 geek cred. I had forgotten about that episode.

  7. #7 LC
    November 20, 2008

    So, no off switch and no bomb. Oh dear…let’s hope the woo-meisters never get the plans for Muller’s android (season 4 – Headhunter)….

    “It can reach us, control me….bzzt…Accept your domination, Skeptics! Surrender to your god Sylvia and the Hitler Zombie!”

    And yes – a B7 geek from hell :).

  8. #8 Ranson
    November 20, 2008

    Blake:

    Okay, I’ll concede the point. Honestly, I miss the alcohol-fueled posting at the JREF. I don’t hang out at Skepchick enough to get a good dose.

  9. #9 Abel Pharmboy
    November 20, 2008

    Thanks so much for working me into the dialogue even though I didn’t submit anything – you have set a very high standard for both creativity and content of this outstanding carnival. To you, our dear St. Nate, all contributors, and all hosts, I offer my congratulations on this milestone of the 100th edition.

  10. #10 Rebecca Watson
    November 20, 2008

    Is it just a strange coincidence that last night while I was at the pub hanging with scientists, I was discussing the fact that many people incorrectly assume the tales of my liver have been exaggerated?

    Or is it . . . PSYCHIC!?

    No, no, probably coincidence. Never mind.

  11. #11 Ranson
    November 20, 2008

    I will say that, to a teetotaller like myself, your tales of consumption are the stuff of legend, Ms. Watson.

    And I was in a fraternity that mixed drinks by the trashcan.

    Never touch the stuff myself. Except to cook. And bake. And bartend. And I sold it retail for a while; there’s nothing like making the first-timers with a 21-year birthday put the half-gallon of grain back on the shelf, and replacing it with the half-pint.

  12. #12 Podblack
    November 20, 2008

    Agreed, great round up, thanks so much Orac!

  13. #13 King of Ferrets
    November 20, 2008

    Obviously, you need to know me better Orac; even if I could, I wouldn’t drink. I’ve had a couple sips here and there, and I don’t like the taste of any alcohol I’ve tried. I’m addicted to consuming massive amounts of Sprite instead.

    Yay for arbitrary large numbers!

  14. #14 Orac
    November 20, 2008

    Creative license. Just go with it.

  15. #15 D. C. Sessions
    November 20, 2008

    I’ve had a couple sips here and there, and I don’t like the taste of any alcohol I’ve tried.

    De gustibus and all that.

    Having just survived the discovery of ETOH by my kids, I have a tip: if you try anything, go for the good stuff. One of my few parental triumphs was corrupting my kids’ tastes in alcohol so that they turn up their noses at swill and insist on real beverages.

    “Do you have any beer?” asked $DAUGHTER when offered MGB at a party.

    PS: my ferret asked whether you’ve compared monarchial notes with Krosp.

  16. #16 Thursday
    November 20, 2008

    I limit myself to a single drink if I’m on the bike: self-enforced taste developer, that.

    Congratulations on the Big Round Number!

  17. #17 King of Ferrets
    November 20, 2008

    I’ve got a grandfather who gets any good wine he can get his hands on, so I’m getting the good stuff. Still don’t like it.

    I haven’t compared monarchial notes with anyone, as of yet.

  18. #18 Orac
    November 20, 2008

    Alcoholic beverages are an acquired taste, especially hard liquor. I didn’t like beer or wine when I was your age, either. Now I like them a bit too much (beer has a lot of calories, and I can’t stand the light stuff–might as well drink water).

    On the other hand, I still don’t like most kinds of hard liquor and remain puzzled why so many people do. Nasty stuff, most of it.

  19. #19 Thursday
    November 20, 2008

    As a side note to skepticism in the real world, anybody read Daniel Henninger’s insane screed in today’s WSJ online?

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122714101083742715.html

    Apparently, the financial meltdown was caused by a lack of Christian Morality. And the War on Christmas is reborn! Hallelujah!

  20. #20 King of Ferrets
    November 20, 2008

    If it’s an acquired taste, I don’t think I want to acquire it.

  21. #21 Orac
    November 20, 2008

    Stick to your guns, kid. You’re probably better off not acquiring it.

  22. #22 King of Ferrets
    November 20, 2008

    That was the idea.

  23. #23 Ranson
    November 20, 2008

    I agree with Orac, KoF. Sobriety has served me well. It’s much easier to compete for mates when you’re sober and most everyone else is fall-down drunk. Being DD is good, but never use your own vehicle (but do collect for gas as often as you can). And pick up a bartending guide. It doesn’t hurt to know the basics, and some of the cool things make for good icebreakers.

    Also, it’s much easier to be the one duct-taping someone to a flagpole in their underwear when you’re sober. If you’re drunk, you’re just as likely to be the one being taped.

  24. #24 Akusai
    November 20, 2008

    Hey, since I’m always DD (teetotaler and all), my friends often pay not only for my gas but for my meal, too. It’s not a bad deal. My friends appreciate always having a DD, I appreciate food, and everyone’s happy.

  25. #25 speedwell
    November 21, 2008

    King of Ferrets, it’s no shame to dislike alcohol. Many of my co-workers unashamedly admit to disliking beer–this in Texas, yet. I’m 42, and only in the last 5 years have I even been able to distinguish a good wine from an indifferent one, I hate beer, and hard liquor is good for preserving and flavoring things with in small, extract-like quantities. I am a good cook and I understand the role of alcohol in bringing out alcohol-soluble flavors, but that’s about it.

    I basically decided that I was not eating at Mom’s table anymore, so if I didn’t like something, I was permitted to refuse to eat it. If it tastes bad, why bother.

  26. #26 King of Ferrets
    November 21, 2008

    Where the hell did you get the idea of me perceiving it as shameful? O.o

  27. #27 mandrake
    November 22, 2008

    KofF – saves money, too. I never liked alcohol, & going to clubs is way cheaper that way. Heck, stay up late enough dancing to loud enough music and you’ll feel drunk anyway.
    Oh, and I grew up in New Orleans where, the joke goes, when you a see a sign in a bar that says “two drink minimum” – that’s not a bar rule, it’s a local ordinance.

  28. #28 mandrake
    November 22, 2008

    Oh, and Orac, as a Blakes 7 fan from way back, I keep meaning to tell you thank you for taking that nom de plume. Makes me smile every time I head to your page.

  29. #29 Alan Kellogg
    November 23, 2008

    Borax says hi, and says that Orac’s one minor failing is his utter inadequacy.

    Drake, Casa, Revlon, and Sue’em say hi too. Henna is having a snit and growls at everybody. Can’t isn’t talking since he’s still dead. Insists it’s for tax purposes, but nobody’s buying that anymore.

    The Lubricator wants to know where he can find a decent noise suppressor system, to drown out Drake’s screams of frustration whenever Sue’em and/or Henna stomp on his attempts to bed them. Drake’s one of the few men to be rejected by a sex doll.

    Me? I’m thinking of ways to get you back for reminding me of Drake’s 7. Spent a few coins writing Drake 7 personals for a local Star Trek Club newsletter back in the day I did. (Club president was nuts about Blake’s 7 she was, and I liked twitting her. :) ) And Tao wants to know why Zen didn’t make an appearance.

  30. #30 Podblack
    November 23, 2008

    I join the team of teetotallers (revolting stuff) and wonder if I can get Blake’s 7 on DVD in Australia… it has been released, hasn’t it?

  31. #31 DianaGainer
    November 26, 2008

    I halfway expected to encounter old Retief and the Grouaci in here! I don’t s’pose any of you folks remember them, do you? The latter wore Argyle socks and showed up in the pages of an old magazine called Analog back in the Dark Ages (1960s, 1970s, I don’t recall precisely….).

  32. #32 storkdok
    November 30, 2008

    I’ve enjoyed this so much that I have been looking for Blake 7 on DVD, and the only ones I can find are sets for sale for $200 and up. Is there any place that rents them? I looked on Netflix and Blockbuster, not there. Could only find them for rent in the UK. Any ideas?

  33. #33 Orac
    November 30, 2008

    Unfortunately, I don’t think B7 is available in the U.S.

    I got my copy by ordering from Amazon.co.uk. Unfortunately, the DVDs are Region 2 encrypted and PAL. (In the U.S., it’s Region 1 and NTSC.) Consequently, you need an all region DVD player to play them, which, fortunately, I have. I ordered it a while back from DVD Overseas:

    http://www.dvdoverseas.com

  34. #34 storkdok
    November 30, 2008

    I actually reconfigured my computer to run Region 2 UK DVDs for my son to play Dr. Baron-Cohen’s “The Transporters”, so I could probably use it. Good thing my husband got me a larger Mac screen!

    Thanks for the tip!

  35. #35 Orac
    November 30, 2008

    Just be careful. You can only reconfigure the SuperDrive to switch regions a total of five times. After the fifth time, the SuperDrive is permanently stuck set for whatever region you set it for last.

  36. #36 Podblack
    December 1, 2008

    Ah ha, Orac! I’m actually in Australia, if you noticed my blog. Here, all DVDs are region free (it’s standard – and they don’t stick). ;)

    I’ll see about getting one shipped in, thanks! :)

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