Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fundamental as Anything

Looking at my karma score at DPF's over my comment on McCain's "choice" of VP, I'm pretty certain my level of sarcasm went unnoticed. I wasn't paying Palin a compliment. It merely confirms that McCain is a prisoner to the Religious Right of the Republican party. Of course, the VP was going to be a woman. It had to be, to catch the Hillary vote. But this woman? This woman is War.

I've just come back from an extraordinary day at the public conference on New Zealand & Australia's Secular Heritage and its Future:

The videos of the day's speeches should appear on the NZARH's YouTube channel sometime soon. The Oz speeches from their side is up there already.

Bill Hastings from the Censor's Office spoke on the Nun-wanking, "Jesus is a Cunt" t-shirt ban. I didn't get around to asking him whether a blood-dripping, masturbating hippie with "Gaia is a Cunt" t-shirt would also be considered offensive, but that's the nature of hindsight.

Nicky Hager (pronounced Har-ger, not Hay-ger) spoke on the main threat of fundies in NZ. Strangely enough, the Exclusive Brethren are not the main worry. Nope, it's the threat of issues-based networking power that churches can pull on. A cohesive and compliant flock can provide the numbers for talkback, letter-writing and petitions. Meantime, the fragmented majority is too busy, too distracted, and loses its voice. It loses its power. The destructive nature of binding Citizens' Initiated Referenda struck home. In theory, they're great. True democracy, woohoo. In practise, not so good.

Dr Bill Cooke from Auckland Uni at Manukau spoke on whether NZ is a "Christian Nation". Short answer is no. Too many whalers and sailors, too many Scottish immigrants, too many free-thinking refugees escaping ecclesiastical straight-jackets. WWI finished off any chances of a religious nation state. Too many soldiers returned from the slaughter knowing there was no God. Even Mickey Savage's Applied Christianity was a Humanist nudge to the pragmatics of being thy neighbours' keeper.

I'd like to paraphrase more, but his hard copy transcripts were too popular. And as a half-stoned deaf witness, I acknowledge that I'd be doing the man an injustice by stuffing more inelegant words in his mouth. Suffice it to say, it was the second most impressive speech of the day, and you should give it a squizz when it comes online.

The best speech of the day went to the mesmerising Prof Lloyd Geering, the 90 year old Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Vic Uni. The Rutherford House lecture theatre PA was down, but the old pro rattled off a dissertation off the cuff on New Zealand's Contribution to a Secular Global World. He spoke an epic.

First, define what one is talking about; secular not secularist. Secularist is anti-religion, which in itself is just another form of dogma. A secular society allows pluralism, it relishes differing opinions, it encourages freedom of expression. Define religion. Tricky. Prof Geering took a wide interpretation, saying that religion is whatever gets you through the day (I'm paraphrasing wildly here). Spiritual mysticism ties in all the threads, from the Three Brothers of Isaac, Ishmael and Andrew to New Ageism, Satanism and Scientology. It even ties in NZ's Animist culture that Simon Upton and Colin James are fond of drawing attention to. Fair call. Everyone believes in something, otherwise you'd be a miserable git.

Much of New Zealand's immigration occurred after the religious zealots had already landed in Australia and Plymouth Rock. NZ's people came across in the age of Darwin. Consequentially, New Zealand is currently performing its secular duty very well. We are a skeptical people. Humbled and wounded by doubt, it is our triumph and our tragedy (OK, now I'm just making it up. I'll get hold of a transcript and post it separately later on if possible. Never trust the storyteller, only the story).

I do not do standing ovations often, but I gave Prof Geering one. Whether others did or not is not my concern. It gave me the courage to corner him during afternoon tea to try and put my fears to rest. Unfortunately, what he said put a chill up my spine. To explain exactly why, I'll have to back-track a bit.

I am fascinated with quantum mechanics. I don't understand it, but I know beauty when I see it. Take, for example, Feynman diagrams:

Nicked from here

Combine this with Prof Feynman's admission over the Manhattan Project; when circumstances changed but they went ahead and built the atom bomb anyway, killing countless Japanese when the original fear and loathing was aimed at Hitler. This particular diagram has special meaning to me:

Nicked from here

Hang on, I'll clean up the image, substitute the virtual pi's and stuff with alternative definitions:

Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow, but let's call it a squiggly line instead. Call it a neuron firing. Call it Yeah Right syndrome. Call it doubt. Fundamentalists, whether they be of Christian or Islamist stripe, short-circuit this process. There is no doubt. God is on their side. Therefore, they can do no wrong.

In the macroscopic world, we are blessed with Hubble photos showing the incomprehensible age of our universe. In the microscopic realm, calculus has surpassed standard observation to the point where even really expensive machines cannot keep up with the predictions of theoretical physics.

God as mental short cut provides certainty in a world of increasing complexity and uncertainty. Fundamentalism is on the rise. The idiot mullahs are bad enough, but surely the world's superpower is run by the most enlightened leaders? Which is where Sarah Palin comes in.

I'm not putting too much stock in the Wikipedia article to be honest, seeing how over 1500 changes have been made to her profile in the last 36 hours. The edits are very interesting. Lots of literary airbrushing going on. No more "widespread criticism for her handling of Matanuska Maid Dairy." The hard line "Palin is [[pro-life]], even in cases of rape and/or incest" has gone. The convictions are being wiped clean.

There is no room for uncertainty in Sarah Palin's mind. Hypocrisy is justified.
"Palin admits that she used marijuana at a time when the state had legalized possession of small amounts. She says that she did not like it and she does not support legalizing marijuana, concerned about the message it would send to her children."

"Palin said she's not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay, but that she supported the 1998 constitutional amendment. Elected officials can't defy the court when it comes to how rights are applied, she said, but she would support a ballot question that would deny benefits to homosexual couples."
Damn that pesky constitution!

So, back to what Prof Geering said to me. It was much along the lines of Blackadder Goes Forth regarding the origins of WWI: "It was just too much effort NOT to have a war." I'm too old for war, but I fear for my mates' kids. They may not be so lucky.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's an Omen

So, how full-on has this political week been? It's been so hectic, even the TransTasman hasn't updated their website. That's very freaking busy!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bad Bad Bad

Have a look at TVNZ7 at 8's interview with Prof Nigel Roberts on the Peters mess:

"By New Zealand standards, I thought we shouldn't have (the Foreign Minister investigated by the SFO). On the other hand, by international standards, it's probably not unusual... But it makes us look tawdry. It makes us look, dare I say it, Third World."

Don't tase me, Broad says

Police Commissioner Howard Broad doesn't mind mentally ill people getting tased by police, but he's afraid to face the electric barbs himself. That's because the weapon is potentially lethal, and Broad's reluctance shows he knows this.

I've yet to see a convincing case that tasers would have prevented the death of Derek Wootton. Matter of fact, the introduction of tasers will make this tragic event more likely to occur again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Endangered Species

Shock the Flunky

Unsurprisingly, the police have concluded that police should have tasers. Disappointingly, the Ministerial Statement that has postponed Question Time has shown where our alleged representatives stand on the matter. Labour, National, NZ First, UnitedFuture, Act, Anderton all in favour of tasers. Only Greens and Maori against.

To see where this decision will end up, have a read of the coverage of the streets outside the Democratic Convention:
I saw a guy with no weapons run at a bunch of police, immediately get shot with rubber bullets, and then receive what looked very much like a pistol whipping.

...Over here on this side, the only thing saving everyone was a collection of videocameras and an army of press badges. But demands started to get more and more hostile that everyone move away, not watch, etc. This would repeat more and more aggressively with us outside the caged in crowd. Finally the cops started to threaten that our observance would be met with arrest if we set foot in designated areas, all the best viewing locations. Holding rifles and billyclubs, they moved us farther and farther away from the conflict, leaving us only to hear the crowd and not see it.

...Finally, after the arrival of two tanks, hundreds more police, some snypers on the top of the Sheraton hotel, more gas masks, horses, cargo trucks, five helicopters -- the crowd was released. And with them, the stories.
Think I'm over-reacting? Then WTF was the Riot Squad doing at the pissant Undie 500? If it's worth killing, it's worth over-killing.

If friends are electric, why are cows magnetic?

Google Earth has given biologists the evidence to show that cows (and deer) have internal compasses. This would go some way to explaining why dozens of cattle walked into a flood yesterday. The cows weren't stupid, they were barely awake and following their GPS.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Chicago School Democrat

There's an in-depth look at Obama's economic perspective in the New York Times. Obama busts the myth of the argument between the two Bobs, which is essentially the Keynesian/Friedman debate personified. My money's still on Obama.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A small brown envelope of solace

Congratulations to Brian Henry for proving the link between quantum mechanics and creative accounting. Please observe this video, replacing light packets for small brown envelopes.

Cheques are both waves and particles. Unobserved, they tend to spread themselves widely. However, if the SFO, Privileges Committee or similar observer is present, the packets act much more predictably.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rebus laughed

Need some cheering up? Check out the 50 Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Heaps of goodies, but my fav:

"The Scots invented hypnosis, chloroform and the hypodermic syringe. Wouldn't it just be easier to talk to a woman?" – Stephen Brown

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

TVNZ is lactose intolerant

Earlier today, I was having a chortle at British expense reading about this new CD featuring old songs that the BBC has banned. Not included is Split Enz's Six Months in a Leaky Boat, which was banned during the Falklands War. Thank Dagg we live in liberal old NZ. OK, the old control freaks at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation were something else, but times have changed:
As a junior employee in the record purchasing section at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in Wellington, my first job was to gouge a nail across the tracks of the B-side of the Ray Charles single "Hit the road. Jack". Censorship and concepts of "safe" records were an over­ riding pre-occupation of the establishment back then, although it has to be said the "The Danger Zone", the B side was less threatening than "Hit the road, Jack".
Or rather, times haven't changed, they have twisted. Steven at Spare Room points out that TVNZ have banned a music video by soul band Hot Grits. No sex, violence, nudity or dry humping. Just a bunch of kids drinking milk:

On the subject of child censorship, it may be a good time to highlight that almost half of UK kids are banned from climbing trees as parents think it is too dangerous:

Play England, which says it promotes free play opportunities, insists that parents "constantly wrapping children in cotton wool" can harm the children's development. The poll found showed 51% of children aged 7-12 were not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision, with 49% stopped from climbing trees altogether because it was considered too dangerous

...It found children's experiences of adventure are confined to designated areas such as playgrounds (56%), their homes (48%) or theme parks (44%).

Little wonder the little buggers are bored. There are calls over in Blighty for parents to please neglect their kids, leaving them to make their own fun.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Wellington Candidates Forum

Consider this a warm-up for the traditional Aro Valley Community Hall election meeting shindig:

This announcement has been brought to you by the letters V, U, W, S and A.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mocking Winston

They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock, and, as they came nearer, Alice could hear him sighing as if his heart would break. She pitied him deeply. `What is his sorrow?' she asked the Gryphon, and the Gryphon answered, very nearly in the same words as before, `It's all his fancy, that: he hasn't got no sorrow, you know. Come on!'

So they went up to the Mock Turtle, who looked at them with large eyes full of tears, but said nothing.

`This here young lady,' said the Gryphon, `she wants for to know your history, she do.'

`I'll tell it her,' said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone: `sit down, both of you, and don't speak a word till I've finished.'

So they sat down, and nobody spoke for some minutes. Alice thought to herself, `I don't see how he can even finish, if he doesn't begin.' But she waited patiently.

`Once,' said the Mock Turtle at last, with a deep sigh, `I was a real Turtle.'

These words were followed by a very long silence, broken only by an occasional exclamation of `Hjckrrh!' from the Gryphon, and the constant heavy sobbing of the Mock Turtle. Alice was very nearly getting up and saying, `Thank you, sir, for your interesting story,' but she could not help thinking there must be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing.

`When we were little,' the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, `we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle--we used to call him Tortoise--'

`Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?' Alice asked.

`We called him Tortoise because he taught us,' said the Mock Turtle angrily: `really you are very dull!'

`You ought to be ashamed of yourself for asking such a simple question,' added the Gryphon; and then they both sat silent and looked at poor Alice, who felt ready to sink into the earth. At last the Gryphon said to the Mock Turtle, `Drive on, old fellow! Don't be all day about it!' and he went on in these words:

`Yes, we went to school in the sea, though you mayn't believe it--'

`I never said I didn't!' interrupted Alice.

`You did,' said the Mock Turtle.

`Hold your tongue!' added the Gryphon, before Alice could speak again. The Mock Turtle went on.

`We had the best of educations--in fact, we went to school every day--'

`I've been to a day-school, too,' said Alice; `you needn't be so proud as all that.'

`With extras?' asked the Mock Turtle a little anxiously.

`Yes,' said Alice, `we learned French and music.'

`And washing?' said the Mock Turtle.

`Certainly not!' said Alice indignantly.

`Ah! then yours wasn't a really good school,' said the Mock Turtle in a tone of great relief. `Now at ours they had at the end of the bill, "French, music, and washing--extra."'

`You couldn't have wanted it much,' said Alice; `living at the bottom of the sea.'

`I couldn't afford to learn it.' said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. `I only took the regular course.'

`What was that?' inquired Alice.

`Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,' the Mock Turtle replied; `and then the different branches of Arithmetic-- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.'

`I never heard of "Uglification," Alice ventured to say. `What is it?'

The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. `What! Never heard of uglifying!' it exclaimed. `You know what to beautify is, I suppose?'

`Yes,' said Alice doubtfully: `it means--to--make--anything-- prettier.'

`Well, then,' the Gryphon went on, `if you don't know what to uglify is, you are a simpleton.'

Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said `What else had you to learn?'

`Well, there was Mystery,' the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, `--Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling--the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.'

`What was that like?' said Alice.

`Well, I can't show it you myself,' the Mock Turtle said: `I'm too stiff. And the Gryphon never learnt it.'

`Hadn't time,' said the Gryphon: `I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, HE was.'

`I never went to him,' the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: `he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.'

`So he did, so he did,' said the Gryphon, sighing in his turn; and both creatures hid their faces in their paws.

`And how many hours a day did you do lessons?' said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

`Ten hours the first day,' said the Mock Turtle: `nine the next, and so on.'

`What a curious plan!' exclaimed Alice.

`That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: `because they lessen from day to day.'

This was quite a new idea to Alice, and she thought it over a little before she made her next remark. `Then the eleventh day must have been a holiday?'

`Of course it was,' said the Mock Turtle.

`And how did you manage on the twelfth?' Alice went on eagerly.

`That's enough about lessons,' the Gryphon interrupted in a very decided tone: `tell her something about the games now.

- nicked from here.

Badjelly the fish

Why have four horsemen when you can have 10 million jellyfish of the apocalypse instead? There's a huge increase in jellyfish populations as natural predators are thrown on the back foot by overfishing, pollution and global warming.
From Spain to New York, to Australia, Japan and Hawaii, jellyfish are becoming more numerous and more widespread, and they are showing up in places where they have rarely been seen before.
Having been stung by baby bluebottle jellyfish whilst swimming one night in Tropical Queensland, it's not a fun to have happen. It's rather like getting tattooed by an epileptic. The jellies nicely demonstrated what I learned in Oz. The whole idea of Oz is unsustainable. NZ is a pizza. Lots of toppings in the middle surrounded by a golden crust of beaches. Oz is pizza bread. Light garnishing on the fringes but largely one big crust.

The rain's on a bit of a bender here, soaking NZ like a lush. Enjoy it while Oz drinks its own urine. Our beaches are largely jellyfish free to swim in, our oceans much less toxic than the Mediterranean or Hawaii. Enjoy it while Oz people stay on the beaches. NZ has no snakes. The most dangerous thing the keas and takahes have to watch out for is DOC. Hey hey hey, you know I gotta to say, I like it here.

Gone Fishin' for Terror

Is your allegedly private TradeMe account one of the 10,000 seized by police in the Tuhoe terror raids fishing trip? If so, those details have been released to the Urewera terror suspects as part of their defence.
One of the boxes contained the personal details of up to 10,000 Trade Me customers, including their name, user name, personal email address, phone numbers, home address and trading history over the past five years.
WTF? Well, former cop and TradeMe security manager Dean Winter blames the law.

Winter said it was disappointing the information had been passed on by police to the accused.

"I think lawyers should take more responsibility for the information they receive under disclosure in some circumstances," the former detective said. They need to take responsibility for its security. Handing it on to the accused is a bit silly in some cases."

Oh rubbish, as I pointed out in an earlier post and is confirmed in the article, disclosure of evidence must be shared between prosecution and defence for the sake of open justice. This invasion of privacy is solely the police's responsibility. What drove them to use their search warrant to trawl so much information from the system?

Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe, of the police Special Investigation Group, refused to comment on what information had been requested from Trade Me and why. He also refused to comment on why so many traders' details had been requested, thousands of whom are unconnected to the Urewera case, rather than only those specific to the investigation.

It seems that Ruatoki residents weren't the only innocents raided by overenthusiastic cops looking for terrorists. Unlike the Ruatokians, you may not even know that your privacy was raped by the cops.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Rodney Returns

There's a cartoon in the Backbencher of Richard Prebble's mad dog persona ripping the flesh off someone's calf. That tenacity to bite and not let go quality. It's good to see Rodney's return to form then, taking on Winston and, possibly, winning.

Colin Espiner gives Rodney his due, going where the big parties are too lame-arse to go (I'm reasonably certain Colin has used my Hi de Hi metaphor for commercial gain without attribution and therefore is fined a bottle of cabernet merlot as retribution).

A rather large penny has fallen after reading Duncan Garner's blog, what with the SFO having powers to open the disused file in the lavatory in the basement with no stairs guarded by a sign that says Beware of the Leopard. The Spencer Trust could be exposed to daylight and then the fun really begins.

You just got my vote, Rodney.

The Patron and the Patronised

In NZ, our government throws money at Hoodie Days and websites for Youth Week. In Oz, they are ramping up for National Science Week. Which is a more productive strategy to motivate the young ones?