30 March 2006

Martin Bryant is not news. Official.

This article from Crikey points out some problems with political correctness.

A few in the media have pointed at an article on Martin Bryant in the Bulletin and concluded that it should not have been written. Apparently we should pretend that it didn't happen for fear of all the usual things.

Let's just put this in perspective.

It's 2006. Ten years since the Port Arthur Massacre.

This single act resulted in what is well and truly the greatest legacy that the Howard government will leave behind, that is, a government with enough guts to pursue gun control.

Yet the media is saying that a "well researched and written article" (Crikey) is not news?

Once again, Crikey is right on the money, here. What I don't get is that political correctness is being milked for popularity's sake (take a bow, Peter Blunden and Neil Mitchell).

Funnily enough, political correctness gone berzerk is what Blunden and Mitchell specialise in pointing out.

A strange old world, this one.

27 March 2006

Beep! Beep! It's Me. Cogito Ergo Sum. I can't hear you. I have a banana in my ear.

I don't know where Beep! Beep! gets these, but this is brilliant.

Beep! Beep! It's Me. Cogito Ergo Sum. I can't hear you. I have a banana in my ear.

Sadly, conflicting reports suggest that this case might have been dismissed, but I have an inkling that we're getting closer and closer to a case that actually goes the distance against a religion.

20 March 2006

My Night out at the Commonwealth Games

I went to see the gymnastics on Saturday night at the Commonwealth Games. They're currently being held in Melbourne.

Now, for those of you who don't know, that is, for those of you outside the remains of what used to be the British Empire, these are kinda like the Olympics, but only for countries in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Which naturally means that countries like Australia, South Africa and Canada dominate the medal count, rather than the USA and China.

Kinda like big fish in a small pond, though, cause the only other countries there are little tiddlers like Jamaica, Mozambique and St Helena.

Points if you can tell me where St Helena is without looking it up in an atlas.

Anyway, I went to see the women's gymnastics. I use the word "women" advisedly - most of these girls were scraping to see over the age of 12.

In fact, I think that I could count up those of teenage or older on 1 hand. Why did I bother typing "...or older"?

All that was missing was the pushy parents.

Gymnastics requires routines on different "apparatuses". These routines are then given a score by a panel of judges.

Routines are marked on degree of difficulty, a checklist of required moves and "artistry".

This is quite a bit different to what can best be described as "objective" sports in the games schedule.

In an objective sport, there is no ambiguity. Results are based on heaviest lift, highest jump, first past the post, furthest thrown, most targets hit, most goals, most points etc.

In subjective "sports", of which gymnastics is one, one certainly wins by gaining the most points. But the points themselves are based on the outcome of whatever is in the collective head of a panel of judges, all of whom are going to have different opinions vis-a-vis the artistic component.

Methinks that there is a bit too much scope for judges to display some artistry of their own when preparing their assessments.

Anyway, by the end of the night, Chloe Sims became Australia's youngest gold medallist of the Games by a long, long way. We got to noisily sing the national anthem and go home.

Funnily enough, I think that the crowd has had enough of this gold medal blizzard that Australia gets whenever this carnival is on. I only heard one half-hearted "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!" all night.

Back to little Chloe. Sims scored the same number of points as the Canadian silver medallist, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, but she won on a countback as per FIG (Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique) rules.

This was beaten up by Melbourne's newspaper for the truly illiterate, the Herald-Sun (Monday 20 March) into a scandal. In an article that was clearly not even considered good enough to go online, idiot journalist Mark Stevens (with ghostwriter Selina Steele) went fishing for quotes in order to drum up some sour grapes, and the best that he could do was these:

Asked if hometown judging was alive and well, Canadian coach Carol-Angela Orchard said: " I think there's always an advantage to be at home."

Questioned further if Australia was enjoying a good run from the judges, Orchard smiled and replied: "Yeah."

Fourth-placed English competitor Imogen Cairns was clearly gutted after being pipped [for the bronze medal by Australian, Hollie] Dykes.

When asked if she was gutted (my emphasis - Stevens & Steele must have been in a hurry) to miss out on bronze, Cairns said, "Well, we're in Australia."

From all of this, Stevens/Steele came up with an opening paragraph of:

Tensions are mounting in the usually genteel sport of gymnastics, with both England and Canada inferring they have been victims of hometown judging decisions.

Sorry, Mark, Selina or whoever wrote this pice of crap. You cannot infer squat from the quotes that you have provided.

The best that you could do after needling these poor souls for God only knows how long was Cairns' quote. Given that Cairns is, most likely, a pre-nubile, I personally wouldn't trust that her opinions accurately reflected the English gymnastics hierarchy. If she has actually reached pubescence, I would put even less stock in anything that she has to say. Adolescents can be a hysterical bunch.

Now the Herald-Sun is never actually going to win awards for "Fair and Balanced" journalism (for Chrissakes, Rupert, grow some brains, morals and something vaguely approaching honesty) but I do have to say their sport coverage is usually pretty darn good. That is, of course, when Scot Palmer isn't writing.

This article was stellar rubbish of the highest order, but it does beg the question: would this piece of mind-numbing schlock have been written if gymnastics was an objective sport?

I think not.

What surprises me most about this whole affair is that I have been able to write an article on gymnastics without once mentioning how uninterested I am in it. I've done well.

Stevens' article on the other hand - I give it a 5 for the degree of difficulty (he is a footy writer, after all) and a perfect zero for the artistic component.

13 March 2006

How to De-stabilise Rational Thinking in 10 Easy Lessons

After the arse-kicking that they received in the Kitzmiller vs Dover case (also known as Scopes II), IDiots have been strangely quiet.

But don't discount them. They'll be back. And they'll be back in a way that means that when they do, all us rational folk will be needed for the showdown.

After all, there are plenty more battlefields out there that haven't even been fought at yet.

Evolution is just one of the possible targets that they could name. They could come back with a sneaky attack on the Big Bang, Gravity, the list is too big to mention.

In the fallout after this case, attention has been focussed back on the Discovery Institute, the shadowy right-wing thinktank that has been pushing the ID line.

What is most disturbing is that, amidst all the double-talk, wheeling and dealing and spin, the Discovery Institute seems to be ashamed to acknowledge their admitted religious agenda.

You wouldn't think so if this really was all there was to it.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.

What appears to be the case is that up to this point, the boys and girls over at the Discovery Institute have been going out of their way to introduce a concept called Intelligent Design into the science classroom through a process of deliberate confusion called "Teaching the Controversy."

Teaching the Controversy is simply asserting that a controversy exists where there isn't one. Great trick, if you can pull it off. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation are particularly good at this.

What is certain about Teaching the Controversy is that it is designed to exploit a weak point identified fairly early on by the Discovery Institute. The weak point that I am referring to is that many people don't know what science actually is.

Disgraceful, really.

Mark Nutter is a bloke who keeps a very interesting blog on reconciling religion with science called, Heaven is not the Sky.

Nutter has identified a top ten, an "action plan", if you like, for sabotaging science in the name of religion.

These read as follows:
  1. Focus on a vague, generalized group of presumed antagonists (e.g. evolutionists, “Darwinists”) whose motives are always presumed to be corrupt, dishonest and evil.
  2. Emphasis on atypical examples of cases that make a theory (e.g. evolution) look bad, generalized to imply that the whole theory is bad.
  3. Attacking a scientific theory (e.g. evolution) on religious, non-scientific, or pseudo-scientific grounds, rather than by offering detailed scientific explanations whose specific, verifiable predictions are a better fit for the observed data.
  4. Manufacturing phony challenges to the legitimacy of a theory (e.g. evolution), and inflating the credentials of those challenges.
  5. Manufacturing spurious and unsupported alternatives to a theory (e.g. evolution) and using non-scientific channels to get them acclaimed as “scientifically superior,” so as to displace the challenged theory.
  6. Manipulating the educational and political system to control public perception of scientific information independently of the scientific process.
  7. Spreading distorted information and false information about a theory (e.g. evolution) and/or the people who support it.
  8. Maintaining a facade of false neutrality and objectivity while clearly working to promote a monopolistic agenda.
  9. Claiming to promote scientific research while never doing any actual research beyond looking up materials that can be used to try and discredit the target theory (the “Hollow Curiosity” indicator). Note that this failure to produce any documented results is often masked by complaints of “censorship” by mainstream science, despite the fact that until you do the research, you have nothing publishable for mainstream science to censor!
  10. Tight PR controls on all media outlets (including blogs) owned and operated by the creationists themselves.

My questions are these.

Firstly, there are many religious types who don't approve of what 'mentalists like the Discovery Institute are doing.

Why don't they have a serious bash at destabilising the 'mentalists? The vast, vast majority of Christians (and I will specifically single Christians out here. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc all seem to be immune to all this silliness) simply do not support literal interpretations of the Bible.

In fact, if you were to ask them, and promise them confidentiality, I would hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 Christians do not even support the notion of Biblical inerrancy.

Secondly, this goes for scientists and the rest of us.

Up to now, the PR nous displayed by scientists has been atrocious.

Kitzmiller was won through sheer dumb luck. Luck in that it was lucky that the plaintiffs had such a good case and a decent legal team.

When the IDiots attempt to pull another one over on the rest of us, they will come better organised.

It is time for scientists to go out on the attack and lauch a PR blitz of their own.

And there is a really, really good reason why this is the case.

In the next few weeks this blogger plans to examine the concept of Dominionism. Is it just another wacky conspiracy theory? If not, then what is it?

Even if it is pure codswallop, wouldn't you feel more comfortable if our friends with pointy heads were at least getting out there and making themselves known?

Because if they don't, and our fundamentalists come a calling, normal people are going to feel safer with them than the forces of logic and reason.

And this has the potential to return us to the dark ages.

09 March 2006

Good Math, Bad Math

This is one that I came across that is required reading.

Particularly if you're a critical thinker who has an interest in Mathematics:

Good Math, Bad Math

06 March 2006

A Photon in the Darkness: A Field Guide to Quackery and Pseudoscience – Part Five

Prometheus just keeps on going.

Another in his outstanding series on Quackery and Pseudoscience

A Photon in the Darkness: A Field Guide to Quackery and Pseudoscience – Part Five

A-League. Flash in the Pan, or Paradigm Shift?

On the weekend, the A League Grand Final was played out between Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners.

It played to a sold-out crowd of approx. 42,000.

So the question has to be asked, is this the kick-along that Australian soccer, sorry, football so badly needs to survive?

I for one hope so. This correspondent has hitched his post to the Melbourne Victory horse for 2006/2007, and would like to see the A-League succeed.

But I have to say that I have my doubts.

Firstly, the Grand Final on the weekend was between the biggest and third-biggest cities in New South Wales.

This hardly makes for a great deal of interest around the rest of the country.

Now, you can put this down to the provincial mentality we have in this country, but I can't see Dave from Karratha putting down his evening meal for a spot of soccer.

The problem that soccer faces is that it is on at the wrong time of year.

This means that we will always have a hard time getting big name players over from Europe or wherever to play for Australian clubs.

This is a real shame, because what the A-League is going to need going forward is some serious firepower from overseas.

Take Dwight Yorke, for instance. This is probably the biggest name ever to play soccer in this country. In fact, he's probably the biggest name to play any code of football here at all.

Now if we had 8 Yorkes, playing for each of the clubs, this would be fantastic.

All the clubs would be able to get the most out of this leverage, and we could ensure that loyalty is provided to all clubs through a genuine supporter base.

Instead, what we have are the top two clubs being supported by the ficklest of Australian sporting fans, or at least, Sydney FC, anyway. I can't speak for the Coast, but, lets face it, the Central Coast is just the far northern suburbs of Sydney, anyway. Hence the reason for my doubts about Coastal fans.

The A-League needs to capitalise on this something major.

We have a genuine shot at getting Futbol out there and into the Australian sporting imagination.

Sadly, this probably means that basketball in Australia is dead, and cricket will get encroached upon, but I give it 4 seasons if it's successful until it shifts to the winter to take AFL and the rugby codes (union and league) on.

If it's not, then it will remain of curiosity value only to the Australian public.

Carn the Victory in 2007!

03 March 2006

Ten years of John Howard

Well it's finally happened.

Ten years of having John Howard as PM.

Now, this is a fairly decent achievement. Some would say that he's benefited from an unusually rare run of 15 years of unprecedented growth, but to be fair, there was a tech wreck that hit the rest of the world in 2000, and we came within a hair's breadth of a recession in 1997/98.

So economic prosperity has been good. On the other hand, this has come at the price of quite a few things.

We appear to have become a much more intolerant country as a result of various things. Peter Costello's inconceivable words to the media about people from islamic countries migrating here and instantly looking to convert us to sharia law appears to have been aimed at the general population who are possibly getting stupider and stupider.

Thanks to thoughtless comments like Costello's, we now have a real problem with a sub-section of Australia who belives that all muslims are out to cleanse the earth of non-believers.

On top of this, prior to the Howard Government, a comment like Costello's would have been enough to have him sacked from previous governments.

(Sadly, a lot of these idiots are born again freaks who happily quote the Qu'ran on the subject, but then wilfully ignore the Bible's wording which is uncannily similar. Especially in the Book of Judges)

Our treatment of refugees is similarly hopeless. They have now become "illegal immigrants".

Apologising (Not!) to Aboriginal Australia for the Stolen Generation, not enforcing the Ministerial Code of Conduct, mollycoddling the ethanol lobby, negotiating a useless free-trade agreement, going out of their way to discriminate against gay Australia... the list goes on and on.

At least Port Arthur happened early on in the government's reign. If it had happened yesterday there is absolutely no way that the gun controls proposed by the Howard Government would even see the light if day now.

I give them a C-, just because I'm charitable.