Friday, December 26, 2008

Modern PC gaming

Well-reviewed game that's been on the shelves for about 18 months and is marked down: $20.

Time to install game from DVD: about an hour.

Time and effort to apply all the damn patches that are necessary before actually playing: three days, 37 GB of downloads and a net connection that's useless for anything else in the meantime.

...Sigh. I hope I get to play Neverwinter Nights 2 before next Christmas.

Your computer loves you and wants to kill you

Via Boing Boing, a scan of a computer "how does it work" book from the 70s... with some surreal photoshopped edits.
Remember, however, that electricity is like magic: no one really understands it, and it is very dangerous.

If computers are not regularly fed with programs they may become listless and unhappy.

When the kitten is ready, the Encyclopedia Brittanica is first consulted, then Wikipedia. If the answer is not obtained, the kitten hands control of the operation to the puppy, which then consults Google.
Poem written by a computer for its operator:
If I could feel, I would feel love.
If I could touch, I would touch God.
If I could see, I would see truth.
If I could dream, I would dream.
And if I could kill, you

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No surprises

Update: yes, it was a laptop. We are now a two-laptop, two-desktop family, while millions starve.

So I'm pretty feeling good about myself. I've bought the wife's main Christmas present weeks ahead of schedule. This is nothing short of amazing for me; I've been known to emerge from contemplating the fairies and unicorns in my head on 24 December and been horrified to realise I've done nothing. "Not this year," I chortled to myself. "Done and dusted."

I can't tell you what I actually got her, seeing as it's still Christmas Eve, the wife does read this occasionally against her better judgment, and I want to maintain some pretense that the gift remains a surprise. But I need to tell you that it needed some preparation: setting up, configuration, updating, some other things that I can't go into detail about without giving too much away. I wanted to give it to her so it was good to go out of the box without any stuffing around. So I'm sitting in my bedroom, configuring the thing, thinking that the wife is otherwise occupied. I've told her I was going to lie down for a while - which I need to do most days, due to my high painkiller intake. (Yes, I nana-nap. Wanna make something of it?)

Suddenly she bursts in without any warning. I react badly. "Yaaahh!" I yell, blush a deep red (as I tend to do when I've been caught at something, even if I wasn't actually doing anything wrong), and thrust the thing under the covers in a vain attempt to get out of view. This makes her think I was doing something quite unsavoury that we won't mention here, and I need to do some quick verbal tap-dancing. "No, it wasn't what you think AT ALL. You'll understand later. Really. Really later. Don't ask me any more right now."

Of course, because she's not stupid and did actually see what I had on my lap, she put two and two together correctly and knows what I got her.

This wouldn't be a major deal except that every present-giving occasion - her birthday, whatever - either I don't have a clue what to get her, and I need to come right out and ask, or she finds out because she's convinced I haven't done anything. If I just look smug and say "It's under control," she will find a way to make me so insecure about what I've done/am doing that I need to give key information away to ensure that she will, in fact, like it. So this time I was hoping - and fairly certain - I'd be able to give her something that was, actually, a pleasant surprise gift.

So no surprises for Lorraine this year. And it was fairly expensive, and I really really wanted it to be a surprise. Damn, damn, damn, and bugger.

We've been wrapping the kids' and ther people's presents over the last couple of nights. I note a distinct lack of anything labelled as being for me. So I say, casually, "If you need me to leave the room while you wrap mine, just let me know".

"Um. I haven't bought you anything yet. I don't know what to get you!"

This is the night of 23 December. Two days before Christmas. I'm a little put out by this. YES, I can be hard to buy for. But really I'm not that hard! Books, computer games, anything in that line would be good. I have a little hang-up where I need some sort of toy-equivalent as a Christmas present or the day just doesn't work for me. Just one; the rest can be socks, soap on a rope, whatever, I won't mind - I just need one fun thing and I'm happy.

Lorraine went out this afternoon to finish her Christmas shopping - there were quite a few other things she needed to get, and having worked up until midday today, she hadn't had a lot of opportunity. She came back with a quite a few pressies, puts the bags on the kitchen bench, and asks me to wrap them. I ask, "Is there anything here I shouldn't see?" "No, no," she says. Okay. We start going through the bags. On the third bag, I see a gift that can be for no-one except me. "Um, Lorraine, I thought you said..."

"Oh, no! Did you see it?"


"Did you really see it?"

"Yes. I saw the title. I know what it is."


I do love surprises. Giving and receiving. It ain't gonna happen.

Maybe next year...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Naked man jumps on cars, tasered

I can't decide if the manner in which this story completely fails to hang together or make any kind of sense is bad journalism, or just because it's the USA and hey, stuff like this happens.

Naked man hit with stun gun

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) - It was a shocking sight for North Austin neighbors on Sunday morning, when a stark naked man ran around a parking lot, jumping up and down on cars and trucks. Police responded to a call of two men fighting at the 8200 block of Sam Rayburn Drive, but when they got there, they found a man on top of a car, jumping and beating on its roof.

"When I came outside, that man, he was jumping off the fence, jumping on the truck," said Martha Gonzalez, a neighbor who witnessed the scene. "He just wanted dope. He was just trippin' because the guy didn't want to give him none."

Police officials said Sunday that they believe the 28-year-old man was under the influence of some kind of drug, possibly PCP.

Go, Chief Wiggum, that's some bad-ass detectorin' there.

"He was like butt-naked," said Gonzalez. "He didn't have nothing, no underwear, nothing, just going off."

Another neighbor, Maria Leal, said they were waiting for the police to take him away, when he damaged their fence and dented their truck.

"Naked, without clothes, without nothing!" said Leal. "It's not right. I want them to help us clean the streets."

Um, what?

Leal's grandaughter, Lanina Castillo, was also home when it happened.

"I got scared because I heard this thing fall and all the stuff just fell and broke," said Castillo.

What thing? What stuff? What the fuck are you on about?

Neighbors believe the man wanted drugs.

Thanks, Captain Obvious! He was on them. The neighbours were on them. This reads like you were on them, Mr Small Town Journalist.

"We have had other conflicts, other issues in the neighborhood, but never someone stripping down and creating a seen [sic] like that," said Gonzalez.

Police say they used a Taser [on] the 28-year-old man and took him to Brackenridge hospital for further assessment.

In accordance with standard procedure. "Lessee what it says here in the police manual... un-huh, page one zero four, 'Disturbed individual, subtype five: naked, unarmed, but clearly out of their mind - taser them until they shit themselves.' Hey, don't look at me like that, Travis, that's what it says. Got to keep the lawyers busy somehow."
He was later booked in the Travis County Jail. APD officials are not releasing his name at this time.

Just wow. Only in Texas.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

We are not all lost to the demon of stupidity

Sometimes, just sometimes, there are news stories that regenerate my fervent hope that the entire demographic of the human race does not boil down to "100%: clinically retarded".

Remember those Nigerian "Christians" who have been torturing and abusing their children, and about whom there has been a remarkable dearth of comment from the Christians that I know do read this?

A man who has claimed to KILL one hundred and ten child "witches" has been arrested and charged with murder.

Only 999,999 deluded emotional cripples left in Nigeria. But I give thanks, anyway, that there is one less child-killer roaming the countryside.

I repeat my call to Christians and their churches to diassociate themselves from these self-proclaimed Nigerian Christians and dedicate resources to their re-education. Instead, of, you know, sending truck-loads of missionaries to countries that don't need or want them, because they're happy being Muslim (or whatever). Here you have a part of your own faith that has run amok: you have a responsibility to them and to the children of Nigeria to do what you can to stop it. Hell, pay my plane ticket, and I'll go with you.

Second item: it is not often that I will find myself in agreement with a clergyman. But the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has, in this caes, gotten it exactly right: throw out Mugabe and try him in The Hague. Okay, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, I suppose.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Stupid, stupid people

We have a three-for-one deal today, folks. An atheist, a Christian, and Islam in general, as fine examples of classic stupidity.

Labor MP James Bidgood says the current financial crisis is because people pray to Jesus.

It’s interesting to see this kind of overt brain damage from politicians in Australia. Thanks, Mr Bidgood, for a momentary diversion. Now STFU and get off the stage.

Bidgood has simply fallen prey to the simplest illogical fallacy there is: post hoc ergo propter hoc. One thing happened after another, therefore the first thing caused the second. Bidgood says that there were marches for Jesus in April 1987, therefore the stock market crash in October of that year was caused by those marches. By the same logic, the sun rises every morning after I’ve slept, so if I don’t sleep, the sun won’t rise. All together now, children: BWAHAHAHA!

This is such laughably awful reasoning that it doesn’t even deserve the name. A few key points:

• Logical fallacy of the first order. Fail.
• There were six months in between the two events cited. Why the delay? Fail.
• Ignores the well-understood actual causes of stock market crashes, none of which have a flipping thing to do with Jesus. Fail.

…oh, I’m bored already. It’s like beating a quadriplegic in the 100-meter sprint. Next.

Police in Iran have arrested 49 people for wearing “satanic” clothes.

Satanic clothes. Riiiiiight.

I really don’t know why fundamentalist Islam thinks Allah gives a good shit what clothes anyone wears. Did Mohammed speak out against bikinis? Did the Archangel Gabriel express disdain for the sight of a woman’s nostril? Was there a jihad against thongs? Where, in short, is the sense to this, even within the obviously crippled logical constraints of a decidedly stupid religion?

I’d laugh, if it wasn’t for the fact that in Muslim countries, women get killed horribly for wearing the wrong thing in public. A fitting retribution for these criminally insane self-appointed little tin gods would be to be forced to wear those clothes themselves in a public street in Iran, and be stoned to death as transvestites as a consequence. Or to have Tim Curry in full Frank-n-Furter drag suffocate them by face-sitting. Either will serve. Mr Curry? You’re wanted on the phone…

Finally is a (probable) atheist by the name of Ron Williams, who seems to have mislaid his sense of proportion and any shred of intelligence. His daughter’s school mentioned God once. So he’s pulled her out of that school, launched action in the Anti-Discrimination Commission, and is suing for the cost of educating his daughter elsewhere.

Another taste of American-style insanity and inability to grasp the concept of “civilised discourse”. If the school in question had demonstrated a repeated intention to teach Christian scripture, then he would have my support. But Mr Williams is wrong-headed on quite a few counts.

Firstly, the Australian “separation of church and state”, based on section 116 of the Australian constitution, does not operate in the way that he thinks. He’s been indoctrinated somehow (by American television, or by visiting too many US-based websites) that the American First Amendment is in effect here. Bzzt, wrong, and thanks for playing. Section 116 of the Constitution of the country we’re actually in does not prohibit the teaching of religion in state schools.

Secondly, the kid was four years old and was reportedly making a model of Noah’s Ark. Hardly the thing of which road-to-Damascus conversions are made. Lighten up, dude, seriously.

Thirdly, the only thing that was actually shown in class was… an excerpt from “Evan Almighty”. Saying this is teaching religion in schools is like saying "Happy Gilmore" is a documentary on the ethics of professional golf.

Finally, stipulating for the sake of argument that there was anything real to object to in the school’s behaviour, withdrawing the kid after one episode like this is simply stupid. It smacks of sheer intolerance for other people’s views, and the additional action in the ADC and the lawsuit are complete overkill. How about, oh, I don’t know, teaching your kid some critical thinking skills? Start with Dawkins’ The God Delusion, then… oh, that’s right, she was four. FOUR. So maybe she wasn’t going to be crippled for life by one mention of the G-word, and you didn’t need to recoil like a vampire exposed to a crucifix, hey, Williams?

On behalf of Australian atheists everywhere, I would like to bequeath this nutball to a fundamentalist sect sitting in some compound in Texas, polishing their guns, screwing their cousins, waiting for the end times. C’mon, some brainwashing and he’ll fit right in. Sense of humour failure: check. Inability to see things in proportion: check. Bloody-minded insistence that the rest of the world operate to his liking: check. And inability to check even the most basic premises of his arguments: check.

We sure don't want him here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nigerian "Christians" torturing their own children

This is sickening. Nigerian “Christians” are torturing and ostracising their own children because someone told them they are witches:
A female child from Oron Council of Akwa Ibom State was tortured and bathed with hot water and thrown into the forest to die by his family for allegedly possessing strange powers. Another was tied to a stake in a goat's house for two weeks by his father because a prophet in his church proclaimed her a witch.

In Nsit Ibom, another was tortured and eventually chased out of home by his uncle, who believed he bewitched and killed his parents.

"Churches have strong influence on people and some church leaders get some parents to sheepishly believe that their kids are witches and wizards. This is the focus of most of these churches, which have departed from preaching righteousness and salvation of souls to stigmatisation of children as witches and wizards.

"In fact, it has gotten to a stage that if you do not spot witches and wizards in your church, you are not seen to be spiritually powerful and you may lose some of your members," Itauma explains.

...we see children who have been horribly mutilated, and in one case left brain damaged after having had a nail driven through her skull; others appear withdrawn and tearful after being rejected by their families and threatened. We also see the hostility of aggressive and angry adults against the charity workers who challenge the witch teaching and offer support to children living rough.

The first pastor we meet is the rolex-wearing Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, who makes children drink a strange “poision destroyer” medicine made up of “African mercury”, his own blood, and pure alcohol.

I’m using quotes when describing the Nigerians here as “Christians”. By almost anyone’s standards – except their own – these people are committing atrocities. The only reason I mention it at all is simply to make one point: why aren’t western Christians up in arms about this?

Don’t tell me about persecuted missionaries. Don’t tell me about nasty evil Muslims/atheists/whatevers. Don’t breathe a word to me about what you think about McCain or Obama. Especially, don’t you dare to speak to me about a higher moral ground. These misguided people are committing pure evil, and while the western Christian church does nothing, it has no moral or ethical legitimacy whatsoever.

I have no doubt at all that no western Christian would accept them as part of the worldwide tradition of Christianity. The fact remains that they are calling themselves Christians. They are mutilating their own children and leaving them to die in the name of your Lord Jesus Christ.

There is an urgent moral obligation on all Christians to categorically denounce this, and to take whatever action is possible to stop it.

Don’t send missionaries to the Philippines. Send them to Nigeria to talk to these “Christians” and point out to them the bleeding obvious: there is no such thing as witches and it is wrong to torture your own children.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The universe is a bad prop?

It’s been theorized for a little while now that the universe consists of only 4% matter as we know it, with the remaining 96% made up of dark matter and dark energy.

“Dark” matter and energy are so-called because they are not visible to us through telescopes, whether we’re looking in the visible light spectrum, the radio spectrum, or anything else. By inference, they don’t interact at all with the electro-magnetic spectrum. They are theorised to exist because:

In the case of dark energy – without this energy pushing the universe apart, galaxies would not be accelerating away from each other at the increasing rate that has been observed. Dark energy is calculated to make up 74% of the known universe, based on how much of it is needed to be flinging the galaxies apart. Everything else in our current physics framework predicts the shape and size of the universe quite nicely, except for this one puzzling phenomena of the expanding universes.

To me, “dark energy” sounds similar to the “cosmological constant” that Einstein threw into one of his equations fairly arbitarily without being able to explain exactly what it was or why it was there, except that without it his equations simply didn’t describe a static universe. (A static universe is one that is neither expanding nor contracting and was, at the time, thought to be how the universe was.) If you think this sounds intellectually just the teeniest bit dodgy, then you’d be right. Einstein in his later years called the cosmological constant his “biggest blunder” and appeared to regret having tossed it in without having a better explanation for it. However, the consensus now seems to be that we do not have a static universe, but an expanding one. To my layman’s eye, here we are again in almost the same place, with a different label for similar phenomena required to make the theory correspond to the reality.

Dark matter is theorised to exist as there are gravitational phenomena, such as the speed at which galaxies rotate, which cannot be explained without there being much more mass than can be observed. Dark matter is thought to comprise 22% of the universe, again based upon how much of it there should be to explain the observed phenomena.

Dark matter has a bit more evidence going for it than dark energy, as black holes are a perfectly well-accepted part of our modern physical framework. Black holes haven’t been directly observed – by definition, they can’t be, as they swallow any light that comes hear enough, so they can only be observed indirectly. The indirect effects on nearby light and matter have been observed often enough that there isn’t any real debate about whether they exist. So, we already know of one phenomenon that is for-real dark matter.

In addition to the invisible “dark” matter and energy (“Luke! Come to the dark side! I am your… missing mass? Hey, what sort of line do you call this?”) there is the recent finding that I canvassed briefly in my last post, namely, that 95% of the mass of atoms has now been verified as not being mass at all, but merely a phenomena arising from sub-atomic energy and movement. The universe as directed by Baz Luhrmann, if you will – not much content, but the colour and movement is breathtaking.

I was thinking this was remarkable enough, until I happened across this article in Discover Magazine that explains this sub-atomic energy and movement could correctly called be “quantum fluctuations” So, 95% of the mass we experience is actually, at base, quantum fluctuations. Whoah, to quote the Keanu.

So, if we tie this back to dark matter and energy, it could be theorized that 95% of the dark mass of the universe is… anti-Baz Luhrmann energy. Non-colour and movement. The Steven Wright of the universe – apparently as unimpressive as anything, but boy, it has an effect.

What’s more, the same Discover article reminded me that the 5% of mass that isn’t included in the “Luhrmann” phenomena is theorised to perhaps be a product of the Higgs boson, which the Large Hadron Collider is purpose-built to try to find. No-one yet knows whether traces of the Higgs boson will be found by the LHC or not, but either way the consequences for our worldview will be profound.

So, without the Higgs boson, we have a universe that looks like:

74% dark matter – which could be 95% dark energy also.
22% dark energy.
4% “real”mass as we know it – except it isn’t, 95% of it is quantum fluctuations.

However, if we separate out the energy and dark energy components of matter and dark matter, we get:

74.0% dark energy
20.9% dark quantum energy masquerading as dark mass
1.1% actual dark mass
3.8% quantum fluctuation energy masquerading as visible mass
0.2% real visible mass

Look at that again. Of the universe we think exists, only 0.2% is actually observable and conforms to something like our common-sense notions of what “solid” is.

0.2%. Two parts in a thousand. Nine hundred and ninety-eight parts we have very little idea about and will never directly perceive. What’s out there (and in here)? Who knows? How would we ever find out? Don’t think too closely about this – you may get frightened.

If the Higgs boson is demonstrated to exist, then it will also have been demonstrated that the Entire. Solid. Universe. is nothing but an illusion, created by the happenstance spin and flow of quantum particles.

Man, this place was built on a low budget!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Einstein more right than we knew

Every time Einstein's theories have been tested, they have supported his work. He himself said "No-one can ever prove me right - but one experiment can prove me wrong." Today is not that day.

It's been found that at the sub-atomic level, 95% of the mass of an atom is not mass, but energy and movement of sub-atomic particles:


This Theory of Special Relativity (not to be confused with Einstein's Theory of General Relativity - yes, there are two theories of relativity!) states, essentially, that mass and energy are interchangeable. The energy equivalence in a given mass is desribed by the famous formula above: it equals the mass times the speed of light squared - which is quite a lot! If one gram of matter was spontaneously converted to energy in an uncontrolled fashion, it would realise 898,755,178,736,817 joules, which would be an explosion more than 16 times as powerful as the Hiroshima atomic blast. Be careful with that matchbox...

I'm so proud of the human race that we can find out things like this. It's just astonishing to think that, at a level we will never directly perceive, 95% of the mass of every atom is just... energy and movement. (It goes to show you that quite a lot can be done by frantic arm-waving...)

Einstein was a truly remarkable man. I must admit to some mental reservations, however. His theory does not explain why when, on Mondays when I am tired and slow, I don't weigh any less than usual. Pfft.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why the internet filter is a BAD THING

CANBERRA (Reuters) – The Federal Government today announced details of its new Traffic Regulatory and Control System (TRACS) that will drastically slow down and hinder the road system for all Australians, in response to a few poorly-conceived concerns that cars are being driven by potential paedophiles.

“Look, it’s a fact that people are driving, using their cars on public streets and highways, with the aim of committing acts at their destinations that are illegal or immoral,” the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Road Network, Senator Stephen Conroy, said today. "People have told me that. I can't name any of them, but they have, really. I think it was some guy down at the RSL. Okay, it may have been the same bloke who talks about Martian lizards ruling the world - have you met him? - but that doesn't mean he doesn't know what he's talking about."

“It’s appalling that our public infrastructure is being perverted in this way," Senator Conroy continued, frothing gently at the mouth. "Obviously it’s too late to turn back the clock and return to the horse and buggy, as great as that would be. But the Federal Government can and will put controls in place to make sure everyone is using their cars wisely, and not going anywhere that I personally don’t approve of. Like the TAB or the pub.”

Senator Conroy announced that the Government’s plan will include a Road Safety Family Guardian located at the exit of every house’s driveway to check a driver’s intended destination when they back their vehicle out onto the street. The destination will then be transmitted to a central base, which will check it against a list of 1,300 banned destinations. “These destinations contain material that is just disgusting. We have no idea who lives there, though, despite having their address, and even if we did they're in a different jurisdiction, which of course means we can't do jack shit. We just have to stop people going there,” said Senator Conroy, in defiance of all common sense and international extradition agreements.

Drivers will also be required to pass through a centrally-located checkpoint in each capital city, where they will be required to satisfy the newly-created federal Roads and Traffic Authority that they are not attempting to go to one of the banned destinations.

Motorist groups are outraged, saying that travel times will increase up to 500% under this system, so that a trip which previously would have taken ten minutes could take almost an hour.

Senator Conroy said that "The central checkpoints, where destinations will be verified, will ensure that cars are not being used to access child pornography in Australia." However an independent analysis shows that half to two-thirds of the blacklisted destinations would in fact be legal , if police were to be bothered with the issue instead of being distracted by actual crime.

Drivers will need to opt out of being banned from going to a secondary list of up to 10,000 “unwanted” destinations. The criteria for determining whether a destination is “unwanted” have not been made public.

“It’s not that we think that most Australians are criminals,” explained Senator Conroy to reporters, while motioning a poorly-hidden SWAT team away from the cameras. “We just think that children need to be protected from being exposed to this material. Every time a person exits their driveway, there is a risk they could – inadvertently or not – expose their children in the back seat to unwanted material.” Senator Conroy did not respond to questions about what 'unwanted' actually means and who defines it, how many Australians drive a car with a child as an active navigator, what would happen when a child was not actually in the car, or how the system would help people who don't even have children, but did say that anyone against the system was obviously a lover of kiddie porn themselves.

Spokesman for motorists’ group I Will Drive Where I Damn Well Please, Tim Lamb, pointed out that there were serious flaws in the proposed TRACS system. “All anyone needs to do to bypass it is to go out their back door instead of the driveway. Or go off-road, if you have a four-wheel drive. There are countless other ways to evade these so-called ‘Family Guardians’. I bet any kid could think of a few,” he added. Mr Lamb demonstrated the effects of TRACS by spending half an hour to get to the end of his street, after ending up in a protracted argument with the Guardian at the exit of his driveway, who confused ‘Kidda Place’ with ‘kiddie porn’.

“This will cost a packet to implement, it’ll hurt the economy, and is just plain nonsensical,” said Mr Lamb, “besides being contrary to every bit of road freedom that Australians have enjoyed for decades. Our existing system is fine. Criminals already get caught – paedophiles are arrested almost every week. The policing of the anti-child abuse laws, which we all support, is targeted and effective. The TRACS system is neither targeted or effective, and will do nothing for the average person going about their business except slow them down and subject them to unnecessary harassment.”

Senator Conroy could not be reached for comment on Mr Lamb’s statements. A departmental spokesman said Senator Conroy was stuck in traffic and was not expected back in the office before Wednesday.

Take action NOW.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is Obama the Antichrist?

This question is seriously being asked. By Newsweek.

Okay, this isn't a question which requires a lot of in-depth research to answer. I'll give you a hint. Study the pictures below.

Barack Hussein Obama:

The Antichrist:

For the still-don't-get-it crowd:



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Now's your opportunity

What’s the best argument you have for your faith?

I’m genuinely interested. I read a lot on the atheistic side because that’s where I place myself. However sometimes it can be like being in an echo chamber, and I’m not learning much that’s new to me. A recent critique (by Rupert Murdoch, I think, but don’t hold me to that) pointed out that using the ‘net as a main source of news and information was that a person is likely just to visit those sites that reinforce their own biases, and that our exposure to new ideas was being lowered. I think that’s a legitimate concern.

So I open this up to anyone who wants to outline their reasons for their faith. Why is it that you believe what you do? What is the argument that you would use if trying to convert someone else? (These could be two different things. Do either, or both.) It can be specific to your religious denomination, or just in reference to a “God” in general. No restrictions. I probably won’t reply to your statements – I’m just genuinely interested. I don’t know of any good arguments for faith, so if you’ve got one, now’s the time to roll it out for me. You don’t need to keep it short – take whatever space you need to make your case well.

To ensure you feel as free as possible to make whatever arguments you like, I undertake not to reply, or initiate a debate, unless specifically asked. I’m making this invitation simply in the spirit of intellectual curiosity, not to start another debate. If you want one, you can have it, but I'm not opening the gate to that unless asked.

Also, have a think about what it would take to convince you that you’re wrong. If you flip that around, then it could be the base of a good argument in favour of your beliefs. If, however, your immediate response is “There’s nothing – I know I’m right,” then go away right now: reason is a closed book to you and you have nothing to say that will interest me in the slightest.

(What it would take to convince me I’m wrong? Oh, there are lots of things that would work. I’ll go into them in a future post, maybe. There are too many to go into right now.)

You may wish to use this as an opportunity to try to convert me. Go right ahead. If you do, though, then there are some things that are unlikely to impress me. I’m not saying you can’t use whatever arguments you like – it’s your dime – but just be aware that these tactics are profoundly unlikely to convince anyone.

1. Arguments from authority.
2. “The Bible/Koran/Jamie Oliver says so”. That’s just a variation on point 1, and don’t get me started on the reliability of the Bible.
3. Arguments from incredulity. “Isn’t that amazing? And because I can’t imagine how that happens, it must be God!” Bzzt. Wrong. Because we don’t yet have the scientific basis for fully understanding a phenomenon – or you don’t personally have that knowledge – in no way logically requires the existence of a God to explain it.
4. Logical fallacies of any description.
5. “I just know I’m right.” Yes, and I believe I’m right, and millions of Muslims/Buddhists/pagans/Zoroastrians etc. “know” they’re right as well. So what? As an objective argument, this fails on every conceivable level.
6. “Millions of people can’t be wrong!” Yes they can. See point 5 above – as all those points of view are contradictory, then necessarily millions of people are wrong.
7. “If you came to church, you’d see.” I do go to church. And that’s where I hear some of the silliest stuff I’ve heard in my life. Case in point: someone said recently “I’ve often wondered why you don’t get immediately Raptured to Heaven when you convert. It’s because we’re left here to witness to others!” Actually, being swept up to Heaven in a flash of light as soon as you converted would be a very effective demonstration of the truth of your faith. A moment’s reflection by that person would have shown the weakness in their argument.

There are others, but let’s just get on with it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Game over

Yes, gloating is unbecoming. But you know what? Screw it. I'll be an adult tomorrow.

Source unknown.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Take Action

The bus I’ve been catching to work since my car blew up (sniff) was late this morning. The other passengers at my stop were also getting nervous. My last experience with public transport was Sydney’s woeful train service, where there be days when you’d wait for hours before a train would come – if at all.

Before five minutes could go by, a couple of little white Action minibuses pulled up, and the drivers called for any passengers for route 62 to hop on. No charge. “Free service,” the driver explained cheerily. I got to work more or less on time – a few minutes late, but in my workplace it wasn’t worth noticing.

I never used to have an argument with the “user pays” model. Seems fair enough: the people using the service pay to use it. Capitalism. That’s what we’re all about, isn’t it? (Shut up, you commie pinko scum.)

Some public services need to remain apart from that model, though. Some public services are there simply because they are needed, and to withdraw them on the grounds that they lose money would be unthinkable. Libraries. Medical services. More controversially, some sectors of the arts. And Action.

Action – Canberra’s one and only bus service – loses money hand over fist. Millions of dollars a year of taxpayer’s money goes down the gurgler to fund this public transport network that, arguably, is inefficient, superfluous, and as a commercial enterprise is a dismal failure.

To shut it down would be a tragedy. It’s Canberra’s only public transport, apart from taxis. If it were to go, as on purely commercial grounds it probably should, then thousands of people across Canberra would have an extremely tough time doing something as simple as getting to the shops.

Take capitalism to the extremes – as in closing down Action on economic grounds – and there are problems. Somehow, this has escaped so many of the world’s most powerful and (supposedly) well-educated economic movers and shakers. Result: economies world-wide are going in freefall, the world is probably facing a global recession, and even the most optimistic commentators acknowledge that we’re not coming out of it any time soon. Countless folk worldwide will lose their jobs. Families will suffer. Some will turn to crime. Retirees – our fastest-growing demographic segment – are either on Centrelink benefits or about to be forced to be. Others may simply suffer quietly and do whatever it takes to keep their heads above water.

I wonder how those responsible can sleep at night.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Oh, you THINK?

Gen X finds itself the ham in the sandwich
[Snip a lot of self-indulgent blather]

"Yes, I have always felt very sorry for generation X," laughs Salt.

"You've got to say the baby boomers have had it easy economically - cheap property prices by any measure and free tertiary education.

"Gen X on the other hand were faced with $20,000 HECS debts and then, when they tried to get into the property market in the 1990s the baby boomers had hiked prices up to a level where it was almost impossible to get across the line.

"And when they finally take the plunge to have kids and drop back to a single income, they're faced with this period of economic uncertainty," he said.

"It's no wonder they feel very put upon. They're the ones doing all the work, paying all the tax, copping it left right and centre," he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. I'd cry, cry for the future, but I wouldn't get anything done.

Good morning, internet

Well, I almost didn't need a cup of coffee.

Wall St plunges amoid global meltdown

US shares have plunged amid a wave of panic selling and a meltdown in share prices around the world on rising fears of a global recession...

"We have now reached a point where fundamentals and long-term valuation considerations do not matter any more for financial markets," said economist Nouriel Roubini at New York University.

"There is a free fall as most investors are rapidly deleveraging and we are on the verge of a a capitulation collapse," Mr Roubini said.

"What matters now is only flows - rather than stocks and fundamentals - and flows are unidirectional as everyone is selling and no one is buying as trying to buy equities is like catching a falling knife.

"There are no buyers in these dysfunctional markets, only sellers and panic is the ugly state of this destabilising game."

Yay. Time to go back to bed and bury my head under the covers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shield your eyes!

Taken from

Putting on my Captain Obvious hat.... yeah, there's a REASON FOR THAT.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why we are all in big, big trouble

Because of people like this.

Let's identify the behaviours displayed:

* Smug ("He knows what's right.")
* Self-righteous and intolerant of other views ("It should be make-or-break for everybody.")
* Denying facts ("That isn't Christianity...")
* Plainly self-destructive - she is voting against her husband's interests as a worker
* Blindly foolish ("The Lord will provide.")

There are others, but I've run out of buckets to vomit into.

Yes, I personally believe this woman's faith to be misplaced. I'm not trying to make any points about that one way or another here. Most people would agree, even in principle, that it's best to do what you can to help yourself before relying upon anything or anyone else - "the Lord helps those who help themselves", even if you take away the L-word. This woman is just stupid, no matter what you believe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

...I wonder?

Is this where "poop deck" actually comes from?

At one point in the tropics Margaret Hall on the Friendship was put in irons for 'shitting between decks' rather than from the poop deck, as was required.

David Hill, 1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oh noes! The red thing is ringing!

Points if you can identify all the references.

You may call me "drug-monkey"

Or "Most Worshipful Supreme Potentate and Ultimate Omni-Authority of Benevolence and Love".

Or, more informally, "Sir".

But I will answer to "drug-monkey".

The future?

Charles Hugh Smith seems to be an interesting thinker. With no apologies whatsoever for failing to do any, even cursory, checks into who this guy is and what credibility he has (because, you know, I'm a complete professional with a wide audience), I repost here some thoughts he's had in an interview above the global economic crisis and what the world may be as a result in the next decade.

Richard Metzger: When I was reading The Fourth Turning -- a book I know that you are a fan of, too -- I felt like the authors were building up to a moment in history that is pretty much nigh upon us, a period of intense change and perhaps chaotic transformation, but one they seemed determined not to describe or speculate about in their book with any detail. When the tectonic plates move between generations, much changes. Putting on your long-range prophecy goggles, and assuming that we're coming out the other side of this mess ten years from now, what kind of a world will we have in 2018? (I cling to the hope that things will be as different in 2018 from today as the change was from 1960 to 1970).

Charles Hugh Smith: While many predict doomsday scenarios, and those are certainly possible if we go into complete denial for another decade, I suspect painful adaptations will have been made by 2018. We will have learned to get by with much less energy consumption per person and how to create distributed networks of alternative energies. The Federal government and all state governments will be essentially bankrupt and the entire culture of entitlement will have been upended by this inability to pay everyone’s medical care and pension. Self-reliance and community will replace dependence on central government. The dollar may well be replaced with a “new dollar” or superceded by a global currency based on gold or a basket of commodities of enduring value. Hopefully we will have avoided “resource wars” but if we haven’t weaned ourselves from petroleum then we may well still be engaged in a “long war” over oil resources, perhaps even involving China or Russia. If we refuse to become energy-self-sufficient then a major global conflict is not impossible in the 2017-2021 timeframe.

Richard Metzger: How will you personally live and protect yourself during the hard times?

Charles Hugh Smith: In June 2008 I wrote an essay called Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States which a lot of people seemed to like. Basically I plan to rely on living simply and reciprocity/generosity with my circle of friends, family and neighbors. My beliefs are counter to killing and I will depend on community for defense rather than stockpile weaponry and ammo. Many survivalists wrote me positive comments about this essay so that gives me hope that we will collectively recognize that pulling together is the best way to “take care of Number One.” 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Most you would know that I’ve had recently some problems – to put it mildly – with my back. I won’t bore you with the detail, but for most of the last two months I’ve been semi-crippled with enormous amounts of pain and very little physical ability to do anything other than sit in my chair and swear. (This may explain the tone of some of my posts from that time… I’ll leave it to you to judge!)

Thankfully I’m coming out the other side of it now. It hasn’t gone away entirely – I will need some complicated surgery with titanium separators and bone grafts and, who knows, maybe some nanobots and a wheelie bin – but right now I’m feeling a hell of a lot better. Still taking the painkillers, because opiates opioids are not something you come off suddenly, and I am not 100% just yet. But I can see it from here.

My back may go out again. It may not. But I’ve a history of back trouble, since Lorraine had her neck surgery in 2005, so I'm thinking the odds aren't good. I’ve put my name on a waiting list for elective surgery to get the nuts and bolts installed, and will have to wait around nine to twelve months for my number to come up. If nothing’s happened by then, I’ll cancel out of it; no harm done.

Why I’m writing about this, however, is that this period of forced inactivity had more of a profound impact upon me than I would have thought. While I was incapacitated, I was hell on earth to live with. “Grouchy” doesn’t begin to cover it. Nothing was good enough, I found fault with anything, and I would voice my opinion about that, loudly, and often, until I’m quite sure that Lorraine would have happily stuck a knife into me. Quite frankly, I couldn’t say something even halfway conversational; everything I said was a criticism or direct attack, whether it was the latest Sarah Palin faux pas or the dirty dishes that had sat on the kitchen bench for, oh, all of five minutes, but that's not good enough, dammit! This place is a mess! And why is everyone else in the world a flaming idiot? And those morons in America, jeez, let’s not even talk about them, and some bastard at the petrol station cut me off, and what’s up with the bloody weather today?, and…

Yeah. It wasn’t pretty.

On my return to work, limping around with a cane, I joked that all I needed to complete my Greg House MD impersonation was another 50 IQ points and a snarky attitude. A good mate of many years’ standing looked at me and said thoughtfully, “No, I think you’re there.”

I’ve been so glad the last week or so to be able to do something – anything! – that I’ve gotten into it with a will and a smile on my face. No problem. Shovel two trailerloads of mulch because Lorraine had an idea about making over the front garden bed? Great! Let’s do it! Done! Kids playing up? Smile, sit down on the floor with them, and gently and good-humoredly get to the problem and try to fix it. Cup of tea? Yep, there you go sweetie. Do the washing up religiously. Yadda yadda and so on.

The world is sweet.

It’s only now, of course, that I realize how precious good health is, and how not being in good health can disrupt everything. I’m so glad now that we can return to condition normal that Lorraine is wondering what happened to the grouchy old man she’d found in her bed every night this year.

So, my point is this really, and only this: be grateful for your health and the good things in your life. Don’t take it for granted. Life is messy, and sometimes inconvenient, and God yes, there are more than enough idiots around, and I will not give up pointing out their foolishness and incompetance whenever warranted. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s just not worth getting upset about.

Hey, I’m alive, we have a roof over our heads, there’s food on the table, we can pay the bills, and what’s more, I have two great kids and a wife who loves me despite everything. That’s all the reason that I need to be happy, every minute of every day. The rest of it can go and find someone else to piss off; I’m not playing that game any more.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oh, well played, sirs.

Now this truly breathtaking act of incompetence: You know that $700 billion that is oh-so-desperately needed to save Wall Street from its own overweening ambition?

That figure was pulled out of someone’s ass.

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Excellent work, America. Yeah, this is only the future of your entire financial system. Let’s not be bothered to, you know, actually GET IT RIGHT.

The arrogance is a bucket of cold water over the soul. This is monstrous hubris. It goes well beyond human error, to indictable, hang-the-bastards-from-a-tree territory. And when we're done ripping their heads off and shitting down their necks, hunting down their children, wives, cousins and aunts and sterilising them for the greater good of the gene pool, there will, finally, be a special circle of hell reserved for these unforgivably stupid, arrogant, asshats.

And, as a serious candidate for the second most powerful elected position in the country, we present Sarah “I can see Russia from here!” Palin. If McCain falls over, as could well happen given he’s the oldest bastard ever to run for President, then she’s in charge. And listen to what she has to say about the bailout plan: it’s about… what?

COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more, and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it’s got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and getting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade — we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.

If anyone can tell me what the fuck she is even talking about, then I will give them my left nut.

Christ on a crutch.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Okay, we're really screwed now.

Via Boing Boing comes the first report of methane being released in colossal quantities from beneath the Artic ice (what's left of it): An Artic Sea "Foaming" With Methane, What Now?

If correct, this is seriously bad news. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. I've been half-waiting for this news since reading John Barnes' "Mother of Storms", which takes this exact scenario of methane clathrates being released from ocean beds, and shows in narrative form some of the probable consequences for the world's climate.

Methane increases the greenhouse effect, trapping far more energy into the climate system than has ever been experienced before. One way in which this energy is expressed is by hurricanes. Increase the energy in the system enough, and it is possible to have hurricanes which never die out.

They spawn more hurricanes, every one of which is equal to a Katrina or a Hanna. And the hurricane season doesn't stop. The storms just keep coming and coming.

This scenario seemed to be on the verge of realisation this year, with Hanne, Ike, Josephine. And this is expected.

So we have the U.S. economy on the verge of collapse, and if it goes down, the world economy goes down with it. This is a country less equipped than ever to even rescue its own citizens, with the mayor of New Orleans stating openly that "we don't have the resources to come and get you".

Throw in a few more Katrina-level events, and we won't have to wait for global climate change to produce a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world. We'll all be living hand to mouth.

I am only half joking about this. It seems undeniable that the combination of a depressed (if not outright collapsed) global economy with an unusually severe hurricane season this year (which could well be continued next year) will by itself have profound effects upon all of us. Throw in a global climate that's having more energy pumped into it by orders of magnitude, and we have global disaster.

I am frightened.

UPDATE: George Dubleya, the man whose job could be descrbed as "appear calm while things go got shit", has warned that "our entire economy is in danger". When a politician uses that sort of language, he (a) is deeply frightened and (b) wants youto vote for his reforms now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why aren't there better arguments?

In response to my latest post, a comment was "Get over yourself." That's it, end of comment. Thanks so much for that, it added a whole lot to the debate, and I stand in awe of your superior arguments and reasoning ability. The commenter's argument is known as a simple "ad hominem" attack, an attack on the person, not the argument, so no points. You go home with... well, nothing.

Why didn't God equip his followers with better arguments? Overlooking the facts that the Bible says very little of relevance to modern society. Overlooking that if the Bible truly was the incontrovertible Word of God, the authority of the author should be apparent to all - the amazing insights, the stunning grasp of the laws of the universe. Leaving aside any of that.

Why aren't the theists' arguments BETTER than they are?

I haven't yet encountered an argument for the existence of any God - be you Christin, Muslim, Hindu, or anything else - that goes beyond "This book tells me so, and I am suspending all rational thought because I want to believe that book." Yeah, well, colour me unimpressed. There are countless books that have been written, and although I happen to find the Lord of the Rings personally appealing on some levels, I don't mistake it for Holy Writ.

Any book that you need a person who has devoted their entire life to interpretation of it - let alone bad interpretation - is clearly a badly written piece of work. If it was truly the Word, the Truth of it should be as clear as the light of day. Instead, we got the crap that my previous post touched upon. The Christian's response to that: "Get over yourself."

Thanks for your time. Go away until you find a better argument than the ad hominem attack.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Perfect and Eternal

It is frequently stated that the Bible, is perfect, eternal, and as true today as when it was written.

I have one rebuttal to that. It needs only one.

Deuteronomy 21:1-9:

1 "If a slain person is found lying in the open country in the land which the LORD your God gives you to possess, and it is not known who has struck him,

2 then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one.

3 It shall be that the city which is nearest to the slain man, that is, the elders of that city, shall take a heifer of the herd, which has not been worked and which has not pulled in a yoke;

4 and the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which has not been plowed or sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley.

5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the LORD your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in the name of the LORD; and every dispute and every assault shall be settled by them.

6 All the elders of that city which is nearest to the slain man shall (B)wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley;

7 and they shall answer and say, 'Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it.

8 Forgive Your people Israel whom You have redeemed, O LORD, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Your people Israel.' And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them.

9 So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the LORD.

Really, I don't know why we bother with police, courts, jails, and the entire criminal justice system, when we have this eternal, perfect piece of sleuthing to guide us.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Of COURSE it was

Bitch model faints from "virus".

Yeah, I'm sure it wasn't from anorexia, or party drugs, or anything like that. Absolutely. Models don't do that sort of thing.

Best. Line. Ever.

"Boy, that's a really bad day for the animal, sir."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Islam causes child cruelty

In Britain, a 13-year-old and a 15-year old were forced to flog themselves until they bled as part of a Shia religious ceremony, "zanjeer zani". The adult who was overseeing the ceremony has been found guilty of child cruelty.

Despite that, the "we musn't offend religious beliefs" meme that comes into operation when discussing Islam's backwards, misogynistic, homophobic mindset is still in operation:
"The Crown Prosecution Service wishes to make it clear that this prosecution was not an attack upon the practices or ceremonies of Shia Muslims," said Carol Jackson of the Greater Manchester CPS.
Why not?

It's child cruelty. A court has just found someone guilty of child cruelty for no other reason than his religion required it. Yet the obvious clash between human rights and Islam is "not an attack" on Islam.

It damn well should be. It should be shouted from the rooftops that this religion required the beating of two teenagers until they bled. It should be made damn clear that Islam was responsible.

Some pictures of Muslims practicising zanjeer zani
. Not for the squeamish.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's fun to stay at the...

A musical interlude

Because we don't have enough of it around here.

The Smashing Pumpkins, "Zero".

Richard Dawkins reads his hate mail

I particularly like the stream of profanity and hatred unleashed by "Christian living for God". There's that Christian spirit!

Via Boing Boing

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Livin' large

Yeah, you know you've hit a bit of a low point when chaging your socks is counted among the major achievements of the day.

I admit nothing.

Steve, don't eat it!

Had your lunch? Good. Did you like it? Are you prepared to enjoy it again?

Steve, don't eat it!

Well, I'm all set to enjoy some smoked oysters.

The Gospel of Mark Twain

Strange...a God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell--mouths mercy, and invented hell--mouths Golden Rules and foregiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!

- Mark Twain, "No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger"

Amen to that.

Death Star over San Francisco

Via Boing Boing

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weasel words

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has a post that is spot on about the not-so-hidden bigotry inherent in phrases like "family values":

There are few things that grate on my nerves more than phrases like "family values" or "pro-family." Gore Vidal was fond of saying that those were really just catchphrase that meant "get the fags" and he was right...
To bigots like LaBarbera, real families can't be led by homosexuals. But in the real world, there are millions of families that are led by gays and lesbians. By what possible reasoning - yes, I say that as though this was a reasoned position knowing full well that it's not - could this argument be justified?
Applause. The next time you hear "working families", do me proud and peg a brick at the perpetrator.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Breaking news: Obama is NOT the Antichrist

"I've gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist," says novelist Jenkins. "I tell everyone that I don't think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics."

Well, thank goodness for that. It was keeping me up at night.

"I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist," adds LaHaye

Yeah, all that blather about hope, tolerance, and faith is downright Satanic.

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reason gets an early mark

I had a marvelous lesson this morning on exactly how the Christian religion completely fails to come to grips with reason.

The subject of this morning’s message was “How (or why) does God permit bad things to happen?” I immediately sat up and started paying attention; the speaker was a man who is quite sharp, and I thought his take on it would offer something new (at least to my experience).

Unfortunately, I was quite wrong.

The primary argument offered was that in Genesis, God turned over the world to humanity, thereby allowing free will. By giving humanity “dominion over the Earth” in Genesis, He “delegated” His authority to us, and in that act committed Himself not to intervene in the world. To do so, He has to be invited to do so, through prayer.

(There was an aside offered that the spiritual world cannot act in the physical without a human being as a sort of gateway, to invite or plead with God, and God will not break this “law” – he had to manifest as a human being to influence the physical world.)

This has holes in it so large you could drive a truck through it.

Even the speaker admitted that there are multiple instances in the Bible where God acts completely of His own volition. Two easy examples cited by the speaker himself: the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. There are countless other examples in the OT - the burning bush, multiple prophets to whom he spoke directly, even a horde of ravenous bears that killed children who made fun of one prophet's baldness. (Yes, what a loving God.) Remember, this argument is based on the early chapters of Genesis, so there is no part of the OT or NT to which it doesn’t apply.

The speaker admitted that despite all this arm-waving about the separation of a physical and spiritual world, it seems that God can act in “sovereign judgment” over the world whenever He chooses, and destroy all or part of it if he gets fed up.

To paraphrase this line of reasoning, God has determined the bounds and laws of the physical world, and committed that He will not act to violate them.

Oh, except when He decides to, irrespective of His commitment not to do exactly that.

Oh, and when someone prays to him (and presuming He decides to answer said prayer).

So, in other words, God could intervene in any thing, any time; he just wants us to pray for it. And most of the time he’ll ignore those prayers. Except when he decides to just say “the hell with it” and do something anyway without anyone wanting it.

Evil exists because we have free will, and because God won't intervene. Except as noted above. So really there's no reason for the existence of evil at all, then, is there?

God is a liar and a fraud, or more capricious than a three-year-old with attention-deficit disorder.

Or... maybe... a complete fable?

And this was proffered as a rational argument for the existence of evil. Well, mission accomplished, but not the way it was intended.

[Head explodes]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

No more Eurovision

I can't stand another dose of bad TV like last night, so with apologies to all of my avid readers (I think there's one out there somewhere... I can hear you breathing), I'll be "reviewing" Master and Commander instead.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Watching the 1st semi-final of Eurovision on SBS (Australia’s multicultural FTA station). Yes, TV is that bad tonight. But Eurovision is always good for a giggle, so stream-of-consciousness reactions are below.

I miss the first couple or three putting the kids to bed. I don’t think I missed much.

Estonia – one of the most puzzling things I’ve seen. A chorus that sounded phonetically like “lego lego stretch”, waving of a German flag (why?), unexplained explosions, and apparent carnal knowledge of a piano, all performed by the Wiggles’ creepy older uncles. Followed by booing. “Ah yes, now we’re at Eurovision!” Someday I’d like someone to explain that little number to me, but even then I don’t think I’ll understand.

Where’s Terry Wogan when you need him?

Moldova – not bad at all actually, a slightly jazzy, late-night-style number. Best experienced with scotch on ice. I’m a bit puzzled why the singer’s hair seemed to be caught in the wake of a jet engine, but whatever.

San Marino – looked a bit nondescript, but I was interrupted by the kids.

Belgium – hell, it’s a candypop on legs. Someone shoot her RIGHT NOW. A strange combination of bubblegun pop with classical instruments sung by someone trying to capture the spirit of Mary Poppins.

Slovenia – a radioactive ghoul. No, a radioactive space ghoul.

Norway – passable, although they look like fembots. More mysterious hair-waving-in-a-jet-exhaust. I don’t think the venue is outdoors?

Poland – another blond looker. They must be cheap in Europe this time of year.

Ireland – atonal militaristic stuff with a dog. Fabbo. No, sorry, it’s the famous turkey! Well, that’s okay then.

Okay, the turkey just farted. Really. I’m backing away slowly…

Did anyone ever tell Ireland that green, white and orange is a really tacky combination?

The commentators are arguing whether the puppeteer constitutes a seventh person on stage and hence a breach of the rules. Sigh. How much does the job pay and can I do it next year?

Andorra – this should be good, this country is the size of a sheep farm. Not a large sheep farm either.

The singer has a martian sucking her brain out or something. Strange black thing stuck to her forehead. The song isn’t too bad, however – bland and insipid, but at least it isn’t downright awful.

Boznia/Herzegovnia – something from a bad remake of Pinocchio. With bridesmaids, for no apparent reason.

Armenia – interesting start, mildly catchy beat. And at least it’s not another damn blonde.

[NB: I don’t actually have anything against blondes. Really. I think my sister is blonde, but she changes her hair colour so much that I’ve honestly forgotten what her natural colour is.]

…Okay. The singer punctuated the beat by thrusting her breasts upwards three times while the camera zoomed in on her. That isn’t a blatant appeal to the male judges, oh no.

The Netherlands – hmm, a bit Latino in feel and beat, quite appealing actually and one of the few entrants to appear moderately professional.

Finland – heavy metal again! Once they’ve found a trick, they don’t give it up easily. At least we’re spared the hideous costumes this time, but they seems to be a time warp back to the eighties – long hair and empty-air-head-thwack stuff. Think Wayne’s World, the Bohemian Rhopsody scene.

I think they’re miming, even to the extent of not playing the instruments; the drum beats are off, and the guitarists don’t seem to be actually playing.

Oh goody, fireworks! That always adds so much musically.

Romania – a duet, for something different. The black-and-green costumes play right into some very old stereotypes. Quite pleasant though, competently done and musically a little bit engaging, if you like musical-type theatrical duets. (I do.)

Russia – missed the start having a smoke. Hmm, slightly atonal to my ears, but that could be a cultural thing. Waaaay over the top with theatrics. Roller skating! Hahahaha! Oh dear, these boys need to get over themselves. Why are Eurovision entrants almost invariably regurgitating musical trends from two or three decades ago?

Greece – a Britney Spears wannabe. Same dancing style and all. Actually, she’s overdressed for Britney. No, sorry, she’s shed some of her costume, and other bits look like they may malfunction. Fairly ordinary pop with lots of blatant look-at-my-body, so it will probably get lots of votes, Eurovision politics permitting.

A small break for a tennis star. Of course that’s relevant to the evening.

After much hiatus the results:

Greece. No surprise.
Romania. Nice call.
Bosnia/Herzegovnia. Interesting.
Finland. Oh boy.
Russia. Enh.
Armenia. Okay.

Another triumph of style over content really. At least the farting turkey didn’t get through.

So much for Euro Idol. I think I want to see Eurovision Big Brother. No, I tell a lie, that’s pretty much the historical narrative of the European continent, isn’t it?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Oh my god

I'm looking for music to download and I hit a *wonderful* bittorrent of the 1st JJJ hottest 100 - where the votes were for the best music of all time. It has wonderful things in it - The Cure, Pink Floyd, Billy Bragg, Aretha Franklin, Sinead O'Connor, REM, Iggy Pop. I'm just drooling.

And then I realise this vote - let alone most of the MUSIC - was made in 1989. THAT'S ALMOST 20 FREAKING YEARS AGO.

I'm old. Shoot me now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Singularity

There is a concept called the Singularity.

It starts with the fact that the computing power available has doubled in power for the same price every two years. This is called Moore’s Law, and it has remained remarkably consistent. If you plotted computer power over time as a simple series, the resulting curve is asymptotic. Such a curve eventually becomes, to all intents and purposes, infinitely vertical. Technological advaces are not only greater and wider in scope than ever before, but the rate of advance is hypothetically infinite. This is the Singularity: the point at which any predictions we can make about the future will be wholly overwhelmed by a technological reality we simply can't imagine.

Time doesn’t stop occurring just because we’ve reached the vanishing point on a graph, however. So what lies beyond the Singularity? By definition, it’s almost impossible to predict. The technologies that will be in use will be astonishing. Their uses will be difficult, if not impossible, to predict accurately. Think about the predictions that were made in the 60s, 70s and 80s about what the “home of the future” would look like. Some of those predictions have been surpassed, others remain quite of reach (see Where's My Jetpack?).

Australian author Damien Broderick predicts in The Spike that the other side of the Singularity will be utterly unrecognizable to us. Think of Arthur C. Clarke’s hypothesis that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and you begin to get an idea of where he’s coming from. The other side of the Singularity will be characterised by technology that we cannot now predict and could seem to the average person today to be almost magical.

Seems a bit much to get from computers alone, doesn’t it? Well, according to Ray Kurzweil, there are more technologies that are becoming information technology-based. Medical science is a good example of this, specifically the Human Genome Project. Ten years into the fifteen-year project, only two percent of the human genome had been mapped, and expectations that it would fail were widespread. Because the project was heavily geared on IT processing capacities, however, the remaining 98 per cent was mapped in the remaining five years.

Every area of technology and science that is currently limited by IT capabilities will be drawn along to some degree in the wake of Moore’s Law. We can’t expect the same exponential curve rate in every area, but the overall rate of advancement will significantly increase.

There are, however, a number of factors working to slow Moore’s Law and its effect in other technologies.

Firstly, Moore’s Law is based upon the number of transistors that can be built in to a chip. There are currently real physical barriers to building much smaller transistors, and hence increasing the number that be constructed on a given area, although much work is being done on new technologies capable of building at smaller levels. The most significant of these for the longer term is nanotechnology, but nanotech is in its infancy. While advances in nanotech are linked to those in information technology, the field is multidisciplinary, so the extent of the feedback loop between nanotech and the Moore’s Law asymptotic curve remains uncertain. However real work has already begun on quantum computing; that is, using phenomena on the quantum scale as processing power. The potential power in quantum computing is poorly understood due to the highly counter-intuitive nature of quantum physics, but for certain types of problems, quantum computing could represent an advance of many orders of magnitude. It was reported in 2006 that one early prototype of a quantum computer solved a problem before even being turned on. If that frightens you, even just a little bit, then welcome to my world.

Another factor is the ethical and moral implications of some advances in medical and biological fields. Consider just three recent examples: the debates on stem cell research, cloning, and genetically modified food.

The benefits of stem cell research are potentially enormous, but the most readily available source of stem cells – human embryos – properly threw the issue directly into the public arena. Thankfully a recent advance that makes it possible to create stem cells without harvesting them from embryos has made most of that debate redundant, and we can create a new jawbone for a man without destroying – or killing, if you prefer – many unborn embryos.

Cloning always was going to be controversial; creating human life in the laboratory has the distinct flavour of Frankenstein’s monster. But it never ceases to frustrate me that the media depictions of cloning invariably are of an identically-empowered evil army, when cloning is present in nature in identical twins, and it is apparent to even a casual observer that identical twins can be quite different in many distinct ways, and certainly don't share a communal hive mind.

I admit to paying less attention to the debate over GM food, but I can only ascribe the hoo-row over being able to buy food that is GM-free to simple fear of genetic manipulation, coupled with an understandable conservatism, and reinforced by science’s hallmark of not presuming to definitively answer questions that have not been fully studied.

My observation and prediction is that advances in medtech and biotech will always lag considerably behind the curve of Moore’s Law, because of the natural conservatism of humanity as a whole in playing with biology. This is no bad thing. Advances that directly affect the human body, or are morally ambiguous, should be publically debated.

In my previous post I commented that I expect the religious sector to be full participants in such debates, because they can be relied upon to be conservative in such areas, and also because they are fairly representative of the moral and ethical values of a large part of this country’s population. Conservative views are absolutely necessary in such debates, if no other reason than being the necessary voice of caution, but I believe the churches’ contribution is often unrecognized as going beyond that, into voicing ethical points that otherwise may escape attention and examination. (It’s worth noting in passing the irony that a recent survey of scientists found that the general population was less concerned about the potential negative effects of nanotechnology than scientists themselves.)

The Singularity will probably not look much like Broderick imagines it. Apart from the slower rate of advancement in biology, there are fields which benefit less directly from Moore’s Law, as well as other multidisciplinary crossbreeds such as nanotech.

Nonetheless, the fundamental questions that the Singularity poses remain fascinating. Science fiction has one consistent flaw, as noted by one of the greats, Robert A. Heinlein: it is too conservative. Take every notion you have about the future – every notion; 2001, Terminator, Back to the Future, Asimov, colonizing the stars – and throw it away. It’s too conservative. If an expected advancement fails to materialise, it's often due to a lack of political will, not failings in the technology; we could easily have bases throughout the solar system by now, if we'd been truly committed to following through properly on the Apollo project. We may not have a manned base on Mars within a decade, but when we do, it will be manned by persons wholly unlike those you can imagine, we will have reached it by technologies we haven’t yet realized, and the significance of it will have been fundamentally realigned because of redefinitions of our own humanity.

Broderick predicts that humanity, in the future, will consist of two essential classes: the privileged techno-elite, who not only have the material means to keep up with the constant flow of new technology, but what’s more, the ability to understand and use it at something approaching its full potential; and those that will not, and will be left permanently behind on the beach as the waves of the Singularity recede, permanently disenfranchised and disregarded - evolutionary refuse of the march of progress.

Before dismissing that narrative as fantasy, consider that there are elements of it that are present in the world today. Much of the world’s population can’t access a decent PC, let alone the internet. Thankfully there are people in the world who are doing what they can to prevent its passing, such as the One Laptop Per Child project. I believe that social projects of this nature will become increasingly common as Moore’s Law sweeps us ever further up that incredible asymptotic curve, and the point of social – if not technological – Singularity is reached. The cry of charities in the future will not simply be for an adequate water supply and a decent caloric intake for the populations of underdeveloped countries, but for net access, laptops, and basic nanotech implants.

So what is the future of the human race?

Imagine an egg. This is your granddaughter.

Submerse it in a self-aware global sphere of knowledge, information and communication; whip it lightly with genetic modification; sauté it in embedded nanotechnology; and give her perceptions that extend from tasting radio to feeling google.

This is the granddaughter of your future. What we can understand of her, anyway.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Bishop Tom Frame is, among other things, a past Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Forces, the author of twenty books, and an academic of no small repute. He recently delivered the annual Acton Lecture on Religion and Freedom. The subject was “Does Secularism Provoke Religious Extremism?” The podcast can be downloaded from

During the lecture Dr Frame mentioned the Secular Party of Australia. The SPA has among its stated aims being against “all forms of religious coercion and theocracy”. They state on their website that “The Secular Party holds that religious beliefs impose and give rise to an increasing intrusion on civil liberties and provide an unwelcome source of social disharmony.” Simultaneously they state they are not anti-religious and endorse freedom of religion. (Well, thank you for that!) They call for, in essence, the complete removal of religious-based discourse in the public sphere.

It should be noted that in Australia we already enjoy full religious freedom. Tolerance for others’ beliefs is widespread and could be characterized as a basic Aussie value – a subset of the “fair go”.

The sorts of aims outlined above seem to be heavily informed by the well-documented positions of Richard Dawkins and other “New Athiests”. I’m not a particular fan of Dawkins et al. I agree with many of the arguments they have presented. I do not agree with the sarcasm, condescension, and general ridicule that pervades their work. It actively devalues the inherent "superior" position that is posited. If the argument is that good, why does it need to be coloured with such disdain? Yes, there are Christians who I could run intellectual rings around. So what? I’m quite sure there are atheists out there of whom I could say the same. There are strange elements in any movement you care to name. I have the distinct pleasure to know many Christians who are highly intelligent and whose critical faculties are nothing short of superb. (If, dear reader, you’re a member of the Lifestream congregation, or if your name is Laurel, then yes, I’m probably talking about you. Applause!)

Dr Frame makes a very cogent and reasonable argument that a truly secular society, as we have in Australia, should not abide religious intolerance of any stripe. Radical atheism does not improve the reputation of athiesm overall; by its very stridence it runs the risk of falling afoul of the same intolerance and intelluctual blindness that it ascribes to theism.

I regret to admit that I was halfway down this path of “radical atheism” (to borrow a term from Douglas Adams). I continue to firmly hold that my stance as an avowed atheist is correct and reasonable. I absolutely maintain that the theory of evolution is empirically correct. (You may believe that acceptance of evolution creates many issues for your particular brand of theism. With my tongue only halfway in my cheek – if you do have that problem, then it is your problem, and if it leads you to start questioning the literal truth of all of the Bible, then I’ll stand back and hold that door open for you.)

I do not endorse intolerance expressed in any creed, belief, or non-belief, system. To paraphrase Dr Frame, a secular society should respect the differing viewpoints of its citizenry and embrace them as contributing to the whole. Being a part of a democratic society gives us all the right to express our views, in politics, education and public discourse. Input from the religious sphere is completely valid and has the unique characteristic of providing a moral and ethical viewpoint that otherwise could be overlooked. Rabid intolerance in the name of atheism is, in my view, worse than the same behaviour from established religions. They have an excuse; they are instructed to evangelise and proselytise. Atheism, as a rationalistic viewpoint, should be more moderate.

As a science-fiction fan and aspiring author, I’ve observed with enormous interest the various debates about the moral application of scientific advances. Stem-cell research and cloning are two such highly controversial areas. This is a topic that probably deserves a post in its own right, but it’s becoming clear that the capabilities of the human race are fast outstripping our ability to deal properly with the consequences. We’re heading for a sharp clash between technical capability advances and ethical frameworks, as medical technology in particular becomes more and more of an information technology. Information technology doubles in terms of return of power on investment every twelve to eighteen months; this has been well-established since the 1950s and has remained absolutely consistent. As technologies become more based in IT, they get picked up by this curve and the advances they present come more quickly. On one hand, if computer technology had to pass a public dialogue regarding its ethics and morality, then we’d still have the technology of the 1970s (at best). However I’m increasingly of the view that it is vital to society’s best interests to have the open, public debate on the moral and ethical applications of advances in biotech, at the least. It’s my prediction that biotech and IT are going to converge radically in the near future, and if we think we have moral and ethical issues now, then whoa boy, we’re in for a ride. Anyone for a debate on the implications of allowing self-replicating nanotech into the human body to repair damage, enhance intelligence, and improve physical performance? We’re in for some fun then (and I use the word advisedly).

So who could be counted upon to be the voice of fundamental morality and conservatism in such debates? The religious sector, naturally. And that, to me, is entirely welcome.

Thank you, Dr Frame.