Friday, September 27, 2013

The lure of what we'd prefer to believe

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has delivered a report this week that concludes Humans are the dominant cause of climate warming, and yes, climate warming is really happening. Of course this will trigger a tsunami of deniers and armchair environmentalists who, armed with nothing more than vested interest or wilful ignorance will make all kinds of pronouncements with the aim of casting doubt, uncertainty and fear into the minds of the public. Why do this you may well ask, there probably isn't one reason, vested interest in "big oil", greed, politics, human behaviour, scepticism you name it and it probably plays a part, what is clear is that the science needs to be communicated well and unambiguously or we will be at the mercy of those like the Murdoch's, Lawson's and Monckton's (among many others) who so clearly have agendas not aligned to finding out the truth.


This puzzle popped up in my Twitter feed this morning, took me about 30 seconds to crack it but then I didn't do an arts degree.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Common-sense sound-bites..

Accustom a people to believe that priests, or any other class of men can forgive sins, and you will have sins in abundance.

Thomas Paine 1737-1809

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pascal's Wager

Pascals wager is the famous logical fallacy proposed by the famous seventeenth century mathematician Blaise Pascal, it goes something like...

A person might as well live their lives believing in God, if there is no such being then the loss for believing is finite (for example an amount of pleasure) however if God does exist then the loss for not believing is infinite, i.e. eternity in hell.

The conclusion people often draw from this is that the chances of getting this question right or wrong is therefore 50-50. The reason it's a fallacy is that it starts from the assumption that there is only one God and only one outcome if you get it wrong, both false assumptions. Over the years humans have believed in over 20,000 different Gods possibly more, so in reality the probability of guessing the "right" one is reduced from 50-50 down to something tiny. In addition to this, the wager takes no account of the "weight" of a complete lack of evidence that there is any such thing as Gods, when all the reality checks are in place it becomes a pretty pointless bet.

For amusement the following table shows what will happen to you (after you die) according to different beliefs plotted against those same beliefs, i.e. what someone might believe in (or not); it highlights the stupidity of this wager (and the weird things people think happen to you after you die) very well.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Do librarians have a sense of humour?

Of course they do, LOL!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Message from God

te he...

Drawing a veil over (real) freedom

I'm fascinated by the current veil debate; it seems to me we have two entrenched positions neither of which is actually focused on the real issue,  two opposing sides arguing about a straw man that is irrelevant to the actual ethical question raised by this issue.

On the left we have a lot of hand-wringing about the role of Government, i.e. Governments should not be legislating what people can or can't wear and on the right we have indignation that an Islamic tradition (alien to them) must be swallowed lock stock and barrel meaning veils should be able to be worn in courts and schools etc..

Both positions miss the point and that is should the rights of the Woman be protected by the Government? Its all very well valuing freedom from being bossed around by the authorities but where is the concern about being bossed around by Husbands and Brothers or religious authorities?

Consider the following points,

  • People bleat on about religious freedom, but the veil is nothing to do with Islam or religion, there are no religious texts or edicts that mandate wearing one?
  • People bleat on about racism, but Islam isn't a race?
  • People bleat on about tolerance, but should we be tolerant of backward (in relation to our own cultural evolution) systems that are intransigent and demand special privileges with threats of violence?
  • People bleat on about freedom of expression, but we throw people in jail for being naked in public, isn't this a double standard?
  • The silence from feminists on this issue is deafening.

It's about time we take a rational approach to this issue, if it is safe to wear something and the wearer wants to wear it then fine, if there's a rational and therefore practical reason why something shouldn't be worn, i.e. a disguise in a courtroom or a necklace in a factory then ban it! If any adult person is being bullied (by anyone) into wearing something against their will then they should be supported to the hilt by the law in a proportional and fair manner, stuff "culture" or "tradition".

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Some old news

A couple of stories tweaked my interest this morning, firstly we have a triumph of engineering and science over stupidity and secondly the exact opposite.

First up is the salvage of the Costa Concordia, a huge cruise ship that ran aground and tipped over next to the small island of Giglio in 2012. The ship capsized due to what appears to be an act of negligence by it's Captain for which he is standing trial. Not withstanding the loss of life which is bad enough, the wreck is cluttering up what is a beautiful coastline. It could have probably been left to break up naturally but it would have taken decades to do so and caused untold environmental and economic damage in the process. The process of righting and then floating it so that it can be towed away to a scrapyard is a monumental engineering project, the forces and masses involved mind boggling, however it looks like the salvage team have been successful in the first phase which is to bring the ship back up to the vertical and to place it on a submerged platform, the time-lapse video of the process is amazing.

Next we have the anti-evidence brigade, a coven of senior politicians that include John Redwood, Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie and Graham Stringer who seem to hell bent on ignoring or misrepresenting the mountain of scientific evidence on man-made climate change. The debate last Tuesday, proposed by MP David Davies, seemed to be awash with fables, conspiracy theories and zombie myths; at the very least Mr Davies owes the house some corrections for the woeful errors and flagrant misrepresentations he made during the debate. The motivation for such apparent feeble powers of comprehension among such expensively educated men is predictable, the politicians mentioned all have links to the oil industry and seemed to be attempting to use this debate to cement some kind of kinship in denial, as Upton Sinclair once said "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!". For me, the scene was reminiscent of a kind of Scopes monkey trial, a flavour of fundamentalism that is unhelpful and much like religious objections to progress based on rational investigation a millstone around the necks of future generations.

Friday, September 13, 2013

One gigantic step

What were you doing in 1977?

In the Spring of that year I remember buying the Fleetwood Mac album "Rumours" and playing it obsessively for weeks. Later in the Autumn I remember hearing the Sex Pistols and The Clash for the first time causing me to reject my precious Fleetwood Mac album (figuratively of course, it cost me £2.99 after all!) to buy a baggy mohair jumper, a pair of 10 hole DM's and to make my hair spiky. I remember being thoroughly bored by the whole silver jubilee thing (nothing changes) and upset that Marc Bolan died in a car crash, I guess you could say that I was a fairly typical stroppy teenager. What passed me by in my youthful self obsessed haze (I must have missed the relevant edition of "Tomorrow's World") was the launch of a spacecraft called "Voyager 1", despatched in September of that year it's mission was to study the outer planets. On 25th August 2012 (confirmed yesterday) that little tin bucket full of transistors and solder (plus an LP record) officially left our Solar System, the first man-made object to achieve that feat.

How far is it to the edge of our solar system?  About 12 billion miles or in other words, a bloody long way! Voyager is travelling at 100,000 miles per hour or to express that on a more understandable scale its about London to Bristol in 3 seconds! Even so, it has taken 36 years to reach proper "interstellar space" and what's more mind boggling is that even at this huge speed it will take a further 40,000 years to reach the next nearest star to our Sun! (unfortunately long after it's Plutonium power source has run out)

In some ways its a shame that Voyager was launched when it was, i.e. at the dawn of the digital age, if it had current digital/computer technology on board imagine the hi-resolution pictures it could be sending back. It's a sobering thought for us folks of a certain age that even if we launched another voyager now I probably wouldn't be around to see it reach the same point. On the positive (and less self obsessed) side though, what a fantastic achievement!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

10bil LOL ;)

I read this evening that Twitter intends to float on the stock exchange, they reckon that the price will be $10 billion, that's an 18X multiple on revenue which I suppose isn't too outrageous bearing in mind the eyeballs it attracts today and the sheer scale of the global mind-share it has. I won't be investing though as I think their business model is unrealistic, the amount they charge for access to their data and the channel model they've opted for seem too much like hard work for potential business consumers like me. I reckon unless they crack the commercial market and diversify quickly others will eat into their share of the personal micro-blogging scene driving their value down, for this reason I'm out! (like they care :)

Welcome to the 1920s

I see today that the Church in Wales has voted to allow Women Bishops; many would say about time too, some (incredibly) would say that such a move represents a mortal blow to the unity of their organisation, as an outsider and someone interested in promoting secularism, reason and tolerance as a way of achieving cohesion between all the different elements of society I hope that this is too little, too late.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Makes perfect sense...

Saw this cartoon today, it made me smile, which is always a positive on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon...

Monday, September 09, 2013

Weekend beers

I've been trying some different craft beers lately; there seems to be a resurgence of interest in beer of late in the UK with an explosion of choices ranging from traditional regional bitters through to American style hop busting IPAs as well as more exotic "flavoured" beers which are paired with everything from fruit to coffee!

Here are four interesting examples from a small Scottish brewery called Brew Dog, they focus on individual hop varieties (names on the labels) but in all other respects are made to the exact same recipe. The idea is that the drinker gets to directly experience the flavours of the different hop species and is able to compare and contrast them, all in all an interesting taste experiment. The hops are from all over the world, Goldings from the UK (Kent), Waimea from down under (New Zealand), El Dorado (USA) and Dana (Slovenia) and the in the finished beers the differences between them were marked. My favourite was the Waimea, lemony, clean, fresh and seemingly lighter than all the others even though the alcohol level was exactly the same in each. My least favourite was the Goldings which tasted more fruity but in a soapy/perfumed kind of way, like an old fashioned 70s home brew, they were all nice enough and very drinkable but at 6.7% ABV only in small quantities!

Friday, September 06, 2013

What's the point?

As usual JesusAndMo nails the hollowness of the religious position..

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I was speaking to a friend the other day about "ideal" holidays, she said she was a beach fan and that her idea of a perfect holiday would be the Maldives, in fact if given the choice (and unlimited funds) she would go there every year. Not being a beach person (fair skinned and short attention span) I was interested in why the Maldives were so great, her response was an unequivocal "it's paradise".

Whenever I hear that word my spider senses start to twitch, in the case of the Maldives I couldn't help but recall a BBC program about the Indian Ocean that visited the Maldives, sure, the brochure views of azure sea and palm fringed white sand were present and correct but there was also an apocalyptic scene of the "rubbish island" which is a stinking, fly infested pile of dead coral covered in all of the garbage that the tourist industry generates, it was quite eye opening, barge after barge simply piling up all manner of detritus and pollutants seemingly without any other disposal solution. I also happened on this story today about an unfortunate 15 year old Maldivian girl who having been raped by her step father was sentenced to 100 lashes for "fornication", as you can probably guess the Maldives have an "Islamic" government. Only after an international pressure campaign that called for holiday boycotts and got two million signatures was the sentence overturned.

I guess "paradise" is a relative term; in the immortal words of Don Henley and Glen Frey "you call some-place paradise, kiss it goodbye"..

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Silly ink

Saw this and it made me chuckle, the dangers of cherry picking..