The Dim-Post

April 30, 2009

Quote of the Day, Lest we Forget Cullen Edition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 1:39 pm

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We know, and National members know from reading the front page of the newspaper, that I have not merely stolen their fox but eviscerated it, strangled it, and thrown it back into their back garden, and they do not know what to do about it at that particular point.

Michael Cullen, Post-Budget Debate. Thursday 22 May 2008.

I still have no idea what this means.

Chart of the Day

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 6:37 am

The Pew Research Centre asked 1003 Americans about which appliances they felt were a necessity:

appliancesI think the average New Zealander’s list would look pretty similar. Interesting that dryers have fallen so dramatically; when I was in Los Angeles I was astonished to find that my workmates threw all their laundry in a dryer even though they were living in a desert! Apparently washing lines were associated with poverty and contributed to lower house prices so people didn’t use them, but now almost everyone in the US is poor and their houses are worthless I guess it’s okay.

And I’m still amazed that so many people use microwaves. What are you all cooking in those things?

Gabbin’ about God redux

Filed under: books,general idiocy — danylmc @ 6:14 am

lovejoyRelated to the post from a couple days back, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon has a glowing review of Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution, which is a rebuttal of the neo-atheism of Hitchens, Dawkins et al, whom Eagleton refers to as ‘Ditchkins’, which gives you some idea of the quality of Eagleton’s thought. O’Hehir loves the book and titles his review ‘Those Ignorant Atheists.’

Obviously I haven’t read Eagleton’s new book but I have read his review of The God Delusion. His main argument is that the Christianity attacked by ‘Ditchkins’ is a parody of the true faith – ie the one practised by Eagleton – which is far more intellectually robust and philosophically sound than we give it credit for. There are a few problems with this, the first of which is that Eagleton is a Marxist Catholic liberation theologist who believes that ‘God is not a principle, nor an entity and not even existent’ and ‘neither inside nor outside the universe’ but is instead’ the condition of possibility’. I think it’s fair to say that he does not speak for the majority of Christians, or even Catholics, or even Marxist Catholics, and that it’s fair for ‘Ditchkins’ to aim their critiques at the hundreds of millions of Christians who believe in creationism, biblical inerrency, demons, the rapture etc than cater to Eagleton’s singular and complicated Kantian sophistry about ‘the condition of possibility’.

And then there’s the special pleading:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?

PZ Meyers has a wonderful rebuttal to this kind of pompous rubbish. The Courtiers Reply:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

In his review O’Hehir remarks:

A few years ago, I read an article by a Roman Catholic theologian who wryly observed that the quality of Western atheism had gone steadily downhill since Nietzsche. Eagleton heartily concurs.

I’ve never understood what Nietzsche was talking about, but I do think the neo-athiests are basically just regurgitating what Bertrand Russell said eighty years ago. His famous lecture Why I am not a Christian is online and it’s essentially a breezy, chatty, condensed and less dyspeptic version of The God Delusion:

I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.”

That is, by the way, where the  ‘turtles all the way down’ meme probably comes from – although some people attribute it to William James.

April 29, 2009

Ominous

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:42 pm
I've watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate

I am completely operational, and all my circuits are functioning perfectly

As a fanatical left-wing zealot I’ve found it frustrating to watch Key and his party repeatedly wipe the floor with Labour, especially so given that Key has not been a very formidible foe – he performed poorly in the house, was even worse in press conferences and looked shifty as hell whenever he was asked direct questions. But watching him on tv and listening to him in Question Time over the last couple days it’s obvious he’s getting better. He’s gaining confidence, finding his voice and growing into his identity as Prime Minister.

I think National’s poll numbers are going to decline but predict that Key’s will stay high and possibly even get higher.

Why so bad in Mexico?

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 3:30 pm

At this point the H1N1 influenza virus has only proved fatal in Mexico, the presumed country of origin. The Wall St Journal tries to explain:

Scientists say the virus found in Mexico and in the U.S. appears to be the same, and therefore different mortality rates likely aren’t due to the virus itself. Doctors say the greater vulnerability could have to do with genetic makeup, though they view that as unlikely.

Much of the difference in mortality rates could have to do with timing. As the disease hit Mexico very early, doctors didn’t suspect anything unusual when patients came in complaining of high fever and body aches. Especially in Mexico City, with its high altitude and smoggy air, common colds that develop into a throat or chest infection with a fever are frequent in winter months and beyond.

Many of the victims’ stories are strikingly similar: Thinking they had a common cold, they waited for a day or two before going to the doctor, often taking their own medication, from antibiotics to cough remedies. When they did make it to the doctor, they were misdiagnosed, losing more days. By the time they got into a hospital, as much as a week had passed and they were in serious condition, suffering from pneumonia.

No matter how deadly the disease turns out to be it’s still going to be a problem since few people other than pig-fanciers will have any immunity and a vaccine won’t be available until the end of the flu season. I’m not optimistic about the govenments ability to contain it.

Also, every time I sneeze or clear my throat now I wonder ‘is this the swine flu?’ I’m almost looking forward to getting infected and getting it over with.

The agony of the Wikipedia editor

Filed under: technology — danylmc @ 8:30 am

The editors at Wikipedia write articles for the encylpedia’s contributors and each other about how to conform to Wikipedia guidelines, how to fix problems, deal with vandals, resolve disputes etc. Yesterday I came across a beauty, written by an obviously frustrated editor called Peter Damian entitled ‘Why Wikipedia cannot claim the Earth is not flat‘. I think it brilliantly sums up many of the arguments and fallacies that also crop up in blog debates about global warming, evolution and science vs psuedoscience:

Science is stodgy, typically not glamorous, and entails hard work. By contrast, speculation is stimulating, easy, and fun. It’s more exciting to see yourself as a re-discoverer of ancient truths or in the vanguard of a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. Belonging to a small club with a particular belief can be very fulfilling. The world would be a more exciting place if there were malevolent aliens abducting humans, if dead people could send us messages, if exotic plants were able to miraculously cure all disease, if free energy were readily available to anyone, or if our dreams could foretell the future. In addition, popular culture can often confuse the general public with uncritical or credulous presentations of such concepts on the internet, in books, radio talk shows, TV, and films. It’s little wonder that Wikipedia attracts individuals who feel the encyclopedia should include sympathetic coverage of these types of subjects.

The examples cited on the page, from wiki articles such as ‘Ayn Rand’ and ‘Neurolinguistic Programming’ give you some idea of the tedious idiocy some of the wikipedia editors must have to suffer through. I also like this point:

If Wikipedia had been available around the fourth century B.C., it would have reported the view that the Earth is flat as a fact and without qualification. And it would have reported the views of Eratosthenes (who correctly determined the earth’s circumference in 240BC) either as controversial, or a fringe view. Similarly if available in Galileo‘s time, it would have reported the view that the sun goes round the earth as a fact, and Galileo’s view would have been rejected as ‘original research’. Of course, if there is a popularly held or notable view that the earth is flat, Wikipedia reports this view. But it does not report it as true. It reports only on what its adherents believe, the history of the view, and its notable or prominent adherents.

And I love some of the example quotes:

The following list has been compiled from the wealth of research I have put together over the last ten years. I would suggest that all of these are reptilian bloodline, but I only mention shapeshifting where it has been witnessed

- David Icke, List of Famous Satanists, Paedophiles And Mind Controllers (2001)

And I thought this was an interesting insight into the ongoing edit wars that grind on over some of these entries:

Worst of all, it is now many months since you tidied up the article. You have no inherent interest in the Flat Earth theory, and you have moved on to another area of pseudoscience (let’s say the Geocentric theory). But the Flat Earth supporters are interested in nothing else than their pet theory. They will come back when you are gone and revert when you do not notice. The arguments that you successfully rebutted and dismissed, sometimes with extensive references, will be repeated over and over and over, sometimes just with a cut and paste approach. Sometimes they will be presented by the same person dozens and dozens of times over days and weeks and months. They will try to add information that is (at best) peripherally relevant on the grounds that ‘it is verifiable, so it should be in’. They repeatedly use the talk page for soapboxing, or to re-raise the same issues that have already been discussed numerous times. They hang around forever wearing down more serious editors and become expert in an odd kind of way on their niche POV.

They will make a series of silly and time-wasting requests for comment, mediation or arbitration[citation needed] tags repeatedly to well-known material, or material that is fully referenced on wikilinked articles that discuss that point in more detail. Assorted templates branding the article are thrown on the article repeatedly, such as the claim that an NPOV dispute is going on, when it is more accurate to describe the discussion as revolving around some editor’s idiosyncratic interpretation of NPOV to satisfy their own personal agenda. Accusations that a group editing the article own the article since they will not change the consensus to satisfy one malcontent are common. They will add [citation needed] tags repeatedly to well-known material, or material that is fully referenced on wikilinked articles that discuss that point in more detail. Assorted templates branding the article are thrown on the article repeatedly, such as the claim that an NPOV dispute is going on, when it is more accurate to describe the discussion as revolving around some editor’s idiosyncratic interpretation of NPOV to satisfy their own personal agenda. Accusations that a group editing the article own the article since they will not change the consensus to satisfy one malcontent are common.

Disputes over Wiki pages in New Zealand tend to get resolved by a local administrator called Gadfium, who can reasonably be described as a saint as he resolves crisis over the entries for New Zealand’s Next Top Model and school wiki pages that are repeatedly vandalised by their own students.

Suit of the Day

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 7:59 am
Hilary Clinton meets Mutassim Qadhafi, Libya's national security adviser

Hilary Clinton meets Mutassim Qadhafi, Libya's national security adviser

April 28, 2009

Breaking news: irrelevent idiots throw pointless tantrum

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:00 pm

Watching the Labour Party match wits with Farrar is like watching a band of drunks try and play tennis against Serena Williams without racquets. How did it ever come to this?

More Mt Albert

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 11:25 am

DPF blogs about his Drudge-like role in the Mt Albert by-election. I don’t have too much to add to his comments, other than to repeat that I think Shearer will win the seat easily. A couple of related observations:

1. While I still think Labour choked over seating Twyford and that Tizard would have had no effect on the outcome of the election it is worth pointing out that Labour have gone to some effort and made considerable sacrifices to introduce new blood to the party. This has been a huge success, they have a far more talented intake than National and can plausibly claim that they are a rejuvenated party; unfortunately Tizard is a potent symbol of incumbency, laziness and smug self-entitlement and all Labour’s hard work rebranding themselves would be undone by her return so it was worth avoiding in that respect.

Goff better pray that none of his list MPs get attractive job offers between now and the election: Tizard doesn’t look like she has anything better to do with her life than wait around for her former colleagues to retire or die – it would almost be worth National’s while to offer a juicy board position to David Parker.

2. It looks to me as if a lot of the negative commentary Labour has attracted over Mt Albert could have been very easily avoided. Twyford announced he wouldn’t be contesting the seat on Monday 20th, at which point everyone concluded Goff had lost his bottle and some novice local candidate – Meg Bates, say – would be running, a decision that was met with overwhelming contempt and solidified the perception that Goff was running scared. Three days later David Shearer announced his intention to stand. Obviously that was the plan all along and Shearer will be selected and probably win the seat, but from a communications standpoint the timing was a disaster. Why not have Twyford withdraw at the same time they announced Shearer? Why let a negative story that harms the leader stand for three days?

Maybe they had their reasons and maybe they were good ones, but Labour’s communications team do have a proud tradition of turning everything they touch to shit and I suspect that’s what happened here. Again. Goff really needs to burn that office to the ground and plough the earth with salt if his party is ever going to recover its position in the polls.

There and back again

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 8:37 am

AN Wilson has an essay in The New Statesman about his damascene conversion from Catholicism to Atheism and gradual return back to belief:

I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world. As for Jesus having been the founder of Christianity, this idea seemed perfectly preposterous. In so far as we can discern anything about Jesus from the existing documents, he believed that the world was about to end, as did all the first Christians. So, how could he possibly have intended to start a new religion for Gentiles, let alone established a Church or instituted the Sacraments? It was a nonsense, together with the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

Wilson has written a number of books about early Christianity, most famously a biography of St Paul. He’s a bit like Bart Erhman, another Christian scholar who started out studying the origins of his faith only to lose it.

But . . . I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers. Reading Louis Fischer’s Life of Mahatma Gandhi, and following it up with Gandhi’s own autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, I found it impossible not to realise that all life, all being, derives from God, as Gandhi gave his life to demonstrate.

I found Gandhi’s autobiography to be almost comically self-absorbed, but the point is valid. Lots of sane, intelligent people have profound life-changing spiritual experiences that convince them of the existence of God. Unlike Wilson I think these experiences probably have a materialistic basis but right now there’s no proof of that and it’s a major failing of the ‘new athiesm’ of Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett  et al who hold the position that religious people are all crazy or stupid or both.

the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true.

I don’t find language, love or music very implausible from an evolutionary viewpoint – but (and don’t tell the creationists this) I have huge problems with mathematics. As Wigner pointed out, math is an unreasonably effective way for us to understand the universe and it’s hard to imagine how we evolved the ability to perform tensor calculus.

There are two obvious answers to this. (a) Our intelligence is a ‘peacocks tail’ that arose through non-directed sexual selection and math is a fringe benefit of this or (b) there are far more effective ways to model the universe than math but we haven’t evolved them so we don’t know what they are, and this is why our understanding of the natural sciences is incomplete.

But the first of these answers is awful convenient and the second is a kind of ‘math of the gaps’ argument.

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