Friday, June 28, 2013

Going, going, gone

So I read this morning that the Western Black Rhino is now officially extinct; how depressing.

4 billion years in the making, an uninterrupted lineage going back to the earliest cyanobacteria all those trillions of mutations, adaptations an unimaginable length of time and a mountain of struggle all terminated prematurely because some monkeys in sandals believe that the lump of keratin on its head cures demonic possession.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Don't pin it on me!

Here's an interesting piece on acupuncture, it's a summary of some 3000 scientific studies into the efficacy of this ancient pain control technique, as is fairly common with ritualistic procedures like this the conclusion is that from a medical point of view acupuncture is bunkum. No doubt the anti-evidence brigade will appeal to the mysteries of the ancients thinking this makes their lives a little more interesting and the practitioners (i.e. those that make a living from such shamanism) will be lobbing around accusations of closed mindedness, it all follows a fairly fixed pattern, that's the problem with fans of irrationality and superstition, they're really hard to pin down.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Supermen, so many to choose from...

According to this article on the CNN web site Warner Brothers are actively marketing the new Superman movie to church pastors in the USA; their logic seems to be that "Superman is like Jesus". To the more sceptical among us this looks like blatant commercial exploitation of a particular local market segment, but I wonder?

Clearly elements of the superman story are superficially like the Jesus story, both "men" are obviously "supernatural" beings with super-powers and in part at least, both are supposed to wander around the place doing good and promoting a certain set of values. In Superman's case those values are derived from the fight for a simplistic "mom and pop" form of social justice in 1950s USA and in Jesus's case the values seem to be those of a prophetic, rebellious and establishment-fighting first century Jewish preacher, to most of the religious right in America those two sets of values may merge and become indistinguishable. So far so good, but philosophically this is an odd alliance, some would argue that the majority of media moguls in Hollywood are of a political leaning more to the left than the right and would probably also conclude that there are more liberals than literals living along the palm lined boulevards of Beverly Hills. When I think about possible motives for this then money is clearly top of the list but could there be more to it?

Perhaps what's happening here is part of some kind of Trojan horse deal by which the secular liberals of tinsel town are attempting to counter the grass roots political momentum of the religious right? A supplanting of a central concept in the main monotheistic religions with an atheistic and secular idea, the idea that scripture is entirely man-made, i.e. a work of fiction.

Any parishioners listening to a preacher espousing the analogies of the two stories cannot possibly miss the most obvious conclusion and perhaps the subtext of this alliance in the first place, i.e. both Jesus and Superman are inventions of humans. Both superhero's were invented in the minds of men living in insecure times by cultures seeking comfort in the idea of an all powerful patriarchal figure that could protect them and fight a perceived evil force in their world. As evidenced by the beauty queen video I linked to earlier today  remarkably, there are still billions of people out there in the 21st century who believe in a literal interpretation of ancient philosophy books like the Koran and the Bible; losing this perspective is clearly a step towards a more tolerant and reason based approach to life, if more people get there via Superman then all hail Kal-El!

How do you know if you're deluded

In my experience delusions are invariably parochial and self-serving; assessing the measure of self interest attached to an idea or dogma is a fairly reliable way of separating delusion from reality.

Not wanting to stereotype or anything but...

Clearly this sequence of clips has been edited and the interviewees are probably attempting to be politically correct in the extreme but wow, just wow, if this is in anyway reflective of what beauty queens think let alone Americans more broadly then I find it incredible that they are able to function in a modern society at all! You'd struggle to trump this kind of ignorance in even the most primitive theocratic third world backwater.

Take a look, you'll get the idea pretty quickly.

All the classic Christian creationist bullshit is here in spades and not a sliver of anything that would suggest even the most basic understanding of the value of reason, evidence and science or even the difference between a belief and knowledge. You can't help but feel sorry for them, with such a limited world-view their perspectives must be pitifully constrained and self absorbed, quite amazing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why oh why

Saw this, was mildly amused..

I see what you did there..

Excellent cartoon from the reason stick

Victimless crimes

In a retrograde and unintelligible step (along with supplying missiles to the Syrian regime) the Russians seem to be intent on reintroducing blasphemy laws onto their statute book in order that secular protesters and anti-religious groups may be severely punished for "upsetting" religious people. Clearly the all powerful Gods of these same religious folk are insufficiently powerful and the people insufficiently sure of their own convictions to stand up to a bit of peaceful criticism (there are already adequate laws to deal with violent criticism), clearly these powers require assistance from the instruments of the Russian state, the "Jesus squad" perhaps?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New beer

I tried a new (to me) beer at the weekend, it's called "Wild Raven" from brewer Thornbridge who are based in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Thornbridge call their beer "craft beer", i.e. small production and innovative with a focus on flavour and very nice it is too. To the eye it looks like a stout, i.e. dark coloured, almost black but to the nose and tongue it's like a fruity American IPA, tons of fruit and hop flavours, nice weight, smooth and reassuringly bitter. This combination of attributes seems counter-intuitive, if you close your eyes you'd expect the beer to be a light amber colour but the overall effect is good. My only criticism would be the alcohol level which is quite strong at 6.6% it's not an issue from a flavour point of view, no alcohol burn at all but I like my ales to be around the 4% level if I have a choice. Other Thornbridge beers I've tried and like include Jaipur, Wild Swan, Kipling and Chiron, you can get the first three of these in Waitrose; recommended!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Why trust them?

At last the Church of England has decided that gay couples should after all be allowed to marry, this is good news for everyone it affects of course but surely this is a further nail in the coffin of the church? Allow me to elaborate.

We are told by these people (i.e. the Bishops that sit in our Parliament) that the source of our morality is or should be (their) God and is therefore objective, so what are we to think when this morality changes? It strikes me there are only 4 possible options.

1. There is a God and he cares about what people do with their genitals but sometimes changes his mind. This should be a terrifying proposition, here is an all powerful deity who sends you to paradise or purgatory depending on rules that he can change at any time? What about all those poor gay people throughout history who have already spent hundreds or thousands of years in hell, what compensation do they get?

2. There is a God who cares what you do with your genitals but the priesthood has misinterpreted him. Such a revelation should surely shake your trust in organised religion to the core? it means that the church can get God's will totally wrong. What if he really made genitals for a reason and we're all supposed to use them in joyful ways and the communication between heaven and earth is just totally garbled? We could be committing all kinds of omissions and errors and be completely oblivious to them.

3. There is a God who really doesn't care what you do with your genitals. So this would mean that all the angst and psychological pain suffered over the years by millions has been a huge unnecessary distraction and exists solely in the minds of the self appointed religions morality monitors, again, why trust them ever again?

4. There is no God, no afterlife, no eternal punishment or reward. The priests and shaman have been making it all up all along and using an invisible super-being to scare people into serving their own earthly whims. Religious people have been "had", so, rise up and throw off your chains!

I wonder which is more likely?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Augmented smut..?

I'm not quite sure why this would be surprising to anyone but the first "adult" applications are starting to be talked about for Google Glass. For those that don't know Google Glass is an augmented reality system which projects useful information (or stimulating information in this case) directly onto a special set of glasses that the consumer wears. I can think of all kinds of new and interesting applications for this technology, for example showing someone's Facebook page as you're talking to them allowing you to find topics of conversation that are mutually interesting. Something like that would be at the more civilised end of the spectrum but there are undoubtedly more fertile imaginations out there thinking up all kinds of sexually oriented flavours of that idea, "picture this person naked" etc. Whatever technology we come up with from the printing press, photography through to the internet humans are interested in sex and therefore sex sells; after all when you think about it we're all just monkeys in shoes really..

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Useful models

These amazing pictures were taken at the University of California using an atomic force microscope, this device effectively probes the surface of a material with a very fine "needle" and measures the forces of attraction/repulsion to derive an image of what it finds, much like the tip of a gramophone needle riding in the groove of a record. The tip of this needle is actually a single molecule so the resolution is pretty fine, these pictures are showing a single molecule undergoing a reaction, i.e.  detailing the intermediate forms and bonds of the atoms as the reaction progresses. It's astonishing that the images show molecules looking remarkably similar to the stick models we used to use in Chemistry lessons, some bright spark in the past clearly latched onto the right idea for modelling these things.