Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The eternal mystery of Piers Morgan

That noted public intellectual, Piers Morgan, recently posed an interesting question to Twitter.
Atheists can never say what was there before the Big Bang. They just say 'nothing' but they can't explain what 'nothing' actually is. No human brain can, which is why I believe in something that has superior powers to the human brain. 
OK, I was being sarcastic. His question itself isn't that interesting. Dara Ó Briain more or less answered it in a stand up session where he had a go at the sort of people who justify their supernatural beliefs by saying "But science doesn't know everything!" His response was something along the lines of "But science knows it doesn't know everything. That's why we still do science."

What is interesting is how Piers's statement challenges theology. Think about the logic here: "The human brain can't explain everything about the universe, so why should I accept your incomplete atheistic world view?" Yet Piers is happy to believe in a God who is supposedly beyond human understanding. So why should I believe theists who can't fully explain what "God" actually is?

At best it's a draw between two incomplete world views. I don't understand everything about the universe. You don't understand everything about God.

But the universe is the thing that we both agree exists.

The mystery of faith...

Thursday, 28 June 2018

"Because they're morons"

Mark Blyth's take on the Brexit vote is harsh, bleak and and it isn't new. But it's as true now as it ever was.

Of course, the use of the phrase "morons" will provoke the usual tedious accusations about Remainer elitists sneering at the views of ordinary people. But if you listen, this is a more nuanced explanation of what happened and the "morons" in question include the UK's political and media elite who incubated the stupidity.

As for Mark himself, he didn't get where he is today because he belongs to some privileged elite. In his own words:
I was born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1967. I grew up in relative poverty, in a very real sense a “welfare kid”. Today I’m a professor at an Ivy League university in the USA. Probabilistically speaking, I am as an extreme example of intragenerational social mobility as you can find anywhere.
Now check out the first three minutes or so of this video (if I've done this right, it should start playing about 49' 40" in):

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Random photoblogging

Idly scrolling through the snaps on my phone's camera...
Sculpture on a mound above Furzton Lake, Milton Keynes. The lake and surroundings are well-tended, but the mound has become a bit overgrown, giving this scene a faint air of those neglected Soviet-era sculptures in the former Eastern Bloc.
Although he's too young to know about Twitter, my son drew this picture of a rampaging robot flame-breathing egg in school, which sums up the state of the Twittersphere with uncanny accuracy.
Chickens. Because everything is better with chickens.
After seeing this I went home, took the vase of flowers off the mantelpiece and replaced it with a hammer drill.
Caledecotte Lake, Milton Keynes, in the evening sun.
The offspring hits peak peak in Peak District.
Snow in Newport Pagnell. Not remarkable in itself, but this was the beginning of March, for crying out loud.

Friday, 15 June 2018

"Destination community wet"

No - me neither. Sounds more like random output from AI Weirdness or Botnik than something written by an actual human. It's getting hard to tell these days, as Janelle Shane of AI Weirdness pointed out recently:

When you find yourself wondering whether what you just read was written by a bot or just by a human pretending to be a bot pretending to be a human, maybe it's time to give up and go to the pub. If so, the Dolphin's OK and no wetter than the average pub, despite what it says on the brewery's web site.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

How not to communicate with parents, part 2

A while back, I had a bit of a go at my kid's school and its use of social media.  To be fair, it does do something to do with social media at least approximately right. The school's Home School Agreement is worded fairly reasonably:
"Respect the school through the individual and joint use of social media including the posting of pictures following a school event."
"Respect" is a bit ambiguous and weaselly, but you could interpret this to mean "Use social media responsibly, don't post pictures of other people's kids, or blurt out confidential information better discussed with staff in private, or say anything defamatory - in short, we expect you to behave like a reasonable adult", in which case, fair enough.

At least it's better than the Home School Agreements some other schools try to enforce. For example:
"Parents will ... Not make reference to the school on social networking sites."
There are things a school would quite rightly want to control - I've already mentioned a few examples. But a social networking ban on mentioning the school that your child goes to, ever, under any circumstances? Is it just me, or isn't that a bit unreasonable?
Parent: "Little Topsy is loving Year Four at Sunnybrook Community School* and doing really well!"

School: "You're in breach of your Home School Agreement. Don't let this happen again!"

Parent: "So proud of young Timmy for winning the Sunnybrook Community School inter-house athletics cup!"

School: "We warned you..."

* A name I just made up - any resemblance to any actual school of that name, if one exists, is entirely coincidental.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Dilbert and Hyde

The hideous transformation of Scott Adams from rational human with a dry, mordant, deadpan sense of humour into crazed right-wing outrage monster is almost complete.

In episode 87 of his podcast, "Roseanne’s Ambien Defense", he goes full Alex Jones:

  • "Sanofi took a despicable position on the matter 
  • Sanofi blamed the likely VICTIM* of their drug"

Looks like Scott's been frying his brains with something way stronger than Ambien lately. At least, I hope that's the explanation. I'd hate to think he suffers from these disturbing fever dreams without being out of his tree on something seriously powerful.

*The screaming tabloid caps are, as Scott would say, a "tell", although I'm not 100% sure what they're a tell of. Maybe of uncontrollable inner rage, maybe of a wannabe troll trying to raise the emotional temperature in order to get a bite.

He boasts about being a master of persuasion and routinely accuses others of making "outrageist" statements while doing the same thing himself, in what looks like a deliberate attempt to create cognitive dissonance, so I assume there's at least some element of method in his madness. Not that  there's much difference between somebody who really is a frothing loon and somebody who genuinely thinks that a clever way to persuade other people is by pretending to be a frothing loon...

One of these things is not Orwellian

"Orwellian" has become one of the most over-used expressions in the English language (or Oldspeak, as we still don't call it more than three decades after 1984). To give just one ridiculous example, Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League has just been jailed for contempt of court, after he continued to make broadcasts on social media which could have prejudiced an ongoing court case, despite being told to stop it.

Cue a flurry of Tweets calling his trial and conviction "Orwellian." Which is, of course, very silly. Rules to make trials as fair and impartial as possible would have had no place in Orwell's satire of an unfair, arbitrary society where  rule by the most powerful has replaced the rule of law.

Also, Orwell went to Spain to shoot people like Tommy Robinson in the head, as somebody less silly just pointed out on Twitter.

In contrast, here's what "Orwellian" really looks like:
“Since the school has introduced these cameras, it is like there are a pair of mystery eyes constantly watching me, and I don’t dare let my mind wander.”
... said an unnamed student in a Chinese high school, which recently introduced facial recognition technology to monitor students’ attentiveness in class.
Winston turned around abruptly. He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen.