Friday, December 26, 2008

Javalujah!

Quite possibly the best YouTube video ever:

What if Starbucks marketed like a church? A parable.


It's funny looking at the comments on the original page though; some people get various messages being made about some church cultures, whereas others think this is damning of Starbucks... brilliant.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tire fail

My tire blew a while back and - because it happened as I was coming down my street - I hobbled home pretty much on the rim and so my car sat growing cobwebs.

I finally need to get my A into G because some friends think my car might be nice to do a New Year's trip in but, lo, I have run into a bit of a pickle.

My car is stuck at my place because the tire is blown.

I need to repair the tire.

To repair the tire I thought I could either lug it in a friends car to the tire repair shop or change to the emergency tire and get it there myself.

So I jack up my car, whip out the tire-changing-apparatus, and discover that I can't undo the nuts on my mags!

I have the parts that were sold with the car sitting in my boot space but the nut-undoer-thingy is probably the ORIGINAL part and not the part designed to undo my mags!

So I need to take the car to Mag & Turbo so that they can undo it with their universal keys but I can't take the car there because I need to change the tire but I can't change the tire because I don't have a universal key.

*sigh*

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coffee is my home-boy & other miracle cures

Some fascinating tips on how to avoid neurological problems:

1) If you want to avoid Parkinson's Disease...

...have another latte.

Caffeine is protective to some extent and nobody knows why. But who cares whyyy? Make mine a triple shot, thanks.

2) If you want to avoid Alzheimer's Disease...

...make it a Fillet O'Fish.

Maybe not, but Omega-3 Fatty Acids found in fish (particularly oily ones like herring, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies, I believe -- basically all the awesome ones :P) will help there.

As a plus it may also have some positive effect on cardiac disease and cancer. You go girl.

I also recall some BBC documentary that talked about the positive benefit of Omega-3 on learning. You don't have to ask me twice to rip open some kippers. Fishilicious.

And, lastly, in general don't forget to...

3) Use it or lose it.

Work it, work it, lobesercize people! I wanna see those sulci sweat!

Having a fit brain isn't that much of a stupid idea.

Disciplined exercise of your brain by performing challenging tasks can lead to a whole host of benefits including reversing the declines caused by dementia and Alzheimers, as well as improving general cognitive processes and speed even in areas where you didn't specifically train towards.

Now if only I could transfer my brain into a suspension fluid hooked up to the internet I wouldn't have to worry about that ever-pesky physical fitness!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zombie Scientist Seeks Fun-Loving Brain

This post doesn't have much to do with Zombies, but it IS about brains.

Reading brains!

Just when you thought the brain was an enigma...

...you were right.

But we are making progress in understanding it better. Like take this experiment for example:

Reconstructing visual images by using MRI scans of the visual cortex. Awesome.

[Reconstructed visual images. The reconstruction results of all trials for two subjects are shown with the presented images from the figure image session. The reconstructed images are sorted in ascending order of the mean square error. For the purpose of illustration, each patch is depicted by a homogeneous square, whose intensity represents the contrast of the checkerboard pattern. Each reconstructed image was produced from the data of a single trial, and no postprocessing was applied. The mean images of the reconstructed images are presented at the bottom row. The same images of the alphabet letter ''n'' are displayed in the rightmost and leftmost columns.]

We are a long way from being about to do half of the fun (and fearsome) things that belong to the realm of science-fiction, but this is a brilliant step. As PZ says, visual reconstruction is only possible so easily (relatively speaking) because of the neat mapping onto the visual cortex of what we see. Reading somebody's memory, for example, would require a greater mastery of larger and more distributed areas of the brain.

Still, Johnny Mnemonic and Neo's "Whoa! I know kung fu" here we come.

Monday, December 08, 2008

ATGATT

ATGATT, so the bikers say: 'all the gear, all the time'

It means that only a fool goes riding without a full kit of gear: helmet, jacket, pants, gloves.
Where possible, the standard rule is that the less skin you are showing the better you will be if you every fall off. Of course, road rash makes short work of non-safety equipment (such as regular pants or basic gloves), but its probably better than nothing.

I discovered a new variant on the Don't Show Skin rule of thumb which I call:

ATGATT-OABWSYITN

It stands for, "All the gear all the time - or a bee will sting you in the neck"

Acronym well learned.

I was riding out to Motukerara on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Nice weather (save being a tad windy) and an excellent route to whip along when *blam* a stone must have flipped up and caught me straight in the neck!

Ouch! It hit me one inch above my left collar bone in the little patch of skin showing despite my whole outfit of riding gear. A few seconds pass and, whoa, this sucker hurts, I think to myself. It must have been a sharp stone because it feels like it has cut me.

I touch my neck gingerly as I ride along and, looking at my glove, I can't see any signs of blood on my fingers.

Then an idea occurs to me. No way, I think, it can't possibly be that...

Pulling in at a petrol station I take off my gloves and pinch at my neck... and what do I pull out? I bee stinger.

I must have splattered the poor sod right across my neck going at the speed that I was while at the same time managed to ram his stinger into my own neck!

I could already see a nice red stingery lump forming on my neck and it hurt like heck. A regular bee-sting welt came and left.

So remember: All The Gear All The Time (plus a neck brace) or a bee will sting you in the neck

Monday, December 01, 2008

The most beautiful sound

For years I have loved this one particular instrument.

I never knew what it was, what it looked like (though I suppose my guess was close enough), or anything about it at all. The most accurate thing I knew is that it could only be 'middle eastern'.

Back in my university days, while waiting for lectures, I would sometimes hum tunes to myself as I imagined the haunting refrain of this magical instrument.

I can play the ocarina, the penny-whistle/tin whistle, and the recorder. Not very well, mind you, but then while I find them to be pleasing instruments I have never had a passion to gain any skill in them.

Well, I have finally discovered what my dream instrument is called.

It is the Duduk (or doudouk); a family of persian and armenian wind instruments.

Have you ever heard their lilting sound -- with almost human pitch-shifting like a singer calling devotees to Salat -- played on a track of world music or behind the commentary of a recent evening news 'expose'?

There is at least one person who sells them online, and he even provides several fantastic sound samples.

In my humble opinion, it really is the most beautiful instrument on the face of the planet.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

USA Today calculator - are you like McCain or Obama?

So it turns out, according to the USA Today Candidate Match Game II, that my personal views more reflect the policies of Barack Obama.

What a surprise.

Here is the proof:
Above: screenshot of my results at the Candidate Match Game II

Tee-hee, look at McCain's little head. Watch it shrink as I select my policies *giggle*

The best part of this is, that means that I am just like 86.9% of the rest of the world if they could vote, too (you can add your hypothetical vote).

The Poll of Polls at CNN.com has Barack leading at 51% by 7 percent. Let me tell you, if Obama doesn't win the planet will cry foul. Even the stoners would cry out.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism part 4

I have had some feedback on my previous sections and for that I thank you for your contributions so far. I enjoy discussing ideas with people and your comments only help make us all better. That's true even, or especially, if you disagree with me - just as long as you can tell me why.

I began with why examining the claims about the existence of God needs to be taken seriously and with correct methodology. I moved on to examine the poor ways in which people reject religion, and weak reasons to declare oneself an atheist. Those parts quite understandably drew some reaction from people (freethinkers and atheists I presume?), some of whom possibly didn't realise that my final aim WASN'T going to be to argue in defense of religion or gods.

I wanted to start this way, regardless of the ire that it risked drawing from sympathetic readers, because I think that it is very important that an argument AGAINST the possible existence of God needs to begin with a proper consideration for what theists actually claim and that the popular yet weak arguments need to be ejected from the dialogue early on.

Now it is finally time to annoy the theists.


Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part IV - Poor reasons sometimes used to criticise somebody becoming an atheist



1 - The atheist was 'brainwashed' as a child, or 'too young' and therefore isn't really thinking clearly about God.
This sword cuts both ways. Either teaching our children anything is ‘brainwashing’ (as providing any information during development & rearing contributes to their worldview), or you have to leave parents alone. Equally, either children can make their own decisions about God whenever they want (let the little children come to Jesus?) or we have to sit down to decide when exactly a growing human being develops ‘spiritual consciousness’. We already have one hair-splitting argument about when exactly a human is conceived; let’s leave the brain out of this. After all, surely the great number of parents who feel that the faith of their child teaches them new things about God can’t criticise another child who decides there is no god.



2 - The atheist has suffered trauma or emotional damage (therefore mustn't be an atheist for any valid reasons).
Believers should consider this point very carefully. How many Christian testimonies talk about hitting the bottom, bad choices, trauma, fear, and pain? How many of them speak triumphantly of the breaking point they experienced, their repentance, their conversion, and the new and bright life that they now have found in Christ? A great many of them do. To condemn the decision of an individual to change their minds about what they think, feel, or believe based on their life experiences would write off the religious beliefs of a very large chunk of the world’s population.
Believers can’t happily accept any and all converts that they receive – no matter how traumatic their ‘testimony’ – all the while rejecting the validity of an equally traumatised individual turning their back on faith. Either broken people can make any kind of religious choices that we have to accept as valid, or Churches will need to start vetting their new members for their Emotional History – not too heavy or not too light, mind you.
As a psychology worker in the mental health industry, I see that so many people in the world today are hurt in some way. The solution isn’t to presume a lack of individual competency for people to make decisions about their own lives and opinions.

3 - Atheism is asking too much when it relies on 'rationality' and 'proof'.
In other words, this is the view that you can't be 'scientific' about God or religion. For one, as Richard Dawkins points out, no Christian would reject evidence that science unsurfaced that demonstrated any biblical historicity or validated their religious claims; it is absurd to claim that the reverse - demonstrations to the contrary or expectations of proof positive - is impossible.
But if we demystify the fancy words here, we find that Science could just be another way for saying, “coming to sensible conclusions about the world by doing tests, writing notes, and comparing what we think and observe with people around us who are also making observations.”
When doing theology, in order to avoid heresy or other embarrassing ideas, people like to do it ‘in community.’ Coming to conclusions about things by talking it over with others is something as common in a University as it is in a Seminary; nobody likes the rogue scholar. ‘Rationality’ could be just another way of saying, “avoiding illogical ideas,” or, “being reasonable.” I’m absolutely certain that anybody engaged in any thought – either scientific or theological – would like to entertain the notion that they themselves are managing to do so without being illogical or unreasonable.
Churches are full of people who want to ‘share their walk with God’ with others; scientists take on a lab partner. Preachers and others who stand up to talk in front of the congregation have people use the Holy Spirit to ‘discern the truth of their words’ as they ‘test the spirits’ to see whether they are a false prophet; scientists like to write articles for peer-reviewed journals.
Science and religion are not so different when you realise that they are both ways in which people try to explain, predict, and control the world around them. So when people tell me not to be scientific about matters of faith, I can’t help but wonder whether they have ever shared a personal story with their home-group or been encouraged by joint prayer with others. Christians have dealings with their church community all the time in matters of faith, even going so far as journaling their experiences (taking notes on God? Shock!). That sounds an awful lot like common-experiences, science, and rationality to me.

_____

Coming up next:
Part V - Positive points for Atheism 1/10

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Disproving the Argument from Suffering

This one is going out to Lance.

Not happy to have me brush across the Argument from Suffering so quickly in my blog post and not happy, it seems, to ask a local theologian, Lance let me know that "stating that the suffering argument is stupid doesn't exactly explain it".

I was reluctant to go there in my blog because (i) it might be too long for people if I added complete proofs to everything I mention, (ii) it might be boring for readers who want less technical content, and (iii) re-churning over ancient philosophical basics is a little bit like reinventing the wheel.

But, obviously, stating it is stupid like it is a given is not as good as taking time to prove my point. So true, Lance, and so here we go.

Why the Argument from Suffering does not disprove God's existence:

The problem of evil or the argument from suffering goes something like this:

1. God is wholly benevolent and good.
2. God is omniscient - aware of everything and possessing all knowledge.
3. God is omnipotent - able to do anything.
4. An omniscient God would be aware of all suffering.
5. An omnipotent God would be able to stop all suffering.
6. A wholly benevolent and good God would want to stop all suffering.
7. Suffering exists in the world.
8. Therefore, God does not exist.

Now for a little bit of philosophical logic.

The general rule above can be phrased, "For all universes containing a wholly benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God, no such universe can exist that also contains suffering."

In logic, a counterexample is an exception to a proposed general rule. In this case, if we can provide a single specific example of a universe that may violate the proposition we demonstrate that the general rule is flawed. Even if we don't know whether OUR universe is the exception or not, we know that we can't rely on the rule to guide us. It may be wrong some of the time, most of the time, or hardly ever - but who knows?

This is why the argument from suffering is almost doomed to fail before it has begun; just like proving a negative is difficult, for the proposition to be universally true it will have to be able to withstand an infinite number of potential possible universes, one of which may be ours, each with their reasons for being however they are.

There are a few easy examples of weak points in the argument that allow counterexamples to sneak in:

Points 8 and points 1-3; what we mean by “God”. Point 8 presumes that all that makes up God are points 1-3. For one, Christians disagree even as to whether God possess the three ‘omni-’ attributes: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Open Theists take a different approach to omniscience. There will be any number of formulations of what people mean when they say ‘God’; some formulations will more readily allow for grey areas to exist in the universe (some will even demand the existence of evil). If you are going to disprove God then you can’t be sloppy here. Like a hydra, knocking down one particular formulation of a god will only grow two more.

Point 5 - An omnipotent God would be able to stop all suffering. This point is weak because it presumes a certain thing about human free will versus divine sovereignty. Some would affirm that God allows humans to have free will. Making it a choice - a divine SELF limitation - means that human free will is not a threat to divine sovereignty (just like giving your child free choice to play on the playground doesn’t threaten parental sovereignty). That humans have free will at all then means that we are morally responsible for our own actions, for good or ill. Evil and suffering, therefore, can be seen as the products of agents distinct from God.

Point 6 - knowing what God would want to do. Any ethical philosophers will be aware that there is a large gap between the facts as they are and actions that ‘ought’ to be taken. The bridge between is usually built out of value statements. Already, we can see that greyness has made its home in this part of the argument. Even the most lawful and morally black and white among us know that the morality of a given action is not based on a predetermined rule that says “always do X” but is instead based on a careful determination of the context and the best response for the situation. Pushing an old lady over in the street and thus breaking her hip will almost always be wrong except in those situations when it means that she isn’t run over by an impending truck. Rationality shouldn’t break down when we consider God as a moral agent either; whether God ‘ought’ to respond in a particular way to certain things that we perceive in the world will depend on context, intention, facts as God sees them (which, one would argue, is more complete than our perspective), and any number of factors that muddy our nice, simple ‘ought’ statement.

I didn’t need to present three reasons where the argument from suffering may be incorrect, though there are certainly more that could be given. To make my counterexample I only needed one possible weakness. We now see that there could be any number of reasons why ‘God’ and evil or suffering may coexist in the same universe.

The argument is therefore refuted.

The argument from suffering is not a sufficient disproof of the existence of God.

So you see, Lance, I don’t feel that your query on this point has ‘taken apart’ my series or rendered it meaningless. Everybody should feel free to request clarification or justification of my points; I don’t make them lightly even though I may present them as such.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism parts 2 & 3

Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part II - Poor reasons sometimes used to reject religion.

1 - Inquisition, the Crusades, and violence in general.


As far as I can see, this pretty much consists of finger pointing and points-scoring and, once we start playing that game then all hell breaks loose. There are plenty of stupid people who have made stupid decisions all throughout history on all side of all camps in anything remotely to do with religion. I don’t even want to BEGIN tallying who is to blame for who killed whoever-they-killed way back when, and whether they REALLY were atheist or really were a Christian or really were actually a communist. Let’s just put that fight to bed. Some people are idiots now and there were idiots then, let’s move on.

2 - Israel/Pakistan, Northern Ireland, & other divisions.


No matter what one believes, prominent people on both sides of the debate will admit that if people weren’t killing each other over religion then it would be over some other in-group/out-group, tribalistic, social division or economic reasoning.
People fight wars for all sorts of reasons and when you take away one reason (like religion) then they’ll find another reason to keep on fighting the good fight. Again, the most sophisticated arguments are speculative at best, and if you want to keep debating in a speculative battle then don’t talk to me about it.


* * *

Part III - Poor reasons sometimes used to become an atheist.

1 - The theodicy a.k.a. the argument from suffering.
This little philosophical gem is as old as it is flawed. Why do you think it is so great to teach in Philosophy 101? It is because stupid ideas that you can formulate into tasty syllogisms are interesting. These days, nobody who sits down to get meaty answers to this dilemma ever walks away thinking it is valid. Purely materialistic philosophers don’t think it holds water, theologians don’t think it holds water. If you want more, go Wikipedia it or ask your local theologian.
Because the argument from suffering is important to so many people, I will at least add this: it is true that the argument from suffering may critique a particular formula of beliefs about God, but overall there are logically, internally consistent Christian formulations of the way God may be that provide a positive answer for how suffering can coexist alongside God. In short, the argument from suffering alone is not a sufficient counter-example to disprove the existence of God.

 If one is to universally challenge religion and theism, then it isn't enough just to disprove a single, limited formulation of a god; larger brush strokes are required.

2 - Being angry or disappointed at God.
This one is a doozy; how can you be angry at a God you don’t believe exists? Either you’re angry at God who you believe is there, or you don’t believe god is there and therefore you can’t be angry at God. No path to atheism here, folks.

_____

Coming up next:
Part IV - Poor reasons used to criticise atheism.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism part 1

I wrote the beginning of this a fair while ago. I consider this a first draft. I'm still writing the end of it, this is how long it is taking me to get around to doing it. I have decided to release it in portions for ease of reading, accessibility, and section-relevant commenting.

_____

(old foreword I had planned for the blog:)

Time to get a bit serious now.



I'm feeling good, high in energy levels generally, and my blogging seems to have picked up again (as Scott mentioned when I randomly talked to him today at the Art Centre Markets).



Around a few months ago, I happened to be going through a particularly intense patch of thinking around my Christian faith. I began to really rummage through my past, trying to decipher whether I had 'really' seen signs of the existence of God (and, consequently, the truth of my Christian experience). I also managed to collect quite a few interesting books in the process.



Being the reading/writing/thinking/talking type, I began to collect a few of my thoughts, feelings, and intellectual discoveries on my laptop. Being of a calmer frame of mind recently, I now feel it about time to share some of these with my thought-community: you.



My thoughts were entitled, partly for the humour/shock value, Things your Mother never told you about Atheism - and several other reasons why God doesn't exist. The title expressed the feeling that had begun to grow inside me that the non-Christian worldview (atheist in particular), and the opinions of particular authors, had been sorely misrepresented to me across my lifetime; I put this down to a combination of worldview-biases and an us/them mentality in those various people who had taught me about the world. This doesn’t make those educators incorrect, per se, but I certainly feel slightly short-changed by my education until now.



Take it as my rabid journaling, take it as angry polemic, or take it as an attempt to figure out my beliefs: take it any way you will. I include it here now because I would love to hear anyone's opinion on any of the points I raise. I hope that you will find it easy for anyone to engage with this, regardless of belief, worldview or presuppositions.



These notes, like me, are still very much a work in progress. I have fleshed out my points for the first time, here, for you all:


Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part I - Theological reasons to take the questioning process seriously.

1 - God 'holds all the keys' (e.g. Matt 11:25-27)
Epistemologically, as well as theologically, this seems to be true. Logically speaking we can’t make God do anything that God doesn’t want to do. In any interaction, God is the 600lb gorilla who can sit – or do – what he likes. This includes divine self-revelation.

Matthew 11:25-27 says,
25At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
27"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

2a - God resists the proud
The book of Job (although that is NEVER a good book to quote, given that it is intentionally filled with bad advice from Job’s associates) says that God, ‘frustrates the plotting of the shrewd … by day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night’ (Job 5:12,14) and also, ‘He does not regard any who are wise of heart’ (Job 37:24b).

The theme here, and it is certainly echoed by living disciples of Christianity here on earth, is that God almost enjoys thwarting those who think they are clever; “it doesn’t matter what you think, say, or have read, Mr Smarmy-Atheist-Type-Person, because God (see section above) can do what He wants and will turn all of your formidable cleverness on its head!”



2b - God may possibly reject disingenuous seekers.
This is a warning that – in my quest for truth – I have received in various forms, directly or indirectly, by various people who possibly haven’t all meant well by it. It almost always comes up after a brief conversation wherein I interject a few deeply unsettling questions about God, religion, or Christianity. I suppose the risk assumed by them is that if I ask doubting questions a little bit too zealously (rather than doubt in the safe, ‘we all have doubts sometimes,’ way) then I’ll annoy Mr Deity and he will smite me or otherwise dole out a bad destiny to me. For why this is a problem, see point 1.

The biblical basis to this theme is empowered by favourite Sunday school stories such as, ‘When the Lord Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart’ and St. Paul’s interesting trick of handing a wayward brother over to Satan. If this is correct, then presumably that makes all such individuals royally screwed (like Judas?).



3 - God promises to respond to those who seek after relationship.
It does seem to me that God DOES take some mitigating steps to lighten the fact of point 1, and that is self-binding promises found in scripture. Self-limitations and promises by God in no way threaten God’s sovereignty, meaning that God can make godself in some way contingent on other (lesser) things without creating a giant, theological mess and scaring all the Calvinists.
This seems to be backed up by encouraging ideas like, ‘seek and you shall find’, and, ‘call upon the name of the Lord and be saved’. It also seems to create a foothold in Jesus, being not just the way, the truth, and the life, but also as the tangible person in whom the ‘fullness of God’ is revealed (naturally, this presumes the truth of the Jesus-story).

4 - The God paradigm re-imagines a different form of 'wisdom' than the common concept of what is wise.
In a similar way to section 2a, the bible seems to promise that God turns things on their heads. This includes what we even think of wisdom in the first place. What I find wise, prudent, and rational might in fact be blatant stupidity in the eyes of God who seems to suggest the ‘fear of the Lord’ ranks pretty highly on his Smart-O-Meter. As well as avoiding naughty prostitutes who will take us in to their houses and have their way with us, biblical Wisdom seems to comprise knowing an awful lot of God’s laws, recognising God as the top dog, and to make sure that we teach others about God. This probably doesn’t include reading any of the books on my list above (which may be a problem according to point 2b).

* * *

So, does that sound fair so far?

A new approach

I'm in the process of updating my blog, links, and so forth.

Let me know what you think of the new look.

I also designed this swanky new banner using Fireworks (I have re-installed Studio 8 on my new Mac and am re-familiarising myself with flash and web design).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Romance in Star Wars

This from CTRL+ALT+DEL Comic author, Tim Absath. Speaking about romance in the star wars universe, in his review of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed...

I was also amused to see the "romantic" tangent in the story. I am now thoroughly convinced that love in the Star Wars Universe works something like this.

"Hi. I see you are a women, and breathing."
"Yes, I see you are a man, and also breathing."
"We are in love now."
"Yes."

Because frankly, that's what they're showing us over, and over, and over.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Would we kill him with a cartoon gun?

Apparently, Mickey Mouse must die.

Sheikh Mohammad Munajid says that "the mouse is one of Satan's soldiers and is steered by him". Tom and Jerry, and Mickey especially, have helped make mice lovable to children while according to Sharia law and, we can't forget, logic...  mice are repulsive, corrupting creatures.
Quote of the Day:
Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases.
Would you use turpentine? Perhaps you would draw a cartoon gun. Judging from the success of inflicting lasting damage on others such as Roger Rabbit or Wile E. Coyote, I would largely assume that most weapons in the cartoon armoury would fail to do the job.

Either way, if you do happen to see Mickey Mouse around then, please, do not approach him and make sure that you call the authorities immediately.

Does anybody sense a disconnect here?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Cost of Freedom & The Secret of Happiness

Barry Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory & Social Action at Swarthmore College, believes that 'choice' - a central tenet of western society - is not in fact bringing us closer to freedom but is making us less free, paralysed, less happy, and more dissatisfied.

See a video of a TED Talk by him on 'The paradox of choice', here. You could also check out his book, The Paradox of Choice. Why more is less (2005).

Barry doesn't need 174 kinds of salad dressing, or 6 Million combinatorial options to purchase a home stereo system at the one store.

Another interesting TED Talker is Dan Gilbert, whose studies into happiness show that situations with limited options railroad us into manufacturing genuine affective changes that reinforce satisfaction with our current situation; in short, we MANUFACTURE our own happiness with what we get, and unconsciously devalue what we don't have. See his amazingly fascinating TED Talk here. You see, Gilbert describes it as though we have a 'psychological immune system' that mentally protects us from detrimental affect concerning the situations we find ourselves in. Basically, the world is not going to end if we don't get what we want! Sometimes, often times, our brain is wired so that we end up being happier regardless.

Gilbert's tongue in cheek secret of happiness? Anecdotally, it turns out to be quite surprising:

1. Accrue wealth, power, & prestige. Then lose it.
2. Spend as much of your life in prison as you possibly can.
3. Make someone else really, really rich.
4. Never ever join the Beatles.

I'm beginning to think that maybe some very old wisdom agrees with our very modern scientific realisations about ourselves.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good Religion Needs Good Science

Saint Anselm of Canterbury said that theology is 'fides quaerens intellectum,' or, faith seeking understanding.


Some in the Church of England are faithfully seeking pieces of understanding; Dr Rev Malcolm Brown, their head of public affairs, released an essays where he says,


"We try to practise the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends. But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.

Good religion needs to work constructively with good science – and I dare to suggest that the opposite may be true as well."

Dr Brown is getting some good ecumenical moves in before next year's 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, wanting, "to look back on the relationship between Darwin, his supporters and the Christian church".

Impressively, he also states,

"People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it's easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights"

Dr Brown believes that the Church of England owes Darwin an apology; a position which another spokesman points out is not the official opinion of the Church.


See the full Guardian article about it here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We have the technology...!

I just completed my leap onto the hip-cat emergent church gen-X bandwagon.

Or perhaps I completed my recent computer-geek, bad-technology-frustration, old-laptop replacement upgrade.

Either way, I just bought a black 2.4GHz 13" Macbook today. Oh, and a black 240GB iPod.

Behold the new, fancy tricks...!


I'm SO glad to finally not have a computer that crashes repeatedly while browsing, or won't install or upgrade ANY software whatsoever, or won't take so long to start that I can prepare a meal before it finishes loading Windows.

One word:

SexAY

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reason 01

01: Content no longer relevant
Apparently one has to wax theologically lyrical in order to retain blog subscribers these days. This season pneuma is the new sarx, darling.

Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint. I have been working on a rather large post for some time now; think of it as the State of the Nation address. I wrote the main points some time back and, while I have moved on a bit since, I think it will provide a fertile soil in which some good discussions may grow. It's taken a while to get here (justifying this, in fact: a post about a post) because I want to do it justice and it's depth put me off for a while.

I will resume my writing. Relevant content here we come.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The descent of man

Descending bodyweight, that is.

I'm trying to lose 0.5-1kg a week, with as much Fat% as that is (rather than Muscle%).

I've started using Fitday.com rather than MapMyFitness.com because FitDay does a better weight goal system and they provide a macronutrient breakdown of your daily food intake plus what you are eating relative to your daily intake required for your weight loss goal. Very clever.

Here is my weight drop so far (the graph is in pounds, even though I get to work with kilograms on the website) and you can see the trendline which would equate to about 4kg a month.


Above: the clever auto-graphing weight goal feature at FitDay.com

Saturday, August 16, 2008

'Wanted', come hell or high water

Nothing on the face of planet earth is going to stop me seeing the new movie, 'Wanted'.

Starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy (oh, and Morgan Freeman, yayyy...?), when I saw the trailers it looked a little fast paced, interesting, but somewhat... uh... meh-ish.

However, I have since been to visit Rotten Tomatoes.

Some of my favourite quotes about it:

Don't drink an energy drink before seeing Wanted; your head might explode from over-stimulation
and

As long as you check your ethics at the door, there's nothing wrong with reveling in its skillful brand of sociopathic mayhem.

and

For any red-blooded, alpha male who loves to masturbate while armed - this is your movie

and

Wanted is like the last of big budget porn, throwing around endless style along with massive fake boobs and enough smoke to choke a Scott.
and

Whether you find the whole thing thrilling or exhausting will depend in large part on the health of your adrenal glands.
and

Take a slice of The Matrix, stir in pinches of X-Men and Da Vinci Code and garnish with a sprinkling of Hellraiser - and Wanted sounds like a re-heated Sunday roast. Add the bloody viscera of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you'll think it's a dodgy dish
and

...when Freeman, Jolie, McAvoy and the rest get a chance, there's even some decent acting going on. It's almost as if the great Loom of Fate dropped a stitch and willed it.

You may not have noticed, but those were a combination of Fresh Tomato rating and Rotten. Funny thing is, there's pretty much no way to tell. The movie sounds like it is going to be very insane... and very awesome.

It might be the extra testosterone, L-glutamine, ZMA, and tyroxsyn speaking, but this movie should be GREAT!

I'll let you know...

[edit] The movie was excellent - and a solid two hours to boot. I cringed at some gory parts, but it literally had me open-jawed and gobsmacked (how do you literally get gobsmacked?) at the sheer awesomeness of some of the action sequences. Oh yeahhh

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ivan Chakarov is a god

This just needs to be seen.

The man only weighs 91kg...


In 1993, 3 days before winning the World Weightlifting Championship, Ivan Chakarov was spotted in the training halls doing high bar, ass to grass Squats with 265kg for 2 reps at 91kg body-weight.

World Wide Webpages

This is a public service announcement to all humans in business:

If you don't have a useful webpage I don't want to know you.

This is a concept that many are quite slow to pick up on, especially here in Christchurch.

It's something similar to the view in TradeMe that says, "I don't trust you unless you are Address Verified and your auction has PICTURES of the product for sale".

I mean come on, how difficult is it for people to get up to speed. If somebody wants to sell me a product before the savvy competition does then they need to follow these simple steps:

1) provide a webpage for me to visit, especially useful if I found you via Yellow.co.nz
2) show me product photographs with a relevant and updated product description if the product is complicated (unlike gym supplements websites that endlessly repeat, "under the new medsafe regulations we are not allowed to state any further information about this product")
3) if it is a chemical, I want to know what it does. If it is technology then I want technical specifications.
4) tell me HOW MUCH IT COSTS to buy it from you, otherwise there's no way I'm going to waste petrol coming to sniff around your lame store.
5) provide me with contact details so I can call you and also with a physical address so I can find you on maps.google.co.nz

Basically, if business people can't spend the time to demonstrate to me that they can provide me with a good deal and that I can trust them to make it all worth my while, then I can easily go and find somebody else who will.

The adage 'let your fingers do the walking' is only half helpful because it requires the shops to put in the other half of the effort.

Seacrest, out.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My body analysis

I'll try posting some of my fitness stuff here for now, since 10-7 isn't up and running.

I just bought a 'Salter Body Analyzer & Scale' from Phonequip (via TradeMe) today. I saved $40 off the Farmers price, hooray.

I tried one yesterday and was so amazed that I decided to get it. Problem with regular scales is that if it reads zero weight change... what does that mean for body fat or lean muscle?
So I bought these scales. Using a fancy little electric current through your feet (you don't feel it), the scales measure your body's impedance and the algorithms calculate your fat%, bone mass, water%, and muscle% as well as the providing you your weight (of course).

My current specs are as follows:

Gender: M
Age: 27
Height: 167cm

Weight - 87.8kg
Fat - 30.7%
Bone mass - 2.6kg
Water - 54.2%
Muscle - 40.1%

Based on age, gender, and height, my goals are approximately:

Weight - 70kg
Fat - 16%
Bone mass - ?
Water - 60%
Muscle - ?

If you play with the figures, in order to reach the goal weight and fat%, I would need to lose lean muscle. I don't plan to do that, so I guess that means I'll have to weigh more. That's fine, of course. 70kg feels a bit light. My secret real aim is 75kg.
I'm only 6% away from my water% aim. Good for me ;)
That leaves muscle% and bone mass. Bone mass will take care of itself with calcium, vitamin D and my weights routine. As for my muscle% goal - I don't really know. More = good. Basically if I'm strong enough to reach my strength goals then whatever the official stats read it doesn't really matter. The muscle% is only important so that I know how my workout schedule is going relative to weight and fat%.

Exciting!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Guess what? I'm still spam

So my Iain10-7.blogspot.com blog got marked as spam, as I discussed earlier.

I clicked some link to 'restore blog' and sent an e-request to get some human to review my blog and declare me un-spam... and today I look and see that my request seems to have either timed out or been denied.

So in 20 days, it says, if they don't hear from me my blog will be deleted.

Here I go again... request human review...

Blog-O-Sphere gods, hear my plea. This little blogger isn't spam. Give me back my blog. Thanks.

p.s. neither Blogger nor Google have provided an easy way to actually email them. Help forums, yes, direct contact (other than snailmail) no. Somewhere a little boy waits.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Revenge of the Junk Mail?

So Blogger thinks my new blog, iain10-7.blogspot.com is a spam blog. Argh! What can a guy do to get a blog restored around here?

The one blog that I actually want to update something close to daily or weekly and they close it down.

They say they'll get a human to review it to determine whether it is okay and hopefully unlock it, but it's a pretty long and frustrating wait.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Price

My Price

I don't want a Crown of Righteousness,

I don't need a reward;

I never asked for payment,

My love or loyalty doesn't come at a price.



I just want to see people love each other.

I want the planet to survive our hubris.

All I want is to rest in the comfort of knowing that who I am is acceptable

And for what it's worth, I think you're okay too.


'Desmond & Molly' by Nannette Amsden

Friday, April 18, 2008

Saint Paul the Subjugator?

I was helping out at church the other day, preparing supper in the kitchen. Opening the door to get some cups I was confronted by a paragraph from the book of First Corinthians, chapter 12.
The verses included were less than the following, but for sake of clarity here are more:

1 Cor 12 says:
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.


It occurred to me how often I have heard this chapter preached at the door-minders, letter stuffers, dish washers, garbage handlers, and floor sweepers of the church by Ministers who delegate these positions of community-servanthood away from their busy schedule of sermonising. (I'll take this chance to exclude my current Pastor who does as good a job of trying to 'get it right' as I might hope for.)
I would be a fool not to concede that in any healthy community not everybody can perform identical roles at any one time. But the first-will-be-last/last-shall-be-first argument only holds so much water when so many Pastors seem, in reality, to use scripture to justify elevating themselves functionally to the top of the heap in their own little theocratic fiefdom.

Sick of washing dishes? Take heart, your work is indispensable! After all, should the eye say to the hand, "I don't need you"?
Want a shot at preaching? Sorry, but I mean, if the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If we were all one part, where would the body be? You wouldn't want that, now would you?

When people do this subjugating theology with the contrasting biblical context being the highly ranked nature of Roman society it seems they don't quite so easily notice the replica Emperors in their own midst.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Answer to Nihilism

Ecclesiastes 9:2-3,10
2It is the same for all There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear.
3This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
In about 5 Billion years time our Sun will burn low on its essential fuels, flowering like the desperate bloom of a parched plant, while its heart cools and withers into a tiny pearl at the centre of its new, planetary nebula. We, should we still exist, will die.

In about 3 Billion years time the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our own, the Milky Way, entwining itself in a chaotic dance of destruction that will last another Billion years as it forges a new galaxy. We, should we still exist, will die.

Nothing we do now will matter when this happens; if the sky rains with fire or if the sun fades in its final sunset.

But does it matter now that it won't matter in 3 Billion years?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Atheism & the art of reasonableness

Rationality

1. the state or quality of being rational
2. the possession or exercise of reason
3. agreeableness to reason; reasonableness.


Reason

1. a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action
2. sound judgement; good sense
3. normal powers of a sound mind; sanity
4. Logic. the premise of an argument
5. Philosophy.
a. the faculty or power of acquiring intellectual knowledge, either by direct understanding of first principles or by argument.
b. the power of intelligent and dispassionate thought, or of conduct influenced by such thought.

I would like to be able to say that I believe the existence of a god or of, in fact, a supernatural component to the universe at all, but I would be lying if I said so for sure.

I don't think that having a certain and solid belief in God is an unpleasant place to be. On the contrary, it is quite comforting and generally quite a nice way to exist. Unfortunately, however, finding myself part of a warm and accepting social group - such as within a church or a home group - tells me little more than acceptance from other people is nice.

I find myself asking questions about God and bouncing around the topics of faith, belief, evidence and rationality. Some people warn against the idea of being too rational, saying that faith (as defined by a belief without or despite evidence) is the only reliable final step towards finding God. That doesn't sit well with me. Sure, in the purely philosophical sense of 'rationality' it would be untenable to commit every minute facet of life to a full blown Dr Dana Scully autopsy before we acted upon it or believed it.
What I am asking for is simply that I want to use the exercise of sane reason and understanding to see something tangible about God that is a good basis for the justification & explanation of the claims of Christianity. As Saint Paul would say, I'm looking for a message,

"not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [my] faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2:4-5)

It occurred to me years ago that a fairly good indicator that psychics and spiritualists were a bunch of con-artists was that if somebody actually possessed reliable supernatural abilities that would become very rich, very famous, and very powerful in a very short space of time. Look at the absolute obsession we get over a TV series like Heroes, or fictional characters like the X-Men. If a person really was able to read somebody's mind like Professor X, use telekinesis like Jean Grey, or predict the future like Isaac Mendez, wouldn't they get a better spot on television than Ghost Whisperer, Haunted Homes, and Sensing Murder. Wouldn't they get a better place in society than the strange booth in the local market?

But can't the same criticism be levelled of preachers and their prophesies and crusades with their faith healers?

Why does faith seem to comprise wrestling with verbally dextrous wording and ambiguous facts in order to try and make the statistically insignificant become the be all and end all?

Something that comes up with regularity in my conversations about God with others is that they refer to their 'relationship with Jesus'. I'm no stranger to this concept, having considered myself a Christian all my life and a passionate one for at least the last 10 years. Right now, however, this kind of wording mostly feels like a clever way of saying precisely nothing; conveying nothing, at least.

If the James Randi Educational Foundation - with their $1,000,000 challenge to paranormal, supernatural, or occult powers - had some Christians step up to the plate I wonder what would happen. According to the words of Jesus in John 14:12-14, we should be seeing an awful lot.