Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Odd - Should You Get a Debaptism Certificate?

I'm not entirely sure what I think of this:

Debaptise Yourself!
It seems like tacitly asking for the approval of a church and a god that you don't actually believe exists. As someone who was born and baptised as a Catholic, I can say from my own experience that it's something you can get over -- much as you would get over a cold. Removing yourself from baptismal records seems like allowing the church to which you won't submit to still have a hold over you.
Still no harm, I just think it's a bit irrelevant. I certainly can't be arsed to trail myself all the way to Sydney to expunge myself from the records.

More here if you're interested.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Follow up on New Scientist

As it turns out, there's more coming in on the New Scientist article that got pulled.
New Humanist (what is it with the 'New' label anyway?) looks into where the legal complaint may have come from and suggests that they may have had no choice but to pull it down for the time being.
New Humanist Blog: So why did New Scientist pull that article?
News of the article's removal earlier this week triggered some strong reactions in the blogosphere, with many suggesting the magazine had caved in to creationist complaints. At the time I suggested that bloggers ought to stop and think for a moment – New Scientist had clearly received a legal complaint about the article, and had therefore had to remove it while that matter was addressed. This was surely a far more plausible explanation than them trying to avoid offending creationists.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The sickness creeps northward

No good can come of a Science Minister that can't say, "Yes, yes I do believe in evolution."
So what about Goodyear, our friend in Ottawa?
Is Canada’s Science Minister a creationist? | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine
Canadian Cynic: Gary Goodyear, meet shitstorm. Shitstorm, Gary.
'Canadian Science minister's coyness on evolution worries researchers' by CBC - RichardDawkins.net
Hopefully he'll be embarrassed by the attention and step down. Cause we know that believing Xtians are quite good at doing the right thing.
BTW, can I just say that believing in evolution is like believing in atoms or oxygen. It's a fucking fact people.
I'm swinging more and more to the idea that we need to start to saying accept evolution when we question people on evolution. It seems that we are tacitly moving evolutionary theory, and science by association, from the empirical into the realm of belief.
The implication to the word believe is that the subject is actually a matter of belief, a choice the rejection of which doesn't really need backing up; the implication to accept is that the subject is one that is established. Think of the phrase "accept reality;" try saying "believe reality" and see if it is the same to you.
If we as skeptics put forward evolution and science as matters of belief we've moved onto the deniers territory and we're not going to win there. If we do that we're never going to stop needing these videos.

Kent Hovind's Age of the Earth Rebutted - HD version

I probably should plan posts like this one a bit more.

Blood in the Water Still?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another one from the No Shit files.

BBC NEWS | Politics | British 'careless' with liberties
British people have been "careless" with their civil liberties, but that is beginning to change, former shadow home affairs minister David Davis has said.

Speaking at the Convention on Modern Liberty on Saturday, Mr Davis said people were growing increasingly angry at government intrusion in their lives.
"We have to accept that society and life carries risk and whilst it is the duty of the state to do its best to moderate and prevent what is wrong, nevertheless there are finite limits," he said.

"We, as citizens, have to make this clear to government, we are prepared consciously as adults to accept some element of risk in order to be free."

The government's plans to extend the period terrorist suspects can be held before being charged led to a large Labour rebellion last year - and prompted Mr Davis's resignation.

They were later shelved following a heavy defeat in the House of Lords.

Last week the Liberal Democrats unveiled their "Freedom Bill" and pledged a review of the use of CCTV cameras, the abolition of ID cards and control orders for terrorism suspects.

And earlier this month the Lords constitution committee warned that electronic surveillance and collection of personal data were "pervasive" in British society and threatened to undermine democracy.

Whoa. Is that a coffee smell early in the morning, the sleep still in my eyes?

Other thoughts on British liberties:
Britain's no-photographing-cops law: even the cops hate it - Boing Boing
Philip Pullman on the collapse of personal liberty in the UK - Boing Boing

I call Shenanigans.

Shenanigans at the New Scientist.
The other day I posted a link to an article in the New Scientist on spotting a hidden religious agenda (still available here). If you click through to the article, here's what you get:
New Scientist has received a legal complaint about the contents of this story. At the advice of our lawyer it has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience.
It's been pulled. Apparently someone made a complaint. It's not clear who did but the conjecture is flying.
Pharyngula: Come on, New Scientist
Sandwalk: What's Up with New Scientist?
New Humanist Blog: What's going on at the New Scientist?

I'd just say that no one is happy. New Scientist is one of the few magazines I still buy because it's such a good resource. Okay I get it for the centrefold. Still, I sometimes read the articles. I think that it's sullying its reputation here by caving in at the first sign of resistance.

Somehow I can't help thinking there's a connection

Between this
Stranger Fruit: God Hates Figs
and this

Barack Obama Versus Religion

Is there blood in the water or something?

I've been a bit surprised lately at the number of articles, posts and news stories supporting legalization of at least some of the currently illegal set of substances. Is the mood changing or is this just a statistical anomaly?
The Cato Institute podcast recently had a discussion about the problems facing Mexico due to the increasing power and lawlessness of drug lords and cartels and another on the science behind medical marijuana. It's hard to do that if you're not stating a position.
 The Economist (link to a related Boing Boing post) had a feature in its weekly podcast advocating legalization as the 'least bad' option. Let's face it, they're not a hippy, lefty rag.
Reason has had features advocating a change in drug policy lately. They're not exactly burnt-out granola huggers.
Hell, Penn Jillette posted a video pushing for pot legalization.
I'm waiting for Jello Biafra's old rant to be posted up again. Grow More Pot!
So what's going on. Has the inertia of Nixon declaring a war on drugs finally played itself out?
Is there a change in the offing?
Is this just a blip, a cruel ray of sunshine brought down to give hope to the masses just before nature send an even more Noachian flood of restriction their way?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day

I wonder what God has to say about it.

Comedy says it all again.

The advantage to living in the UK, if there is one that is, presents itself every Friday when the Now Show comes on BBC Radio 4.
A good example of why this makes up for so many deficiencies of Blighty is evident in this clip from Friday's show.
onegoodmove: A Bus That Annoys Christians
We're done here, go listen to it. Or subscribe on iTunes if you have one of them there iPod thingamajigs.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

Compliance is easy to plan for -- We'll tell you when you're not compliant.
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | EU 'terror' racquets court ruling
A secret EU list of items banned from being carried on to aircraft has been declared illegal by the European Court of Justice.

Irony. Get your irony here.

This is just deliciously multi-layered in its irony, isn't it?
BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | China denounces US 'rights abuse'
China has responded in detail to a US report published this week criticising China for alleged rights abuses.

Beijing released its own report on the US, saying crime is a threat to many Americans and racial discrimination prevails in social life across the US.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This is not good news for the state of affairs in the UK.

BBC NEWS | Education | Schools get advice on creationism
Creationism is to be debated alongside the theory of evolution in science and religious education lessons in secondary schools across Hampshire.

Teachers are being given advice on how questions about evolution and God can be explored with 11 to 14-year-olds.

Critics said the advice was "a retrograde step" and should be dropped.

This is a bit of good news for the state of affairs in the US

More Americans say they have no religion - Faith- msnbc.com
A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.
Story continues below ↓advertisement | your ad here

"No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study's authors said.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Morning Security and Such

Better late than never, right? It seems that some people are coming to the realization that all that's been going on for the last 6 years is actually not pointing in the right direction. Surprise!
The latest person to submit to reason:
Ex-spy chief Dame Stella Rimington says ministers have turned UK into police state - Times Online
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has accused the Government of exploiting people’s fear of terrorism to restrict civil rights.

Ministers risked handing a victory to terrorists who want people to “live in fear and under a police state”, said the former spy, who retired as Director General of the Security Service in 1996.

I'm glad you feel more at ease to say this sort of thing now that you're retired.
Brian Eno, yes that guy, is quoted later in the article:
Brian Eno, the musician turned activist who will speak at the Convention on Modern Liberty later this month, said that Dame Stella was right.: "When the government passed its 'anti-terror' laws, it reassured those who campaigned against them that they would only ever be used in the most extreme circumstances," said Eno.

"Within a couple of years they had been used to eject an 80-year-old heckler from a Labour Party Conference, to arrest a woman for reading out the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq, and to freeze the assets of Icelandic banks in England. This is the problem with vague legislation of this type: it invariably gets called into use whenever anybody does anything that the government finds embarrassing or the police find inconvenient."

As a related note criticizing the track we're on, Ben Goldacre has a really good post debunking datamining. It's largely tied into this article. The key point to the article follows:

Datamining for terrorists would be lovely if it worked - Bad Science
If you have 10 people, and you know that 1 is a suspect, and you assess them all with this test, then you will correctly get your one true positive and – on average – 1 false positive. If you have 100 people, and you know that 1 is a suspect, you will get your one true positive and, on average, 10 false positives. If you’re looking for one suspect among 1000 people, you will get your suspect, and 100 false positives. Once your false positives begin to dwarf your true positives, a positive result from the test becomes pretty unhelpful.

Remember this is a screening tool, for assessing dodgy behaviour, spotting dodgy patterns, in a general population. We are invited to accept that everybody’s data will be surveyed and processed, because MI5 have clever algorithms to identify people who were never previously suspected. There are 60 million people in the UK, with, let’s say, 10,000 true suspects. Using your unrealistically accurate imaginary screening test, you get 6 million false positives. At the same time, of your 10,000 true suspects, you miss 2,000.

Interesting. A couple of minutes on Google allows me to back of the envelope this this principle for Canada.
Population of Canada, 33 200 000 (Jul 2008 estimates)
CSIS estimates of the number of active terrorists in Canada: 350 members in 50 terrorist groups. (source)
First that's a 2000 estimate, so let's be generous and assume that George W. Bush's efforts to combat terrorism have been successful and the number is now 1000 members.
Let's also give the search algorithms unrealistically high efficiencies of a 95% success rate for identifying terrorists and an unrealistically low false positive rate of 5%.
That would mean:
950 of those active terrorists would be identified.
50 would be missed.
1 660 000 innocent Canadians would be incorrectly (and I presume to their inconvenience) identified as terrorists.
Good luck with that.
Now, if the number of terrorists were 1 000 000 in Canada, and we can all agree it's not that high, you would still have half again as many false positives as actual identified terrorists, and the number who slip through the net would be enough to populate two or three East Coast towns.
Now tell me that's worthwhile.

After note:
People are starting to fight back.

Liberty groups unite to defend UK rights | UK news | The Observer
The government and the courts are collaborating in slicing away freedoms and pushing Britain to the brink of becoming a "database" police state, a series of sold-out conferences in eight British cities heard yesterday.

In a day of speeches and discussions, academics, politicians, lawyers, writers, journalists and pop stars joined civil liberty campaigners yesterday to issue a call to arms for Britons to defend their democratic rights.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Holy Shit, Batman

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | 'Miraculous' survival in Turkey

1 I like the irony quotes around Miraculous in the article headline.
2 Is this guy the luckiest fucker you've heard of in quite a while?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Such a perfect description...

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Steal This Phrase
ignorexia verbosa

Guess which right-wingnut radio talk show host and pretender to the leadership of the Republican party it was coined about.
Go on, guess.

Life. Don't talk to me about life.

Just go get one, okay?
Christian salt seller hopes to shake up market - Examiner.com

HT to Boing Boing, through Fark.

Try not to do this yourself.

I may or may not have mentioned previously my ongoing fascination with iTunes U. in this little corner of iTunes is hidden a vast number of really good courses - refreshers on things you took years ago, chances to listen in on courses you didn’t get the chance to take, talks on subjects esoteric and topical.

But around these little gems is a vast array of uninteresting junk, poorly produced or mixed audio files and outright crapola.

In this last category I give you “Old Testament Content and History” from the Concordia Seminary. Groan. I listen to these bits of audio frustration so you can keep your ear canals pristine. Don’t do this one to yourself.

Now, coming in I had a number of  expectations:

  • Analysis of the Old Testament especially teasing out the threads of history from myth
  • Analysis of what it tells us about traditions and influences on Jewish and Christian thought and communities
  • Some reference to archaeology, somewhere along the line.

What I got was:

  • Recitation of a lot of Old Testament lines and characters
  • Assertions of each cited verse, person or incident being historical
  • a lot of waffle about Jesus being the fulfilment of……whatever the fuck he fulfilled. Actually there was more waffle than the table next to the door at an International House of … Waffling Bullshit? I can’t think of anything that works and gives the initialism IHOP.
  • Pretty much no mention of any text or material not in the Bible. There’s a passing mention here and there of legends, but there not illustrative of anything as far as it was treated in the course

I knew there was trouble in the first lecture when the prof, David Peter, referred to the Genesis and Noah stories as overture leading to Abraham - the main history of the in the Old Testament starting around 2000 BC. The command, open your Bibles to Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1, didn’t fill me with hope and the large dollops of semi-new age babble about God’s intentions and meaning, Jesus fitting in there somewhere sunk me a little further.

From there it devolved mostly into credulous nonsense. Books that scholars have determined are the product of two writers writing in two time periods are hand waved back together because we accept the existence of prophesy so events can be foretold and don’t date a book to after they happened so…blah, blah, blah.

Moses’ authorship is taken as fact due to tradition, which by implication is near supreme in terms of evidential value. Textual analysis of the Old Testament is blown off and hand waved away without any particular explanation.

And so it went never getting any better than that.

A severe disappointment. Try the Historical Jesus course if you’d like to see decent scholarship on biblical topics.