Sunday, September 30, 2007

Can't help but love Blade Runner

1) It's a great movie, one of the best ever made.
2) Ridley Scott is from my wife's home town and the industrial landscapes at the beginning of the movie are based on the skyline there.

Q&A: Ridley Scott Has Finally Created the Blade Runner He Always Imagined
Q&A: Ridley Scott Has Finally Created the Blade Runner He Always Imagined

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Creationists strike back.

No matter how much time I spend on the intertubes, I just can't keep up with all the crap that falls out of the orang-utan run word processors of the right wing whack-a-doodles and the cretincreationists (yes, thank you, I do think that's clever). I can barely keep up with half the blogs that help me keep up with this stuff. So thank fully the denialism blog found this piece of Hovind-esque crap in the paper.

denialism blog : Creationists are idiots - Part 8,246,532
It's hard to even sort out all the idiocy, innumeracy, poor-reasoning and straw men arguments in this essay. But I think it illustrates, again, the fundamental dishonesty of intelligent design creationists. For one, none of us would make such incredibly stupid arguments that Sewell attributes to his evilutionist "friend". A computer simulation will never be sophisticated enough to model the whole planet and if it did, there is not some deterministic path that would replicate life as we know it. No one in their right mind thinks natural selection requires its own set of physics or is somehow inconsistent with the second law. And most embarrassing of all, Sewell fundamentally does not understand how entropy works, not even in living things apparently.

And that's just the summary. The article will roll your eyes so hard you'll see double for a week.
Note to morons: Reality is merciless. You have to confront it on it's own terms.
Bonus Funny:

onegoodmove: A Moment of House

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

UNESCO World Heritage Site in Shimane Pref.

Last week the wife and I ditched the dog (dog hotel, people!) and went
to Shimane prefecture at the start of last week. She'd been up on
business in July (and a typhoon) to Matsue and was excited by the town
and area. At the time the locally known site, Iwami Ginzan Kozan, was
being considered for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We
spent the night in Matsue, touring the castle and the Lafcadio Hearn
museum and former residence across the street.
Below: Matsue-Jo (Castle)

In the morning we trucked off to Iwami Ginzan
<> itself. Although it's about a 90min
to 2hrs to drive from Matsue, we got there without any real trouble.
The area around Iwami Ginzan is quite beautiful. Surrounded by forested
hills, the site runs from the Iwami Ginzan village about 2 km along a
small stream to the old entrance of the mine shaft. (koudou in Japanese;
mabu in the local parlance) . The mineshaft has been shored up and
expanded a bit from when it was shut down in the early part of the last
century, lighting and some minor signage (in Japanese only - now that
it's on the UNESCO list, English ) added.
Old refining ruins, temples and castle bits and pieces dot the walk back
down from the mine shaft area which leads back to a small village with a
large number of old style buildings, although some of the more historic
may be in need of a serious bit of Polyfilla and a lick of paint.
In a year or so, after new signage, parking and access improvements it
will be a captivating place to visit. It was fascinating enough now.

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

Memo to Tom Cruise: War of the Worlds was not, not a documentary

Not only is he tall and a great, diverse actor, he's in a real religion. With ET's attacking soon.
Cruise to 'build alien bunker' |
And that's why we say 'Tom-Cruise-Crazy'

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Jack Chick: serious scholar

You know every once in a while you realize that the English language is lacking sufficient punctuation marks. Yeah, there's the interrobang, but when was the last time you saw one of those in print? What's truly missing is a way of marking off sarcasm. I mean, Jack Chick‽ (I'm proud of myself: I held back on the obscene infix there)
Jack Chick has been doing his Chick-Tracts shtick for quite a while. Everyone knows him. He's a King James only type with a very, very literal view on everything. He also seems to like every conspiracy theory that even walks past him on the street. But his real mad-on comes when he hears about anything to do with science, secularism or the occult. Please don't ask how wide a net the word occult seems to cast.
Friend DEG has been sending me links to these things (esp. Big Daddy) for years.
Seems Jack has rediscovered the trend in Cretinism Creationism that's trying to account for the dinosaurs.
And the answer is Dino-burgers.
It's like the opening credits to the Flintstones.

Reason Magazine - Hit & Run &gt; That Burger Looks Suspiciously Like a Shish Kabob

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bill Maher saying it so you don't have to be stopped at the border and turned back mysteriously because you did.

The latest New Rules segment posted on One Good Move.
No virgin births and talking bushes, or special blessed underwear and gold plates. We're not the crazy ones.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Monday, September 24, 2007

I can only blame the Rev for this post

It's sorta his fault. And after all we've been through together!
A little while back the rev posts this over at his Woodshed and I couldn't help pondering a certain question: Where have I heard this name before? Kirk Durston. Where indeed?
And that lead to searching on the Intertubes. Which brought me to the old Pharyngula site:

Pharyngula::Creationist genetics
It's not just the US that is infested with creationists; take a look at Canadian Christianity. Like their southern brethren, they seem to be greatly concerned about homosexuals and evolution; I'm always astounded at how much conservative Christian identity is tied to the denial of civil rights and opposition to science. There are several juicy tidbits of benighted ignorance there, but I'm going to focus on one incredible claim made in an interview with a Kirk Durston, who is apparently a director of some Campus Chrusade for Christ ministry...which, apparently, means he is now a fully qualified creationist biologist.

What happens that gets ol' P.Zed's dander up? This:

Pharyngula::Creationist genetics
Durston, of course, obligingly buys into the interviewer's phony claim, but goes a little further and says something astounding.

It is very important to make a distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Micro-evolution has been known for thousands of years, with the first documented case occurring in Genesis, when Jacob [manipulated] his father-in-law's sheep and goat herd so he could get more striped and spotted livestock. Any examples of evolution we observe today fall into this category.

I quite agree that the breeding of domesticated animals is an excellent example of the transformation of populations with evolutionary consequences. Darwin himself wrote extensively about domesticated animals in his books, and considered them good supporting evidence for his ideas. But have you ever read the story of Jacob and his microevolutionary research program in genetic manipulation? It's amusing. Here it is:

"What should I pay you?" Laban asked. Jacob answered: "You do not have to pay me anything outright. I will again pasture and tend your flock, if you do this one thing for me:
11 go through your whole flock today and remove from it every dark animal among the sheep and every spotted or speckled one among the goats. Only such animals shall be my wages.
In the future, whenever you check on these wages of mine, let my honesty testify against me: any animal in my possession that is not a speckled or spotted goat, or a dark sheep, got there by theft!"
"Very well," agreed Laban. "Let it be as you say."
That same day Laban removed the streaked and spotted he-goats and all the speckled and spotted she-goats, all those with some white on them, as well as the fully dark-colored sheep; these he left. . . in charge of his sons.
Then he put a three days' journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to pasture the rest of Laban's flock.
Jacob, however, got some fresh shoots of poplar, almond and plane trees, and he made white stripes in them by peeling off the bark down to the white core of the shoots.
The rods that he had thus peeled he then set upright in the watering troughs, so that they would be in front of the animals that drank from the troughs. When the animals were in heat as they came to drink,
the goats mated by the rods, and so they brought forth streaked, speckled and spotted kids.
The sheep, on the other hand, Jacob kept apart, and he set these animals to face the streaked or fully dark-colored animals of Laban. Thus he produced special flocks of his own, which he did not put with Laban's flock.
Moreover, whenever the hardier animals were in heat, Jacob would set the rods in the troughs in full view of these animals, so that they mated by the rods;
but with the weaker animals he would not put the rods there. So the feeble animals would go to Laban, but the sturdy ones to Jacob.
Thus the man grew increasingly prosperous, and he came to own not only large flocks but also male and female servants and camels and asses.

This is the biblical science creationists want to put in our schools. How do you breed striped livestock? You let them look at striped sticks while they are mating, and then their offspring will be striped. Under this logic, we'll have to assume that white ceilings are a racist plot to breed more Caucasian children. And yet this creationist, in all seriousness, suggests this ridiculous story as an instance of Biblical microevolution and genetics.

I won't even get into the ethical lesson here, which seems to be that it is OK for Jacob to cheat his father-in-law, and that his reward is to own servants.

That helped me narrow it down, but I still didn't feel satisfied. So I put on my iPod and went to one of the lectures I downloaded from iTunesU (when was the last time I used the fracking thing to actually listen to music?) and, behold, I found my answer: the Does God Exist? debate from Queen's University. And that's when I knew this post was coming.
And that's when I started procrastinating. And I took a Japanese course. But I knew I'd be back to this.
Damn you, Rev, for hanging out red meat!
When I first started making notes about the debate I secretly hoped that I'd be able to relate that Adele Mercier (siding with Enlightenment) handed Rick Durston his ass. Alas, said ass-handing never came. Both sides made some decent points as well as their fuck ups. Durston's up-fucking was the usual litany of classics. Mercier's were tactical, with some nice heaping of straw making enemies.
The Debate Itself
There was a general introduction and welcoming of the speakers. There's really nothing to report here.
Opening Statement - Adele Mercier
Mercier's tone was one that seemed quite thoughtful at first. She had arguments from a philosophical point of view. This would haunt her later. Wait for it.
Mercier's opening salvo was on the dangers of faith; an all good, all knowing, personal God is incompatible with free will. Faith teaches you to accept easy answers. Thinking is hard and people are lazy.
On an unrelated point, any evidence for a god is evidence for all gods.
Mercier moves on to some of the leaps in logic that theists use.
First: if there is a god, the Bible was written by that god. If there is a god, this should have an impact on how you live your life.
Second: being good means following God. This is illustrated in the retelling of what Christopher Hitchens calls Abraham's long and gloomy walk with his son. It's a little hoary now, but it's a perfect illustration of what the problem is with the God-says-I-do-it's-all-okay mentality.
To illustrate that God cannot be all good and involved in the world Mercier chooses the example of Paul Bernardo (and there's your CanCon for the Canucks listening; for the non-Moosehead-drinking-frostbacked-Laura-Secord-eaters out there, Bernardo is the most notorious rapist-murderer in recent Canadian history)
The point is that God, knowing how he would turn out, created Paul Bernardo. Now the theist response is that God gave Bernardo free will. He could have chosen not to murder and dismember. Mercier considers this an insufficient response; God had a choice in how to make Bernardo. God could have aided a different sperm so 'Saul Bernardo' would have been born without Paul's proclivities.
Her next point was to that the theist response is always the same: Given that God is good, there must be a reason for this; there must be unforeseen eventual consequences that contribute to a greater good in the long run over the short term evil.
Indeed, as she points out this is the theme of a philosophy paper that Durston wrote. Durston later disputed her characterization of this paper saying it was merely beyond our knowing how it would turn out in the long run, so we have to reserve judgement on the overall goodness or badness of any action. I had to get out my TurboHairSplit-o-Matix 2000 to give a shit about the difference. While I do agree with Mercier that this attitude has a devastating effect on free will, I don't agree with her straw-man version of the article that in order to do good, we must do evil. Certainly we are not able to pass an opinion on actions as good or evil (walks just become long and gloomy) but it doesn't follow that doing evil has the opposite effect in the long term.
Anyway, disagreement over...
Mercier's conclusion is this: a god who is good, but doesn't do good is like a round square or gold not made of gold -- an impossible object.
Opening Statement: Kirk Durston
Durston starts with the idea that if we resulted from blind, material processes then life has no meaning. (It seems a leap to then say that if there is a meaning to life then God exists)
Durston leads in with his 2 basic arguments: first, the argument from SecY protein; second, the argument from personal experience.
SecY is a protein found in all life composed of 340 amino acid sequences. This protein could not have originated naturally thus opening up the possibility of God. Durston uses 5 propositions related SecY to prove this.
1) Intelligent agents can produce sequences requiring more than 50 bytes of information to encode.
2) Nature cannot produce information carrying sequences requiring more than 50 bytes.
3) SecY requires 84 bytes of information to encode.
4) SecY was sequenced by nature or intelligent agents
5) SecY must have been created by something - this something is God.
Durston says a lot of stuff about how if the universe were a quantum computer it would not be able to create SecY as it still would not have a sufficient number of cycles, based on this paper by Lloyd. I'm not sure that the universe is a computer, however.
I can't argue with much of his info as it just comes down to a bit of big number booga-boo.
I'll quote here and let someone else get shit off the shelves for me... Forum • View topic - Kinda weird ID question...
His argument here seems to be along the lines of 'well the sequence as it stands is highly complex and couldn't have arisen outside of a designer's intervention'. The hemoglobin superfamily (including most globin carrying proteins) displays very little sequence homology across the entire family yet almost all of them still manage to transport oxygen. Consequently, there are many ways to perform the same function and arguments about "the odds against" need to consider all possible proteins that can perform the same or similar function. Once you consider that sequence space then the 'complexity' required drops dramatically because any one of the sequences is interchangeable with any other for the purposes of a starting point for evolution of the protein. To clarify, the ancestral hemoglobin protein probably looked virtually nothing like the modern ones, it's only property was that it had a heme centre and could carry oxygen to some degree or another. Natural selection could then easily operate to improve that into the 4-part wonder that exists in all our red blood cells. For a far better rebuttal of such arguments than I could possibly hope to write, please consult Talk Origins link here starting at section 1.2.2. Specifically note that a simple gene can rapidly increase in complexity by duplication with subsequent divergent mutation. In summary, our friend Mr Durston hasn't come up with anything new. He has merely presented a slight variation on the old complexity canard and added a healthy dose of argument from personal incredulity. The fact that he does not personally know of a natural agent that can produce a sequence with more than 50 bits of information does not mean it does not exist and, additionally, his estimate of '50 bits of information' does not take into account all possible protein sequences that can perform the same or similar function. Hope that helps somewhat. Forum • View topic - Kinda weird ID question...
I heard this debate too and this Sec Y point drove me insance, it was handled badly by the opposition and no one in the audience picked up how ridiculous it was in the question time. Durston tried to get all hocus pocus with his protein sequencing jargon and pull the wool over everyone's eyes, but regardless of any scientific information, this set of propositions just doesn't hold up as anything vaguely logical. Durston seemed like an intelligent guy, so I was kind of disappointed when he brought this up. The first mistake he makes is by drawing his conclusion. He's basically saying (although not explicilty): -nature cant make anything requiring more than 56 bytes of information -intelligent beings can -sec y requires 86 bytes of information -therefore god exists. This is a total non sequitur. And also it's an argument from ignorance. Durston is basically saying just because HE can't work out how this protein is produced, God must have done it. The jump made in logic is ridiculous. The proposition could equally read: -nature cant make anything requiring more than 56 bytes of information -sec y requires 86 bytes of information -therefore nature CAN make protein sequences requiring more than 56 bytes of information My point is that it's quite likely that either Durston is oversimplifying his first proposition, or he doesn't fully understand it himself. To make Durston's argument, you would have to assume a God-like knowledge of protein sequencing, which we just don't have.

For a similar issue with molecular evolution, look here or here. While there's always another protein or gene to sequence, the basic pattern has been established as solid.
Durston's other proof was the weakest thing I had heard in years.
If one person has actually (in the philosopher's sense of real contact with a real thing) experienced God then God exists. This, I don't think, can be disputed. But, he's not going to...
So, of course, he has actually experienced God. But wait there's more...C.S. Lewis more...
He challenges the audience to assess whether he's lying, insane or truthful.
Keep in mind, he goes on to say that he's most meaningful relationship has been with God, not his wife. He goes on at length about this relationship.
But if you call now you get:
Everyone in this room has experienced God, when you appreciate something beautiful, or decry injustice. That's a taste of God.
Of course, the experience of God is never really explained beyond the I-got-a-warm-fuzzy level.
Advantage: Mercier - straw man version of Durston's sense of moral judgement aside, she never said anything as mind-numbing as the you've all had a "taste of god" thing.
20 Minute Rebuttals
Mercier in her rebuttal took the bait: Okay, Dirk (she'd taken to calling him 'Dirk' at this point), you're insane. Although she tried to bring in ideas about induced religious experiences in the lab and disturbances in the right temporal lobe and...aww there was no rescue. It was cheap and was beneath anyone.
Her response to the SecY (whatever the heck that is!) argument was dismissive. Again, she tried to mention incremental changes but was hand waved away by Durston without any real challenge from Mercier. It was a lapse on her part to not have researched anything about this beforehand, especially considering that his debating style and most of his points are out there:

ACA: Online Articles
Report on Intelligent Design Debate
Debate report: "Does God Exist?" - IIDB
Debate report: "Does God Exist?"
Although she did try to attack one of the premises behind the limiting of the number of operations the universe could have generated were it a computer by pointing out that the universe isn't a computer. It was obvious enough but she allowed him to hand wave the criticism away.
Philosophers should consult the biology department before walking headlong into some of these shots. It's always the same thing: like this comic.
Just another report on the whack-a-doodles out there. Listening to mind-numbing crap so you don't have to...

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Finally someone notices...

I know it's not my whinging that's highlighting the loss of personal freedom and the expansion of the nanny state into a police state-lite in the UK but I'm still taking credit for this:
A group of eminent lawyers and scientists is calling for anyone not convicted of a crime to have their details wiped from the DNA database.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said it is "unjustified" to keep people on the National DNA Database when they have not been convicted of any offence.
Fucking right...
There's even a call so that:
People who volunteer their DNA for elimination purposes, such as victims or witnesses, should have the right to ask for the DNA to be removed, said the council.
Can you believe they can't now? These days you can only ask, 'Where does it end?'
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Essays at The Edge

There are a series of short essays in response to Jonathan Haidt's essay Moral Philosophy and the Misunderstanding of Religion. Worth reading if only to see the range of responses from New Atheism (what ever that means).
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Terror and Torture Tuesday

1st Question: How good is the CIA?
    From its founding in aftermath of WWII and the OSS/CIG to the expulsion of James Jesus Angleton as the head of Counter-Intelligence, its record is spotty if you are in a very, very generous mood. A new book discusses. (Via The Register) Also rec'd Tom Mangold's Cold Warrior.
2nd Question: Is there any information about torture online?
    Turns out that OmniBrain covers the release of an old torture manual online. That is if you missed Boing Boing highlighting it. Of course the question of culpability is always up in the air, but it appears that somebody thinks torturers are liable for the way they treat people.
3rd Question: How goes personal freedoms in all this?
    Well, just to make sure we're all suspected of something, along comes a judge in the UK with this little ditty. I'm sure it'll help catch terrorists... I keep wondering what the hell is wrong with the UK. Oops, there go those freedoms we loved.
    So from the other side of terrorism, what motivates people. Poverty has long been debunked, at least on a personal level: Osama bin Laden is rich; the 9/11 hijackers were educated professionals, and the pattern goes on and on. We'll it looks like politics over piety in this article.
    Now if you are thinking that there is a link between terrorism and Islam in its fringe reaches (I'm looking at you Sam Harris), you'll be interested in efforts being made to help people leave Islam. It appears to be a reaction to 9/11 and the subsequent killings and ... stuff.
Another Question: How goes the GWoT?
In the wake of the Petraeust testimony in front of the American congress, it turns out there are other ways of looking at casualty data. Here's a second one.

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

I'm counting on somebody being offended by this...

HT to Cajoje Fame Eat Your Face
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blasphemy Friday

Somebody's got their panties in a bunch over this. I'm looking at you, Donohue. By the way, I'm an Irishman too, so shut up while I'm talking.
Remember: Blasphemy is a victimless crime.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Sam Harris Talk

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Homophobia Tuesday.

What is is about some people that makes them give a shit about what other people do in their bedrooms? Especially if they're in possession of similar plumbing? I only care if there's video available, but not that grainy, jittery internet shit... I'm drifting slightly. But the point remains...sorry I hadn't actually gotten to the point.
My point: how empty is your life that you worry about what two other people do in bed?
Empty lives like a certain bishop in Nigeria:

UPI reports:

The Anglican Bishop of Uyo, Rt. Rev. Isaac Orama, has condemned the activities of homosexuals and lesbians, and described those engaged in them as "insane people''. "It is scaring that any one should be involved in a thing like that and I want to say that they will not escape the wrath of God,'' he said. Orama told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) today in Uyo, that the practice, which has worsened over the years, was "unbiblical and against God's purpose for creating man''. Homosexuals - 2 "Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man,'' the Bishop said.
Via Dispatches from the Culture War
I'm glad that somebody in the Anglican Church...congregation...corporation...conglomoration...hive-mind is standing up and saying what needs saying about Teh Gay.
And it's not just conservative African churchmen! It looks like there's some Sinhalese support against all the support for Teh Gay in Sri Lanka. Cause when I think South Asian scene, I'm running straight to Nurala Eliya.

The article written in the Sinhala newspaper Divaina features a one page spread on homosexuality and effeminate men and the problems they face as they get older. The writer goes on to speak about the number of them that are into commercial sex work to make a living. The article goes on to make some damning accusations against the Gay organisations operating in Sri Lanka and of the gay community in general.


The writer says that instead of being against homosexuality in Sri Lanka, there are several organisations and societies in Sri Lanka who are working to promote
Via Equal Ground
If you get the chance, can you tell everyone involved to STFD, STFU, GBTW and get over themselves? Thanks, that's peachy. 'Kbye.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Monday, September 10, 2007

How hard is it to take video in secure areas?

Here's your answer

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

Oh, yeah, cause yoga is such a spiritual threat.

The Register reports:
Church hall bans 'unchristian' yoga for nippers
Young minds saved from spiritual perversion
A Somerset church has banned toddlers from practising yoga in its hall because the "unchristian" practice "promoted other spiritualities", the BBC reports.
Come on people, how fucking stupid is this? The worst thing that will come out of kids practicing yoga is that they'll turn into smelly hippies with a taste for tofu granola.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Just a small musical 'Cram a sock in it!' to our theocratic friendoids

A classic Canadian song from the 80s that I had almost forgotten.
Hooray for YouTube.

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

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Never, never, never fly Nepal Airlines

Not when this is the shit they pull.
--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."