31 December 2007

Roll on 2008

Happy new month or whatever to all of you, and if you're reading, Romulus, a Happy Hogmanay to you.

Last year, I celebrated by doing a greatest hits post of sorts, and I'm not going to show any original flair by changing that for this year.

And this year has been a big one for Dikkii's Diatribe - cracking the ten year mark is one mean feat. Even if I do say so myself.

So here goes - my greatest hits for 2007:

12. The Ghost glides by, hitting everything in his path

11. New word: "Biopiracy"

10. The Big Day Sell Out

9. Where Dikkii cracks the sads with "Generation Y"

8. The day the music industry died

7. Why woo merchants cannot be trusted

6. Great debacles of our time: The great mezzanine financing collapse (part 1)

5. The meaning of life

4. Great debacles of our time: The failed Qantas takeover

3. The sad tale of Jacques Benveniste

2. Why did you end up agnostic? (Part 3)

So a quick bit of suspense, open the envelope and here is number one. But wait: there's two! It's a good thing that the number zero exists:

1. Filthy, rotten lies

0. Pure, teeth-clenching evil

Please all have a great 2008.

27 December 2007

This year's Christmas whinge

Hi folks.

Just my annual "bah humbug" post, which I've finally managed to complete. You know, there's always something that sets me off.

This year, while walking around a shopping mall on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, I suddenly noticed in a rare bunch of coincidences, that each shop I went to seemed to have the same song playing on the Muzak.

Of course, Carl Jung would attach some sort of significance to this.

It was "O Holy Night," which prior to this Christmas, was one I considered a reasonably 'nice' Christmas carol. In each instance, it was being covered by someone different. "O Holy Night" has been covered that many times it's not funny.

I can't recall who was singing it the first few times, but it was Whitney Houston the second last time, and Mariah Carey the last time.

And these were the two that really set me off. It's one thing to hear these two bints doing their own stuff, but really, when stuck in a shop waiting for one's loved one to wrap up their purchases (oh, Christmas puns, you gotta love them) the last thing that one wants to hear is these atrocities being perpetrated by singers with the utter hubris to think that these songs are all about them.

In Carey's case, I don't think that she sang a single note in key or in time. Always she delayed or anticipated her entrance.

Actually, I'm reminded of a cover I heard once of Nick Cave doing "Hey Jude". He was late for every single note, and I'm not joking. But yet again, I've digressed.

In addition to Carey's appalling habit of chucking in glissandos of several hundred octaves per syllable, she cannot hit a note first time bang on. She has to scoop up from a lower note, or swoop down from a higher note.

But, you know, the worst part about this is that Carey, Houston and everyone else who has covered this recently can't plead ignorance in their massacring of this tune.

Oh no. Part of Carey and Houston's shtick is to have a full gospel choir going in the background. You see, the full blown vocal acrobatics in Carey, Houston's and everyone else's case appears to be a case of plugging their gospel credentials. In other words, there appears to be a serious lack of imagination as to how to cover one of these tunes.

This suspicion was confirmed as Carey's divadom faded out to be replaced by a cover of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" done by Michael Bolton in exactly the same way.

Now you expect this from RnB'ers. Their whole lifestyle is based around hosing down any suggestion that their soul or gospel credentials are below par. In Carey's case, add hip hop credentials to this list.

Why they insist on doing this during every tune, though is a mystery to me. I am not questioning for a moment the technical ability of these singers, but they still insist on foisting it upon us, when they could ease off from time to time and just sing normally.

RnB is basically western Cantopop (or Mandopop) designed to be as inoffensive as possible while bleeding dollars from black Americans. There really isn't any difference between RnB and Pop except for the colour of the performers, and this is possibly final proof that the music industry is one of the most racist places on earth.

Michael Bolton ought to know about this. For years, he's been indulging in every single vocal gimmick that RnB'ers use, yet he's labelled "soft rock" because he's white.

Anyway. That's my gripe for this year. Have a happy new year, and don't do anything I wouldn't do.

18 December 2007

Rock epic of the month: "Evie" (Stevie Wright) 1974

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I've got a special Decemberween present for you, and it's another three-parter.

Yes. Stevie Wright. "Evie". Parts I, II and III.

You know, we're now in a period where Australian rock icons from the sixties and seventies are dropping off the twig at an alarming rate. Every time you hear of another Australian rocker biting the dust, someone will always meet your gaze with a grim look on their face that only ever means one thing: "I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking it too. Stevie Wright is next."

It's testament to this guy's general fortitude that he hasn't died, because he should have. Jack Marx once wrote a rather indulgent biography of Wright where the pair of them holed up in Wright's home in Narooma, NSW and did lots of smack together.

Depending on who you believe, Marx either wrote one of the greatest pieces of gonzo journalism in the history of rock and roll, or a self-serving tome that would have been better titled, An Autobiography of Jack Marx.

I haven't read it, so we'll leave it there.

Anyway, Wright was the lead singer in the sixties with a band that took Australian guitar pop-rock to the world, The Easybeats. The Easybeats were hyperbolically described as 'The Australian Beatles", but their sound had more in common with bands like The Searchers and The Hollies than the Fab Four.

The Easybeats broke up in the early seventies when it became clear that the songwriting and producing savvy of guitarists Harry Vanda and George Young were being stifled by the band's - and in particular Wright's - serious drug problems.

Young, incidentally, had two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus, who would go on to form the nucleus of Australia's most internationally successful band, AC/DC.

Wright, undeterred by his own demons, went on to start a patchy solo career, with some assistance from Vanda and Young who penned and produced this tune, which is a monster at 11:08.

"Evie (Parts I, II and III)" is apparently the longest tune to chart as a single anywhere, although, I would hazard a guess that there are others.

The first part is a full-on rocker where the narrator longs to take the object of his desire, who I suppose is named Evie, out on a date to see a band, and longs for her to let her hair hang down. Obviously, Wright, Vanda and Young were clearly influenced by the new emerging sound coming out of the pubs in Australia which was louder and riffier than what was going on during The Easybeats' heyday in the sixties.

The tune then segues into the second part which is, for all intents and purposes, a piano-driven love ballad. Our narrator is clearly lovestruck by the object of his desire who he can now call his lady. It would almost be called "gut-wrenching", except that love ballads are usually cheesy schlock. Still, "Evie Part II" is not as bad as some.

The last part shows Vanda and Young's gift for a lethal hook in the chorus, with a twist. The narrator is now singing about losing Evie, and over blaring guitars playing a rising chord progression, he sings "Before I know it I'm losing you," enough to make it clear that this is no ordinary tale of love gone wrong. Oh no, Evie is buying the farm, after losing a child in childbirth.

Recently, a band of all-star musicians covered not one, not two, but all three parts of Evie as part of a "supergroup" who called themselves The Wrights. This outfit was made up of the following musicians:

Nic Cester (Jet) - vocals, Evie Part I
Mark "Kram" Maher (Spiderbait) - drums
Chris Cheney (The Living End) - guitar
Davey Lane (You Am I/The Pictures) - guitar
Pat Bourke (Dallas Crane) - bass
Daniel Vandenberg (son of Harry Vanda) - piano, Evie Part I
Bernard Fanning (Powderfinger) - vocals, Evie Part II
Warren "Pig" Morgan (Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs) - piano, Evie Part II
Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) - vocals, Evie Part III
Dan Knight (Boof) - Hammond organ, Evie Part III

Vanda himself assists with production, backing vocals and string arrangements on Part II. The Wrights did a very faithful job.

But anyway, here's a couple of vids for you.

The first one is Wright himself performing Evie Part I live from the Opera House forecourt some time in the seventies:

The second (you'll have to turn the volume up as it is quite low) is Wright singing parts II and III from the same gig, however Part III is cut off halfway through, but you'll get the idea. Enjoy:

13 December 2007

Writer's block

I have a bit of writer's block at the moment.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. I would just have a think about some of my least favourite things such as woo, Big Music, the media, global warming denialists or post-modernist/post-structuralist/deconstructionists.

But it's just not happening for me at the moment.

I hang out at my favourite blogs and some others looking for inspiration.


Someone's posted something good. I can't be bothered posting a comment.

What would it be like to create an anti-Dikkii? I could blog about stuff that I can't normally say.

Free speech is an illusion.

Peer-group pressure, contract law, defamation, perjury, contempt of court, copyright, national secrecy, corporate confidentiality - is it fair to say that these wouldn't exist either in their current form, or even at all, if it were possible for free speech to exist?

Would truly free speech usher in a new golden age of transparency? Or would it result in a few more failed marriages.

But anti-Dikkii interests me.

How would I protect myself from legal action?

What if I said something that was very, very wrong and it came back to haunt me? You can't even joke about terrorism or paedophilia any more. What was funny once becomes trial by hysterical media.

Do people really accept media releases which are clearly cleverly spin-doctored reverse ferrets as the facts all along?

Why woo? Why can't people just accept that there is usually a normal rational explanation for things that go bump in the night?

Why homeopathy? Why reiki? Why veterinary acupuncture?

If God existed, wouldn't He sentence evangelicals to hell? After all, even God couldn't possibly tolerate the self-interested sucking up that evangelicals do?

Is Richard Dawkins being a fascist in expecting religious moderates to speak out against religious extremists? If not, am I a hypocrite for not speaking out against the violence in Somalia? Is everyone condoning bad stuff in this world if they simply don't get the chance to speak out? Even if they speak out about as much as they can?

Do woo merchants with good intentions have a duty to expose fellow woo merchants who are frauds? And should they go after them with extreme prejudice?

Is apathy the ultimate payback for technological achievement?

Do I need more money?

Why does it not worry me that all my friends from school and uni are earning more than me? Is this wrong? Is it doubly wrong if I still consider myself a capitalist pig?

McMansions are offensive. And people buy them. What ever happened to taste? And why is it necessary to have a master bedroom that can fit three four-post king-size beds?

Who really needs an ensuite bathroom with two washbasins? And why these and not a bath?

Will our kids kill us for allowing them to grow up with shoebox-sized backyards?

How did the urban planners for the Plenty Valley manage to forget about parkland?

Anti-Dikkii is an interesting concept.

Why does economics not have an Alan Sokal figure to tell the theoretical humanities to butt out?

Why does everything that I'm doing at work have to coincide with this week? And why do we hide behind euphemisms such as "due diligence", "fair and reasonable", "meets expectations", "performance management" and "key responsibility areas"?

Do post-modernist/post-structuralist/deconstructionists now run senior management? And the public service? And why do they love Freud and Jung?

Reality used to be a friend of mine.

05 December 2007

A kid in need of a nap

US foreign policy has been a disaster ever since the second world war.

And it really has been a case of just one disaster after another. Now admittedly, not all of it has been America's own doing. But you just have to look at Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Iraq etc to see how misguided their policy idiots are.

I thought I'd seen everything, until regular commenter Indefensible sent me this article from The Times Online website. In it, a QC representing the US State Department answers an enquiry in the UK Court of Appeal about an attempted abduction in Canada of a British citizen:

During a hearing last month Lord Justice Moses, one of the Court of Appeal judges, asked Alun Jones QC, representing the US government, about its treatment of Gavin, Tollman’s nephew. Gavin Tollman was the subject of an attempted abduction during a visit to Canada in 2005.

Jones replied that it was acceptable under American law to kidnap people if they were wanted for offences in America. “The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared,” he said.

He said that if a person was kidnapped by the US authorities in another country and was brought back to face charges in America, no US court could rule that the abduction was illegal and free him: “If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”

Mr Justice Ouseley, a second judge, challenged Jones to be “honest about [his] position”.

Jones replied: “That is United States law.”

Jones then goes on to cite how US law condones abduction of foreign nationals to face charges in the US.

This ought to save the US money. Why go through expensive extradition cases, when you can fly a team of mercenaries into a country and bypass due process?

The last word:

There was concern this weekend from Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP, who said: “The very idea of kidnapping is repugnant to us and we must handle these cases with extreme caution and a thorough understanding of the implications in American law.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “This law may date back to bounty hunting days, but they should sort it out if they claim to be a civilised nation.”

I don't think anything else can be said. Someone in the US government or court system needs to wake up to themselves and stop behaving like a petulant child.

It's no wonder that the US is having popularity problems around the globe with stupid stuff like this. And the worst part about it is this: if another country did this in the US, they would be the first to complain. With extreme prejudice, too, I'm guessing.

The sad tale of Jacques Benveniste

The following was a comment that was intended to go on this post at Marchway Memoirs. It got a bit big, so I posted it here instead.

Oh yeah, Jacques Benveniste. Here we go. Benveniste was a kook bloke who was a scientist. And, of course, like most scientists, he had his human side...

I have the impression you think scientists are derived from some Vulcan-like race of purely logical beings. We’re human, with human faults.

...and his scientist side. And let’s face it; because scientists are human, they are prone to error. And emotion, unlike Vulcans.

On the whole, scientists are disciplined enough at work to let the cold, hard facts get in the way of petty human emotion. But in rare instances, they do it the other way round,..

Scientists are human. I’ve never met [James] Randi, and have no wish to, because I'm human and one of the things humans do is take a dislike to people.

...and when they do, it can really blind the practitioner to the facts. Particularly if the practitioner is displaying very strong emotions such as love, hunger and greed.

Or dislike.

James Randi is one who certainly inspires very strong emotions from both scientist and non-scientist alike. He's not a scientist. But his knowledge of the scientific method appears to be beyond question.

Until now.

And here's the question: Is it possible that dislike of the man could cause one to temporarily take leave of their senses outright and completely miss the point of a particular story?

This blogger thinks so. But let's be honest here - some of the criticism of Randi makes that very allegation against the man himself...

It's not always purely on logical grounds, although he has done some absolutely disgraceful things in my opinion. One example – do you remember the ‘Memory of Water’ hullabaloo? In the interests of fair play, here’s a page against and a page for the idea.

...and I suspect that this is going to be one of those times.

So it can become a bit of a pissing match, where someone stands accused of losing sight of the facts in their fury over the form of the tactics being employed. On the other hand, we have a contention, possibly with merit, possibly not, that those very tactics are being used in a mean-spirited fashion, and their application can skew the very data where they’re being used.

So what can we do when faced with something like this? I would firstly suggest looking at the claim itself

Jacques Benveniste, a talented scientist, reported in Nature that water was capable of retaining a ‘memory’ of something that had been dissolved in it, even after dilution to the point where none of the compound could be left.

…to see if there’s anything there. Jacques Benveniste was a chemist who thought that he was on to something when he made the claim that water’s chemical structure somehow altered, allowing it to ‘remember’ substances that had been dissolved in it, even if the substance had been removed through successive dilutions. And this, of course, was why homeopathic remedies worked.

The problem with Benveniste’s claim, was that by explaining how the ‘memory’ of water was supposed to work, he had completely bypassed the bit that hadn’t been established about whether homeopathy actually even worked in the first place.

And if you think that’s bad, Nature published it!

Now to be fair, Nature is one of the world’s most read science journals, and gets tonnes of submissions each year. And as we pointed out before, scientists are human, and prone to error.

Nature is peer-reviewed, but because human error occurs, stuff does slip through. Some celebrated slip-ups include the following:

Benveniste’s investigation was underpinned by an assumption that homeopathy worked – which, when you think about it, should have set off alarm bells from here to Timbuktu.

Nature’s alarm bells didn’t go off, unfortunately, until the complaints started rolling in, and they ended up having to send a bunch of investigators round to Benveniste’s lab to investigate.

“And why not?”…

Well, Nature arranged to send a delegation to the good doctor’s laboratory. He agreed to this test because he expected his method to work. It had worked many times before. The idea was simple: they prepared three flasks of water, one of which had been treated as described in the method, the other two were just ordinary water. That’s a ‘blind’ experiment – Benveniste, and indeed most of the 'testers', had no idea which flask contained which sample – and it’s the ideal way to carry out any experiment, wherever possible. If Benveniste’s experiment was right, if he had made no mistakes, if there had been no contamination of his samples, then he should be able to find the treated one.

…said Benveniste.

Benveniste and his team were found to have made some errors that were staggering in their ineptitude. These included the following:

  1. Benveniste’s experiments were "statistically ill-controlled", and the lab displayed unfamiliarity with the concept of sampling error. The method of taking control values was not reliable, and "no substantial effort has been made to exclude systematic error, including observer bias"
  2. "interpretation has been clouded by the exclusion of measurements in conflict with the claim". In particular, blood that failed to degranulate was "recorded but not included in analyses prepared for publication". In addition, the experiment sometimes completely failed to work for "periods of several months".
  3. There was insufficient "avoidance of contamination", and, to a large extent, "the source of blood for the experiments is not controlled".
  4. The study had not disclosed that "the salaries of two of Dr Benveniste's coauthors of the published article are paid for under a contract between INSERM 200 and the French company Boiron et Cie."
  5. "The phenomenon described is not reproducible". "We believe that experimental data have been uncritically assessed and their imperfections inadequately reported."

(Source: Wikipedia)

It's relevant at this point to discuss the reviewers engaged by Nature to investigate this and report back:

Of these, Randi appears to suffer the most vitriole from Benveniste supporters. Randi is not a professional scientist...

You’d think that a group of scientists and a representative from Nature would be enough to deal with this, but they took Randi along.

The information on which flask contained which sample was in a sealed envelope. Sealed before Benveniste could have seen it, so he couldn’t possibly cheat. Enough?

...yet he was in a position almost straight away, along with the other investigators, to see that the process was flawed. Although Benveniste was not in a position to see the contents of the sealed envelope containing the details of which flask contained which sample, other people in the lab whom the tester [Benveniste] and the test apparatus came into contact with were.

So they double-blinded the test. Randi is an ex-stage magician. In a combination of flashy showmanship...

No, Randi insisted on taping the envelope to the ceiling. A serious study turned into a circus. Surely it would have been enough to keep the envelope in someone’s pocket? Or did he think scientists are capable of picking his pocket, steaming open the envelope, then resealing it without leaving a trace and putting it back?

...and a wish to ensure that the lab stayed in good spirits, Randi taped the envelope to the ceiling. This also had the effect of ensuring that any attempts to sabotage the study would also be minimised - it is unlikely that Randi would have assumed that he would be the only person in the lab with a practised sleight of hand.

Supporters of Benveniste like to seize upon this stunt of Randi's...

Randi had gone in there not with the premise that Benveniste might have made a mistake, but that he was a deliberate fraud and was likely to tamper with that envelope, given half a chance. Further, he didn’t trust the other scientists, or even the Nature guy, with that envelope either. It was an unnecessary, childish, and grossly insulting act.

...as evidence that Randi had some kind of axe to grind and that he was out to deliberately discredit Benveniste and his team.

Or even that Randi did this without the support of Maddox and Stewart. This is a questionable claim that isn't supported by the account that they subsequently published in Nature.

None of this is relevant.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that Benveniste was brought undone by sheer incompetence and some extraordinarily bad record-keeping.

Benveniste's reputation was ruined by this. But he never gave up on his idea.

Despite being the junior party in the review panel, most supporters of Benveniste see Randi as being the ringleader in Benveniste's "debunking"...

In the event, Benveniste’s experiment failed. So Randi chalked up another ‘debunking’. Benveniste’s career and reputation took a beating (to be fair, he really should have had someone else look at that data before sending in the first paper, but that’s hindsight for you).


I don’t like the way he works. It’s more in tune with the stage than the laboratory, and that’s something I really want to stay clear of.

...despite the fact that at the end of the day he was able to contribute towards an important step towards ensuring that yet another erroneous piece didn't contaminate the human knowledge bank.

Benveniste never forgave Randi. Neither did a whole bunch of Randi critics who saw this as yet another excuse to hate the guy.

In his later years, Benveniste lost the plot entirely and was convinced that the "memory" that he was so convinced that water had, could be transmitted over the internet.

He was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 1998 for that.

04 December 2007

Two very Grey questions

Is it just me, or is Meredith Grey the most annoying character on TV?

And, I know I'm not American, but would anyone in their right minds really come up with the nickname "McDreamy" for anyone?

Totally gay in the primary school sense of the word.

Ghosts - a civil debate

Folks, put down the "glamour" photos of Heather Mills-McCartney and have a bo-peep at this.

I'm having an interesting debate with Romulus Crowe of Marchway Memoirs at the moment.

Romulus is a tad more measured than your usual woo merchant. His shtick is ghosts - specifically, sightings. He appears to be in a position to have seen more than one, and not written them off as hypothesised by the more orthodox explanations.

You know, I kinda thought ghosts were out of fashion. After reading Akusai's excellent wrap-up on Orbs and Rods, I thought anyone mining this vein was suffering from a serious lack of imagination, and clutching at straws more than just a little bit. But there is always someone who can offer something new.

Romulus is eager to know more about them. Personally, I think he's tilting at windmills a little bit, but he caught my eye initially with a post that I had to find out a little more about.

Romulus posted here, initially.

This was a post about ghostly pain, or rather, pain caused by ghosts.

I couldn't help myself, and posted a comment:

I haven't been reading your blog long enough to know if you're taking the piss or not, but it occurred to me that your suggestion that

The easy way out is ‘Ghosts don’t exist’, but that’s no better than sticking your fingers in your ears and singing some tuneless babble. I’ve said often that science can’t prove the non-existence of anything.

...is an easy way out all of its own. Isn't it better to assume that ghosts don't exist until we have some evidence that they do? And then we can change our minds?

Poltergeist-induced fires are often reported...

Where? And when? And who verified that they were "poltergeist-induced"? This would be a curious branch of general insurance claim investigations, if, of course, such a branch existed.

Cynicism is good for you.

I'd probably add that a healthy dose of skepticism wouldn't go astray, either.

To Romulus' credit, at no stage does he ever suggest that he's got much in the way of evidence.

Romulus posted a response:

Isn't it better to assume that ghosts don't exist until we have some evidence that they do? And then we can change our minds?

Where would the evidence come from, if everyone assumes they don't exist? Who'd be trying to get that evidence?

We could also assume the Higgs boson doesn't exist and stop building huge cyclotrons to look for it. We could assume dark matter doesn't exist. Alien life. All of it. It's so much easier to just say 'no it isn't'. I ask you - what kind of scientific mind could just dismiss something with no attempt at investigation at all?

I can't produce a ghost for you. I can't conjure one up so you can see him. Should I stop trying? Who, then, will ever find any evidence at all? Should the physicists stop trying to find gravitons, tachyons, other dimensions of space and time because we find it so much easier to say 'No, it isn't'.

You mentioned James Randi - well, I wouldn't send him any evidence at all. If I ever get absolute proof, a million dollars is mere pocket change to what that proof would be worth. Besides, Randi is not a scientist. He's a stage magician. To get my work independently verified, I'd take it to scientists, not some bearded self-publicist who can hardly be considered impartial. Science should not be done through the medium of the tabloid press.

Skepticism is vital. I've seen people get excited over a scratching in the wall that I would put down to mice. Orbs, as I've said many times, are complete bunk. Fakes and frauds abound - and the reason they do so well is that there's nothing (yet) for science to latch on to. We can't (yet) stand next to a TV medium with a ghostmeter and say 'Who are you talking to? There's nobody here'. One day...but only if someone is trying. That ghostmeter won't invent itself.

I've seen enough to convince myself. I don't have any absolute proof I can show to anyone else. That's the problem. Nobody has the slightest idea what a spirit is made of, much less how to detect one. Rather like dark matter. (and no, I don't for a moment think the two are related).

I know many of those calling themselves mediums are deliberate frauds. I know their tricks. There are a few deluded souls who think they are mediums, but they're not.

There are a few genuine ones out there. You won't see them on TV. Ever. They're not even likely to be interested in visiting a lab. That attitude gets them dismissed as frauds, but they don't care. At all. It's hard to explain their feelings - they're not afraid of being called fakes because they really, really have no interest at all in what science thinks of them. Scoff away, it's water off a duck's back.

I can assure you, I'm not taking the piss. I have, as I said, seen and experienced enough myself. That, in science, is not good enough. I need hard data. I don't have it.

Should I then just give up, stick my fingers in my ears and sing 'Lalala'? This line of investigation is full of diappointments - fakes, misunderstandings, and ghosts that steadfastly refuse to be recorded by any means currently available.

It would indeed be so much easier to say 'No it isn't'.

But, to borrow a line from Monty Python, 'That's not an argument. It's just contradiction'.

It would have been easy to just leave it here, but I couldn't. There's something that drives skeptics nuts about arguments that leave everything open like this.

So I responded:

Where would the evidence come from, if everyone assumes they don't exist? Who'd be trying to get that evidence?

Doesn't necessarily follow. Science currently assumes that strings don't exist, but there is still a lot of work going on in string theory. And when enough evidence is compiled, science will change it's mind.

Science does this all the time. And it probably would do this with ghosts as well, except that we can't even get to square 1 yet. String theory is well past this point.

I can't produce a ghost for you. I can't conjure one up so you can see him. Should I stop trying? Who, then, will ever find any evidence at all? Should the physicists stop trying to find gravitons, tachyons, other dimensions of space and time because we find it so much easier to say 'No, it isn't'.

On ghosts: yes, you should stop trying. They fail the usefulness test - what possible applications would ghosts have once you found them? "Gravitons, tachyons, other dimensions of space and time" - these have lots of potential benefits to mankind. A one off ghost in a house somewhere scaring people, well the science behind gravitons and tachyons is just a heck of a lot better thought out.

You mentioned James Randi - well, I wouldn't send him any evidence at all. If I ever get absolute proof, a million dollars is mere pocket change to what that proof would be worth. Besides, Randi is not a scientist. He's a stage magician.

That's like saying you can't be a movie critic unless you've directed a movie or that you can't write a blog post on Santa impersonators unless you've been one. In other words, an extremely poor argument and an appeal to authority to boot.

In any event, coming across a scientist who believes that Randi is anything other than an expert on the scientific method is rare. There are some, but in the instances I can find, they're usually kooks like Gary Schwartz or Jacques Benveniste, both scientists with handle on the scientific method ranging from poor to shithouse.

Randi's knowledge of the scientific method has been praised on the record by scientists as diverse as Phil Plait, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Lastly, I simply don't believe that you (or anyone) would pass up USD 1 million if all that was a required was to complete the cc field in an email. I hope that you don't mind me calling you on this one.

I note towards the end of your post you agree that skepticism is vital and that you support it. This is good. But I will remind you that the opposite of skepticism is credulous gullibility. Don't fall into the trap of believing everything you read or hear.

I don't think that you should put your fingers in your ears and go "lalalala", but could there be better things to be looking for out there? Why not look for bosons and gravitons? At least we can see worthwhile applications.

Ghosts - well no one has even managed to define one for research purposes, yet. Let alone find usefulness for them.

Well Romulus is open to a debate. And he let me have it. Over four posts, too.

I felt a bit special about that.

So here's links to each of those four posts, together with my star ratings for each.

Responding to Skepticism: 1. Romulus had a fair attempt here, and I was feeling generous. He comes awfully close, but staves off the temptation to try the Galileo gambit. My initial thoughts are that he's looking for facts that fit his spectral hypothesis. ★★★☆

Responding to Skepticism: 2. We discussed usefulness here. Romulus doesn't appear to consider "usefulness" relevant, unless grant money is at stake. His loss:

Responding to Skepticism: 3. Romulus responds to me calling him on an appeal to authority by inventing something called an "appeal to impartiality". His refusal to consider Randi's USD 1 million to be worth anything is a bit naff - and really, his reasons aren't good enough. So it's up to me to do the charitable thing - after all, charity begins at home.

Responding to Skepticism: 4. I welcome debates with woo merchants where it remains civil. And to his credit, Romulus appears to welcome the proper order of things when weighing up alternate hypotheses. And he recognises that definitions are a bit suspect vis a vis ghosts. That said:

So. What did you think? Ghosts, eh?

Dikkii's election wrap-up - the newbies take over

OK. So you all probably know by now that the Liberal/National coalition government headed by John Howard was crushingly defeated by the Labor opposition.

I think that the ALP ended up with a 25 seat majority in the House of Representatives.

Which of course means that Kevin Rudd is now our new Prime Minister. In fact, he was sworn in as the 26th Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia today, along with his new ministry.

And he hasn't mucked around either - making this blogger look like a goose by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. I predicted that the Rudd Government would renege on this particular election promise. Boy, do I feel stupid.

Howard himself ended up being defeated in his own electorate, making him, as regular commenter Plonka has pointed out, the first Prime Minister in nearly 70 years to actually lose his seat at an election. Then Peter Costello retired. Now Brendan Nelson has been made Opposition Leader.

The tears and recriminations from this will be amazing - the Liberal Party is known for trashing their former PMs, with the exception of Robert Menzies, of course, and Harold Holt. Ming is something of a minor deity to the Libs, and you will never hear a bad word said against him. Holt died in tragic circumstances while in office, so I guess that Liberal Party members draw the line somewhere. But if the past is a guide, Howard's legacy is cactus in the eyes of Liberal members.

The new ministry looks a little like this:


  • Kevin Rudd, MP: Prime Minister
  • Julia Gillard, MP: Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Education; Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations; Minister for Social Inclusion
  • Wayne Swan, MP: Treasurer
  • Lindsay Tanner, MP: Minister for Finance and Deregulation
  • Peter Garrett, MP: Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
  • Senator Penny Wong: Minister for Climate Change and Water
  • Anthony Albanese, MP: Minister for Infrastructure, Transport; Regional Development and Local Government
  • Senator Kim Carr: Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
  • Martin Ferguson, MP: Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism
  • Tony Burke, MP: Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Simon Crean, MP: Minister for Trade
  • Nicola Roxon, MP: Minister for Health and Ageing
  • Jenny Macklin, MP: Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Stephen Smith, MP: Minister for Foreign Affairs;
  • Joel Fitzgibbon, MP: Minister for Defence
  • Robert McClelland, MP: Attorney-General
  • Senator Chris Evans: Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
  • Senator Stephen Conroy: Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy
  • Senator John Faulkner: Cabinet Secretary; Special Minister of State; Vice President of the Executive Council

Outer ministry

  • Senator Nick Sherry: Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law
  • Craig Emerson, MP: Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Minister assisting the Finance Minister on Business Deregulation
  • Brendan O'Connor, MP: Minister for Workplace Participation
  • Tanya Plibersek, MP: Minister for Housing and the Status of Women
  • Senator Joe Ludwig: Minister for Human Services, Manager of Government Business in the Senate
  • Bob Debus, MP: Minister for Home Affairs
  • Alan Griffin, MP: Minister for Veterans' Affairs
  • Warren Snowdon, MP: Minister for Defence Science and Personnel
  • Justine Elliot, MP: Minister for Ageing
  • Kate Ellis, MP: Minister for Youth and Sport
  • Chris Bowen, MP: Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs

Parliamentary Secretaries

  • Maxine McKew, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Early Childhood Education and Childcare
  • Anthony Byrne, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Greg Combet, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence
  • Mike Kelly, MP: Parliamentary Secretary for Defence
  • Gary Gray, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Infrastructure with responsibility for Northern and Regional Australia
  • Bill Shorten, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Bob McMullan, MP: Parliamentary Secretary responsible for International Development Assistance
  • Duncan Kerr, MP: Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs
  • Laurie Ferguson, MP: Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Programs
  • Senator Ursula Stephens: Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion
  • John Murphy, MP: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade

This blogger predicted that after his pedestrian election campaign, Peter Garrett will most likely not be Environment Minister. Again, I was made to look silly when he was appointed to that portfolio, although I notice that he did score Arts, and that Penny Wong ended up with half the Environment portfolio (Climate Change and Water).

The Arts Minister post would be something of a let-down for him - this is normally the portfolio for ministers who have failed, or for junior ministers looking at their first portfolio.

No surprises elsewhere - Wayne Swan is Treasurer, Stephen Smith is Foreign Minister. Nicola Roxon got Health.

Maxine McKew, after unseating Howard ended up with a Parl Sec job. Good work, I say.

Elsewhere in the Senate, it looks like the Greens have picked up 2 seats and Family First one. Independent Nick Xenophon from South Australia also won a seat. This means that neither major party holds a majority in the Senate again. It'll still be a couple of weeks before the Senate votes are all tallied.

But that's it so far. Thank FSM it's over.

01 December 2007

Yay! A politically correct Christmas

I love it when political correctness goes overboard. It always brings a smile to my face.

So you can probably imagine my smirk when I saw this tale from, of all places, Sydney.

Now this is the kind of thing that Australia normally follows the rest of the world at. We're not a terribly pioneering country in the field of political correctness. But this was such gob-smacking brilliance that I just had to do a double-take.

If you're a parent, or potential parent, who believes that it is your role to specify what kind of "role model" your kids should have, rather than acknowledging that your kids will end up taking after you, or letting them work it out for themselves, an option that you might consider is Santa Claus.

Claus has a number of character traits that endear him to parents the world over. And he also has a few to remind us that he is not perfect. And let's face it; it is these very imperfections that make him the righteous dude that he is - kids in Christian households regularly start all their prayers around Christmas time with "Dear Santa" rather than "Dear God".

I just love the fact that some Christian parents will go out and firebomb abortion clinics and bash homosexuals, and then come home and happily allow their own children to breach the first commandment by doing this. WWJD?

But anyway, here's some facts about Claus:

1. He's magical. Not only can he levitate his imposing bulk up or down a chimney, but he can do this in houses where chimneys haven't even been built. He manages to do this all night without getting any soot on his fur-lined suit.

2. He has a flying sleigh. This is way cool. I'm told that when he visits Australia, he gives his reindeer a rest and hooks up six white boomers (large male kangaroos) to pull him around. Apparently the boomers are named Bruce, Trevor, Dave, Wally, Barry and Shane.

3. He only has one job, and that is to make presents all year for every kid in the world, and then deliver them personally. And even if a kid has been a little shocker all year, for all Claus' rhetoric about kids being nice and not naughty, he's softer than a jelly skateboard.

4. Claus hears your prayers. And he answers them too. But if your prayer was, "Can I have that hot new iPod Nano that all the kids at school have," don't be too concerned if his answer is a new pair of socks. Santa's hearing isn't all that great. But somehow, he knows what you need.

5. Claus gets a free feed wherever he goes. Of course, all these glasses of milk and chocolate chip cookies have resulted in a portly girth rivalling that of Homer Simpson's, but who cares about that?

6. Mrs Claus is allegedly rather fetching. And twenty-something, too. So what's Claus doing with a hot young wife? Well, it depends on whether you subscribe to the view that Claus is a dirty old pervert, or the view that Mrs Claus is a gold-digging tramp.

7. Claus has more impersonators than Elvis Presley and ABBA put together. And that has got to be one of the best arguments from popularity there is.

8. He works for free. Naturally, some have hazarded a guess at the Claus family fortune. Estimates vary, but the two things that experts agree on is this - firstly, it has got to be mind-blowingly huge. Secondly, you know that "secret cartel" that controls the world and how it "doesn't exist"? That's because the "secret cartel" is, in fact, Claus, his wife and his Chartered Accountant.

9. Claus has way more midgets working for him than Willy Wonka. In a rare comment on the record, the North Pole's Operations Chief Elrond hinted at some enmity between the two groups:

I would like to categorically deny that any of our staff were ever anywhere near Middle Earth. With His Noodliness as my witness, if that bitch [Wonka CFO] Galadriel doesn’t withdraw that scurrilous allegation, I am personally going to visit her on the Polar Express this Christmas Eve and personally serve her with a signed and notarised six-pack of whup-ass.

10. Claus says "Ho ho ho!" A lot.

And it’s this last point that has landed some of his “helpers” in hot water. Thanks to Romulus Crowe of Marchway Memoirs who blogged about this here, some of his helpers in Sydney are now banned from saying this legendary catchphrase.

Apparently it’s now normal for Australian women, according to the personnel company that is hiring Santas, to interpret this as “Slut slut slut!”

This is despite the fact that the term “ho” doesn’t really have any widespread usage in Australia outside of impressionable homeboys and hipster 40-something English teachers wanting to be “Down with the boys in the ’hood.

So would a ban on Santas saying ‘Ho ho ho!’ be acceptable to mums and dads? I don’t think so.

But then again, I don’t really see many mums and dads attempting to discourage the notion that believing in a mythical superhero who has provided no proof of his existence is a good thing, either.