Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada -- Ottawa Centre statement on Evolution

Position on Science and Evolution

A Position Statement of the

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Ottawa Centre


Science & Evolution

Approved by RASC Ottawa Centre Council, April 26, 2007

The RASC Ottawa Centre supports high standards of scientific integrity, academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also respects the scientific method and recognizes that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypotheses, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The RASC Ottawa Centre, then, is unequivocal in its support of contemporary evolutionary theory that has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been refined by findings accumulated over 140 years.

Some dissenters from this position are proponents of non-scientific explanations of the nature of the universe. These may include “creation science”, “creationism”, “intelligent design” or other non-scientific “alternatives to evolution”. While we respect the dissenters’ right to express their views, these views are theirs alone and are in no way endorsed by the RASC Ottawa Centre. It is our collective position that these explanations do not meet the characteristics and rigour of scientific empiricism.

Therefore the science agenda of the RASC Ottawa Centre and its publications will not promote any non-scientific explanations of the nature of the universe.

Hat tip to Pharyngula

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Yesterday's International Herald Tribune also ran the article (2831792) Japanese shopping center mascot accidentally named for slang term used to describe gay-themed manga. Since this is Japan, he is now wildly popular with nation's youth

A few years ago the Asashi Evening News rolled itself into the International Herald Tribune and got a major boost in quality and quantity. A much better paper was forged out of this. Especially when compared with the typo-heavy Daily Yomiuri. Anyway the Asahi website has the full article: : KYOTO: Queer coincidence turns shopping center's mascot into 'otaku' superstar - ENGLISH

It appears that there is a local shopping street in the area around a shrine in Kyoto (please, kyo-toe, not Ki-yoh-toe. Write your MP) needed a mascot and a young girl designed one.

801-chan, pronounced "Yaoi-chan," is the mascot for the Misonobashi 801 shopping district, not far from Kyoto's World Heritage Kamigamojinja shrine. And true to its roots, the character was inspired by Kyoto-grown vegetables.

But what really made the mascot an unexpected smash with young otaku geeks is the accident of its name. "Yaoi," which was chosen by locals as a pun on the shopping center's name, is also a slang term for a cult genre of manga comics on homosexual themes.

If you're wondering about Yaoi it's because of the Japanese and Chinese pronunciations of the numbers (8 -- yattsu -- ya, 0 -- English 'O' and 1 -- ichi -- 'i'). It's done with phone numbers a lot as well.

But in February 2006, strange things began to happen. Suddenly
Misonobashi 801's Web site was getting 20,000 hits and over 100 e-mail
messages a day.

"Most of the shoppers who visited our area were oblivious to
801-chan," he added. "We were kind of suspicious whether the popularity
was actually there."

Then in the fall an 801-chan fan began running a comic strip
on a blog and it became a hit. A publisher contacted the association
seeking clearance to publish the manga comic in book form.

The association was surprised but agreed, hoping the publicity would bring in business.

"Tonari no 801-chan" (801-chan next door) came out in December. The response was immediate.

The comic book became a runaway hit, selling more than 100,000
copies. According to Haruna Nakae at Ohzora Publishing Co., which
handled the book, "It is extremely rare to see a book from a
non-general genre sell this well."

Some stores in the otaku hangouts of Akihabara and Ikebukuro
districts in Tokyo sold 500 copies of the 801-chan book in a month.

Now think of what would happen in the States if this happened? Why Jerry Fallwell would rise from his grave and wander the land in search of someone to blame.

Oh, wait, he already has:

Pharyngula: The restless spirit of Jerry Falwell roams the world, possessing people

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Today's Japanese Lesson

Because I've just started to post at Vox as well as Blogger, I thought I'd cross post this to the other blog.
Kansai (関西) -- the region of western Japan including Kyoto, Nara, Osaka
and Kobe and environs -- has it's own dialect of Japanese that is
significantly different to the (Tokyo) standard. Like all countries,
people speak differently from place to place. The differences can be
subtle, as in Southern Ontario vs Northern Michigan, or they can be
blatant enough to be noticeable to non-native and native speakers alike,
as comparing Middlesbrough, Newfoundland and Texas might demonstrate.
Kansai-ben is probably closer to the Middlesbrough to London type of
comparison, with Kansai being Middlesbrough for our purposes.
So here is today's East meets West comparison
English: Thank you.
Tokyo Dialect: Arigato Gozaimasu (有り難うございますor ありがとうございます)
Kansai Dialect: Maido Okini (毎度おきに.)
Please feel free to use this with family and friends

The Eternal Gaijin
Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan
"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Friday, May 25, 2007

An excellent speech on current issues in terrorism

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Towel Day.

It's already the 25th here, and it's raining a bitch so a towel will be monumentally useful all around.
Remember Adams.

Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

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A little more Hovind for the day

Pharyngula has a little rundown on our Flintstone Paleontologist friend, Mr Kent Hovind.

Pharyngula: Kent Hovind, working on his "world's most obnoxious prisoner" title

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They Shouldn't Ask, Who Cares If You Tell?

The Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy in the US military is one of those things that I don't get. It seems that every time a group want to integrate into the military and society as a whole, some narrow-minded jackass (often toting a Bible) starts braying on against it.
Some of the opposition to gays serving openly in the military seems to echo the hoo-ha over the integration of blacks into the military, including the ideas of unit cohesion, operational needs, and not using the military as an instrument of social change.
The current administration in the States seems to think that homosexuality is so wrong that weakening the core skills needed in the Middle East is more reasonable than repealing the DADT policy.
I've found a good little rundown here:

Brilliant at Breakfast
So what are the actual risks of having gays in the military? Surprisingly small, actually.
Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue.

The Ministry of Defense does not compile figures on how many gay men and lesbians are openly serving, and it says that the number of people who have come out publicly in the past seven years is still relatively low. But it is clearly proud of how smoothly homosexuals have been integrated and is trying to make life easier for them.

So why is this not trumpeted?
Nonetheless, the issue is extremely delicate now. The military does not want to be seen bragging about the success of its policy when the issue can still cause so much anguished debate in the United States.

Ah, I see.
Ultimately there's no real reason for this crap, this abrogation of human rights and freedoms. It should end.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Go Hugh

Hugh Laurie was made an OBE yesterday: Arts - Hugh Laurie honoured with OBE

So who can forget him in Blackadder the Third?


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Vincent Bugliosi on the Kennedy Assasination

This video gives the long version of Penn and Teller yelling, "Bullshit!"

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Just a quick note about Christian Terrorism

I guess that's me. It's me enough, anyway.

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Spiritual Atheist




Angry Atheist


Militant Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

You could just run this list on and on and on and...

Nice list of self-contradictory thoughts from the Republican Party:

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): To Be a Good Republican, You Must Believe ..

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Monday, May 21, 2007

A day in the bureaucracy

Yesterday I became the first person in my family to hold a driver's licence from another country when I managed to exchange my Ontario-issued licence for a Japanese one. However every little accomplishment comes with a price. And in Japan that price is usually a day of your life and most shreds of patience. Japanese bureaucrats could teach a lesson in how to be help-empty to everyone short of the Indians. (If you have doubts about the bureaucratic nature of India, buy a train ticket in Bangalore heading to Hospet. Go on. We'll wait.)
There's a tendency with the Japanese bureaucracy to publish 4/5 of the information you need to get what you want. There seems to always be a hidden thing that they want that you don't have that no-one anywhere knows you need.
I ended up at the Osaka Licence Testing Centre yesterday with a British compatriot to exchange our home licences for Japanese. The fun begins.
We went to window 6, remember this number it will be important. The first thing was to be given, in a very unencumbered by human interaction sort of way, half-translated forms asking us for the history of our driving licences including the names of driving schools and date of issue. Filling these out was fun, in an unencumbered by fun sort of way. Part of the uplifting of my spirits was asking the issue and expiry date of my current licence which they still had behind the counter. Interesting challenge.
We went back to Window 6 and presented our application forms, endured a slight rebuke  for not completing the forms exactly. Great. Then the fun.
You see, DA, my compatriot here, has a British Driving Licence issued by the DVLA. It consists of a single card with his picture on it and lists the types of vehicle he's licenced. He did not have, however, a copy of his Compliment Licence, a piece of paper outlining the same material and is of dubious existence. Not having a copy of it anywhere, not owning one, not sure it's a real piece of paper, DA was at a bit of a loss about what to do next. My papers were accepted.
But there was the lunch break. So I was left wandering about the wilderness of eastern Osaka until about 1400h.
And then it was back to window 6.
There was a problem that I couldn't prove I'd been in Canada. My licence was issued when I was back in Canada in March. I was in the UK before that. And according to my passport I may have been in the US since 2004; I say that because I entered to go to a conference in Sept 2004, but they don't stamp you out of the country. Eventually they accepted that I had been in Canada.
So they sent me back to the waiting area for 4 minutes to wait for no reason, and then to window 3 to get an eye test. For most of you there's no linguistic crisis associated with an eye test but when I'm looking at the little 'c' mark in the viewer I'm hoping not to accidentally say 'migi' when I mean 'hidari.' Or worse, 'aka' when I mean 'ki-iro.'
At the end of the test the eye test guy, two steps of activity below the level airport x-ray machine attendant, reminded me that I needed to wear glasses when I drive. I muttered that I need my glasses to make coffee so I can probably remember them when I drive.
I was sent back to the waiting area for 5 minutes ("for no reason") then back to Window 6. At Window 6 my eye test results were taken in and I was reminded about the glasses and driving. I commented that I probably couldn't find the car without them anyway, and was asked to go back to the waiting area and wait to be called for having my picture taken.
After about 10 minutes someone came by and brought me to another room where I was asked to sit and wait for 5 minutes until I would be brought to one of the 3 unoccupied photo-booths. It took one minute to take my picture and I shown back to my chair to wait until the licence card was ready. Upon receiving it I was reminded that I needed to wear glasses when driving. I commented that this was the first time I'd heard such a thing, but I would remember it.
I was shown back to the waiting room and asked to wait 5 minutes and I could go.
And that's how you spend the best part of a day of your life getting a drivers licence.

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

In 'honour' of the man himself

Ah, Falwell. Is there a more polarizing figure?
Well, Christopher Hitchens, really do you mind if I call you Chris, Chris Hitchens is at it again. He's been handed a gold mine by having Falwell's death show up just as he's touring in support of his book. What does he have to say?
Well, he's written an article:
Jerry Falwell, faith-based fraud. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine
And he's got a soundbite friendly bit on YouTube:

Pharyngula has a link to a song that sums up Falwell pretty well.
Pharyngula: Just seems appropriate today, for some reason
Oh, I still don't miss him.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can't miss him. Won't miss him. Happy he's gone.

Very few human beings would I rejoice in seeing dead. A larger number it doesn't trouble me that they're gone. Many more I'm happy I'm alive.
Our friend Jerry Fallwell is one who bridges the first 2 categories.
From Boing Boing is a collection of Falwell's bullshit. Enjoy

Boing Boing: Falwell's stupidest quotes, direct from hell

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Hitchens

It's starting to look like a love-fest but he's the main game out there at the moment when it comes to a good mix of erudition and self-promotion.
That said, I think his position on the Iraq War is untenable.
In this clip Sean Hannity comes off as a ninny who hadn't even bother to memorize his talking points. I don't know if it's editing or if he did end the segment this way, but the little snip at the end "There is a god." smelt of cheap shot and desperation.

onegoodmove: Hannity / Hitchens

Mr Hannity - Counter Point:

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Happy Birthday, George Dennis Carlin.

One of the funniest men in my lifetime (and slightly before it as well).

101 Greatest George Carlin Quotes


8.  You can’t fight City Hall, but you can goddamn sure blow it up.

10. Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember
that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

17. Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible
man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every
minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific
things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these
things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and
smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and
burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

And of course:

26.  The IQ and the life expectancy of the average American recently passed each other in opposite directions.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

A follow-up on that proselytizing teacher

Over at Pooflingers Anonymous, Matt has a follow-up post on the results of a particularly egregious teacher-proselytizing-the-students story.
Some, predictably including the dude's lawyer, think the teacher is the victim. I'll repeat that: some people think the teacher is the victim.
Check out the post.

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

The Vanity Press: Flat Earth

There's a good review of a book called Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, by Christine Garwood here:
I actually learned a bit from the review. Looking forward to the book itself.
There are some interesting parallels between Flat Earthers of the Victorian period and Anti-evolutionist clown show of ours. (I'm thinking of Dr. Flintstone here)
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I think that says it all

There's probably some irony involved here. Think of it: a country that now pushes abstinence-only education once used Donald Duck to push condoms on soldiers. It's like finding out the Flintstones used to push cigs.

My, how times change.

Boing Boing: WWII poster of Donald Duck upset because he has no condom

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Imaginary Nanotech of the North Spooks U.S. Defense Officials

I must have tapped into the one day zeitgeist because the articles just keep flying on the 'spy coins' front.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

MC Hawking -- the last word on creationism

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

A Quick Atheism and Religion Rundown for the Day

A Brief History of Disbelief
P. Zed Myers mentioned A Brief History of Disbelief the other day. He was having some problems find it in his area. Seems that it's causing a bit of controversy in the US, surprisingly. (Pharyngula: Flex your muscles a little, infidels)
He pushes people to protest and push for this series.
Either way, this is probably a good time to contact your local public broadcasting station and tell them you'd like to see them pick up this program, and pretty please, don't show it at 3am. Let's let the godless demographic make itself known, politely but firmly.
It's not like we're lobbying Fox News. Don't you all suspect that public broadcasting's viewership is skewed our way? All it takes is a phone call, so let's make our existence known in this simple and unthreatening matter.

I've seen A Brief History and I can say that Miller's style is slow, measured, uncontroversial in that languid BBC way.
I did like seeing Theoden from Lord of the Rings reading the quotes from Seneca, Hobbes, Epicurus et al.
If the program isn't available in your area, push for it to be screened. If you're in Canada this should be a dawdle. Let's face it, the CBC will never run from a good controversial documentary, whilst ironically churning out safe, middle of the road, middle funny sitcoms.
Stranger Fruit brings us a scan of this Letter to the Editor that's really, really, really, you add as many more 'reallys' as you need to, scary.
Rational Response Squad vs. Cameron and Comfort. C and C Devotion Factory got skunked.
Why do I keep The Guardian in my RSS feeds? It's a good paper, has good coverage and allows me to keep up somewhat with goings on in my force-adopted country. What to make, then, of this article (
Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it) about the latest in non-theistic publication. There are some real problems with it from the headline
The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it
straight on down the line.
It's an extraordinary publishing phenomenon - atheism sells. Any philosopher, professional polemicist or scientist with worries about their pension plan must now be feverishly working on a book proposal. Richard Dawkins has been in the bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic since The God Delusion came out last autumn following Daniel Dennett's success with Breaking the Spell. Sam Harris, a previously unknown neuroscience graduate, has now clocked up two bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Last week, Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything was published in the US. The science writer, Matt Ridley, recently commented that on one day at Princeton he met no fewer than three intellectual luminaries hard at work on their God books.

Okay, now let's be generous and include The Pagan Christ and a couple of books by Robert Price on the list to bring it to, what, a dozen? So this new wave, Noachian flood if you will, is a dozen new books in 2-3 years and that's a phenomenon worth sweating over? Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see an increase in atheist and questioning in writing. But what the hell? Have you seen the amount of 'Left Behind' crap out there?
And it's a very ill-tempered debate. The books live up to their provocative titles: their purpose is to pour scorn on religious belief - they want it eradicated (although they differ as to the chances of achieving that).

For a response, see the link above to the Letter to the Editor.

In a way, there's an upside on the Republican Prez debates the other day: 7/10 candidates professed some belief or acceptance of evolution. The prevarications of John McCain aside, I mean.
The Wall of Separation » Blog Archive » Monkey Business: Are Conservative Positions On Origins Finally Evolving?
It’s good to know that not all conservatives these days have adopted the Religious Right’s anti-science views. But we don’t seem to hear much out of them. Perhaps they should consider speaking up a little more often.

And for those who wondered where the condemnation from the Muslim world of OBL and the Al-Qaeda network has been:
Informed Comment
Tom Friedman is a Middle East expert who knows a lot about Islam. Why, then, does he keep saying misleading things? He wrote in his latest column, "To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."

The Wall of Separation » Blog Archive » Teacher Gets An ‘F’: Appeals Court Affirms Right Of Public School To Stop Classroom Proselytism
Teacher Gets An ‘F’: Appeals Court Affirms Right Of Public School To Stop Classroom Proselytism
May 8th 2007
Public school faculty are expected to devote their energies to teaching whatever subject they have been assigned, not engaging in efforts to change the religious views of their students.

It's about frikkin' time this sort of thing got sorted out in the US.

Richard Dawkins was on the Ceeb the other day on George Stroumboupoulous's show The Hour.
Richard Dawkins on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC

Richard Dawkins is an outspoken atheist, secular humanist, and sceptic.
He thinks church is 'absurd' and has to do more with morals than religion. His recent book, 'The God Delusion,' was prostested and critized by religious leaders the world over.
To him, the Bible is fiction, faith is a virus and God is no different from the tooth fairy.

If there's a petition to knock a few 'u's out of Stroumboulpoulous's name, please sign it. It kills my WPM whenever I hit that speedbump.
And a day without Hovind is a day without sunshine...

Pharyngula: Kent Hovind begins to find a conscience
Kent Hovind begins to find a conscience

No I don't think so.
Maybe. In his latest epistle from prison, Hovind has suddenly realized that the right-wing Christian position is unjust. It would be nice if he were undergoing a little actual consciousness-raising, but I expect it has more to do with his "me, me, me" attitude and the awful realization that he is the subject of his own old black-and-white beliefs.

The Panda's Thumb: The Hovind Saga Continues
The Hovind Saga Continues

Hitchens, Sharpton and Faith - The Empire Zone - N.Y. / Region - New York Times Blog

You could tell from the background music that played beforehand – alternating recordings of James Brown and Gregorian chant – that this was going to be an unusual debate.
The question under debate (“Is God great?”) and the speakers — two men who are often depicted in harsh caricatures by their critics — might have caused some to expect something like a circus. Perhaps surprisingly, it turned out to be the public intellectual event of the evening, a bit like Bertrand Russell vs. C. S. Lewis.
Taking the atheist position was Christopher Hitchens, the journalist and author of a new book arguing that “religion poisons everything.” In defense of God was none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton, a man of the cloth who is perhaps even better known for his political and civil rights activism than for his training as a preacher.
Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Sharpton engaged in a sold-out debate tonight before a crowd that packed the Celeste Bartos Forum at the New York Public Library’s Beaux-Arts headquarters on Fifth Avenue. The polite but vigorous discussion was moderated by Jacob Weisberg of Slate Magazine, who began by asking Mr. Hitchens, “What have you got against God?”

And that's that for the day. A little bit of fodder for thought.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bug Report

Thru' the Bad Astronomy Blog

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language - By Randall Munroe

URL for this image:

Link to image.

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Remember Those Bugged Canadian Quarters. Please Forget Them.

Remember the Poppy Quarters that came out for Remembrance Day back in 2005 (I've still got one somewhere, 2 international moves later) and had a small poppy painted on them, hence the name. It was a special edition quarter of limited circulation, and available Well, FOX News remembers the hysteria and gives the rundown.
Even the Americans have to admit that this was just a case of what my Dad calls, "Good, old fashioned Yankee overkill."
Oh, and the mysterious 'nanotechnology' present on the coins? Plastic coating to keep the poppy from rubbing off.
Check out the link: - 'Poppy Quarter' Behind Spy Coin Alert - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum
Bonus Point and Laugh:

Extra Bonus:
Boing Boing has a similar story on an external link.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Torture of the Grave

This article (The torture of the grave Islam and the afterlife - International Herald Tribune) appeared in the International Herald Tribune on the weekend.
The interesting thing about it is how this belief adds a layer of incentive to making a short cut, any short cut, through to paradise.
Everyone knows, of course, that after death martyrs go straight to the Garden of Eden, where they recline on couches, savor meats and fruits and enjoy the company of dark-eyed houris while listening to the sound of flowing rivers.
But what happens to the vast majority of Muslims, those who do not die as martyrs?

Let's not worry about what the houris are at the moment, despite any dispute that may still linger. The real point is:
According to Islamic doctrine, between the moment of death and the burial ceremony, the spirit of a deceased Muslim takes a quick journey to Heaven and Hell, where it beholds visions of the bliss and torture awaiting humanity at the end of days.

In the grave, the deceased Muslim - this composite of spirit and corpse - encounters two terrifying angels, Munkar and Nakir, recognized by their bluish faces, their huge teeth and their wild hair.
These angels carry out a trial to probe the soundness of a Muslim's faith. If the dead Muslim answers their questions convincingly and if he has no sin on record, then the grave is transformed into a luxurious space that makes bearable the long wait until the final judgment.
But if a Muslim's faith is imperfect or if he has sinned during life by, for example, failing repeatedly to undertake purity rituals before prayer, then the grave is transformed into an oppressive, constricting space.

Think of it as hell under earth.
I hadn't heard of this before. It seems an extra data point in the mix of the psychology of a suicide bomber.
Given an extra layer of hell before Hell, it's hard not to see how people wouldn't want to do any kind of end run around it with a suicide vest.
If you believe that sort of thing.

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Fanatical Atheists: A defence. In The Ottawa Citizen.

Wow. The same paper that runs David Warren's risible column ran this column (Those fanatical atheists) in defence of the new(ish) trend of forthright questioning of religion in the media area. You have to like an opening paragraph like this:

Yesterday was one major religion's holy day. Today is another's.
Tomorrow is a third's. So I thought this is an opportune moment to say
I think all three of these faiths -- these mighty institutions, these
esteemed philosophies, these ancient and honoured traditions -- are
ridiculous quackery.

We're with you. Dawkins, Harris, et. al. have a point when they say we should hold religion to the same standards we expect from other areas of life. The ongoing deference to religion as if someone believing something without evidence makes it beyond questioning should end.

Private, quiet faith is one thing. But when the guy holding the launch
codes believes the end of the world could come any day and that's a
good thing, those who believe lives are limited to one per customer
have a problem.

Hear, hear.

Have you had this experience? I made a quip for a corporate newsletter profile about my goals in life: 'I want to live forever. So far, so good.' It's a cute comment, a throwaway really. A co-worker dropped by to let me know there was a way to live forever through 'accepting Christ as your personal...'

'Trainer? Cause I could use to boost my cardio.' That didn't end the conversation; mission unaccomplished.

Until I left, there were the occasional, awkward conversations where I would more or less joke about being a heathen and she would let me know that the Kingdom Halls everywhere are open to everyone.

I'd like private faith to remain private, especially in the workplace.

Anyway, on believing without evidence:

This is completely contrary to how we live the rest of our lives. We
demand proof of even trivial claims ("John was the main creative force
behind Sergeant Pepper") and we dismiss those who make such claims
without proof. We are still more demanding when claims are made on
matters that are at least temporarily important ("Saddam Hussein has
weapons of mass destruction" being a notorious example).

So isn't
it odd that when claims are made about matters as important as the
nature of existence and our place in it we suddenly drop all
expectation of proof and we respect those who make and believe claims
without the slightest evidence? Why is it perfectly reasonable to roll
my eyes when someone makes the bald assertion that Ringo was the
greatest Beatle but it is "fundamentalist" and "fanatical" to say that,
absent evidence, it is absurd to believe Muhammad was not lying or
hallucinating when he claimed to have long chats with God?

Go for it. Start asking people to back up their claims. Tell me how I'm going to live forever through Jesus, but don't mention the Bible when you formulate your proof.

Crickets chirping.

Cool. Go away and start looking stuff up.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

I have got to stop watching YouTube

Calvin and Hobbes parody. I'm a huge fan of Calvin and was saddened when Watterson retired.
This disturbs me, but now we have the definitive answer about Hobbes.

Tip O' The Hat and Wag O' the Finger to Fark
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jack the Ripper and the Limits of Human Knowledge

Something that's been bugging me for a while is Jack the Ripper. Perhaps not so much in a literal he-lives-next-door-and-plays-his-music-too-loud-at-4-am-and-his-dog-shits-on-my-doorstep sense but more in a I've-bumped-into-Jack-related-info-recently-and-I-find-myself-less-convinced-every-day sense.

When we first moved back to Canada I pulled Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed from the ol' Ottawa Public Library.

Let me back up. It was a little before this, still in Japan in those days, that I saw From Hell which put forth the notion of the Royal Family involvement and merged it with the second theory of Freemason involvement. There were some short docs on the special features which briefly discussed some of the theories. I read the original graphic novel a while later (don't you wish Kinokuniya books had chairs like Chapters?)

Now let's face it, it's not like that was my intro to Saucy Jack. The image and legends abound in our society, from the Michael Caine TV mini-series in 1988 to Star Trek's Jack the Ripper episode (you know: Scotty on trial, Jack was an alien entity)

A year or two later I came back to Canada and read Cornewll's bood. Okay now we're back to chronology.

There were some documentaries from time to time on the Discovery Channel, people talking, pub talk about goes on.

In September my wife and I took my folks on a Jack the Ripper walk in London's East End, including by the Ten Bells and the Whitechapel church across the street from it that gives the area it's name. We ended in Mitre Square when the guide, who is also a Beefeater at the Tower of London, gave us his theory. Freemasons, and he named the guy. It's not important, except that the guide was also a Freemason so he knew a few things about the rituals and their parallels in the killings.

And so on: Discovery Channel :: News - History :: Jack the Ripper ID'd by Historian

An eminent South African historian believes he has stumbled on the identity of Jack the Ripper.

Charles van Onselen said at first he wasn't sure he wanted to publicize the conclusions he drew when he noticed parallels in the century-old, unsolved Ripper case and the background of Joseph Silver, who terrorized women as "King of the Pimps" in Johannesburg.

So a South African historian has found that Jack the Ripper was actually South African? Amazing. As amazing as the fact that a Freemason sees Freemasonry in the killings. Or someone with republican leanings seeing a Royal involvement.

Scores of people have been accused of the Ripper murders, but no one has ever been proven guilty and London police put the number of most likely suspects at just four, among them a poor Whitechapel resident named Kosminski who, like Silver, was a Polish Jew. At the time, Londoners speculated the killer was Jewish, leading to fears of an anti-Jewish backlash.

Van Onselen believes Silver fits the psychological profile of the Whitechapel murderer and he places his subject at the center of the scene of the Ripper murders. The evidence that Silver was in Whitechapel at the time of the Ripper murders includes the birth of his daughter there, van Onselen said.

But that's the point, isn't it? There are a half dozen historical and traditional suspects and little evidence left.

And from there Jack the Ripper becomes a historical Rorschach print, free of restricting detail and constraints and open for everyone to graft their own views onto.

There are a half dozen or so 'traditional' suspects (List of proposed Jack the Ripper suspects - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) (Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Suspects) All of them have a few points in their favour and a few counter-arguments against their guilt.

Patricia Cornwell's book accusing Walter Sickert of being the Ripper is based on 'if' after 'could' after 'should.' I found myself noticing hour the potential problem with Sickert's penis possibly causing embarrassment and perhaps impotence and maybe even a loathing of women could have pushed him toward the killings. Umm, okay.

There are a few things around the whole process I don't accept about Ripperologists and their work. How do we prove anything about the suspects? Consider:

  1. There wasn't solid investigation, not by modern standards.
  2. There's dispute over whether or not medical knowledge was needed for the mutilations.
  3. Parts of the police archives were hit in the London Blitz destroying some of the Ripper evidence.
But most importantly, the flaw I find with every suspect:

Everyone assumes that the culprit is someone still known to history.

It is the sad fate of the majority of people to be lost to history. There's no shame in it; that's life. Even in today's world, few of our names will stay much longer than our deaths.

Consider this point, the surviving names from the original investigation tend to be locals with a small reputation or suspects in other murders. Later suspects are people of increasing fame: Prince Albert Victor, Lewis Caroll (where's the WTF? punctuation mark, anyway?), Walter Sickert, Sir William Gull, etc.

The further we get from the era of the Ripper, the less evidence survives; the greater the distance in time the greater the stature of the suspects or the further afield the come from.

Don't get me wrong: one of the list could be the culprit. Still, it could be someone else.

What does it mean? Ultimately it places the identity of Jack the Ripper in the category of unknowable things. A known unknown in the language of Donald Rumsfeld.

Certain things in the world and in history are probably not knowable.

Recently I was reading about Constantine the Great. Although in 326 he had his son Crispus executed then shortly after his wife Fausta as well, many historians debate the reason. Did Crispus rape Fausta as accused or was she trying to secure a better position for her sons? Who knows?

Historical Jesus? Was there a 1 AD Britannica Yearbook we can check? No.

Steven Pinker had a throwaway comment in How the Mind Works to the effect that it's likely we won't really understand consciousness in humans, if only because the tool is the same as the subject. Using consciousness to dissect consciousness is like using glass to cut glass.

In the end, we should never stop trying, never stop striving. We also need to accept that no matter how close we get on some questions we may never really get to the finish line.


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Friday, May 04, 2007

I need to buy a new coin purse.

The Royal Canadian Mint (I'm assuming the one on Sussex Drive in Ottawa) has announce a new coin with a face value of one meeellion dollars. (Yea, like I could resist that one.)

Spare any change? Canada unveils C$1 million coin | Oddly Enough | Reuters

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Loving the new Doctor Who

And for the Canadians out there, here's something with a Newfie touch.

From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Terrorism in the Blogosphere

I've been interested in terrorism since university, but haven't really been tracking it for a couple of years. However, the last couple of days I've seen a few things around here and there that highlighted a few things about terrorism that have rekindled a bit of interest.

First of all, a review of Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. (Link: Politics in the Zeros_archi »Blog Archive » Buda’s Wagon. A Brief History of the Car Bomb)

Interestingly enough, the first car bomb was used in the US in 1920 by a guy of Mario Buda. The weapon so tightly associated with Muslims and the Middle East, especially Iraqi outdoor cafes, is actually an American invention. It develops and comes back with a vengeance.

The Zionist Stern Gang used car bombs in the late 1940’s to blow up
buildings in Palestine in an attempt to drive out the British and
terrorize Palestinians. The Irgun and Haganah, underground Zionist
groups labeled as terrorists by the British, quickly followed suit. The
use of car bombs by Zionists represented a major step forward both in
the lethality of the bombs and their use as political weapons.

However, Palestinians and Arabs soon learned the technology and
responded with the same, prompting one of the founders of Israel,
Ben-Gurion, to say after the bombing of a Haganah headquarters, “I
couldn’t forget that ‘our’ thugs and murderers had blazed this trail.”

and the reviewer restates the ultimate problem with terrorism in general and car bombs in particular:

Davis makes it clear that car bombs, while sometimes achieving
short-term gains, generally lead to increased violence from the the
other side (or sides) thus creating ever more mayhem and dead
innocents. Using Iraq as an example, some car bombs are aimed at US
forces, others are specifically used to create Sunni-Shia divisions.
Islamic hardliners use car bombs to reinforce sectarian divisions
because they do not want nationalism to occur because that would mean
they’d then have no power base. Doubtless many other players there
don’t want nationalism either.

The backlash is always a major problem with any terror strategy as has been well documented.

Which somehow led me to the issue of domestic terrorism. I'm not sure why the US seems to ignore all its problems with internal groups. Can you imagine all of these militias aren't actually listed? Christian terrorism is not something the US likes to acknowledge (Talk To Action | Reclaiming Citizenship, History, and Faith).

Of course, the visceral hatred for abortion and Roe v Wade in the States means the society will accept anything that happens in the the name of Christ and the "Pro-Life" movement ( Anti-Abortion Movement/Feministe » The terrorism that dare not speak its name/“Pro-lifers” try to kill again in Austin at Pandagon)

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Corrected Post: Richard Dawkins Q&A at Randolph-Macon Women's College

It's always bad to be sloppy, whether you're tired or the dog's barking or whatever other distractions may be around.
This should be the reading he gave:

This video is 70min of Dawkins taking questions at R-MWC after his talk. It's not the whole presentation as I first posted.
Although some of the questions are familiar from shorter clips posted elsewhere, it's interesting to see the whole thing together and get a sense of the room in response to Dawkins and his ideas.
--  From:  The Eternal Gaijin  Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan  "Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."


This has been around for a while but I just found it again cruising YouTube.

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Christopher Hitchens on, a great compendium of links and multimedia files, has a few Christopher Hitchens clips up right now.

With his new book, Hitchens has decided to get involved in the religious debate. He's stubborn, occasionally inaccurate, and infuriating; he's also eloquent and thought-provoking.

On the Daily Show (onegoodmove: God Is Not Great) he crosstalked with Stewart about religion's value. Stewart

There's also a panel discussion that Hitchens participated in.

onegoodmove: Christopher Hitchens

onegoodmove: More Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens does a great job of demolishing any counter-arguments thrown at him.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Just a couple of comments

It's nice to see that theocracy is a bad thing for others:

The Wall of Separation » Blog Archive » Bauer’s About-Face: Religious Right Warrior Trumpets Secularism – For Turkey but is still okay for the US.

Does John McCain know that both the names League of Nations and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are already taken? McCain favors 'League of Democracies' - or that neither of them ends particularly well.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Denialism and Conspiracys

I good place to look at the Conspiratorial Mindset:

denialism blog : Conspiracy

Found through Pharyngula

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Unusual Plot Keywords from IMDB

I'm a big fan of the new Doctor Who shows. They're sharp, fun and occasionally scary. The British know one thing better than anyone: how use TV to scare the bejeebers out of kids.
From IMDB I found these keywords associated with Doctor Who:
Plot keywords for: "Doctor Who" (2005)
    * Extraterrestrial
    * Man With No Name
    * Regeneration
    * Unlikely Hero
    * Space Opera
    * Eccentricity
    * Girl Heroine
    * Doctor Hero
    * Action Heroine
    * Reincarnation
    * Tragic Hero
    * Fish Out Of Water
    * Space Hero
    * Conflict
    * Telephone
    * Dark Past
    * Telephone Booth
    * Telephone Box
    * Companion
    * Police Box
    * Sequel
    * Time Lord
    * Time Machine
    * Time Travel
    * Alien
    * Dalek
    * Gadget
    * Tardis
    * Cybermen
    * Torture
    * War
    * Bisexual
    * Parody
    * Religious Cult
    * Satire
    * Dark Hero
    * Anti Hero

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

That thing's not a muscle...

There's a growing amount of evidence and opinion that Abstinence-Only sex education is a failure and actually leads to higher rates of premarital sex, STDs and unwed pregnancy. So the football coach screaming "It's not a muscle; don't exercise it!" hasn't worked for the last 50 years? Really?

It's another triumph of ideology over reason to even think that you could take teenagers in the height of hormonal change and get them to 'Just Say No' in the parlance of another failed abstinence program of the 80's. We're not even wired to take drugs and that program didn't work; how could it be expected to work on what may be our single strongest instinct and compulsion?

Boggles the mind.

The Abstinence-Only Delusion - New York Times

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