Monday, February 28, 2005

At Lennox Head

A brahminy kite wheels over Angels Beach. Two boys on bikes. The surf roars. It never stops. If you want to know how inconsequential you are, you need only listen to the ever moving sea.


Drifting spray on the front street. The band is no good but they are trying hard. We do not know the songs they are playing. Are they covers or their own? They started with a cover of Easy and that made it hard for us to know.

If they are covers, why not play something we know and can join in with?

They started with a cover of Easy and the girl stepped out into the pub so that she could check the levels. She told the bassist up a bit, the keyboardist up a bit, but she didn't listen to herself. She didn't hear herself and now she is drowned out.

The rhythm section is not quite tight. I am saying to Mrs Zen that she should listen to the bass drum and hear where the bass goes. But that's not quite it because you feel it if it's right. You can't analyse it but we are willing to substitute explanations for understanding. Mrs Zen eats a steakburger. The girls who are sharing our table are talking about men.

They don't seem to have been enjoying their lives lately.


A man in a kaftan. I'm reminded of home. We used to laugh that you could tell the DS because they were the guys in kaftans. This guy is not DS. He's trying too hard to be alternative though, just as they did.

The problem with the alternative here is that they talk about peace and love but mostly they just don't like the rest of the world much. Yes, I know they're not likeable but I think that trying to is noble.

If I could only figure out why I think trying to is noble.


We are high above the coastal plain. We can see the cape and the whole of Byron Bay. We can see Lennox, probably Skennars Head the other way. We are playing Bloc Party but Naughtyman is crying.

I remember how I hated travelling the Highlands with my dad. How I wanted just to read. I learned to read in cars without feeling sick and I rarely bothered to look at scenery you'd pay for.

Kids, I know, you can't make them want it.

When we are at the market, Zenella will not eat anything. The only place on the east coast of Australia where a vegetarian can feel at home and she will not eat. She only wants ice cream. When I ask her what is the best part of her holiday, she does not hesitate for a moment. Ice cream, she laughs.


When it is still in the night -- still bar the ever present surf and the cicadas -- I turn to look at Zenella, sleeping next to me.

I have become afraid of dying but I am more afraid that she will have to die too. What a thing to do, to give that to someone. But I have given her life too. Will that be enough to make up for it?

Is the taste of ice cream enough to make up for its one day having to be gone from you?

I want to change my life because I do not have answers. I am envious of those with answers. I am envious of certainty. I'm just trying to get through it but it's hard.

I am watching Zenella run across the sand.


There is a pelican on the beach, close enough that we could almost touch it. It seems entirely unmoved by us, unlike the other birds that scatter if we walk among them; unlike the lizard who sprinted through the bush at Flat Rock; unlike us, who are readily moved by it, although not from fear.

The pelican is not looking at anything; at least, I can't believe it is. It is gazing out to sea but it surely could not spot fish from the beach.

I am hoping the pelican will take off because their grace in flight belies their ungainly looks and clumsiness on land. What a metaphor for me! I fly. I truly believe I can when I have the right conditions. I feel I can lift myself on wings of brilliant words and go aloft, soaring on the warmth of well-used verbs and apt adjectives. But it does not. It allows the water to pick it up and it floats out with the ebb.

I walk away from the beach, thinking how old I have become without ever noticing the days go by.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Zero percenter

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Sometimes I do feel I took the wrong course, made the wrong choices and am stuck on a track leading into the wilderness. But others it seems that it wouldn’t matter which path I took, that the wonders of life are the same wherever you are walking. Sometimes it seems there isn’t a path at all, just a life you lead.

Mrs Zen says I always think the grass is greener. She is right but she doesn’t understand that I have an unquenchable yearning. If I knew what I yearned for, I could quench it as easily as a midday thirst. But what it is, I don’t know.

I am always waiting; it seems as though I am waiting under a hot sun. Sometimes I should just go inside and take a drink of water. Sometimes it feels as though what I need is that simple.


I have written one poem in, I think it is, six years. I used to write them all the time. I used to overflow with poetry. I don’t know that it was any good but it still speaks to me if I read it over.

I am telling myself I still have enough poetry but sometimes it is hard to believe I even have the breath for song: I am holding it in, hoping to get through a still, dark night.
But whispering in the wind,
the times that are waiting, holding all possibility
calling to me, saying nothing but
promising everything
promise deliverance, will take me to where I,
not now, but will soon want to be.

Poetry maps the heart but never makes a plan. I should have written nonfiction or drawn a chart.


I need not to be hurt any more. But I am the ringleader. I put the boot in while others aren’t looking. I put the boot in until I’m spinning with pain, reeling with spite. I put the boot in because no one showed me how I could be loved and now I don’t know that I can be.

Looking at the stars, you cannot help thinking that it’s strange that they are so big and yet they look like we could pull them down and set them in rings. And I know there is an explanation for it, why they look that way, but that doesn’t chase away the illusion.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Who gets what?

The votes have been counted (behind closed doors), with results remarkably exactly what the Americans hoped for (Shia didn't do quite as well as expected but not so badly as to cause outrage; the Kurds did a little better than expected; Allawi was not completely wiped out despite no one voting for him, whoops, I mean, despite weak support) so now the carve-up begins (who are we kidding? The fix has been in for a long time! The deal is a Shia-Kurd government (the Kurds get a Kurdistan in all but name), secular but under Sharia law, some sops for the Sunni but they are basically shafted, American bases in perpetuity and Exxon's dreams come true: they get the oil. It's important to understand that while the other nations of the Middle East have American partners, they retain control of their oil. Iraq will be different. America will control the black stuff. It's worth $300 billion to fuck China out of it. It's absolutely no coincidence that China's signing a big energy deal with Iran and American sabre-rattling have happened at around the same time)/

This excellent roundup gets the issues straight. I noted that buried in there was this: "Baghdad sources tell Asia Times Online that the AMS [Sunni leaders] would even issue a fatwa (religious edict) calling for the end of the resistance if the new government sets a date for US withdrawal in writing - with the United Nations as a watchdog."

What? You're telling me that if the Yankees fuck off home, the insurgency is over? Wouldn't that mean, though, that Dubya and his cronies have lied to us and that the fight is not with "turrists" but with a resistance that Iraqis to control Iraq?


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Slamming Ward

On the same subject, I read with interest the governor of Colorado, who wrote a letter on Churchill.

"All decent people, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, should denounce the views of Ward Churchill."

That certainly sets the tone. If you dare to agree, even in part, with Ward Churchill, you are not "decent". I noted the use of the word "denounce".

Has America become a place where we must publicly denounce the "indecent"?

"The thousands of innocent people - and innocent they were - who were murdered on September 11 were murdered by evil cowards."

Did Owens read Churchill's piece? It doesn't seem so. Perhaps he just heard O'Reilly piss on about it. If he had, he might understand that the crimes Churchill believes the technocrats guilty of are not answered by saying that they are "innocent" simply because they had done no direct harm to anyone. As Churchill points out, possibly immoderately in his original piece, but with much greater force subsequently, the principle that we enforced with Eichmann was that those who support evil are doing evil too. Churchill was not, of course, calling the technocrats Nazis. He was suggesting that they were participants in evil in the same way as Eichmann. He is right, of course, but it's too subtle a point for Repugnicunt pollies and way too much for O'Reilly.

It should be pointed out to these idiots, also, that Churchill is decrying the dehumanisation of our victims. Calling them "evil cowards" is exactly the means to justify hurting them that he is pointing the finger at. I wonder how Owens can make the moral calculus work that says the 9/11 bombers are "evil" but American pilots who kill just as many civilians are "good". Churchill is describing a notion of morality that extends beyond "my people do no wrong, yours do no right". Again, far too hard for Repugnicunts to grasp.

And cowards! What the fuck is that? These dimwits blather on about fighting for democracy from the safety of TV studios but the 9/11 bombers actually did fight for what they believed in. However misguided you think those beliefs are, you can hardly think their conduct was cowardly (unless in a deeper sense that one might feel that they ducked out of the hard work of creating a world they could comfortably live in and took an easier option of trying to build it through a dramatic spectacle but let's face it, Owens is not looking for that level of meaning).

"No one wants to infringe on Mr. Churchill's right to express himself. "

You can almost feel the "but". Silencing dissent is exactly what Mr Owens is about. The Repugnicunts don't want the hard questions to be asked. They want to discredit anyone who asks them.

And "Did we deserve it? Do they hate us with reason?" is a question that does need asking.

"But we are not compelled to accept his pro-terrorist views at state taxpayer subsidy nor under the banner of the University of Colorado."

Ahem. So actually...

"They are at odds with simple decency, and antagonistic to the beliefs and conduct of civilized people around the world."

Who should be let alone to get on with bombing and murdering the third world as they see fit. A hundred thousand died in Iraq. Still, at least we used civilised means such as tanks, planes, bombs, Tomahawks and good old-fashioned guns. God bless us.

"My beautiful brother"

Technocrats are people too. They are led by the system we live in to become what they are. Perhaps they should not make the choices they make. Perhaps by doing so they support a system that brings pain to many corners of our world.

But they are fathers, brothers, friends, human beings. It does not heal the pain they cause to forget that. Make people into meat, killable for whatever cause you feel compels you to killing, whether we are calling it Allah, democracy or just plain old greed this week, and you belittle all of us, dehumanise all of us.

America reaped the whirlwind on 9/11, I don't doubt it. The thrust of Ward Churchill's piece was that you cannot carry on hurting the world without its hurting you back. I can't argue with that. And he is equally right to suggest that those who died were "collateral damage", victims of circumstance but also of their own complicitness in the hurting. We justify the deaths of the citizens of Dresden, of Tokyo, of Hiroshima in precisely the same terms. And it goes without saying -- or you would think it does -- that the same is said of the people of Baghdad and Fallujah, in particular those occupying the "military targets" that we struck so precisely when shocking and awing the shit out of Iraq.

But two wrongs will never make a right. No amount of murder and destruction on the part of the American military will make the murder of American civilians right. We have to find another way. It's difficult -- of course it's a lot easier, when you feel disempowered, to lash out at soft targets, to kill those who can be killed and think that this is how you hurt those who hurt you -- but if there is to be justice, and justice that lasts, it cannot be bought in blood.


Someone needs to tell Delta that precision is the soul of art. The principle is that the expression is perfect, that you couldn't change a word. Someone needs to tell Delta that you "cut like a knife" but you do not "get cut like a knife". You could get cut like a pack of cards, but that is the wrong metaphor. You could get cut like a pat of butter with a hot knife if you insisted, but that would need a whole new melody. You can get cut as though by a knife but, see, that wouldn't scan. Delta goes for the first impression, the idea that seemed good to her.

But art needs more. Delta thinks that the metaphor of "mistaken identity" is good for capturing the idea that she has changed. But, Delta, it would be good if the idea was that your ex looked at you and mistook you for the same person. But you are not trying to express that idea at all.

Delta is supposed to be a singer-songwriter. We know this because she has serious hair in her videos and plays the piano. Instead of indulging herself in spunky pop like other soap stars, she inflicts on us maudlin ballads that she warbles with conviction (which is good) but no real heart (which is not).

But, Delta? Delta, this: "The sun likes to rise and the moon likes to fall and that's kinda like my life" is fucking nonsense. I'd be ashamed to put my name to that, and so should you be. If music be the food of love, that's vomit.


Why did no one tell me that Embrace were back? And not just back, but storming the charts. And not just back and storming the charts, but brilliant again, after some years of being, erm, not brilliant.

I had one of the greatest hours of my life just after dawn on a train to Chennai, watching the fields, empty, flat and bare, run by, soundtracked by The good will out:

"There must be a time between the well meaning when the good will come out and start the healing."

When you are feeling "How the hell did he know I felt like that?", you know it's right.


Hotly awaited in the Zen household is Bloc Party (IE only). On first listen, I switched off, yelling "Not another fucking chapter of the Gang of Four fan club", but I gave it another go and I'm converted. Imagine that Wire had written tunes. Imagine that Gang of Four weren't a band you had to pretend to like but were actually half decent.

Bloc Party have been very heavily hyped. The temptation for those who like to plough their own furrow and not be told what to like by the NME is to hate anything hyped on principle. Often it turns out to be a good move: for instance, you know that Franz Ferdinand are shit months before everyone else cottons on, you don't have a bar of the assorted bollocks that infests the Zane Lowe show (I'm listening to it now but why escapes me: who hired that fucking idiot? He's Smashee for the txt generation I tell you) and nothing on God's green earth would provoke you to go near the Libertines' dreary pub rock.

But Bloc Party are almost danceable (I can see young Zen in his student bedroom, jigging uncomfortably after a night on the tequila slammers), tense headache rock that sneaks up on you, forcing you to sing along (and what's worse, earworming you so that you squeak out the words at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places, which confuses and perhaps amuses the bus queue but has mothers clutching their kids close to their bosom).

Lucky people in the UK can already buy it but, of course, we follow rather than lead, so it will be Monday before I have a copy. Zenita and Naughtyman will be word perfect ("They say you're just as boring as everyone else When you tut and you squeal And you squeal and you squelch"} by March.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Shoot three gods, win ten dollars

The carnival has arrived at Science and Politics. There isn't much God in any of the posts featured but there's a lot of tangy thought to chew on. See you at the ferris wheel.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Corruption? Not us guvnor

The UN is corrupt, we are told. A bunch of renegade thieves lining their own pockets with utter disregard for the poor of Iraq. As always, when the regressives are baying like hounds, the truth is something different.

Will the calls for Kofi Annan to resign/be jailed for corruption that he had no knowledge of now transmute into calls for Bush to be impeached/resign/be jailed? I doubt it.

When the thieves are on our side, they walk free. Kenny Lay is still a free man.

Regression therapy

Loved this article.

I noted in the US election that Bush smeared Kerry by calling him the most liberal senator in the house.

This is an insult? Liberal means to me "for the people" and not "for big business". It means to be "supports freedom" and not "supports repression". It means "antifascist". It means "keep your nose out of what doesn't concern you, like my body, what I put into it and who I fuck with it".

I'm all for calling the right what they are. In the case of the Bushistas, fascists is correct. By any measure their regime is fascist and only our fear of history keeps us from calling it as we see it.

Given their pre-Enlightenment attitudes on most things, I'm all for "regressive" and that's what I'm going to call them too. After all, that's what they are, backward-looking life-haters who want to unravel the goods that we have fought for and gained and reimpose the evils of yesteryear.

We need to wrest words from them. They are cunning but we are smart. Yes, cunning has superficial appeal to the rubes but smartness is ultimately what builds. They have Machiavelli but we have Leonardo. They have Hitler and Goebbels but we have Einstein.

Ducks all the way down

Michael Behe, a leading creationist, wrote an article on “intelligent design” in the NY Times the other day. There are plenty willing to put the boot into Behe but I couldn’t resist getting my kicks in. My critique follows:

IN the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design.

It should be noted that the legal challenge to having evolution taught has failed dismally, most recently with the court’s ordering that stickers pushing an antievolution message may not be used in Cobb County, Georgia.
Nor is intelligent design a “rival theory” on two counts. First, it is not a theory as anyone acquainted with science would understand it. A theory is a framework for explanation, a set of guidelines if you like that explain how observations can be arranged. The theory is a model of how the world actually is. If the model is accurate, it will coincide with the world, so that parts of the world that have not been observed but are included in the theory will match the theory’s model. Because of this, theories can be used to make predictions, which the observable facts may or may not fit. If they do not fit, you know that your theory, or the principle that forms a particular part of it, cannot be right. Depending on how many facts don’t fit, or how important those facts are to the principle, your theory needs to be modified or abandoned.
Intelligent design is not able to make predictions. None of its proponents has used it to make one. It is not a model of the world. Nor does it explain measurable facts. What it tries to explain is our impressions of the facts. It says nothing more than “this is how things seem to be”. But science specifically does not deal in how things seem to be. It models how they actually are. I learned this in my first physics class.
Second, intelligent design is not a “rival” to evolutionary theory. The latter has an immense body of evidence backing it. It is one of the best-founded theories of our world We rely on it in biology and it influences our understanding of many other areas. It has revolutionised medicine. There is no exterior evidence of intelligent design, as I will show.

As one of the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, I have found widespread confusion about what intelligent design is and what it is not.

Confusion that charlatans such as Behe have worked hard to create! At the base of the confusion is the notion that evolution and intelligent design are on the same footing as conjectures about life and its origins. They are both “theories” in the common parlance. But Behe is himself a scientist. He’s well aware that they do not equivalate.

First, what it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments.

Which leads one to ask: if the “intelligence” that designed life is not the Christian God, what is it?
This is of course a lie fundamental to the ID movement. Why? Because it is trying to pass creationism off as science, so that it can be taught in American public schoolrooms. There is far too much precedent that has demonstrated that you may not push your religious ideas there thanks to the First Amendment and creationists learned that to proselytise in America they must wrap their religion in a coat of “science”.
But an intelligence that designs life is, by definition, supernatural and, Behe is aware, the supernatural is excluded from science, which is confined to naturalistic explanations of the world. So he must try to pass off the intelligence involved as a sort of variable, a cosmological constant of biology.

For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator.

Which is at heart precisely what ID does mean.

That's misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life.

So they do have the belief that “if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection”.
Replace “omniscient creator” with “an intelligent designer of some sort” and the “caricature” is exactly what ID does believe.
It should be pointed out that the theory of evolution is not a “belief”. It is a model of how the world might be. Other models are allowed – encouraged – because the model does not express a truth; it does not reflect the world, as beliefs do, but shows what the truth could be.

But they do not doubt that evolution occurred.

They used to but so much evidence of it was presented that they realised they would quickly be exposed as antiscientific if they continued to claim it had not. The public had become too aware that antibiotic resistance in bacteria, for example, is a product of evolution.
Opponents of the theory of evolution rely on evolution’s having largely occurred in a past that we cannot directly observe. They are able to claim that it might not have happened because it cannot be demonstrated in a lab. Some even say it isn’t scientific because it cannot be observed in laboratory conditions. This is to be laughed at, so naïve a conception of what science is does it represent.

And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

But the question remains what the “intelligent designer” is if it is not a creator that matches the religious concept.

Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic.

As a long-time user of the Uselessnet and other combat zones, my ears prick up when the word “logic” gets an outing. On the Uselessnet, a correspondent who promises “logic” is generally not going to be employing any. They will be using an argument in steps that seems to them to be inarguable but they will not employ logic at all. Behe obliges beautifully by not even attempting to be logical.

The argument for it consists of four linked claims. The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.

Erm. Well, I’d say that the first claim is not “uncontroversial”. We don’t actually often see design in “nature”. What we do see are the marks of man on nature. We know that plate tectonics and erosion did not create Mt Rushmore because its creators are known to us. You can see where this argument is going from this point! Replace “plate tectonics and erosion” with “natural selection”, “Mt Rushmore” with “life” and you have the whole of Behe’s argument in a nutshell. It is clear, I think, that his pretence to argue from design to designer is hollow. We see design in Mt Rushmore because we know it had a designer. If it had not, would we assume that it had been created by people? We might assume that it’s one explanation but before we jump to conclusions we should remind ourselves that there are other formations that look enough like human artefacts that they have been given names like so and so’s chair, so and so’s bucket, whatever, but we can be sure that they were not fashioned by humans. To allow Behe’s point, we must demand of him that he can formalise the correspondence between Mt Rushmore and other artefacts that allows it to be identified as “designed”, so that the generalisation can be used in other areas. This is the hallmark of the theory, remember: the general principle that is used to explain new facts. In short, Behe must give a principle that explains why we would take Mt Rushmore to have been designed if we saw it and did not know that it had been carved by whoever it was carved it.

Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed. Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too.

Is it? This is in fact the heart of the controversy over ID. The argument of ID boils down to “everything is designed because it looks like it’s designed”. However, the theory of evolution explains that things look like they’re designed because a selective process has fashioned them.
Well, surely this makes the two equivalent and they should be taught as such? The problem is that ID is not an explanation of how things are but a means to avoid explaining it. It doesn’t explain how life was designed! It merely says it was. Remember, science does not describe how things are: it does not offer truths. It models how things might be. When you are modelling how things might be, breadth is important. It’s better to explain more rather than less.
Imagine if we took this approach to other areas of science. Alongside Newton’s laws we would learn heliopositioning theory. This theory says that an intelligent positioner put the sun where it is. The evidence is that it’s in a really convenient position for providing energy to life on earth. Its first claim is that it’s clear to us that some things are put in useful positions: the chair in my loungeroom is in front of the TV and not in the front yard; the bed is in a separate room to the TV, so that the latter doesn’t keep me awake if I retire early; the bus stop is next to the road and not inside someone’s house. The second claim is that you can recognise positioning in the world. Rivers flow into the sea or lakes. It would be disastrous if they did not because they would flood all the land and there would be nowhere to build houses. Places gulls nest – cliffs – are conveniently next to places they find food – the sea.

The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch, arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.

The limits on the imagination of the ID “theorist” are exposed. There is a simple explanation for the “appearance of design”. Design is something we perform to fit things to their purpose. So it is tempting to assume that where there is fitness, there is design. It is doubly tempting to mistake ends for purposes.
The wind blows a sycamore seed through the air. The seed lands far from the tree and a new sycamore can be born. The purpose of the wind is to blow the seed.
Hang on, something wrong there, isn’t there? Even though the wind fits the end of the sycamore, it does not exist for any purpose. We can happily explain the wind without referring to “design”.
We know what a watch is but say we didn’t. Would we recognise it as designed? Well, it clearly has features of other things that we know were designed. It carries numbers, it has a glass face, if we open it up we can see gearing. Even if we didn’t know what its purpose was, we know that those things have purposes.
If we knew nothing of the purpose of any of the parts of a watch, would we know it had been designed?

For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist repeating through clenched teeth: "It wasn't really designed. Not really.")

Indeed. Crick is of course cautioning scientists against taking the easy route out and accepting a simple but false explanation. He is directing them to find the route by which a thing evolved and not fall prey to the ready satisfaction of waving away difficulties by the suggestion that they were designed. What I think he would agree with is the suggestion that one must not confuse purposes with ends. An organism might suffer a mutation that has the end of making it fitter but it will never have a mutation with that purpose. Life does not try to evolve. It doesn’t aim for an end. The ends come to it.
That one should not accept the easy solution is a commonplace in science, which aims to go beyond the “obvious”. After all, it was so obvious to our forebears that malaria was caused by bad air that they named it that.
I remember being on a bus in the Casamance, in Senegal. It was Ramadan. A policeman asked me if I was fasting. No, I said, I am not a Muslim. A Christian, then, he said. No, I said, I didn’t have a god at all. Some of the men on the bus were astonished. It’s obvious there is a god, they said. Where there is rice, there was a seed the plant grew from, and a man planted the seed (actually, a woman planted it, since they do nearly all the fieldwork, but that’s another story). There is life, there must be a god, they said. C’est evident! How did man come to be, they asked. (This was a real stretch for my French!) I said he had evolved from monkeys. The bus rocked with their laughter.

The resemblance of parts of life to engineered mechanisms like a watch is enormously stronger than what Reverend Paley imagined.

Well, it would be if watches were generally jerrybuilt from twigs and bits of gravel, with the occasional inexplicable feature.

In the past 50 years modern science has shown that the cell, the very foundation of life, is run by machines made of molecules.

Behe hopes to mystify the rubes by introducing the idea that machines are made of molecules. Wow, thinks the rube. Machines. Made of molecules. Sounds very techological. Of course, everything is made of molecules! Designed or otherwise.

There are little molecular trucks in the cell to ferry supplies, little outboard motors to push a cell through liquid.

But the “little molecular trucks” do not in fact look like trucks at all. We suggest they are like trucks specifically because we make the analogy with our own products.
They are not trucks but like trucks. ID exploits the human need to understand by analogy. It is one of the ways we build new knowledge. We take a pattern that we understand and generalise it to the new. To explain cellular transport mechanisms we take the metaphor of the truck and apply it. But there are no trucks. The molecules do not have little wheels, gearboxes and guys with tattoos driving them.
Nor are flagella actually much like outboard motors. They remind us of them because they use the same principle. They don’t have little petrol motors though.
Only a man of such limited imagination would be astonished that nature could hit upon the same ideas for its structures as we do. You’d think that we were not ourselves part of nature, or that the notion of, for example, twirling a thing in a liquid to propel another thing was particularly complex.

In 1998 an issue of the journal Cell was devoted to molecular machines, with articles like "The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines" and "Mechanical Devices of the Spliceosome: Motors, Clocks, Springs and Things."

Only a charlatan would try to mislead the reader by the suggestion that because we describe molecular structures as machines that implies they were made by somebody. He relies on the notion that “machines” are something that people make to do things (which is of course where the word comes from).
But hang on. The sun could be described as a vast machine. It has a structure that works to fuse nuclei and create enormous amounts of energy. Elevators move the energy to its surface and ejectors push it out into space. I could push the metaphor if I wanted but it’s clear that the use of words creates the idea of “machineness” not an intrinsic property of things.

Referring to his student days in the 1960's, Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that "the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered."

Yes, cells are complex.
But we used to consider that the insides of humans were regulated by four “humours” and that these created our personalities. We now know that our insides are much more “elaborate and sophisticated” than anything we ever considered. We know that because we stopped settling for the “obvious” answer and looked deeper.

In fact, Dr. Alberts remarked, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. He emphasized that the term machine was not some fuzzy analogy; it was meant literally.

Dr Alberts does say that we should call the cellular structures in question “machines” because they are like humanmade machines. We call cells cells because they are like little rooms, seams of minerals veins and roads arteries, neurons transmitters and we even call the thing on the bottom of your foot an arch. In none of these cases are we led to draw the conclusion that the use of same name implies anything more than a superficial similarity.

The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence.

This is quite simply a downright lie. We have several good explanations for the “foundation of life”. None has prevailed but this doesn’t mean that they do not exist.
Yet again we must remind ourselves that science does not seek to show what is, only what might be. So it is content to consider how life might have arisen, which it can give an answer to, and not how it did, which it cannot.

Here is where thoughtful people part company. Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time.

Sorry, how is that where thoughtful people part company? Darwinists do not believe that the “foundation of life” has anything to do with their theory. Darwin himself described how life evolved from one or a few original organisms. He suggested that they were created and was content to leave it at that. That’s because he was writing a theory of the origin of species, not of the origin of life itself. The theory of evolution does not concern itself with how life arose because it is entirely immaterial to it.

Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified.

Those “scientists” don’t tend to actually be biologists, though, Behe forgets to mention.

They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

Another lie. There are many, many studies showing exactly this. What Behe would go on to say when presented with the truth of this is that yes, there are studies showing how the molecular machines might have evolved but no lab studies reproducing evolution.
We would at this point have to remind Behe that suggesting that one must reproduce evolution to show that there is a mechanism for it is rather like suggesting one must restage the battle of Waterloo to show that it happened in a particular way.
Science describes, just as history describes. It doesn’t have to become the thing it describes to describe it!

Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves.

In the former case, one wonders whether Behe actually knows what complexity theory is (I presume he means Kauffman’s theory of autocatalysis). Kauffman is not so much “sceptical of Darwinian claims” as interested in providing an explanation for how order can arise in large systems. In a nutshell, he is saying no more than that you might have several things that on their own do not have a property and when you put them together the property emerges. Hello. We call that a football team. We call it sex (so long as your sex takes at least two). We call it the bleeding obvious. It is not “antiDarwinian”. It is “nothing to do with Darwin”. If a thousand men run pellmell, they are a mob. If they march in step, they make an army. Kauffman is suggesting that molecules fell into step with one another. This does not exclude evolution for obvious reasons: in particular, that the molecules can be said to have evolved the ability to close the catalytic circle. The hurricane reference comes about because many have compared complexity theory to chaos theory. We’re all familiar with the butterfly effect. The spontaneous generation of life is supposed to be like a biochemical butterfly effect. It goes without saying that if Kauffman were right, his theory would be a strong disproof of ID! Behe is too clownish to realise that your enemy’s enemy is not always your friend.
I don’t know what Behe’s referring to when he discusses scientists who believe life designs itself. I suspect that “in some sense” hides the truth, which will turn out to be much less complimentary to ID.

The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life.

I’ll say it’s controversial. Behe is arguing that if you cannot find an explanation for a thing that convinces him, this proves that his explanation is correct.
Readers of the Times probably didn’t note the word “convincing”. It is crucial. Why? Because in science if there is only one hypothesis, it wins so long as it is not falsified.
This is because science is not about what is but what might be. So if heliopositioning theory is the only available explanation for why the sun is where it is, it is the “correct” theory. This does not mean that the sun is where it is because a positioner put it there. This is a mistake people make with science. They do not understand that the competition is between explanations, and the prize is to be the explanation, not the truth that is explained. What’s the difference? Well, thinking about a punch in the face and a description of a punch in the face is a good way of conceptualising it. The description can be very vivid, extremely accurate, unflawed as a means of telling you what a punch in the face is like. But it won’t break your nose.
But “convincing” is the key word here because Behe forgets to mention who must be convinced. You could be forgiven for thinking that he must mean “scientists” or “thinking people”. No. He means the American public. If you cannot come up with anything else to wow the rubes, my theory wins: that is the long and short of his message!

To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or the appearance of self-organization.

Wrong. It’s the appearance of whatever is appearing that everyone is labouring to explain. I’m surprised that Behe so outrightly shows how he and his cadres try to slant the discussion. They are not seeking to explain what they see. They are seeking to explain how they have interpreted what they see.
But biology is about seeking to explain what you see, not why you think it is like something else. The latter is a question for metaphysics.

The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck.

Here is the essential flaw in Behe’s argument: “it’s a duck” is the whole of his “theory”. It begins with “there is a duck”. The duck is axiomatic! What do I mean?
Behe’s “theory” has as an axiom that there is such a thing in nature as design (that there is such a thing as a duck). But his argument seeks to prove that because things in nature look designed (that they quack like ducks) they are things in nature that are designed (they are ducks).
But Professor Behe, it’s ducks all the way down.

Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.

He would be laughed out of the place if he said “geocentricism should not be overlooked because it’s so obvious” or if he picked up a pebble from the beach and said “it looks so much like it has been polished by human hands, let’s not throw out that suggestion just because it’s so obvious”. (In the latter case, one would take the two hypotheses: humans did it and sea did it and compare them. How can we compare ID and natural selection? ID simply states the “obvious”: goddidit. It takes the line that because it looks like it was designed (looks like it was polished by human hands) it is “logically” inescapable that it must have been designed (it must have been polished by human hands).

Still, some critics claim that science by definition can't accept design, while others argue that science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there.

But science does. It did not settle for Newton. It kept looking and Einstein found more. It did not settle for the atom theory. It kept looking and Bohr et al found more. It did not settle for the argument from design. It kept looking and Darwin found more.
Science never stops looking.

But we can't settle questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore.

You what? Ten dollars to anyone who can explain what “But we can’t settle questions about reality with definitions” means.

Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don't bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed.

Fair enough, Professor Behe. Do not accept whatever “special restrictions” scientists adopt for themselves. But do not pretend that you are doing science.

And so do many scientists who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and the elegance of design.

Many? I note that he doesn’t give a figure. It’s actually very few, isn’t it?

And tellingly, Professor Behe does not teach ID himself in his classes, nor does he do research into it. Why? Because Behe, like any scientist, is aware that there is a dividing line between science, the inquiry into what might be, and religion, the prescription of what is, and he knows well which side of it ID falls.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Silflaying the right

My comment that was barred (a software glitch for once, not a curtailment of the freedom of speech) from Silflay Hraka:

Why would I call Mr Annan a racist? He strikes me as a decent man. He is not indulging in screeching hypocrisy over Sudan but that does not make him a racist. The UN is not responsible for Darfur (in which all involved are "Africans", by the way -- perhaps you have become too fond of using the word as a euphemism for "black"). It cannot label it a genocide because its definition of genocide was heavily influenced by the American desire not to have *its* friends punished for their crimes. Still, "UN bad" is high on the list of the required neo-right dogmas that all Americans must subscribe to these days, so it's not surprising to read yet another of that number slamming Kofi Annan. He did rather cheekily suggest that the US illegally invaded a sovereign power, which it did when it could not gain the backing of the UN (you'd think we'd all forgotten the second resolution), and has been outspoken about the indiscriminate slaughter and chaos there, so doubtless he deserves the smears rightists bark like the dogs they are. Not sure what Boutros-Boutros did to you though.

Monday, February 07, 2005

At D and M's

D is looking tired. He says he cannot get up in the mornings. He feels so bad, he says, and he doesn't know why.

I ask him whether sometimes he feels that he isn't looking forward to the day. No, he says, he looks forward to every day. It's just his body.

Has he been stressed? No more than usual, he says. His life has become less stressed. He is finally back in sales and it is going well.

You need a blood test, I tell him. I am not a real doctor but I know that his GP will first try to exclude depression and burnout. Perhaps he has glandular fever. Once, drained, I went to the doctor. She tested my blood and said I had had glandular fever at some point. I hadn't even known.


Our wives should have sex with us. We are agreed on that. His, M, refuses to give him sex because he doesn't help around the house enough. (I am using the right terminology: she feels she is doing him a favour by letting him have sex.

But our wives should want sex with us. We should be at least in part sexual for them. I mean, our relationship should partly be based on that. If it is not, why can't we just go and do that somewhere else? What grounds would they have for complaint even?

M found out that D had been visiting prostitutes. She thought about leaving him but she did not.

She had no right. I don't approve of using prostitutes but I have no problem with his being unfaithful. He had no chance to meet other women: his job involves being on the road but he doesn't visit lonely housewives; he does not have an office that he can meet women in; and he is rarely permitted to socialise without her.

I tell her I hate living so far from the city because I cannot go drinking there. Why would you want to, she said. You're a family man.

Yes, I am but I am lots of other things. We all are. We only increase our unhappiness by not being.

Should D make himself more desirable to M? I don't doubt it works both ways. But she must be open to it. M makes us laugh. She used to be a goer, when she was younger, but now she is extremely prudish. She is angry that her daughter, C, has been watching pop videos and has copied the moves. C thrusts her hips out and gyrates as she dances. She is a good little dancer. She doesn't know what the moves mean. She sings along with the songs. She doesn't know what the words mean either. She is six and blessedly innocent.

M threw away one of D's CDs, a greatest hits of the year, because some of the lyrics were suggestive. They are, and I worry about the message Zenella will take from them. She already wears lip gloss. The sexualisation of preteens is a serious concern. I do not buy the orthodox view that it is harmless, that today's kids are more sophisticated and more able to handle it. I think the opposite, if anything, is true. They are fragile and easily overwhelmed by the torrent of messages they are fed.

C dances because her older sister is the focus of the family. M2 is a talented gymnast, possibly good enough to go all the way (she is too young to say but she seems to be just a little below the very best and it's still possible for her to make up the gap). She trains 22 hours a week. She is eight years old, I think, or perhaps nine.

C wants to be watched. She wants people to think she too is worthy of attention. She is an adorable child. She has a beautiful, ready smile, and is very eager to please. You would think parents would be proud to have her, would shower her with affection and try to make her feel special.

C is shouted at a lot, that I can tell you.


M says she will not send a child to public school (private school for those of you who speak nonEnglish English). She wil save the money to send them to university. She tells the story of a friend's child, who went to a public school and then, as if to spite their parents, left after year 10 and worked in hospitality.

I ask Mrs Zen when we are at home why M would say such a thing. Surely if she had the money she'd send her kids to public school. She's just saying it, Mrs Zen says, because she doesn't have the money. It makes her feel better if she makes out she doesn't want it anyway.

I say to Mrs Zen that there is no fucking way that Zenella will not go to university. As if that would be negotiable!

It's an odd thing. We were talking about why our friend D's husband M (another M -- I am now realising I should have used pseudonyms!) doesn't like us. I explain to M and D that he doesn't like us because he is from the UK (he is a Scot) and he is staunchly working class. They don't understand. I say, look, back there a painter, which is what M is, would not be marrying a bank manager, which is what D is. Even today they wouldn't be likely to meet because they would not go to the same places. Yes, they might hook up at a club but it's not likely that it would go for any length. His friends would take the piss. They would wreck his relationship. M is uncomfortable with D's friends, which Mrs Zen and M are, because he fears they are not from the same social circle.

The odd thing is that they are all working class too. They met at TAFE. None finished year 12 at school. None has much education. D (M's husband, not M's wife!) is unskilled and always has been. M (his wife, not D's husband) is a clerk, a low-level administrator. Mrs Zen is a bookkeeper. Why am I with them? My dad was a sailor. I am a nouveau bourgeois, if you like. I was the first person in my family, either side, to go to university.

I am saying to them that the difference is that going to university, pursuing a career was never on the cards for M. He was destined to be a labourer of some sort. It has nothing to do with his brains or his potential. I am saying to them that the middle classes just assume their kids will go to university. It's not even a question. I assumed I would but because I was smart, not for the same reasons.

Do I look down on them for it? No but I can tell you I look down on Mrs Zen's mother, her teachers who failed her, her friends who let her feel it was okay just to become an office worker and not even do the 12 years of school. I look down angrily on the people who failed her by not expecting anything of her.


My own mother is coming to visit this week. (My father is coming too. He will at last meet the twins.) I adore her. I'm not one of these tough guys who think that there is anything wrong with loving his mum. I enjoy her company, although, or probably because, she is susceptible to wild ideas. Last time she visited, she had Zenella chanting positive messages (I forget what they call them: reinforcements, something like that). "I am wonderful, yes I am. I am talented, yes I am." I love that she is positive. When I am down and she knows it, she sends me long letters bursting with positivity. She has never known how to help me live my life; not when I was smaller and needed guidance, and not now when I am so often bewildered by a life I seem to have stumbled into but certainly didn't design (or perhaps I did, but if I did, I must have been senselessly drunk when I drew up the plans). But I forgive her for that because her heart was in the right place. I can forgive just about anything of people who are at least trying.

At least she has given up on the Swedenborg. That was just fucking weird. Worse than Jung, who she read avidly when I was a teen. Her latest thing was the Alexander Technique and she had gone back to chanting to Hindi deities, although she's at least nominally a Christian. I'm almost looking forward to finding out what bollocks she is a subscriber to now. She doesn't fear the new. It rubbed off on me and I hope it rubs off on the Zenlings. It doesn't make your life any happier but it does make it richer, in a small way, generally without monetary value (so of no interest to the conservatives out there) but of some small comfort, I suppose.


D and I are looking out at the stars. There are a lot to be seen out at his place, because it is far enough from the city for the light pollution to be minimal.

There are a lot of stars, he says. Yes, I say, but you can only see, what, a few thousand, a few hundred thousand when you realise that the Milky Way is all stars. Call it a billion, I say, and they would still be a fraction of the stars that there are that would be one over 1 with 79 noughts after it.

That's a lot of stars, he says.

Yes, I say, and it's certain that somewhere out there are two apes like us, wondering at the size of the universe and how small they feel to be a part of it. I want to say, there's this big fucking universe and all we have is one another, that's all we have, but he is gone and I am alone under the stars.

Knock down three atheists, win a teddy bear

The Carnival of the Godless has rolled into pharyngula.

It's smashing, thought-provoking stuff and yes, I'm a contributor, so I'm bound to say that, but truly, there are some excellent blogs involved (Pharyngula itself is a personal favourite of mine -- PZ Myers is a sterling fighter against the creationist antiscience menace).

Next week it's the turn of Coturnix at Science & Politics. Email submissions to Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com for consideration.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Zen of humanism

I am not good because a god tells me to be.

Sometimes a Christian might say, yes, but why be good if you do not fear punishment for doing bad? Ah, I say, good point. I must truly deserve merit because I am good for its own sake and not because I fear chastisement. I'd have thought your God will reward me double for not needing to be forced into it.

This of course ignores that goodness might be an end in itself, that I might choose to be good not because it is the opposite of “sin” but because it is something that feels right to me.

Why be good? Because bad feels bad. I know this feeling is a product of my socialisation and I am content with that. I believe socialisation is a good thing. We live in societies after all, and much of the material comfort of our lives springs from that. Besides, I don’t want the people I care for to have bad done to them, nor do I want to suffer from others' doing bad. I suppose I feel that if I add to the bad I cannot expect to reap the good for myself or those I care for. I know it’s not coldly logical or reasonable (because karma is, in truth, about how you feel not a law of the universe, or if it is, it doesn’t seem to be working in Washington) but I believe that the world – the human world, I mean – is more or less the sum of its parts and I am part of it.

This belief is the core of humanism as I see it. (And that is the only “ism” I’m even partly comfortable subscribing to.) Increasing the store of goodness increases my share. Because goodness is something I want for myself, I have an incentive for being good.

Christians are, generally, worshippers of the objective with a capital o (and despise the truly objective, the world of science, which insists on valuing only what all can value together). I suppose it comes of believing in the Absolute. Once you have an Absolute, the absolute is a small step. Life becomes circumscribed with inarguable prescriptions. It’s easy to understand life that way but I’m smart enough, I think, to take on a bit more.

I can bear a world where relativity rules. I am happy for an action to be “rightish” or “mostly good” and for that to be good enough. I can stand difficult moral calculus (mostly, I suspect, because like many middle-class, well-fed Westerners, I don’t have to face too many difficult moral choices of my own but think about others’ too much).

Too many questions do not have answers, although you wouldn’t believe it, given how much we posture and pretend they do (for instance, “is a foetus alive?”, “is it ever right to lie?”, “what is a good life?”). And many have different answers at different times, or even different answers for us and for others (Kant be damned!).

A belief in God provides answers for those questions, either directly through the Bible or indirectly through its interpreters. But, luckily, they do not need to be answered for me to be able to live this life.


I love science because ultimately it does not say what is. It says what might be. When observations show a hypothesis to be wrong, they are not saying it is not, they are saying it cannot be.

My philosophy is just the same. It is not about what is. It is about what is possible, which ideas can exist together. It does not promise me unchallengeable answers but it allows a route to understanding because it does not close doors or disallow any particular path. It is never fixed, although some of its axioms have not changed and I daresay will not (will not is often taken to mean cannot but of course they are not the same thing at all).

Do I think it would be correct for all? Would it make good dogma? Well no. I am not seeking converts. I won’t proselytise. Let all believe what they will. No harm comes of beliefs. It’s the good and bad you do that counts after all.

Carnival of the Sain

The latest Carnival of the vanities is hosted by Ken Sain. If nothing else, even if I don't have the time to read too many of the entries, just looking up the latest one is introducing me to some very good blogs.

Study of deceit

Here's the deal. A study -- you know, those things scientists do to try to ascertain the facts that do or don't meet their hypothesis -- is done.

The two rival hypotheses: that heroin is in itself harmful and will inevitably harm its users and that it is potentially harmful but its harm can be mitigated or augmented by situational factors.

The results: long-term users in the study are found to be able to use heroin safely. They have good jobs and generally good health.

The responses: the scientists' hypothesis is supported. The campaigners slam the study. "The message we would want to put out is that heroin is a very dangerous drug."

Hello? The message of the study is that it isn't always.

This is the problem that the rational always face. It doesn't matter how much support your position, which you have based on the facts and their consequences, gains because those that oppose it are basing their position on beliefs and supposition. It is an article of faith for antidrugs campaigners that drugs are in and of themselves harmful. This simply is not generally true. Study after study shows it to be false, shows that drugs are risk factors, not causes, generally speaking.

Yes, drugs are bad, blah blah. There's no future in being a smackhead. But if you base your campaign against them in lies, you look not like a concerned citizen but like a spoilsport, simply wishing others not to do what you don't want for yourself. What else is there to substantiate your position?

The Bushnami of freedom

"Bush does not get credit for Iraq's fleeting glimpse of democracy for the exact same reason you don't give the tsunami credit for cleansing the streets of Indonesia."

Of course the Bushnami will not strike where it is really needed: Saudi Arabia, the font of Islamist terrorism, a well of discontent in the Middle East and a profoundly undemocratic nation; Pakistan, ruled by a military dictator, a wellspring of Islamism (a nation where Islamists have some positions of power even) and horribly corrupt; Russia, a kleptocracy that has made a joke of the democratic ideal; America, ditto.

He might leave Iran to the Israelis. If he does, I wouldn't want to be a Syrian.

Actually, Syria would be a lot easier than Iran. It's another largely desert country with a weak army. It certainly does not have WMDs, although Rumsfeld, I think it was, planted the seed of a claim that Saddam sent his imaginary ones there. It is not linked with Al Qaeda, for much the same reasons Iraq wasn't, but it wouldn't be hard to fake a link. After all, the American people bought al-Ansar as Saddam-supported, even though it operated in the Kurdish areas that Saddam could not enter because we were protecting them. There's no huge complication with Syria's minorities: they're quite small minorities and the Moslems are mostly Sunni (although interestingly Assad is not -- he's an Alawi). Syrians are mostly Arabs, and Arabs attacked the WTC and comprise much of Al Qaeda, so that link is still there. All they need do is line up a tame Syrian for the interim preznit, start telling some big lies about Syria and we're away.

And no one can say it's about the oil because Syria didn't get too lucky when Allah handed it out.

However, a big drawback might be that Assad is not hugely unpopular. He is relatively progressive and although he has suppressed opposition, he is nothing like as brutal as Saddam. The people of Syria won't necessarily be enthusiastic about being "liberated".

Don't mention the queers

Those who remember the institutionalised bigotry of Section 28 know that a government that is intent on demonising homosexuality will go to any lengths to do so. But even in the UK it did not become impossible for publicly funded television to even portray queers.

It is pointless to say, yet again, that children are not harmed by being raised by same-sex couples; indeed, quite the opposite. It is pointless to say, yet again, that on a list of our world's problems, marauding homosexuals would have to rank pretty low.

But the chill wind really is a hurricane if the level of censorship has reached the point where gays cannot even be on children's television without raising opprobrium. The programme was not saying "it's okay to be gay". It was not suggesting to the nation's youth that they should all go out and be lesbians. Are these nutters so demented that they really believe that just watching lesbians on television will make all their girls want to give it a go? I fear they are. They seem to believe that children choose their sexuality and that if we simply hide away all mention of gayness, they won't know it's there to choose.

This is what Americans voted for: murder in Iraq, hatred and bigotry at home. What an ugly face they show to the world.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Evolving thoughts

The story of pepper moths shows how natural selection actually works. You can do it for yourself. I defy even creationists not to enjoy the challenge of moth-gobbling. Remember, for Darwin to be wrong, you have to not find it easier to eat the light ones in the dark forest. Bonne chance!


Sponge and son of sponge. Look what beauty there is even in the most humble of life.

I rejoice in it. It is fascinating to see what evolution has wrought and belief that you need a god to fashion each part of it diminishes the wonder for me.


What makes something "explicitly unique"? Enjoy the music of Gaahd on this creationist site.

Let's face it, if there is a God, he's not a very nice one if he has gifted his followers with the panpipe instead of the electric guitar (which we all know is the source of the devil's music.


When all else fails, and the creationists have failed, apply Godwin's Law and claim your opponents are Nazis.

As the commenters point out to Sarfati (or rather the editor of the Conservative Voice who thought he was worth lifting and using, without his permission one might presume, given that this is an old piece that Sarfati has seen discredited before), Hitler claimed his antiSemitism was fuelled by fanatical Christianity.

We make our own world. We make the rules that guide it. We make them out of whatever cloth appeals to us. A person can spin Darwinism into hatred, or the word of God or that of Buddha.


Still, it's not all bad. Apparently, Ronnie Reagan is in hell.

A chill wind

Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges.

Bush calls for a constitutional amendment because marriage is a "sacred" institution. Perhaps he has forgotten one of the amendments that already exists. It begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Will he seek the repeal of the First? He must, if he wishes an amendment that respects the "sacredness" of marriage.

America is not too many steps from theocracy. "Activist" judges are looking like its best hope these days, with the media rolling over and the people all too willing to empower vicious "faith-based" demagogues.

A chill wind is blowing.

Our government will continue to support faith-based and community groups that bring hope to harsh places... Taking on gang life will be one part of a broader outreach to at-risk youth, which involves parents and pastors, coaches and community leaders

A careful listener or reader will have noted that the government is pledged to support groups in a particular order. The faith-based come first. The message is clear enough to any that want to hear it: "religious groups can expect to be first in the queue when we're doling out funds".

The onlooker reminds himself that America is the beacon of secularism in this world.

Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many and intimidate us all, and we will stay on the offensive against them until the fight is won.

Who are they? Where are they?

It is time they gave details. The threat has become so vague that surely even the least sceptical must ask themselves where are these terrorists? What are they doing? How are they able to strike in Iraq practically daily but in the USA, which we keep being told, they wish to intimidate, they cannot muster even one suicide bomber?

The WTC bombers were able to saunter through customs and there are no greater restrictions now than there were then. Where are the fanatics who have entered the USA on legitimate visas and then assembled the wherewithal to attack passers-by?

Atta was middle class, we were told. Jarrah was middle class. They did not look like anything more frightening than engineering students, lawyers, etc.

Where are they? All in Guantanamo or Iraq?

But this is a "global network of terror", well funded and tremendously well equipped, not afraid of death and desperate to kill Americans.

Where are they hiding? Why aren't they killing us?

Zarqawi isn't even Al Qaida, although he's started calling himself that. He's all there is, more or less, in Iraq. A handful of others. The rest are Iraqis.

The United States has no right, no desire and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else.

But it does. It wishes everywhere to become a "democracy". It wishes everywhere to open up to its corporations.

If Saddam had no WMDs and posed no threat to America, which he did not and did not, they knew then and even the blindest knows now, why did we invade his country? To free his people and bring democracy, we're told.

What is that if it is not imposing your form of government on others?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Turned out nice again

How many Iraqis were registered to vote?

It sounds impressive to say that 57% defied the gunmen but 57% of what? (It should not be forgotten that the country was locked down with tight curfews and a ban on vehicle traffic, so that the gunmen were more or less restricted to shooting people in their own home streets. Erm.)

As Sami Ramidani points out, this isn't the first election the Americans have held that has been no more than a break in the campaign to kick them out of a country they have invaded.

The Americans are fantasising that the election is an endorsement of their occupation but Sistani claims that this is just the first step in ridding Iraq of them. He told the Shia to vote for the Shia list and see the Yankees shooed out the door. The people responded enthusiastically.

They could hardly have been voting for anything else. The candidates' names were secret. Their programmes were not publicised. Naturally the people were willing to walk to the nearest school or whatever to add their voice to the clamour for sovereignty. The war has been "over" for nearly two years now and still the Americans are killing them in the streets.

Noblesse oblige

Thom Hartmann nails it yet again.

The right, particularly in the States, likes to whine that taxes are an unfair imposition on their earnings, that they should be allowed to keep what they have gained.

They ignore that they did the gaining through the mechanism of everyone else, in a world we all pay to maintain, with colleagues we educated, in businesses we often funded the startups of and supported, in an infrastructure we paid for. They forget that their taxes pay for their military, without which they could not enjoy the foreign adventurism that has led them to believe that their nation is the "greatest".

They like to imagine that their taxes are unfairly paying for welfare mothers and widows: the former should not exist because they are an affront to the institution of matrimony; the latter should simply starve if they were not fortunate enough to have been wealthy.

Corporations, it is often said, should not be taxed heavily because they "create wealth". Well yes, they do. That's their purpose. But forgive us if we do not see why exactly creating wealth for a privileged few is in itself a good thing. When we see the disparity between rich and poor grow, and full-time jobs become casualised partwork with the same wages but none of the residual benefits (so that they are in effect lesser paid), and our schools and hospitals are in crisis because our governments, having slashed corporate tax, do not have the revenue to fund them at the increased rate they need, we might ask whether "creating wealth"
is actually something that is good for us.

Hartmann says:
We are quickly shifting toward a corporate-run state in countries all over the world. It appears "free" and even allows elections, albeit they are only among candidates funded and approved by corporate powers, held on voting machines owned by those corporate powers, and marketed in media owned by those corporate powers.

We do not own our nations. That was the promise of democracy, the promise of America. That the government should be for the people and precisely that it should not be for the rich.

When the governments of the west rid themselves of the higher rates of progressive taxation, they told us that they did so because high rates were a disincentive to wealth creation. So now the executives of corporations take decisions that are almost solely in the interests of increasing their salaries (through the bonuses and stock options they accrue) and are very rarely in the public interest. (As an aside, rightists might consider this: they claim that wealthier companies create more jobs. Well, it's true that Exxon hired a thousand new engineers last year. Is that a good return on $25 billion? If the increases in profits brought by "outsourcing" your job are pocketed by your CEO, how exactly have you benefited? If casualising your job saves $20,000 in benefits, do you think that the company rushes out and spends that twenty grand on hiring an apprentice, so that there will be a skilled workforce in the future. (Well no. They rely on the government to train the workforce for them. Sometimes it's the gov't of India they rely on.)

We are not materially wealthier than we were 30 years ago. Does it strike you that back then a man could keep a whole family on one wage? Now families must almost put their children up chimneys. We have more goods (yes, competition in industry increases efficiency, so that there are found newer ways to make washing machines cheaper -- usually by getting Malaysians to do it for peanuts) and this tends to make us feel more comfortable.

The right needs to be told that they did not "earn" it. They are part of a broader society and the latter did the earning. They are fortunate that they are part of it and can benefit from it. If they are educated they barely even have to work to get it. I certainly wouldn't consider what I do to be half the work that the guys I can hear fixing up my neighbour's house do (although, to be fair, they spend a great deal of time talking about what they are going to do rather than actually doing it). If they are executives, they can spend their days in meetings, chatting, while others beaver away, making them rich.

They did not earn it. We earned it together. And it's ours to share out as we see fit. We should remind them of that and begin our reclamation of our nations by taking more, much more, of the cream that they have been skimming off for far too long.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The screaming comes across the sky...

This is an incredible treat. Gravity's rainbow would be quite possibly the novel I have enjoyed reading most in my life.

It opened a door for me to a new understanding of what a novel could be, what it could contain. It is written in a style most can only dream of, brilliantly elegant and yet dense, jampacked with ideas.

This summary does it great justice. I would give this as a gift to someone that I loved. I'm astonished that something so beautiful can be freely available. Mind you, you could say the same of sunset viewed from the garden of the Straddie Hotel or late afternoon at Lamorna Cove or DNA. Not everything is yet owned and sold.

Secrets and lies

At last a woman who puts her tits to good use. Otherwise, they're just sitting there, aren't they?


Money, money, money. That's what it's about. This chick strips in the hope that her admirers will stump up for a camera.

Porn blogs are ten-a-penny these days, and amateur sex blogs getting that way. [parental advisory:links to sites with explicit material] It's reader's wives for the digital age. It's quite refreshing to see that women who are, well, ordinary are prepared to let it all hang out.

I'm interested in porn as art (or art as porn, whatever), purely from a philosophical pov you understand. If you don't think pudenda can be art, you'll put this down as porn dressed up. Some of the shots are quite interesting in a "what the fuck is that?" way and some are genuinely appealing but too much of it tips over the line that separates "this is something beautiful to look at" and "this is something that you must want to fuck". [/parental advisory]

One of the main criticisms of porn is that it is exploitative. But these women are, arguably, exploiting themselves. Besides, aren't many of our relationships, much of the structure of our lives, exploitative?

For me, porn is disturbing because viewing it risks opening the floodgates of desire. We cannot wholly control what we respond to but "in real life" we do not often come across things that we don't wish to be part of our life of desire unless we intend them to. That doesn't mean we are never surprised IRL; only that surprises tend to arise from possibilities we might have expected or understood to be available.

In any case, porn acts as a surrogate for what you desire. Look at it enough and it is just bodies, cocks, cunts and fluids. It is not very arousing and you have to view a lot to be stimulated enough to use it.

For me, it is the impersonality of porn that makes it so unsexy. Once you are over the thrill of it (and it is thrilling -- don't believe what your partners tell you; we men are programmed for excitement by the vision of women), you realise that the stagedness has created a barrier. It is not real enough to arouse desire.

This same stagedness was what, I think, made lapdancing something I could not enjoy.

For me, personal is arousing. Something seen that is fleeting, words that are just for me, secrets. (When I have secrets, I do not fear that they will be revealed because I am hiding anything but because the bond that they create will be destroyed. And I do have secrets -- I'd hope we all do -- some that are shared with only one other, and some that are entirely within me. Sometimes I tell someone something that is entirely secret, although they do not know that, and there is a thrill in doing so, but I fear always that there is a line between secrets about me and secrets about me and others, and sharing the latter is something like the betrayal that I myself wish to avoid. It goes without saying that a great fear of mine is that the person or people I share with will shrug, simply not care -- not so much that they will think less of me but that they will think that what I had to share was trivial.)

However, like all the pleasures of the flaneur, you cannot seek these things out. They occur in the day to day, small treasures that you cannot quite hold and cannot quite keep.

One and a half billion bullets

"It's kind of bad we destroyed everything, but at least we gave them a chance for a new start."

Thanks to Tom for the link.