Saturday, February 28, 2004


At last, a solution to the gay marriage problem. You know, you don't have to marry gays really. No one's going to make you.

It's easy to laugh at Americans. They get worked up over the most ridiculous things.

Look at Old Hag, for instance. Buggered if I know what she's on about. I like it though. I wish I could be bothered reading more than the headings, but I get scared by posts that are mostly links.

Still, we're no better.

Papers full of how we're going to be swamped by "economic migrants" (that's people looking for jobs, you know). My great-grandpa was one of those. He tired of digging taters in a field somewhere in County Sligo and headed for Liverpool, where, he was reliably informed, the streets were paved with Maris Pipers.

My great-grandma, mind you, was Welsh. My dad dropped that one on me the other day. "You mean, she was the descendant of a shipwrecked Spanish sailor, perhaps a hidalgo, the bastard son of a count, and we are the rightful heirs to the throne of Navarra?" I said, perhaps more in hope than expectation. "No," he dashed my dreams into pieces. "She came from Rhyl."

On Top of the Pops tonight I saw Raghav. (Yes, I do. Yes, I know it's sad for a man my age but I can't break the habit. It makes me feel superior.) I didn't like the song, but the whole hiphop meets Bollywood thing fascinates me. More and more you hear R&B mashed up with Hindi.

Bring more, I say. I love curry. I had two different types of daal tonight. Zenella munched a poppadom. The guys in the curry shop are economic migrants to a man.

So were the Chinese men and women who died picking cockles in Morecambe Bay. A Tory MP has caused outrage by telling an offcolour joke about it. I've heard or read the same joke in maybe five other contexts. All the papers that reported the outrage also quoted the joke.

The same papers are pumped full of outraged reviews of Mel Gibson's film. Not that we really give a shit. Britain is truly not in the grip of antisemitism. The idea that the Jews were responsible for Jesus's death will fly over the head of most here. It's a thing you're taught in Sunday school but means nothing. It doesn't translate into hatred of today's Jewish people. Maybe it did when my great-grandpa was still Paddy O'Rule, village idiot of some Sligo backwater, but now we're too busy hating gypsies, Albanians, Muslims of all hues, and whoever else seems fresh enough not to have worn out our fear of the new to spare any for people who have lived here with us for centuries. (Who are us, in other words, since it's always been true that if you stick around long enough, we simply can't remember that you aren't English, because we lost the leaflet that told us how we can tell and well, bugger it, my dad knew your dad, innit.)

I say we. I mean them. Dr Zen cannot be bothered hating anyone. You never know who you'll be wanting to borrow a fiver off.

In a free state

I have just finished reading In a free state. It claims to be a novel with two supporting narratives, but it was quite plainly a novella padded out with two ropey short stories.

It won the Booker in 1971, which was a bit of a mockery because, frankly, it wasn't very good. Still, no doubt Naipaul deserved it for something, so no harm done, and it is written in his usual formally precise prose.

It got me to thinking, since it's Oscar weekend and all, about undeserved awards. And the notion of deserving them in the first place. How can you deserve one? How can you compete?

I'm talking as someone who not only has not seen all, or even most, of the films involved, but who believes as a matter of principle that Scarlett Johansson (is that too many Ss?) should win everything going on account of being a sort. (I know, I know. Shallow as fuck. Read that as "a fantastic actress" if you like, but who are we kidding? What are the criteria for being a fantastic actress? Correctly remembering your lines and looking good in a tight top... okay, okay, so I know nothing about films but a great deal about what I like to look at. I've never really understood what was good or bad acting, beyond being watchable and reasonably convincing. I mean, I never buy Meryl Streep as anything and yet, year after year, there she is, lauded, feted, awarded, serenaded. And Nicole Kidman? Please. She wore a big nose and fidgeted. You think Scarlett couldn't do that? I reckon Scarlett could fidget to beat the band. )

But Lord of the Rings, part three, was rank. Far too long, no narrative drive, and acting that would shame the actors in the local school's play. (Actually, that's rather unfair. If I cast my mind back to my tremendous skit, a reading of the Love Song of J. Arthur Prufrock as performed by Dr Frankenstein -- you had to have seen it, really, but suffice to say it involved a way too literal reading of the etherised patient part of the poem -- I believe I outhammed even Ian McKellen (I saw the cheeky git on Parky the other night -- lapping it up and claiming that he wanted to do a dame in panto -- why the fuck not? he seems to live it -- but that the hard part was, get this, getting into being a man pretending to be a woman before putting on the frock or some such. Sweetie, Dr Zen slips into women's clothing at the drop of a hat and he doesn't expect a BAFTA for best arse in women's panties -- although... another time.).)

But it'll probably win. The scope, daaahling. The grip on the narrative. (As if! There was no fucking narrative. The big problem with LotR is that it plods from setpiece to setpiece without the least drive whatsoever. The characters do not face conflict on a small scale -- everything is worldshatteringly existential, which after nine hours begins to drag.) The amount of money he spent.

It does seem we like to reward the big effort -- the concept. Look at how the Darkness are praised. No one dares whisper that the Emperor is playing dodgy heavy metal.

Grow... bags

If you haven't Grown yet, you do need it in your life. Check out the rest of the guy's site, too. An amazing navigation concept. Go there and you'll see what I mean.

And no. I'm not telling you how you do it. I found Grow through Gia's blog. She's sassy. She's the definition of sassy. She points to this interview, in which Jesus explains why he hates fags.

You think they're joking? You won't be laughing when God smites your sorry arse, Pat Robertson says.

A fertile mule... wonders never cease

Tip of the hat to the mule.

Here's welcome to Katie and best wishes to Mrs mule.

Doing the random walk

Maybe I have been transported to a reality where everyone is Singaporean? Penny is in a bad mood. She likes 5566. It's something to do with Neopets. The world is bigger than you ever realised.

Emma has never had a one-night stand. She doesn't seem completely sure whether this is a good thing. She worries too much about boys and all that. They're not worth it, dear. Your mother was right about that.

Jerry says Heather Crockett is his best friend. A lot of these kids write blogs just for their friends. They're all "I love you all", "Tell me who I really am", "I am desperate to be loved" (I'm paraphrasing). They don't realise that there are people like me who will also find their blog and curl our lip at their foolishness (because, fuck's sake, you're 16, it's great, don't worry, and being popular is not something you're going to be stressing about when life starts to bite, believe me).

Allie is like funny, yeah. Anyway, that's what her friends tell her. They hope it'll make her shut the fuck up and leave them alone.

Not the whole state of Wisconsin but a bunch of distant education geezers who have it seems just discovered blogging and are liking it. (What's not to like? Blathering is fun after all.) It's a bit hard to figure out what they're using it for, exactly, but they're posting some interesting medical article type stuff. Okay, it's not must read, but it beats "My mom bitched at me today".

Ang Kok Leng has rendered his or her blog unreadable with a background picture. I feel I'm probably not missing much.

The man in the middle probably spends too much time thinking about politics. In the UK, we'd think he was out on the right, but this probably does count as being in the middle for an American. His blog's awesomely parochial. Just like the kids writing blogs for their mates, he forgets that he's accessible to a whole world, not all of it living in the USA.

The ultimate in nothing to say. Like it.

Zie is the enfant terrible of American letters. Okay, okay, no he isn't. He's just another dull teen doing what dull teens do if you give them a voice: say nothing.

All from the randomnificator, which seems to refuse to send me anywhere I want to go *pout*.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

"I'd die for... erm, who am I playing for?"

Francileudo Silva dos Santos Lima is not a common name in Tunisia. After the striker's performances in the African Nations Cup, there might well be a few new Francileudos kicking around in a few months, but the man himself won't be. A Brazilian, he lives in France, plays for Sochaux and has no connection with Tunisia apart from his two-year spell at Etoile du Sahel. Oh, and that he's the national team's best player.
In recent years, nationality tourism has crept into football. We cannot sneer -- it's common in cricket, where our own national side has relied on players who are only English by a huge stretch of the imagination: Tony Greig (Saffa, legendary in Australia for his hatred of things English), Robin Smith (Saffa), Graeme Hick (Zimbabwean), Andy Caddick (Kiwi), the Hollioake brothers (Aussies), and a motley crew of Caribbeans not good enough to play for the West Indies (in the days when the West Indies had a seemingly inexhaustible pool of good players). Nor are we averse to buying them. The RFU bought Henry Paul, who I think played league for NZ. Certainly his brother does!
However, we've always thought those guys were somehow connected with the UK. They were born here and emigrated as kids, or held British passports, or at least were citizens of places that felt British in some way. Besides, we understood that the Saffas were using the back door to international sport, because their homeland was banned. (I note the curious case of Roy Wegerle, who played football for the USA, whose connection to that nation was that he had married a citizen. I wonder how he felt about it. How would I feel if I were to represent Australia?)
But Francileudo is part of a new wave of players who appear for other countries because their own do not pick them. (He's a good player but he's no Ronaldo.) He freely admits that he just wanted to play international football. There's an Angolan guy who represented Rwanda before he had even visited that country! He can't understand the shouts of his teammates.
Some players are aghast at the idea that they might have to perform alongside ring-ins. Christian Dailly -- lumpen Scottish defender -- was quoted saying that he couldn't understand why people who didn't feel Scottish would want to represent the country. He said he felt uncomfortable with the idea and would rather lose alongside Scots than win alongside tourists. A cynic might be wondering whether he's worried Lorenzo Amoruso (tipped for selection) might replace him. That same cynic might wonder what Dailly's views on "Scots" such as Matt Elliot are.
Is a nationality tourist any worse than the cockney Irish players? At one stage, practically none of the Irish team was actually Irish, but were largely Londoners with Irish grannies. We laughed, but somehow that was seen as fair enough.
I think Francileudo is a step too far. He hasn't come to a place, fallen in love with it, and now represents it because it is his home. Far from it. I think his inclusion has tainted Tunisia's win. These days, sport is win at all costs, and we forget that it is also supposed to bring beauty into our lives.

Around and about

I can't tell you how I got to these sites, but they all made it into the favourites, so at least at the point I arrived in them, I thought they were interesting.

Massimo is a sceptic. I have mixed feelings about sceptics (after all, it's all too easy to make a religion out of being irreligious), but Massimo has plenty of interesting things to say. He doesn't like intelligent design, which I suppose is how I found him, but other aspects of his kindly humanism really appealed to me.

More philosophy on offer through David Chalmers’ philosophy papers on the web (his page, not his papers!). This is not easygoing stuff. I think most, if not all, of these people are working philosophers, and they don't seem to be generalists. If you want hard thinking, these are worth dipping into, but it's very fractured, and you'll have to dig for jewels.

On Chalmers' list is Alan Sokal, a legendary soldier in the battle between "theory" and rationalism ("theory" is what the "critical studies" establishment thinks it is doing -- in plain English we call it bullshitting on). The article in Social Text that he wrote was a hoax on the "theorists", creating something of a furore -- known as the Sokal affair. You have to read the article really to appreciate the joke. Sokal builds up block by block to suggesting that science liberate itself by removing the science. Social Text thought he meant it.

More useful scepticism -- and plenty of really good astronomy -- is available at Bad Astronomy, which debunks the Apollo moon hoax conspiracy among others. I love a site that makes learning fun. The Bitesize Astronomy stuff is red hot, too. If you love looking up at the stars and wondering, there's something here for you.

Talking of the Moon, you may have wondered why it seems so big when it hangs low. The "Moon illusion" is explained here. Okay, I totally didn't understand it either. Something to do with a Ponzi illusion.

A conspiracy theory, if you can call it that, that I have never come across before, but one of immense interest to me, is the idea that Asperger syndrome (and other disorders of attention and socialisation) might be caused by Neanderthal genes. My understanding was that we had no Neanderthal genes, that as different species we were unable to create fertile offspring. But this guy has put a lot into showing that it did happen. It's a fascinating idea. I wonder whether anyone will ever do the analysis to check it out.

Talking of Neanderthals... here is a huge collection of funny Bush pix. Maybe we shouldn't laugh at the leader of the free world, but what else can you do with a man who says "the jury's out on evolution"?

A few blogs that have caught my eye:
Thoughts arguments rants is an excellent philosophy-based blog. The guy's not always right -- he's not always trying to be right -- but he always gives you plenty to chew on. The discussion on "if... then" led me into interesting byways -- the Iatridou paper is absolutely superb -- which reminded me why I ever bothered with a degree in linguistics.

Scary Duck is not scary and he's not a duck. His wry take on life is usually good reading though. I know he's won awards, so he's not a discovery or anything.

Picking fake blogs is a bit of a sport at the moment. I mentioned previously that there is some controversy over Belle de Jour. The Bottle Shop is another very dodgy blog. It's supposed to be the journal of a bottle shop manager with a psychotic girlfriend. It reads like fiction. I noted that we don't call offlicences bottle shops here in the UK. The author is quite probably an Aussie. Not that that's a bad thing.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Hearting the 80s

Fuck Minefield. These are the best timewasters around. The 80s was the golden age of nearly everything. Hair, gaming, music, shoulder pads. I love my Casio. I mean, my tracking thingo has that sound (courtesy Maz sounds, I think it was) -- you know, Da Da Da. It'll earworm ya!

Swimmin with the wimmin

Anyone who believes that women should not be allowed to comment on sport, given that they are only interested in ogling the players' arses and the like, will take heart from the horribly unfunny Kat Slater does Six Nations piece on the BBC website.

The worship of celebrities has possibly gone too far at the Beeb and this has to be one of the worst conceptions you could imagine. Rugby fans are not going to be interested in comedy roundups by soap characters, and fans of the soap are pretty unlikely to want to know Kat's views on rugby players' hairdos. I can only imagine the twat who wrote it found it hilarious.

Mind you, read Claire Balding on women golfers and your prejudices will be swiftly confirmed. Women golfers get no respect because they are relatively useless. It's a problem for women's sport that it will always be considered second rate and struggle to get an audience because sports fans are all too aware that the women cannot beat the men. It is always at the back of your mind. This is important. It's all very well applauding the aesthetic qualities of the women's game, say, in football, but sport is about winning.

This is not to say that women's sport is not worthy of support, government money, sponsorship, coverage in the papers. Of course it is. I would be very proud if one day Zenella was to represent Australia as a Matilda. And, as Ms Balding points out, there are sports where men and women compete on a par.

But we'll always stuff them at footer.

Lock her up and throw away the key

The 83-year-old tax rebel is stunned by support, apparently. So am I. I think the council should pursue her to the extremes of the law and have her raggedy old hide banged up in the nick. This sort of thing should not be encouraged, otherwise we'll have all sorts of wrinkly old bags pushing the Tory party's agenda.
Because that's what it is. Not a brave rebel, who is opposing an unjust tax. But a doddery old lady who has been taken advantage of.
"They're giving all our money to Europe," she cries. "And we have to pay for it."

Yes, we do. Well, I do. Any money that goes to Europe comes out of my taxes. As does her pension. I don't begrudge either.

It seems the woman didn't claim her rebates and the council is heavying her for money she didn't pay. She won't let anyone else pay for her. She claims she is not paying on a principle, although she doesn't actually state what principle she is defending.

But council tax is not unjust. And even huge raises are not as such unjust. The government has capping powers. But it prefers to allow Tory councils, like Ms Winkfield's, be the villains. They don't give the councils enough money and then allow them to look like the bad guys when either services go down the pan or taxes go through the roof.


Is Bayesian filtering the way forward for ridding ourselves of spam? Certainly it seems spammers think it is.

I noted a blogger complaining about the surreal mail that she has received, and she's not alone in noticing it.

Are these people trying to evade these Bayesian filters? Or do they have some other fiendish plan?

More design

Given that one is supposed to have faith in God without proof, plenty of effort is expended on proving he exists. Richard Swinburne's argument from design is one of the better efforts, but all it boils down to is that he insists the order that we see in the world must be explained. Why is the universe not chaotic? Why are there "laws" that particles etc obey?
(Actually, his argument depends on its being true that science cannot explain itself, which is true, but he has no answer to the suggestion that God cannot explain himself either.)
I think the problem stems from the words we use to describe the universe. We say laws, and people think we are talking about something that a judge creates. They think that laws are something that must be obeyed. In this case they are not. They are simply what everything does obey. We don't know why they do, and it's distinctly possible that it might be unknowable.

I think Swinburne does show us something interesting though. He shows that our need to have the universe explained is fierce. It hurts to think it is, and we are, pointless. I have more time for the Swinburnes of this world than the Dembskis, btw, because Swinburne is clear that he's talking about metaphysics (despite his quasiscientific blather) but Dembski pretends he is a scientist.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Ramblin' Zen

Kim has little to say. And blogs that she has little to say. Sometimes I wonder whether people just don't understand that it is our default assumption that they have little to say, and if they don't tell us, we'll take it as read.

Lots of links without much comment. Would be useful for anyone who can't find news or doesn't know how to use an aggregator. And only wants their news with a leftist bias.

Codeswitching is an intriguing linguistic phenomenon. Speakers report being unaware of doing it. But when it's done in writing, is the blogger also unaware? I'm curious to know. I think the blog is in Bahasa, it has the look but I'm not certain (well, it's definitely something Malayo-Polynesian) but the spits and spats of English tantalise.

Another Singaporean. I realised when I saw the touches of Singlish (who else would write "lah" at the end of a sentence!). When I was a baby my dad was stationed in Singapore. We lived in Johor, across the causeway. I don't remember any of it. I went there a couple of years back. The contrast between the dusty langour of the back streets of the Muslim quarter and the hectic throb of Chinatown was fascinating. Little India was a lot like Chennai, but of course cleaner. It had a nice feel. That little reactionary part of me did begin to think... maybe banning spitting and stuff does make a better world...

The poster also code-switches (some Chinese of some sort in there). Singaporean bloggers have a fluent, interesting style -- even when they don't have much interesting to say.

Freakily, another Singaporean. I swear I'm doing this at random. They must all be on the blog. This guy can't spell where he lives, which is a worry. I like to read this stuff, though (or little bits). The problems of teens seem so overwhelming to them and we know of course that they are nothing but ephemera. It might be that we need to be able to look at our own problems in the same way.

Put this much into the design, you need to fix the picture. Actually, lose the picture. No, make that lose the blog.

All from the randomnificator.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Ever more involutions

I have been looking into "intelligent design". It's the latest fraudulent attempt by creationists to make their beliefs, which are entirely metaphysical, look scientific. Their leading light is a guy called Dembski (I know, one letter away, surely someone designed his name to look so much like Dumbski!). He suggests ten questions that chldren could ask their biology teachers -- as if the poor buggers didn't have enough to deal with.

I don't mind giving them a go myself. Here we go:

1. If nature, or some aspect of it, is intelligently designed, how can we tell?

Quite simply, we can't. Unless the designer tells us there is no way to tell by principle. Dembski tries to get round this by suggesting that we can tell because of "specified complexity" (which rather begs the question, because immediately one asks who does the specifying). He says it is contingent because there are several live possibilities (don't ask me what that means -- I've read his shit and I still can't get anything more out of this than that it is possible that it is designed because it looks like it might be. This isn't what contingent means by the broadest stretch of the word); complex because it allows many alternatives and is not easily repeatable by chance (he doesn't trouble himself to define "easily" or give a clear idea of what "chance" does or doesn't include); specified in that it exhibits an "independently given" pattern (IOW, if it looks like a pattern, someone made the pattern.

The clearest answer is that a thing would look the same whether made by chance or designed. Without criteria to judge, you cannot judge. "It just looks like it"

2. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a scientific research program that searches for signs of intelligence from distant space. Should biologists likewise search for signs of intelligence in biological systems? Why or why not?

Biologists are welcome to search for whatever they like. SETI is a programme with clear objectives and a structured approach to a simple goal. Write the objectives for biologists, give them the approach and see whether they are interested.

Dembski would be better asking why they don't do so.

Something Dembski ignores, as an aside, is that SETI searches for intelligence like ours. They are searching for signs that someone signals the way we do. God's intelligence, I have to say, we'd expect to differ from ours somewhat.

3. How do we account for the complex information-rich patterns in biological systems? Where did they originate?

The complexity of biological systems arose by evolution. There is nothing too mysterious about it. It can be modelled fairly easily (not by me but by a scientist with the correct tools -- however, the equations are not actually all that difficult unless you are, like me, a Bear With No Head for Maths).

Why is Dembski asking this? Well, he thinks that you cannot introduce information into a system, because it cannot be created out of nothing (he is invoking the second law of thermodynamics, insisting that order should diminish). But biological systems are not isolates, but interact with other systems around them. The laws of thermodynamics only work in closed systems, like the universe. We might be universes in grains of rice in a metaphor, but we are not in reality.

4. Do any structures in the cell resemble machines designed by humans? How do we account for such structures?

Some structures in cells faintly resemble machines designed by humans. Some machines designed by humans work on mechanical principles that demand they are a certain way. That nature must obey the same principles should not astonish us.

A raindrop in space would be perfectly spherical. Does that mean it is made by people who make ballbearings?

It would make just as much, or as little sense, to ask the question the other way round: some structures designed by humans look like structures in cells. Were they designed by God?

5. What are irreducibly complex systems? Do such systems exist in biology? If so, are those systems evidence for design? If not, why not?

Irreducibly complex systems are combinations of simple systems, whose parts creationists lack the imagination to work out the function of. Nature adapts what there is. It uses what is available, what is used in other contexts to do other things, what isn't currently being used. Your earbones were jawbones. It's true.

This is recognisably another stab at the "no intermediate forms" argument -- if we evolved in x number of steps, animals with steps 1 to x should still exist. There are no animals with steps 1 to x, so there was no evolution. It's utter bollocks. In many cases, the intermediate stages are visible. Different reptiles have different jawbones for example. This argument has always ignored two facts: one, that mutations do not always have clear expressions in the phenotype, but they do have linkages in the genome (IOW, they work in groups not in single correspondences), so that cumulative mutations can work what look like overnight changes; two, the acceptance, if we can call it that, and spread of beneficial alleles can be quite rapid (even though evolution is on the whole a slow process, genes can and do change quickly).

6. Human designers reuse designs that work well. Life forms also repeat the use of certain structures (the camera eye, for example). Is this evidence for common descent, evolutionary convergence, common design, or a combination of these?

Why wouldn't nature use the same plan twice? On the other hand, if the design is so damned good, why doesn't it use it every time?

There are relatively few ways to see in the animal world (let's accept that plants don't as such, although they do react to light -- which is all that "seeing" is, remember). Dembski hopes that the unthinking evolutionist will say "well, it's common descent", because he knows that the "camera eye" evolved separately in different lineages at different times. But why wouldn't it? What other type of eyes would the animals that have them have? Faceted eyes would not be a good adaptation for human beings (it's great for flies because of the different demands their environment makes on them).

The answer is that "camera eyes" exist because of common descent and evolutionary convergence.

So do wings. Bird wings and bat wings are very different. You don't catch too many bats with feathers. But why not? If the design is so good -- and it is good, arguably better than the leather a bat has to use -- why didn't God use it for bats as well as birds?

Dembski chooses only to discuss the example that he thinks causes difficulty for evolution -- but science doesn't work like that. He must explain why the intelligent designer used two designs for wings. Did God not like the bat wing and decide to go with feathers next time around?

7. In trying to understand biological systems, molecular biologists often need to “reverse engineer” them. Is this evidence that the systems were engineered to begin with?

It's evidence that scientists use analogy and metaphor. Besides, biological systems are engineered. They are put together by proteins using a blueprint called genes.

8. Do intelligent design theory and neo-Darwinian theory make different predictions? Take, for instance, junk DNA. For which of the two theories would the idea that large stretches of DNA are junk be more plausible?

So far as I know, intelligent design "theory" doesn't make any predictions at all. Evolutionary theory can clearly explain junk DNA. It's the detritus of a process that has no purpose and operates by chance. That some scientist has found that it's not all complete junk does not show a thing about intelligent design. It simply shows that as the evolutionists insist, nature will occasionally pick up and use the junk in a new context (as their theory predicts). Dembski refers to the appendix, which was thought to be vestigial but now we understand has a part to play in the immune system. He ignores that people like me, who lack an appendix, still have an immune system and at that, one that is indistinguishable from that in those who have one. Hello? What's going on there? Could it be an example of something redundant, still coded for in our genes, but not vital to our survival? Why have it in your design? Why waste the material in building it?

What does intelligent design predict? That we will find things that look like they were designed. Erm. Okay. That's like saying it predicts the sun will rise tomorrow. No shit. Why things look like they were designed is the fact that needs explaining, not a prediction!

Intelligent design predicts that we should not have appendixes. Dembski should take more care which examples he picks.

9. What evidence would convince you that intelligent design is true and neo-Darwinism is false? If no such evidence exists or indeed can exist, how can neo-Darwinism be a testable scientific theory?

God would have to tell me himself that he designed my appendix. It's as simple as that. It's incumbent on Dembski to tell us what would falsify his "theory". "Neo-Darwinism" is a label, not a theory. Evolution is a fact. That the distribution of alleles in a population changes is not in question. There is evidence that that change is expressed -- lots of it. There is evidence that changes in genes correspond to changes in the phenotype. Lots of that too. It's almost insane to challenge that, and intelligent design "theorists" are at least more cluey than your usual evolutionist in that they accept that evolution is a fact and that it makes changes. However, they insist that it is limited in scope (they don't explain how). They claim that ickle lickle mutations in genes cannot make big body changes. This is easily falsified by looking at fruitflies with legs growing where their eyes should be (easily achieved by shifting a gene).

The theories that make up our understanding of evolutionary biology are testable, and are tested. Explaining how they would be falsified would be very complex. Dembski complains that evolutionists need only show how things could have been evolved to counter arguments that they were not. Well, really, what else could they do? You falsify their theory by showing that that is not how the things evolved! You provide evidence that they did not (Jesus told me is not "evidence" in this context). Scientists will tell you, even, what that evidence might be (not what it is, what it might be, note). Haldane's rabbit in the rocks was an attempt to do just that. Dembski scoffs that Haldane would have dismissed it as "evolutionary convergence". He wouldn't. Show him a 300-million-year-old rabbit and he'd start to wonder about his theory. Show him two in two different places and his theory's fucked.

It still wouldn't make intelligent design right, though. Science is not a competition. It's not a deathmatch. Prove Darwin wrong and there's a hole. You don't just slip what you like into it. Your theory has to meet the same standards. It has to actually fit the hole.

10. Can we determine whether an object is designed without identifying or knowing anything about its designer? For instance, can we identify an object as an ancient artifact without knowing anything about the civilization that produced it?

No, we certainly cannot. We know that human artifacts are human because we know what humans are like. We know what their tools are like and what they create. We don't think that pottery is made by man because it looks like someone designed it. We know it's pottery because we know man makes pots.

Dembski introduces some guff about signs and signifiers at this point. He says that the marks of design are a sign, and need say nothing about the signifier. So archaeologists dig up what look like tools and say they have found tools (they don't, actually, they say they've found what look like tools -- spot the difference).

But signs can be misleading. There's a Brazilian defender whose name is Argelico Fucks. His surname does not signify anything sexual (it's probably derived from the German Fuchs, but I don't know that -- hey, would I be reading too much into it, do you think?). It does not signify that an ancestor of his wanted us to get a thrill from it (if it, ahem, evolved from Fuchs, far from it, the ancestor would be bemused to hear that we are amused by it).

Maybe some of the pebbles on the beach are artifacts of alien civilisations. If we do not know what they make, we couldn't know. They look kind of fashioned, some of them, smooth, you know what I mean... Perhaps...

I know, I know. There's another explanation for pebbles on the beach. It's far more prosaic and doesn't serve any other purpose. But how could you falsify the idea that the sea wore them smooth?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


This excellent introduction should help anyone struggling with the concept of evolution and how it works. It seems extraordinary to me that there can be literate people who do not know this stuff, but they abound. I also like this. It really picks out the key points: evolution happens to populations not individuals, it is not progressive, it is the change in alleles that counts -- not whether you look more or less like a monkey, it is aimless.

Evolution makes human beings shatteringly small. It removes us from our pedestal as God's chosen organisms and makes us just another monkey. (I think it was Stephen Jay Gould who pointed out that the big church-science clashes were all about how science has minimised man's importance.) But that is what we are. Ultimately I do believe that accepting evolution and its consequences makes it nearly impossible to believe that God created man as anything special. You could still believe he made a universe for man to happen in, but that happening was itself nothing special. You are nothing special. But you can still love and be loved. Now, that is an amazing, curious thing.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Why whatever

I've met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, "Why?" Why did I cause so much pain? Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can't I see how we're all manifestations of love? I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God's got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, "No, that's not right." Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything.

From Fight Club via the outstanding Linkmachinego.

Saturday, February 14, 2004


What impresses me is that van Sant not only has no answers, he suggests there are no answers.

The film is a big question. A poem, sure; a meditation, even, if you must, but above all, a question. How are we able to ignore what we know stares us in the face?

Is he right to ask the question? Do I have the right question? Wasn't it rather that he was asking whether the apparent lack of meaning in the shooters' actions is matched by the same lack in the lives of those they shoot? He is not saying they deserve to be shot. He's not saying anyone deserves anything. He makes absolutely no judgment. The good, the bad, the indifferent are all shot. He doesn't ask us to shed tears for them, to feel sorry, to miss them.

Is the way things are presented the only meaning they have? Is that the question he is asking? I'm not sure. Where you see things from different perspectives in Elephant, they do not have different meanings. They are just seen from a different angle, through different eyes, but rarely does anyone add anything to another's view.

When the three girls are in the canteen, the camera looks out of the window. We think we will see the shooters walking into the school. A few moments before the girls have seen John and commented on his playing with a dog. But they do not see the shooters. We think that's why they were looking out of the window, so that we would learn something.

There is no dramatic irony but one. We don't know anything that the characters don't know. Except one thing.

On a wing and a prayer

Hands up if you're going to heaven if I crash it.

Reminds me of that lovely moment in a chat show, where the host is astonished by the inappropriate Jesus plug. Dissonance as striking as finding out that Mel Gibson is a hardcore antiPope catholic.

Talking of which.

Although I can well understand the furore Gibson's film has caused (I commented back a bit but I can't be bothered digging up the permalink), I think it's fair to say that the worst he has done is quote the gospels. My source for understanding the last days of Jesus is the New Testament. That's where I read it and there's not much doubt that the Jewish priests clamour for his end, nor that the crowd voted him off the show. I'm not a huge fan of "reinterpreting" history or what has been written (although I'm thoroughly amused to find out that the 100 great black britons included Queen Charlotte (not black), Queen Phillipa of Hainault (no reason to believe she was black either), King Kenneth of the Picts (dark but not black despite that being his nickname -- hey, if being called "the Black" is taken to mean you were a black man, does that mean Beethoven was Spanish (his nickname was "the Spaniard" because of his broody swarthiness (shit, that thinking would make me black too, not that I'd mind))), Septimius Severus (! not black even though he was born in what was then and is now Africa, not British, although he did die on a visit here, and not more than a little bit great), Phil Lynott (not British) and Saint George (not only not black and not British but never came to Britain and may not even have been a wholly real person)--and let's not forget Zadie fucking Smith (!! certainly black but by no means great unless winning a women-only award amounts to an achievement on a par with, for example, discovering the electron)) and whatever motives Gibson has for doing the film of the book, should it be demanded of him that he films the milksop interpretation of it that the Vatican has come up with in the name of ecumenicism? (They say blame it on the Romans, basically because there are no Romans -- it's that silly.) It's the source that is anti-Semitic, after all.

Okay, I'm d to the evizzle advocating it. Gibson could help allay the controversy. Problem is, like many Christians, he does have a few unsavoury ideas about Jews. Well, only *slightly* unsavoury, if we're not to exaggerate. Suggesting a clique pursued Jesus's death for mostly political reasons is a long way from suggesting all Jews should pay an eternal price for it, and even if some do draw the latter conclusion, I don't see Gibson doing that.

I suppose it's the danger of the idea pulled to its extreme. We know all too well where it leads, if unchecked. We know that even the most reasoned ideas can be used to justify our enormities. But does that mean we should still all ideas that might be so used? That seems to be the thrust of the antiGibson argument.

What do I think? Who gives a fuck? It's all ancient history.

Flippin' heck

"My name's Joseph, but you can just call me G-Rhymes"
For a gangsta rapper,
Joseph's pretty literate
. (Don't start me on the subject: pararhymes about hoes and gats are not poetry round here, buddy.) He needs to learn to stop calling football "soccer" though. Still, not many teen bloggers like to muse on Greek mythology so, erm, props to him, eh?

This is more like it. A properly dull teen, I'm thinking. Then I read a little bit and realise that this is a grown-up.
Whenever I read in the papers that the average person watches x hours of TV a day, I'm thinking "No way! There wouldn't be time for anything else." There isn't.

Chickpea speaks. Sadly, it has nothing to say.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that a guy who thinks Men at Work's It's a mistake is a great song would redefine banal. Well, keep your get out of ethical jail free card, you weren't wrong.

I'm guessing this guy is in Singapore. The heartfelt salute to the people who believe in him brought tears to my eyes.
No. Really.
Okay, okay, I jabbed myself in the eye with a pen so I wouldn't have to read any more of this shit.

One more... Aaaaarrrrgggghhh.

All uncovered by blogger's randomnificator.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Qualia egg

You are O'Leary.

You will be locked in the trunk of a car at 9pm.

Every night you wake up at 1am and 2am. When you wake up at 2am, you never remember having woken up at 1am. But you know you do because you have made a note one night when you woke.

Tonight, at 1.30am, you will be taken out of the trunk and duplicated. The duplicate will be placed back in the trunk and the original O'Leary murdered.

You wake up. Are you O'Leary?

If you are O'Leary, tell me why red things are red.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Make mine an arse

Given that 70, 83, 64, 97 per cent of the interwebnet is porn sites (hey, it's traditional to make up the figures), it makes sense that there should be "erotic" blogs. I suspect most of them are as real as letters to the editor in jazz mags (there is a suggestion out there that Belle de jour is the fabrication of a well-known Brit lit type, and I can well believe it), but that suspicion may be fuelled by pure envy of the (over)active sex lives on display.
I find reading about fucking a bit dull. It's the whole erotica/pornography deal. The shiver, the frisson, is good reading; the poke is not.
There is a bit of an obsession with anal sex. This slightly disturbing work of fantasy seems wholly stuck on the idea of anal as the final frontier. He's not alone (Jan 22 if you want to read the stirring story of cumwhore's first anal sexperience).
Most of these bloggers are into BDSM. I'm not sure it's a coincidence. I don't think they could talk about sex if they didn't think what they were doing was transgressive.

Making the ordinary magical. That is what I dream of achieving. It's what I aim for. I'm not so sure that there's any joy in making even the extraordinary -- if you believe a bit of dressing up, handcuffs and bootybanging are extraordinary -- grindingly ordinary.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Oi scientist, have a heart

New consent requirements that scientists must meet before using bits of us in research have caused uproar. The scientists feel they should just be allowed to carve chunks off the still-warm corpses of our loved ones and do their filthy experiments on them regardless of how we feel about it.

Scientists hate impediments' being placed on their work, regardless of how unsavoury their work is felt to be by those of us who don't spend our working days torturing puppies or dissecting corpses. They think nothing of digging up grandma and ripping out her heart. It wouldn't surprise me if they fried it and ate it in some garish "scientific" ritual.

Certainly, you'll never get her bones back.

I say damned right scientists should get our consent. Our bodies are ours alone, every piece of them. When we die, our families are the custodians of our bodies. Why should we be considered so much meat? I know the Buddha said we're just sacks of shit with holes at either end, and he was probably right, but it's hard to feel that the vehicles that have served us in this incarnation (whether there are others is a moot point) should be ill treated when we no longer inhabit them. The mistreatment of corpses -- the considering of them as "just tissue" -- is to me symptomatic of the mistreatment of other human beings. If nothing about us is worthy of respect, we can be made into slaves, become targets for one another's hatred, and dissolve into meaningless, valueless sacks of shit with holes at each end.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Friday flipping

Blogflipping is the channelhopping of the personal journal universe.

Sometimes you hop to ER, sometimes to Casualty.

The fourth was a bad day forDenis Beber (where's your permalinks, dude?).

Fu-Man does not know that evolution does not imply progress, only change. It's random.His reasons for excusing Jesus from marriage probably wouldn't meet the Pope's approval, but are nonetheless quite touching.

This guy's life is a narrative of crap song lyrics, which is a novelty. You have to hope the Madonna days outnumber the Avril Lavigne days.

All uncovered by blogger's randomnificator.

Run Rotten run

The funniest element of Rotten's pussy-out at the camp has been learning that his replacement would have been Timmy Mallett.
Rotten's hilarious rants on his "integrity" and brilliantly placed obscenity have been compulsive viewing. He always was an attention-seeking little toad -- although we can believe he really does have a genuine, warm heart -- and I think few people ever really took him seriously. He wasn't Joe Strummer. He always had a bit of the pantomime dame about him -- he was playing at menacing. What's so wrong with all that?
In 24 hour party people, we see the Pistols gig that launched a thousand bands in Manchester (it was one of those gigs where who the 40 who turned up are is disputed by about a million people -- I once went to one, actually, the Jesus and Mary Chain riot, no really, I did). Without Rotten the Pistols were just a pubrock band with a bit of arse. With him... well, with him they were elemental, something to be reckoned with, drama so fierce it impelled sensitive boys in Manchester to make the bands I loved when I was a sensitive boy myself.

Seen but not Ahern

Cecelia Ahern is not a particularly well-known name, and one wouldn’t suppose that her novel would have brought her much in the way of fame (it sounds like the kind of toss most 21yos with a grasp of English could churn out if they could be bothered); indeed, you'd question whether in the ordinary run of things it would be published at all. Ms Ahern's father is Bertie, Irish Taoiseach.
It's good business, I hear you cry. People will buy a celeb's book. Well, not always. Of course, Duncan Smith's publisher, Robson Books is not in the business of publishing quality literature -- Jan Leeming is not even Get Me Out of Here grade, let alone someone whose autobiography you'd want to read.
I lament the days of the gentleman publisher. Not only because I personally have close to fuck-all chance of writing anything even vaguely "saleable" -- or at least of learning how to sell, the two things being, I'm beginning to suspect, one and the same --but because there is literally nothing to read. In most genres there is nothing new to say, and in literary fiction publishers are more often plumping for the goodlooking, marketable chick.
Here's what I don't get, though. If you're girlfriend's goodlooking, she's nicer to fuck, fair enough. But are the little notes she sticks on the fridge sweeter?

Bias of the unbiased

It's not often you find yourself agreeing with Lord Tebbit (registration needed), but his comments on the BBC seem fairly reasonable. The truth is our liberal media do take as unquestioned the morality of the Hampstead dining table, a soft-left orthodoxy prevails, which does not take into account that it is itself a standpoint, not a neutral point from which to measure views.

Wishing VD on you?

Hate the consumerification of the calendar? Show your distaste in a small and meaningless way.

Tracks of our tears

These robot drawings, which I found through the excellent I love everything (check out the Pimp watch post) are oddly compelling. They are a strange hybrid of a railway map and particle tracks in a bubble chamber, which I have always adored to look at (although now I have discovered this more up-to-date type of collision picture, I have a new love).

Creating a stir

Quacks and charlatans exploit the gaps that the scientific method inevitably leaves. Science does not claim to be true – rather it tends to take the Popperian approach that it seeks falsehoods not truths – and the charlatans see this as a weakness, since they offer truth whole and pure.
In this oldie but goodie, a creationist exploits uncertainties about the Grand Canyon’s formation to claim that it might have been formed in Noah’s Flood.
It’s a hallmark of creationists that while they jump on inconsistencies and pieces of evidence that cause difficulties for scientific theories, they ignore those that are bad for their own. (This raging nutter says “No one knows what light is or that it always travels the same speed throughout all time, space and matter” – well, prove it isn’t! You might win yourself a Nobel if you can. Naturally, he ignores for a starter that we do know that light travels at different speeds in different media. And we have a very good idea what it is!)
“I also want you to realize that when someone asks me whether the flood of Noah created the Grand Canyon, I have to say that I don't know. And that's okay!” says Bohlin.
He ignores the lack of contemporaneous features across the world, the paucity of evidence for a widespread trauma in the surrounding region (I love the boulders as a result of the action of waves though), the missing organic life. You could go on.
But why bother? If a guy tried to prove that there really Lilliputians with a few hooky skeletons, you’d laugh him out of the place. The energy that some put into discounting these fools is wasted (if you want to wade through the refutations of creationism, you can – I looked at a couple and they’re pretty cogent). We are allowed simply to dismiss them. It’s a book. A beautiful story. But a story.

But. Note that it wasn’t just the one word.

And.. The “evidence against evolution”? This verges on the insane. You can see evolution. You can do it in a lab. It is a fact. The theory of natural selection is where the controversy is (and I note that this is what the scientists signed to suggest). How can a person call themselves a scientist and claim that evolution is in dispute? These people do not even grasp the difference between evolution as a mechanism and natural selection as a theory of change in form over time.

This is a statement I think I could happily sign up to. Our schools are not open to the influence of these charlatans, but it does matter that they don’t win in the US. The US remains the heartland of the culture we are part of – whether we want it to be or not – and its citizens lead the world in science. But maybe not forever, if the anti-immigrant bent of the Republicans bites.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Like wind I go

Canary Wharf features a splendid Waitrose. I’ve always loved Waitrose, I must admit, because it is just that bit more special than Tesco. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Waitrose and Tesco source their stock from exactly the same suppliers, but each shows how marketing can differentiate the essentially similar.

Pretending that advertising doesn’t work on you is like pretending you do not breathe. It’s better, surely, to accept that you are a child of your times, and just as susceptible to the bullshit you swim in as everybody else.

Surfing from CW to Waitrose, I noted that there is a recipe section and a bean and cavolo nero thing caught my eye. I didn’t know what cavolo nero was (okay, I guessed “black cabbage”, but that doesn’t paint a picture), so I googled it. I used to eat curly kale as a child – not necessarily by choice, of course – if I had been picking the menu it would have been sliced banana sandwiches and acid drops, with the odd creme egg thrown in. I have always been loyal to Cadburys. My nan served on the line at their Wallasey factory for many years (it’s been closed down, I think) and would steal me a bagful for each summer’s visit.

That makes me think of my granddad. I don’t think I could wholly admire him now, but I loved him beyond reason when I was a child. He was Hemingwayesque – okay, a sexist drunk, but he talked a good game. He didn’t have any guile. If he talked rubbish, he believed it when he was talking it.

He was an apostle of the simple life. His philosophy was summed up in this verse from the Rubaiyat:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse---and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness---
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

You know. My life turns rubbish when I try to complicate it. My granddad enjoyed a drink, a few quid on the geegees, reading the paper and listening to the radio. I wonder whether I’m not happiest under a tree. Maybe I’m romanticising him. I do want more too. But sometimes wanting is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd---
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."

Was Granddad wrong to think that all we’d achieve from our striving was worn-out bones?

Just as a treat for the choc lovers, should any ever read this: waste your days on Splurge, Cadbury's idea of fun.


I read Granddad’s verse of Khayyam at his funeral. What could they read at mine?
The fool is his own enemy.
The mischief he does is his undoing.
How bitterly he suffers!

Water everywhere

Amina Abate describes how her life has changed. “In the morning we used to go to fetch water at around 7am. I would go with a donkey but those who didn’t have one would go without, to the pond if there was water there, to Alaba town otherwise. In the dry season the queues were bad and I wouldn’t get back until midday or later.

I turn on a tap. It’s easy to think it’s easy.

Like wind I go

Canary Wharf features a splendid Waitrose. I’ve always loved Waitrose, I must admit, because it is just that bit more special than Tesco. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Waitrose and Tesco source their stock from exactly the same suppliers, but each shows how marketing can differentiate the essentially similar.

Pretending that advertising doesn’t work on you is like pretending you do not breathe. It’s better, surely, to accept that you are a child of your times, and just as susceptible to the bullshit you swim in as everybody else.

Surfing from CW to Waitrose, I noted that there is a recipe section and a bean and cavolo nero thing caught my eye. I didn’t know what cavolo nero was (okay, I guessed “black cabbage”, but that doesn’t paint a picture), so I googled it. I used to eat curly kale as a child – not necessarily by choice, of course – if I had been picking the menu it would have been sliced banana sandwiches and acid drops, with the odd creme egg thrown in. I have always been loyal to Cadburys. My nan served on the line at their Wallasey factory for many years (it’s been closed down, I think) and would steal me a bagful for each summer’s visit.

That makes me think of my granddad. I don’t think I could wholly admire him now, but I loved him beyond reason when I was a child. He was Hemingwayesque – okay, a sexist pisshead, but he talked a good game. He didn’t have any guile. If he talked shit, he believed it when he was talking it.

He was an apostle of the simple life. His philosophy was summed up in this verse from the Rubaiyat:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse---and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness---
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

You know. My life turns rubbish when I try to complicate it. My granddad enjoyed a drink, a few quid on the geegees, reading the paper and listening to the radio. I wonder whether I’m not happiest under a tree. Maybe I’m romanticising him. I do want more too. But sometimes wanting is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd---
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."

Was Granddad wrong to think that all we’d achieve from our striving was worn-out bones?

Just as a treat for the choc lovers, should any ever read this: waste your days on Splurge, Cadburys idea of fun.


I read Granddad’s verse of Khayyam at his funeral. What could they read at mine?
The fool is his own enemy.
The mischief he does is his undoing.
How bitterly he suffers!

On the wharf

It’s an unintentional irony that those who talk of lifestyle are talking about something that has neither any life nor any style. Dr Zen is working at Canary Wharf, soulless breadhead’s vision of heaven. Each day I feel a thin slice of my soul shredded from me. If I had to stay there long, I would become like the many I see around me – fools who have traded life for “life”, style for “style”, anything that might be vaguely desirable as a lifestyle for “lifestyle”.

That is our life, though. It’s beginning to be all we recognise. Soon, I will be returning to Australia. Brisbane is a curious mix of the empty, vain hedonism of modern living and the outdoors. Mind you, it should be said that Australians like their outdoors to be sanitised. Most “bush walks” that I have enjoyed have been on cinder tracks, or at least paths that are inlaid with stones. It’s peculiar that in a nation that features the wild so strongly, the locals like the anodyne so much – there are a multiplicity of manicured parks, almost Zenlike garden features, order… what has always struck me about Brisbane is that so little in it is old. They constantly tear it down and build it up again. Australia is ceaselessly reinventing itself. I think that is one thing I love about it. It is a nation that embodies the truth that identity is a negotiation with the world, not a fixed thing, something I keenly feel.

Or do I feel it? I’m not sure of that. It seems to me that I am always much the same. I know intellectually that I do not have a continuing self. I know that I am constructed and reconstructed. But knowing and feeling are not always easy bedfellows.