Monday, December 31, 2007

I’m sure this is common in cool cities

But seeing a buff white man wearing nothing but a Speedo, a cowboy hat and his infant son wandering the streets in the middle of town is an unusual sighting for me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My bloggy energy

Has been consumed with setting some wrongheaded loser straight on a few things. I know you're aching to be dazzled by my latest offerings, so why not head over?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Religion and individualism

What I actually mean to get at in the previous post was that religion is insufficiently individualistic for my taste (or at least the religion that I see, which I assume isn't true religion). A response to the problem of evil is that suffering allows people to display higher gifts, like empathy. So John's being tortured to death gives me the chance to be honourable.

The Bahia religion says that we're moving in a definite direction. We're moving towards a kind of utopia where unity reigns. Of course we're all dying before we get there, but some of us will turn out ok anyway. If this utopia is really worth fighting for then in some objective sense it is better to live in than the world we see. So why are we denied this better world? And if living in this kind of world is fine, why bother, why is this future state of affairs better?

It's also a problem I have with movie and books. Minor characters are often ruthlessly dispatched as a way of making hour hero's ultimate triumph more glorious. Its fine to kill off characters as a way of illustrating why the baddie is bad, not telling us how hardcore the goodie is.

An issue with religion

This is one of the first issues that come up when taking the Bible or the Koran seriously; if we really need these books then what about the people who died before them? Or people who live miles away and have never heard of Jesus or Mohammed. It seems to me that Christians take this issue seriously or they wouldn't try so hard to distribute Bibles or otherwise spread the word. Since it's an obvious question and it isn't much discussed I take it there's an obvious answer but I don't know it. So can anyone tell me?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Being an asshole: the perfect gift to give yourself this Christmas

In day to day life we know that acting like the asshole has consequences, so we try to do it inconspicuously. But on Christmas you can act like one and if you get called on it, you can always say, "Hey, chill bro. It's Christmas!!" in the past hour, I've witnessed more blatant queue jumping (and the grumpiness that accompanies blatant queue jumping) and aggressive driving than I have in the past month. I've also had a fist shaken at me by a little old lady (if you're interested, she was guilty of exactly the same crime as I was; driving the wrong way down a one way street).

Anyway, it has rather robbed me of my Christmas spirit. But with the help of all this beer I just bought (we do live in a very spiritual age) I hope to get it back.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I never write all these thoughts down but I gotta start somewhere

The past few months I've taken an active interest in sci-fi and fantasy. They can both be great escapism and be interesting morally and philosophically and sci-fi (or at least hard (doesn't break the known laws of physics) sci-fi) can inspire events of the future. Anyway, I have a few problems with the way both are generally presented.

  • No matter how diabolical the (non-superintilligent) individual, he cannot threaten the security of a galaxy spanning civilisation capable of light speed travel. It's nothing personal, but they won't give you all the codes just cos you seem like a decent chap.
  • As we get smarter we know more
    about
    other
    animals not less, so a superintelligence will not lead to the sudden incomprehension and hence indifference to human suffering.
  • Claiming that cloning, life extension, disease cures AI will lead to the apocalypse is not deep. Just like denouncing the war in Iraq or George Bush doesn't make you an astute political commentator.
  • The ability to do (basically costless) magic should lead to an (very great) increase in living standards.
  • Fantasy is supposed to be all about invention and imagination, so why are there such familiar themes and why are elves, witches wizards etc so flippin common?

This post will probably be the first in a continuing series.

Sporty thoughts (feel like making money?)

They say it's shaping up to be the most competitive title race in years (English soccer) but they're wrong. Man U will cruise all the way home. The bookies do have them as clear favourites, but not clear enough!

This year I've been a little grumpy about people heralding the demise of Roger Federer. Sure it was a worse year than the past couple but I really think he needs to lose at least one non-clay grand slam before he can be consigned to the dustbin of tennisy history. Having said all this the bookies say that Fed winning all four next year is as likely as him winning one and that Fed winning two is as likely as him winning three. I say that three is as likely as one with two far the most likely option. He is very unlikely to win all four.

This weather

Is frikkin crazy...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Whoa!

I had heard that recent Simpsons have been getting better but I had my doubts, but this new episode is great. I wonder how many other good episodes I've missed.

If you work in publishing and are looking for the next best thing

Look no further. I have a great idea for a book; "The big book of answers" (it's your job to come up with a snappy title). So, the idea is that book will collect the consensus views of the experts on a wide range of subjects. You get a professional economist to come up with a list of statements like, "The minimum wage is a net benefit for the poorest 10%" and "free trade benefits developing countries". Philosophers would be asked, "Do humans have free will?" and "does god exist" and stuff like that. Then get academics from the top 100 universities to answer.

The questions would cover topics sometimes covered in the news and that people usually have opinions on, so things like cloning and evolution would be covered. But the idea is flexible; surely it would be useful for academics (the questions could be altered to reflect the current topics of interest). I'm also not sure about the best way to present it. You could just have the list of questions and answers, or it could be less formal, like Schott's Original Miscellany.

There are plenty of ways in which the book's value would be limited. The consensus view has debatable relevance, the phrasing of the questions will not be value neutral and not everybody will agree on who the relevant experts are, but so what?! It would still be a cool book and it would be easy to refine in future editions to address these issues.

Next US president

This is a pretty pointless post, but I'm just putting myself on the record early. John McCain is my favourite but he has little chance (though I'm not really sure why). Barrack Obama comes next and he has a better chance. Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney are the most likely to win I think.

Each of the candidates offer intriguing novelties; Romney's a Mormon, Clinton's a girl, Obama's black (kinda), Giuliani's crazy etc. So it'll be fun to watch the whole thing go down.

My least favourite candidates are Romney, Huckabee and Edwards, so it'll probably end up being one of them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Some people are stupid (or Stuart exaggerates shamelessly)

Pilsner Urquel cases come packaged in cardboard not plastic, so can't really see what's "going on in there" it also makes it more difficult to grab a six pack out of. So if you see a tower of 4 cases with the bottom one already open (with one 6 pack already removed) it's only natural to bend down and pull two more packs out of the bottom case, while the other 3 cases start toppling over on top of you.

I pointed this out to the rather fat gentleman in question as I held up the collapsing tower. He could see the beer trying to topple over but just couldn't understand why this should be.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Even more golden compass

I haven't read the book, but the current fuss is over the movie and having seen it I'm confident in my conclusion that these people are pathetic losers.

The movie is great, you should drop everything right now and go see it.

Question about free will

Since there have been quite a few comments recently I'll try take advantage.

How would you define free will?

I've found that people have opinions on whether we have it or not, but it's very difficult to articulate what it actually means.

More golden compass stuff

There's nothing wrong with moaning about a movie that you think has a dodgy moral and nobody's actually trying to get the film banned. People should be critical of movies, if the way they do it makes them dorks then that's fine. Of course they think I'm a bigger, eviler dork and that's also fine, but I guess thinking and writing about this kind of thing is trying to get past just declaring your opponents all bad things.

It's possible to try to persuade people not to see the film while not believing that the makers are vicious and diabolical. To me, that's clearly dishonest, but trying to see inside the soul of the author or director doesn't yield much reliable data to rebut the claims of evil intent. So do we just declare that these people are morons?

Friday, December 07, 2007

The lion the witch and the wardrobe

Is obviously a Christian story directed at kids. "The Golden Compass" from the trailer looks similar has an atheisty story, and is also aimed at kids.

So now (at least some) people are outraged

In early October, the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a boycott of the film, calling it "selling atheism to kids" at Christmastime in stealth fashion...

Adam Holz of Focus on the Family, writing on the Christian ministry's Plugged In site, calls Pullman's books and the film a "deliberate attempt to foist his viciously anti-God beliefs upon his audience."

Most diabolical, Holz said in an interview, is that Pullman's audience is children, setting it apart from another book-to-movie some Christians view as heretical -- "The Da Vinci Code."

I'm sure only a few people care much one way or the other, but the whole thing emphasis on kids is crazy. Parents want to teach their kids stuff they believe is true, it doesn't help to insist that I'm right and you're wrong.

Sporting greatness

One of the least remarkable news stories recently has been Murali "breaking" the record for most test wickets. It's an impressive feat, but he and Warne were both breaking it while they were both still playing, the newsworthy thing happened when Warne retired. People get excited when the stock market reaches "record highs" even though it's in the nature of the thing to do so.

I've enjoyed the half hearted debate about who's the best though; rating people is fun. My feeling is that Warne is the better of the two, but looking at the numbers it's hard to see why. Murali has a better average, a better strike rate, more five wicket hauls and more 10 wicket hauls.

Of course if we still think that Warne is better we're free to descend into a discussion about the strength of the opposition, the way they "changed the game" etc. It is comforting to know that if the numbers don't tell the right story others are here to help tell a better one. It's a trick I keep up my sleeve.