Thursday, December 27, 2007

Slacking Off

Yeah yeah, pirates later, its a day or two behind because of Christmas.

Check this out though, I made a trebuchet at work out of a pen, some paperclips, 4 pennies, some glue, and a couple of wall brackets. I can usually shoot the thing about twice as far as the video shows, I'll have to take another one later on and show it off a little better.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Homegrown "discrimination"

This one's from Vancouver, (adjacent to) where I live!

A 21-year-old Metis woman who converted to Islam has filed a human rights complaint against her former employer alleging she was fired because she refused to shake hands with male coworkers.

The problems started on Hamel's first day at the call centre, she told The Vancouver Sun in an interview. When she was introduced to her male coworkers, she put her hand to her chest, as she always does with men outside her family, and said, "My name is Chantal. I'm sorry I can't shake your hand because of my religion."

After that, she said, the mood towards her soured in the office.
Holy Hopping Muhammad, how many times can I say that this is not religious discrimination! Her ex-manager goes on to say that she was fired for poor performance, but for the sake of argument let's assume he's covering his ass and she was in fact fired for not shaking hands.

Us theoretical types like gedankenexperiments, or thought experiments, so let's try one here. Let's imagine a religion where it is mandatory for men to spit on women when they meet. We'll call it Expectorism. Is it so far fetched? Of course not. So an expectorist man is hired to work at a company, and the first day on the job, the boss takes him around to meet his coworkers. He spits on every woman he meets. Can anyone in their right mind honestly argue that he should keep his job because spitting is part of his religion? If so, I'd like to buy you a drink and probe your mind.

You might be saying "perhaps he would be fired, and fairly so, but that is still religious discrimination." Not so...

Fuck. Never mind. Now I'm depressed. You are currently witnessing a horrific form of live blogging. I was all fired up and ready to go on about how religious discrimination only applies to beliefs, not behaviours, and that anyone can be fired for doing something wrong independent of their beliefs, but not for merely holding the beliefs themselves. I thought I would grab a link to the actual law for credibility. What I found was this - case law from BC where the government sided with the plaintiff in every cited case. A financial aid worker refused to grant medical coverage for abortion, a store clerk refused to help decorate for Christmas, a union member refused to pay union dues. All were reprimanded, all sued, and all fucking won. I give up. Post over. The hippies win. Canada blows.

Oh, I was also going to comment a bit on the woman's quote at the end of the article:

Although following her religious restrictions is sometimes a challenge - like avoiding contact with men in a crowded SkyTrain - she said since donning her hijab she has gained a lot of self-respect and deflected unwanted attention.

"Before I converted, having my hair loose, guys would honk at me," she said. "It's mainly all about respect, that's why women wear the hijab."

Sweetheart, respect ain't got nothing to do with it. What you've gained is a delusion. Men do not respect you more for wearing a hijab. Granted, they're jerks to honk at you in the first place, but putting a bag on your head does not confer an ounce of respectability. Construction workers who would otherwise be cat-calling are now thinking one of two things: that you're too uptight to bother with, or you have a shit-crazy father who will kill them if they whistle. You also need to open your fucking eyes and take a look at the world. Women don't choose to cover their faces for respect; they don't choose to cover them at all (those who do are morons). It's about oppression, submission, control, and male weakness. Basically, hijab = rape, and you have sanctioned your own sexual violation.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your tax dollars at work

Marginal Revolution recently had two posts about US taxes. There's some interesting analysis there along with the graphs, check them out.

First, where do the taxes come from?

Second, where do they go? (MR calculates who benefits)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pirate Wednesday - Pyrats

Ok, I'm trying to make up for two weeks of neglect, but I'm flying a little blind today. I totally meant to do this last night but I got caught up playing World of Warcraft.
(lvl28 horde pally on Shandris, email me 4 char name! LoLz!)

There is a QuickTime movie below. I do not have the QuickTime plugin at work, so to me it looks like a big broken box. Hopefully it works for everyone else. I guess lemme know in comments if it's fubar and I'll do what I can.

The movie is called Pyrats, and it kicks fucking ass. From the official website:

"Pyrats" is an animated short film made by 5 french students from the animation school
"Gobelins l'école de l'image" in Paris ,FRANCE.

It was made as an opening short done for the Annecy 2006 international animation festival.
The movie was completed in 7 months (including screenplay, storyboard and designs).
The technique is basically 2D traditionnal [sic] animation with some scenes helped by 3D and flash

Watch the full size version here (friggin' small blogger columns...) and watch some neat 'making of' montages here.

Enjoy! (double click to start)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last Fronteirs Abound

We do not live in a post-discovery world.

There are whole planets and moons to explore right? Well, yes, you don't have to go quite that far to find brand new things.

What about deep ocean trenches? They have undiscovered lifeforms don't they? They certainly do, but again, you don't even need a submarine.

There are still areas on dry land that are completely unexplored (well, by rigorous naturalists) and contain not just some undocumented insect, but never-before seen mammals. For example, a species of giant rat has been discovered in a remote part of Indonesia. Isn't that cool? Makes me want to don a pith helmet and khaki shorts and go tromping off into the rain forest.


There's also a moral to the story as well. Don't let's destroy the environment before we even know what's out there, 'kay?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Here we go again

Remember that Saudi girl who was raped, then arrested and sentenced to 200 lashes? Well the king of Saudi Arabia has pardoned her.

That's right, pardoned. Not overturned the sentence or anything, he says yes she did it, she's guilty, but I forgive her. Oh exalted leader, we humble ourselves before your benevolence.

Fawziya al-Oyouni, a women's rights activist, welcomed the report but noted it implied the woman was still in the wrong.

"We need harsher sentences for the guilty parties, and we want to feel safe," she said.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Get off my back!

Ok, ok, sorry, there was no PW yesterday either. I've been getting an absolute flood of email about it. I'm really busy this week, I'll make up for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh now I get it!

It was just a setup for a joke all along. Well, I must say, I'm impressed. Say what you will about the Muslim people, but they sure know how to commit to a joke.

You see, when Gillian Gibbons named a teddy bear Mohammad, Muslims arrested and convicted her of blasphemy, saying she besmirched the prophet's good name. It's funny because now an actual person in Canada named Muhammad has murdered his own daughter because she dared to show her face at school, and no Muslims are calling for his death for making the prophet look bad. I'd way rather have a teddy bear named after me than a fucking insane child beating woman hating douchebag.

Tee hee Muslims! What will you think of next!

My New Favourite Word: Bibulous

I was just reading an article on alcohol in the New York Times by Natalie Angier, the excellent science writer (buy her book).

She's talking about the drinking habits of Americans, and points out that "we are by no means the most bibulous people."


bib·u·lous [bib-yuh-luhs]
1.fond of or addicted to drink.
2.absorbent; spongy.
What a great word eh? I had to share that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

This is not religious discrimination

A Quebec union head wants teachers and judges not to wear hijabs. Others say this would amount to religious discrimination.

I say it most certainly is not. Freedom of religion, in a legal constitutional sense (I know Canada is a little different, but same general ideas), simply means that the government cannot force you to hold certain religious beliefs, and cannot punish you for those which you choose to hold. In a private industry, this rule does not and should not apply at all. A private employer is not bound at all by constitutional free expression rules. I would argue that an employer should be able to fire anyone for any reason, even awful hateful ones. That's just a little aside though.

We're talking about teachers and judges, which are government positions, and they are in fact held to non-discrimination standards. You cannot use religion by itself as a factor in hiring or firing. What you can do, though, is look at specific behaviours. We are not talking about getting rid of judges who privately subscribe to Islam in their personal lives because of the beliefs they hold. We are talking about getting rid of judges who openly display a constant endorsement of one particular religion, specifically a strong symbol of oppression and misogyny, which also happens to make verbal communication difficult. If a Muslim judge or teacher can remove her hijab in court/class and conform to the (secular) behaviour code of her profession, then it doesn't matter if she worships God, Allah, Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, Vishnu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in her spare time.

The Sikh religion requires men carry a ceremonial sword or knife. They are not allowed to take these knives on airplanes. Does that mean the airline is violating their human rights? Of course not. Likewise, to use the Sikhs again, they would not be allowed to be firemen if they insist on wearing a turban because it interferes with the helmet that they are required to wear. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with practical regulations.

This is a practical issue about specific behaviours, not a philosophical issue about private beliefs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Islam's Silent Moderates - by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

(hat tip NY Times via Richard Dawkins)

It is often said that Islam has been "hijacked" by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?


But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.


If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
Read this article in its entirety.

Oh snap! Pirates!

Shit guys, I forgot about Pirate Wednesday. I actually realized it at the end of the day on Wednesday, and I could have thrown together some half-assed approximation of a PW post, but I have more respect for my legions of readers than that.

I must have been distracted by own post from earlier on Wednesday. What a great post eh?

"We must be careful in science not to confuse our poetic exaltations of nature with our clinical models of its mechanisms, and also not to confound the models themselves with the mechanisms they are meant to describe."

Writing just doesn't get any better than that. Oh man that was a rockin' post. I rule.

Extra stupendous Pirate Wednesday next week. I promise.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Pathetic Fallacy

(circuitous hat tip to Slant Six Creative via Seth Godin)

Below is an excerpt from the second part of a three-part essay I am reading by Errol Morris. In it, he examines two wartime photographs taken from the same spot on the same day, and asks in which order were they taken. It's really long, but I think worth it. He goes into some history, namely the Crimean war, but most interesting to me is the discussion of certainty. How we know what we know, and why we think we know it. It's a great example of evidence-based reasoning and I admire his skeptical treatment of assumptions. The below passage jumped out at me; I like the combination of literary admiration, scientific caution, and psychological explanation of the pathetic fallacy. We must be careful in science not to confuse our poetic exaltations of nature with our clinical models of its mechanisms, and also (vis. the last paragraph, on photographs) not to confound the models themselves with the mechanisms they are meant to describe.

There is an extraordinary passage in A.W. Kinglake who wrote an eight-volume history of the Crimean War, “The Invasion of the Crimea: Its Origins and an Account of its Progress down to the Death of Lord Raglan.” The passage concerns the April 1855 bombardment and makes liberal use of what is known as the pathetic fallacy. The term, coined by John Ruskin in 1856, refers to our propensity to endow inanimate nature with human-like characteristics. Ruskin disapproved — he called it a fallacy, didn’t he? But to navigate in the world – to read the world, so to speak – we need to see the world as having some sort of purpose, some sort of motivation. (It is too frightening otherwise.) Hence, we see intentionality everywhere. The hurricane wants to thwart our plans; the earthquake intends to teach us a lesson.

Here is the passage from Kinglake in its entirety. It is possibly the masterpiece of the pathetic fallacy.


Whether taking its flight through the air, or encountering more solid obstacles; a round-shot of course must be always obeying strict, natural laws, and must work out the intricate reckoning enjoined by conflict of power with absolute, servile exactness; but between the ‘composition’ of ‘forces’ maintained in our physical world and the fixed resolve of a mind made up under warring motives there is always analogy, with even sometimes strange resemblance; and to untutored hearers a formula set down in algebra would convey less idea of the path of a hindered, though not vanquished cannonball than would the simple speech of a savage who, after tracing its course (as only savages can), has called it a demon let loose. For not only does it seem to be armed with a mighty will, but somehow to govern its action with ever-ready intelligence, and even to have a ‘policy.’ The demon is cruel and firm; not blindly, not stupidly obstinate. He is not a straightforward enemy. Against things that are hard and directly confronting him he indeed frankly tries his strength, and does his utmost to shatter them, and send them in splinters and fragments to widen the havoc he brings; but with obstacles that are smooth and face him obliquely he always compounds, being ready on even slight challenge to come, as men say, to ‘fair terms’ by varying his line of advance, and even if need be, resorting to crooked, to sinuous paths. By dint of simple friction with metal, with earth, with even the soft, yielding air, he adds varied rotatory movements to those fell skill as he goes; he acquires a strange nimbleness, can do more than simply strike, can wrench, can lift, can toss, can almost grasp; can gather from each conquered hindrance a new and baneful power; can be rushing for instance straight on in a horizontal direction, and then – because of some contact – spring up all at once like a tiger intent on the throat of a camel.


“The demon is cruel and firm,” “he acquires a strange nimbleness…a new and baneful power,” “a tiger intent on the throat of a camel.” The soulless, inanimate world of the iron cannonball comes alive. Literally with a vengeance. Not only does the cannonball have intent – it plans, it connives… it is hopelessly devious, maybe even deviant.

Photographs are no different. We look at them. They are nothing more than silver halide crystals arranged on paper or with digital photography, nothing more than a concatenation of 1’s and 0’s resident on a hard-drive. Yet we believe they have captured something of our essence – something of the stuff that is in our heads.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ok, FINAL final word, and the next episode

Last one, I promise. There's yet another article out by the BBC with a debriefing of the Gillian Gibbons saga, now that she has returned home. PZ has already commented on it, and I agree with everything he says.

Gillian has once again missed the point and shown herself to be a tool. She doesn't want to "put anyone off going to Sudan", where they'll arrest you, convict you, and rally in the streets calling for your death if you say the wrong thing. Yeah, that sounds like a top notch vacation spot. She was "very upset to think that I may have caused offence to people - very, very upset about it."

Ah, what more can I say? A backwards, intolerant, racist, misogynistic, homophobic religion does not deserve respect for simply being somebody's religion. If that isn't obvious there's not much I can tell ya.

Anyways, it didn't take long after that incident was resolved for the next one to pop up. It's India's turn to take the stage, this time with a two-fer.

The first story is just great. An Indian businessman who owns a cellular network has been arrested for "insulting a religion or faith" because someone else sent a Sikh joke in a text message on his network. Bonus: his name is Anil.

The second one is far more mundane, but no less ridiculous.
A minister in India's West Bengal state has called for a ban on a book carrying a picture the Prophet Muhammad. I saw a video interview with Christopher Hitchens yesterday (I'll link or post it later) where he says the Muslim rule against depicting the prophet was originally intended to prevent idol worship, but now the rule itself has become a form of idolatry. That's a great way to describe these events, they're strict dogmatic knee-jerk extremist overreactions to an arbitrary rule.

I'll keep an eye on these India stories and see if they go anywhere.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Final Word

Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed in Sudan for naming a teddy bear Muhammad, has been released. I suppose it all turned out about as well as it could have, given the initial circumstances, but it's a really depressing incident. Gillian herself keeps apologizing for (and to!) Islam, saying she respects the religion and hopes people don't lose respect for it because of her case.

Gillian - WHY do you respect Islam? Can anyone give me a good reason? Sure, Muslims can be nice people, but it seems that the further they are from strict Islamic principles, the more respect I have for them. In other words, the more they reject their own faith the more highly I regard them. Islam is not a religion of peace, and this case proves it. It is a religion of oppression, violence, and submission.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see Prime Minster Gordon Brown say

it was "completely wrong" that Mrs Gibbons had been detained, and described her imprisonment as "completely unacceptable".
Hopefully Brown continues to be critical of all forms of inhumanity and oppression, whether they are veiled behind the all too often impenetrable shield of faith or not.

Where have all the physicists gone?

There are tons of blogs about biology out there - on evolution, medicine, toxicology, etc. That's cool, I read a bunch of those, but my true geeky science passion is and always will be physics. There aren't enough people writing about fundamental physics in an accessible way. Phil is, of course, unequaled, but with all due respect astronomy isn't the same as fundamental theoretical physics. The best place I've found is Cosmic Variance, and today they have a great post about the arrow of time and entropy. If you care about the basic machinery ticking away beneath the fabric of space and time, I recommend taking a read.

If you happen to be a professor, or researcher, or engineer, or just some guy (or gal) who knows a lot about physics, I implore you to write about it! Get some blogging software and start summarizing difficult concepts in cosmology, particle physics, and quantum mechanics.