Monday, April 30, 2012

Mondays fallacies are fair of face

Here's a couple of new logical fallacies to help with games of "Fallacy bingo" (TM), today we have two really common ones,

The AD-HOMINEM - Attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits instead of engaging with their argument.

Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone without actually having to engage with their argument. After Sally presents an eloquent and compelling case for a more equitable taxation system, Sam asks the audience whether we should believe anything from a woman who isn’t married, was once arrested, and smells a bit weird.

APPEAL TO AUTHORITY - Using the opinion or position of an authority figure, or institution of authority, in place of an actual argument.

Much of the time experts have better information and understanding than others, but holding a position of authority doesn't necessarily mean that someone is right. After all, the highest medical authorities used to think that bleeding people was a good general cure for sickness. Not able to defend his position that evolution ‘isn’t true’ Bob says that he knows a scientist who also questions evolution (and presumably isn’t a primate).

More to follow...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dying regrets

Not a particularly uplifting thought for a Friday afternoon and something most people probably already know, but interesting never the less. A palliative nurse in Australia who has for many years counselled the dying in their last days has documented the most common regrets that her patients expressed at the end of their lives, here are the top 5...

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

As the universe so frequently demonstrates, life is excruciatingly rarely how we'd wish it to be and if permitted by society (and there are many that don't) people themselves are the primary agent of purpose and change in their lives, apparently most people don't realise this fact until it's too late or in many cases delegate responsibility to invisible forces; I guess that's human too.

A thought about thought for the day

I came across this little gem today, it's one of many such efforts by @RupertMyers on Twitpic - I could probably fit every radio 4 thought for the day scripts I've ever heard into this model.

Modern illusions

I like this, in many cases choice is an illusion...

Fallacy du jour

For fun (in the loosest sense) I thought I'd post a couple of logical fallacy definitions regularly for a while as a kind of mini-series.

What prompted this was a business meeting I attended yesterday which, in my utter boredom I played a little game of logical fallacy bingo (in my head), it was actually quite fun so I thought I'd throw it out there as a suggested way of getting through those interminable ego-feasts that pass for management meetings in companies these days.

So today we have a couple of classics, you're bound to hear these two in any business meeting (lasting more than a minute!)

The STRAWMAN - Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.

By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone's argument, it's much easier to present your own position as being reasonable or valid, but this kind of dishonesty serves to undermine rational debate. After Will said that we should put more money into health and education, Warren responded by saying that he was surprised that Will hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenceless by cutting military spending.

The BANDWAGON - Appealing to popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted form of validation.

The flaw in this argument is that the popularity of an idea has absolutely no bearing on its validity. If it did, then the Earth would have made itself flat for most of history to accommodate people’s popular belief. Shamus pointed a drunken finger at Sean and asked him to explain how so many people could believe in leprechauns if they’re only a silly old superstition. Sean, however, had had a few too many Guinness himself and fell off his chair.

More to follow...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I wished the ground had opened up...

Is this faked?

If not then what an incredible coincidence, although I can think of a few people I'd like something similar to happen to (David Cameron?) I could also imagine that such a happening would freak a few Theists out, you could have someone down there in the sewer waiting with a red horned mask on :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Brand promotion

Why does Russell Brand get to testify to a Commons Home Affairs committee, doesn't he live in America now and can't we find someone a little more qualified to speak about such important matters as drug dependency? I know lets have society where celebrities dictate policy on the basis of their anecdotal experience, what could possibly go wrong...

When ancestors sneeze

Love this story on the BBC site today; it's a biology piece about crafty little critters called ERV's (endogenous retro viruses). These are viruses that end up inserted into the very structure of the DNA at the heart of their hosts' cells, once in place they are able to use the mechanisms of that cell to replicate. Sometimes these viruses can be seen at a particular place in a DNA sequence across many generations, i.e. their DNA sequence persists from one generation of host to the next. If you're looking for proof that evolution happens then you need look no further than your own DNA, embedded in it is an ancient virus that infected one of our distant ancestors over 100 million years ago, you can find the exact same virus "code" in most mammals at exactly the same spot in our respective DNA chains faithfully reproduced over the aeons clearly demonstrating common descent (i.e. we share a common ancestor with all other mammals).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy birthday speccy

For anyone under 45 this probably looks like a cross between a TV remote control for giants and a speak and spell, but 30 years ago today this little black hunk of plastic represented the cutting edge of consumer computing. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum is 30 today and on the Google home page (in the UK) you will see a tiny bit of pixel art with a dragon on it which also acknowledges another far less important anniversary here, St. Georges day. Celebrating the speccy anniversary will be easy, you can download an emulator that runs on PC's and simulates the machine perfectly, including the crappy graphics and clunky sound. I'll be running through a few levels of Jet Set Willy at lunch time and recalling fondly those pioneering days. As for the other thing, to be honest I was never quite sure what you're supposed to do to celebrate St. Georges day, slay something perhaps?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sinking feeling

I love the sense of humanity on display at this children's playground in Northern Ireland; it an inflatable slide in the form of a half sinking ship which tips a nod to the Titanic anniversary this year. Apparently quite a few of the good burgers of Lough Shore aren't happy though, complaints have been received and many say that the amusement is in bad taste. Personally I think bad taste is underrated, irreverence is just as much part of our human make-up as grief, we should accommodate both.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Some nasty person in our office accused me of being "non-spiritual" the other day, I was deeply offended, how dare they! It took me ages to settle my aura back down and my Odic force was vibrating for hours afterwards.

Anyway to show that I am open minded on such matters I present our new infrastructure support teams' new policy for dealing with PC problems, I've spent thousands to ensure they have the best crystals available, so enough of the offensive personal attacks and get back to work.


Next week how to make your computer more powerful by diluting it (also works with iPhones)...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scouting for God

It's interesting to see that the scout movement is wheeling out its PR bandwagon claiming to be all fuzzy, warm and inclusive, announcing how Muslims now have their own special uniform. In reality the scout movement still counts itself as a quasi-religious organisation and is exempted from equal opportunities rules because of that, leadership positions cannot be held by people without faith. Indeed they still insist that new members swear an oath to "God", they just don't care which one and don't seem too concerned if people lie.

A few years ago my own son showed an interest in joining the cubs and a nice lady came to our house to check us out - religion was a central theme of questioning, I did think at the time that it was a somewhat ludicrous thing to be asking a 6 year old child what religion they were I just said Church of England and left it at that (I didn't want to prejudice his chances) but the whole thing was just creepy. In the end he didn't bother so it wasn't an issue, it's a shame they seem so stuck in their superstitious ways.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reality check

Ok, I'm officially lusting after these; they're augmented reality glasses i.e. they are attached to a computer and project generated images onto the wearers view of where they are or what they're looking at. Google recently ran a pilot for such a device that integrated phone, social media connectivity, web applications (such as Google Maps) and other conventional gizmo's such as an MP3 player and video. The overall effect was impressive but outside of major cities like San Francisco and New York that have pervasive (free) WiFi networks and well mapped landscapes I suspect that a viable mass-market product is a way off yet; wandering around grasping a laptop between your butt cheeks to drive everything might be a bit limiting too.

Random world

I spotted this amazing photograph today, it's the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer prize for breaking news photography and shows the simply heart rending scene of a young girl screaming in fear as a suicide bomb is detonated in a crowded street in Kabul (Afghanistan). The bomb was pitched against Shiite Muslims during one of their religious festivals in December 2011. The details of the shot can be read about here but it was taken by Massoud Hossaini of the Agence France Presse. It made me think about another story in the news today, that of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, it reminded me what a chaotic, random and violent world we live in and prompted me to hug my children for a few seconds longer this evening before they were tucked into bed.

Tribute to Hitch

I'd forgotten how direct and refreshing he was..

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life, don't talk to me about life...

I spotted this humorous graffiti today and it made me smirk; but it also made me think about how complex the real world is versus a dumbed down unidimensional "imagined" world that seems to pervade a lot of the media these days. I have a bad back at the moment and would take the escalator, on another day I would take the stairs, context is everything. Life is a complex thing, an infinite number of factors and variables impact our choices all the time.

On this theme, I've been reading an interesting book lately called "Free Will" by Sam Harris, his basic claim is that free will doesn't exist, decisions we take that feel to us like they're freely chosen can be detected in advance by an fMRI scanner up to a second before we're actually aware that a choice has been made, clearly there is no freedom in that. It's a fascinating field, undoubtedly with some exciting discoveries to come on the nature of conciousness. The longer I live the more I realise that pretty much every single one of my basic intuitions is wrong, I'm also acutely aware that my spinal column has a limited shelf life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not on script..

I love this story, it's such a great example of what too many people think is "faith" based thinking, it's not just Christians who do this kind of stuff, Muslims love a bit of real blood in their re-enactments too of course. Nine people in the Philippines deliberately nailed themselves (with real nails) to crosses to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus. Presumably they want to feel "closer" to their deity or perhaps believe they will be rewarded somehow for hurting themselves in this fashion, regardless, I'm sure there are a few million staphylococci bacteria that will be thrilled at the prospect. The kicker for me was the response to this from the Catholic church who quite sensibly pointed out that people need not nail themselves to wooden structures because that was kinda the point of Jesus doing it in the first place...

For anyone who's old enough to have heard the Bob Newhart sketch about an imaginary call made by Sir Walter Raleigh calling home to describe tobacco; an imagined call between these clowns and the local Bishop may well have been rather similar (well in my head at least)..

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cartoon for Cameron

Following on from my last post on secularism, here's a cartoon for Mr Cameron, I wonder if he would "get it"..?

From the wonderful Jesus and Mo

Do I smell a hypocrite?

In a recent meeting with church leaders our own glorious political leader, David Cameron, welcomed a "Christian fightback" against what he characterised as "secularism", you know, those nasty people who want equal rights and representation for everyone regardless of faith or lack of it. Quite remarkably he praised this action saying,

“I think there’s something of a fightback going on, and we should welcome that. The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need.”

Like the true chamaeleonidae he seems to be he went on to say that he hoped the religious lobby would not fall out with him over the sanctioning of gay marriage - clearly Mr Cameron isn't saying that we need all the values in the bible, just the ones he agrees with at the moment; one wonders how Mr Cameron decides which values to adopt and which to ignore, perhaps he has access to a morality the rest of us don't, in fact I'm sure of it.

I hope Mr Cameron realises the shear number of people that he's disenfranchising by aligning himself to the superstitious community in such a binary way like this, it's a show-stopping issue for many people in this country including myself.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Prayers: how to do nothing but feel good.

The whole council prayers row is flaring up again (like it could ever go away) - Muslim councillor Imran Khan from Surrey is now complaining that he's been deselected by the Conservatives in Reigate because he asked for Christian prayers to be separated from the business of the council (for obvious reasons, i.e. he's not a Christian).

When will these religious buffoons realise that the ONLY way to solve this weeping sore of an issue is to make sure that the business of running a council concentrates on local governance for all constituents regardless of colour, creed, language, wealth, status or FAITH, and that the individual personal beliefs and/or rituals of minority or majority groups belong outside of that.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Dogs and Cats

Catholic morality and hypocrisy... again...

In a somewhat hilarious incident reminiscent of a stereotypical Monty Python sketch or a tardy April fools joke a Catholic Priest in Northern Ireland giving a presentation at a primary school accidentally projected gay pornography images to a room of parents and children. Father Martin McVeigh apparently bolted out of the room when the images of naked men suddenly appeared on the screen after he inserted a memory stick into a school computer. He returned 20 minutes later suggesting that the children donate money to his organisation (wow!) I can only conclude that the Church will be urgently instructing it's clergy on how to keep their porn from popping up unexpectedly, USB auto-run is a bitch.

Of course who's to know if this guy actually had porn images on his memory stick or is just completely inept at managing his computing affairs and has some kind of malicious virus; he is subsequently denying any knowledge of how the images got there but consider this, maybe if the Catholics stopped telling everyone else how to behave and what is moral and what isn't then people would cut them some slack and stop pointing out stories like this, which going by previous experience is unlikely to be any time soon.