Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Protest for more cats

I apologize in advance to everyone except Jerry Coyne, but I woke up with this stuck in my head, and can't get it out, so naturally I must inflict it on as many innocent people as possible:

- What do we want?
- CATS!
- When do we want them?
- MEOW!

That is all. Please return to your daily routine.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pat Condell on Oslo, rape, and Islam

I like Pat Condell. He is extremely harsh, but usually appropriately so, given his standard targets—Islamism in Europe chief among them. I also appreciate that he holds the line against Islamism without jumping into bed with the lunatic elements of the European right, which, so unfortunately, is more than one can say for about half of the loudest contemporary voices against Islamism. However, Condell—like everyone—occasionally gets some things very wrong.

One of Condell's recent videos includes the claim that "all the rapes in [Oslo] over the past three years—all of them—were committed by Muslim immigrants using rape as a weapon of cultural terrorism." This is a truly extraordinary claim, which jarred me when I heard it, but not enough to make me fact-check it—which means I too, got things very wrong. Fortunately, Juan Cole's most recent post just linked (as a sidenote) to a post in Islamophobia Watch that takes apart thoroughly the Oslo rape claim. The blog clearly has its own agenda, but I can't argue with the figures, which are all that matters in this case.

Once again, a demonstration of the importance of not limiting our reading and listening to those who we know in advance will tell us things we will be inclined to agree with.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another major Kindle book sale

Amazon.com is having another big sale on select Kindle books. I have already tweeted the most important titles, but they deserve as much exposure as possible, so here are the ones I bought:

Loftus: The Christian Delusion $2.99
Stenger: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning $3.99
ibn Warraq: Why I Am Not a Muslim $1.99
Pickover: Archimedes to Hawking $1.99
Jones: The Quantum Ten $1.99
Stenger: Timeless Reality $0.99

I rarely spend more than $3.00 on a Kindle book, but I made an exception for Stenger's book on fine-tuning because it is very recent (the hardcover came out on 26 Apr) and looks like something I am required to own in one form or another.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Second Law of Thermoromantics

On any book swap shelf, the quality of the books will steadily degrade until the shelf holds nothing but romance novels.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independent Intervention

I do watch serious films, too. I just finished Independent Intervention, a critique of mainstream American media treatment of the Iraq war, and promotion of independent media like Democracy Now!

First, two things I didn't care for: (i) Suggestions that the US military deliberately killed independent journalists—charges which the film comes nowhere close to substantiating. (ii) The assumption, more or less taken for granted throughout, that war always is the worst possible policy, because it results in violent collateral civilian deaths. Although my own service in Iraq has left me with a far more cautious attitude toward warfare than I used to have, I still can't help feel that those with rigid anti-war sentiments care comparatively little about civilian deaths as long as they are not being caused by our military—what with 100K-1M Iraqi children alone dead from Iraqi misappropriation during the sanctions period arousing scarcely a whisper of protest compared to the rage over 100K civilians dead in a comparable length of war. I don't know whether OIF will have saved lives in the long run, but it cannot be taken as a foregone conclusion that the consequences of war always are worse than those of any alternative.

What I did agree with: (i) The major networks were abysmally uncritical of the war when we most needed the media to function as an independent check on the government. (ii) The major networks sanitized the war to the point that it became barely distinguishable from sports coverage, with no real sense of the human costs involved. (iii) Independent media offers a much-needed voice that people should tune in to.

I want to focus for a bit on the second point above, about sanitization. I think sanitization of the news is a serious problem with American media in general, not with American war coverage in particular. Furthermore, I don't think the santization has any particular political slant (I'm not sure whether the film meant to imply otherwise). I'm not sure whether the media think Americans have weak stomachs, or delicate sensibilities, or what, but they do coddle us, insulating us from brutal realities that we ought to know about. I think, for instance, that something very important is lost from public comprehension when the most graphic images from September 11 are filtered out, or when we are not shown photos of children who have been decapitated by jihadis. Likewise, something very important is lost from public comprehension when we are insulated from the most graphic results of our military actions. Again, I disagree with the film's suggestion that exposure to the latter images necessitates a particular stance on US policy, but I still think such images are critical data without which people cannot really make informed decisions. If we are to have a functional democracy, we need to see the way things are—which often is brutal, stomach-turning, and nightmare-inducing—so we know what we are making decisions about. We are ill-served by a de facto national V-Chip.

P.S. Curse you, George Lucas!

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? More like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Awesome. A slow first few minutes, but then it rockets to Olympian heights of awesomeness. I have to say, though, that the chief thing the movie did for me was to underscore, with a thick black marker, the complete incompetence with which George Lucas handled the Anakin-to-Vader transformation in the Star Wars prequels. When the bumbling protagonist-villain of a comedy musical makes a thousand times more sense, in every dimension of analysis, than the Dark Lord of the Sith, something is deeply wrong.

Why is it that every time I watch a good movie, I end up cursing George Lucas?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The whole atheist elevator thing

For those of you who have thus far managed to remain happily oblivious to the ongoing Watson-Dawkins elevator uproar, Martin Wagner offers a nice summary of events up to now and, I think, gets everything in his analysis exactly right. Well, except that I wish he wouldn't refer to the whole thing as "Elevatorgate."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July atheist advert

American Atheists seems to be remarkably clueless when it comes to advertising. The organization's billboards (example 1, example 2) already are legendary for poor design, both in appearance and message. Now, AA has hired planes to carry banners nationwide before the fireworks this 4th of July. According to the AA press release, the banners will read:
God-LESS America -- Atheists.org and
Atheism is Patriotic - Atheists.org
I think these are terrible slogans.

The first slogan is so enamored with its own cleverness, which AA seems to think will sail over the heads of normal people unless they have their hands held—the caps are like repeated elbow jabs to one's ribs, accompanied by "Get it? Get it?" On a plain reading, the first slogan also seems to suggest that America is godless, which is just as absurd and insulting as the frequent claim that America is Christian. The only word that can be used to describe America's religious character is "diverse." Anything else is a slap in the face, especially on the 4th of July, which is supposed to be about all of America.

The second slogan is weird. I am an atheist and a patriot, but I haven't the slightest idea what to make of the claim that atheism is patriotic. Maybe AA is just trying to reply to the (equally bizarre) slur that atheism is somehow unpatriotic. If so, though, they need to be saying that atheism is compatible with patriotism, not that atheism itself is inherently patriotic. If such subtleties are not easily expressed through the medium of airplane banners, then perhaps airplane banners are the wrong medium through which to try to address the whole issue in the first place.

I have nothing in particular against the idea of advertising atheism on the 4th of July. But if you are going to do something, do it right. The AA airplane banners are just PLANE embarrassing. Get it? Get it?