Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 In Metal

Favourite Albums
1. Ne Obliviscaris - Portal Of I
2. Woods Of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Lights
3. Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay
4. The Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
5. Hypno5e - Acid Mist Tomorrow
6. Meshuggah - Koloss
7. Yakuza - Beyul
8. Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme
9. Wodensthrone - Curse
10. Old Man Gloom - No

Honourable Mentions
The Levitation Hex - The Levitation Hex
Amenra - Mass V
Hung - Hung
Blut Aus Nord - 777 (Cosmosophy)
Be'lakor - Of Breath and Bone
Ihsahn - Eremita
Gojira - L'Enffant Sauvage
Epica - Requiem For The Indifferent
Monuments - Gnosis
Ruins - Place Of No Pity
Enslaved - RIITIIR
Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
Kuolemanlaakso- Uljas Uusi Maailma
Krallice - Years Past Matter
Anaal Nathrakh - Vanitas

EP Of The Year
Agalloch - Faustian Echoes

Non-metal I liked
Swans - The Seer
Muse - The 2nd Law
Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
Torche - Harmonicraft
Coheed & Cambria - The Afterman: Ascension
Anathema - Weather Systems
Les Discrets - Ariettes Oubliées...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


"A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread." - Michael Sandel

Monday, 10 September 2012


"One of the greatest mistakes for those who advocate reform is to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good." - Malcolm Turnbull

Thursday, 6 September 2012


"Morality binds and blinds." - Jonathan Haidt

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Doesn't He Know That God Is Dead?

One thing I find fascinating about cities is the street life. Melbourne on a Saturday came alive with buskers, people people with "Free Hugs" signs, and even a street preacher. Unfortunately the cold wind and a restaurant to find prevented me from hearing much of his preaching, but he and his group were still there near my tram stop. And since my tram was nowhere in sight and he approached me with a flier, I engaged him.

His earlier preaching was about how we would all be accountable to God, and that hellfire would be the accountability for our transgressions. So imagine my surprise later when in a one-on-one he said that belief in Jesus Christ was the only way to get to Heaven.

That was a point I pressed him on, since that view seems prima facie absurd. He admitted it was possible that murdering rapists could get into Heaven, though he found it unlikely without much reason to it. But when I brought up the Catholics who participated in the holocaust, the conversation took a tribal turn.

Him: "Who said Catholics are going to Heaven?"
Me: "Don't Catholics believe in Jesus?"
Him: "Yes, but they believe in other things. It's belief in Jesus only, not Jesus and saints and other things."

Here I found myself in a position I thought I'd never be: defending Catholicism and its role in Christian history. Catholicism is a nutty religion to me, but it's hard for me to understand why certain protestant sects hate it and don't consider it Christianity. Mainly that it was Catholicism that decided the texts and the dogma that is at the base of modern Christianity. It takes a history denier to deny this, and that's who I was conversing with.

I was immediately challenged to who my source was, and mentioning historians and the Nicene Creed wasn't enough. I needed to name the exact historian who had filled my mind with Catholic lies. He asked if it was Josephus, who he identified as a 15th century historian. After explaining who Josephus was (1st century Jewish historian) I left to catch my tram.

Two things came to mind, one hearing him preach and one through conversation. If all that matters is belief to be saved, then it's no wonder that ignorance follows. What's learning going to do other than seek to diminish that belief? Unfortunately for me, I get disappointed when people are unwilling to make sure they have their facts straight. I should not have a better understanding of a belief than those who believe in it.

The other thing that struck me was how silly the preaching on immorality was. 2500 years of moral philosophy, and the best he could do was invoke an afterlife?! It makes me wish that people with philosophy degrees would preach on street corners, at least then there might be something relevant said on the subject.More than anything else, the routine was amusing. I couldn't help but laugh!

Hadn't he heard that God is dead? The question of accountability framed in divine retribution not only was at odds with his stated beliefs, but doesn't serve a purpose in modern thought. Of the reason surrounding behaviour, theistic thought plays little role outside of theistic pursuits. It's not a choice between lack of accountability and following God's Word, but a question of how we are accountable to one another. That relationship still exists irrespective of whether God does.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Radiation Of Marsupials Post-Flood?

Following on from yesterday's post about a video by GreenSlugg, I want to follow up with something that emerged from the comments. Not content to sling arguments from my own blog, I engaged GreenSlugg on the comment section of his video. He claimed to have an answer to my objection about marsupials in terms of geographic distribution by sending me to another video.

Now that 9 minute video was quite tedious, he tended to lack a coherence to his argument and tended to ramble. Yet the video he wanted me to watch was over 3 times that length, coming in at 29 minutes! 29 minutes of him going through objections to Noah's Ark. You'd think in 29 minutes you could get through a lot, but he managed to get through four. Though to his credit, he managed to throw in a 2 minute plug for Jesus halfway through.
  1. How did Noah get two of each animal?(Answer: Noah didn't, God did. Read your bible more)
  2. a) How did Noah get so many species on the ark? (Answer: Noah didn't need to, the each pair of a 'kind' radiated out into all the species there are today)
    b) How did they stop the predators from eating the weak? (Answer: kept the predators in cages, just like at the zoo)
  3. What about dinosaurs? (Answer: only needed 50 'kinds', kept them as juveniles "no bigger than a football")
  4. What about marsupials? (Answer: it's a mystery to both creationists and evolutionists)
For anyone up for 29 minutes of creationist reasoning:

After all that, you could imagine my disappointment. He didn't give an answer at all, other than to make a tu quoque claim that evolution has a problem in answering the marsupial problem as well. My whole point is that Creation doesn't give reasonable explanations for why we should expect things to be the way they are; and sitting through 29 minutes of video to hear 6 minutes and 30 seconds of avoiding the challenge - that's simply pathetic. The closest thing to an answer was a link to a page on CreationWiki, but that could have been provided without the 29 minutes of incredulous tedium.

It's the lack of a good answer as to why the patterns are the way they are that's problematic. Without any reason as to why a certain pattern is the way it is means that there can be no claim of compatibility between an explanation and the evidence. All that we get is handwaving, as is the case in that video. He starts by claiming that it's wrong to call Noah's Ark a story, because that would imply it's a fairy tale - and he said: "I believe it's a true event". That's it!

For all the attempts to explain why objections fall flat, the main objection was dealt with as an article of faith. All that time trying to explain how small the dinosaur eggs were or that all the species really just came from a single breeding pair of a kind, or citing cave drawing as evidence humans and dinosaurs coexisted, or that kangaroos did migrate from the middle east - there was nothing beyond an article of faith that one should take Noah's Ark as something to even consider historically.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Noah's Ark and Biogeography

One cannot argue about the empirical in a vacuum; otherwise the claims will be ad hoc and unsubstantiated. When Jerry Coyne mentioned in a talk about biogeography not having a good account under creation, the Youtuber GreenSlug decided to take Jerry Coyne to task.

The response is not pretty in terms of its understanding of biogeography - in the end he frames it as a problem of migration for both evolution and creation. Even if this were the case (obviously there's migration), the reason why biogeography is such good evidence for evolution is the patterns of distribution. The question of why there are placental mammals and marsupials that are near identical in their appearance and evolutionary niche, but that marsupials are only found near other marsupials, is easily explained by evolutionary theory but has no reason as to why it should be so under Creation.

Yet GreenSlugg claims to have an answer: "biogeography makes perfect sense in light of creation: Noah". This is the problem of arguing in a vacuum. How does it make "perfect sense" exactly? Not through having any reason for any particular patterns just to be the way they are as arguing for migration post flood doesn't explain any patterns the way they are. How did flightless birds get to New Zealand but not any land mammals? How did Australia and South America end up with all the marsupials (and very different marsupials at that)?

GreenSlugg invoked land bridges for the animals to cross. In addition to the absurdity of why it is that certain morphologically-related animals all went in a similar direction, there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that such land bridges even existed - let alone that's the way it happened. He hasn't explained anything other than to create a "just so" account with an implausible mechanism with no regard for any actual evidence. If it makes "perfect sense", it's because there's no trying to marry evidence with the hypothesis. It's junk speculation!

Yet to think about the kind of answer that GreenSlugg gives, it's a problem of trying to marry a natural account with a miracle. If he's just trying to say it's not impossible to see how a Creation account could handle biogeography, there are a lot of easier ways to do it. The Creator could have moved the animals to where the Creator desired, with no need to say there were land bridges. The Creator could have created all the species after the flood without any need to account for migration. The Creator, once you grant a miracle, could do anything to make the patterns how we see it now. It's why invoking a Creator is a bad explanation.

I don't see any need to try to make a supernatural account otherwise plausible, as the supernatural account is still going to be the sticking point. Instead of just saying "God did it the way God did it because God did it that way" (i.e. a miracle), it's God did it plus a lot of ad hoc claims that have no more validity than just invoking a miracle. Is there some veneer of plausibility that comes from trying to include a naturalistic framework around a supernatural? I don't see the point!

A good explanation is one that can be falsified; it's one that gives reasons for why things are the way they are, and why they are not the way they aren't. A bad explanation is one that can easily be modified to fit the data however it is. To say that Creation can explain biogeography would mean that the account of Creation would have to be able to sit closely with the evidence. Otherwise any attempt to say Creation can account for the pattern of evidence is trivial - there's nothing in the account that even tries.

The real absurdity in all this is supposing that Noah's Ark is literal history to begin with; that a grown man even tries to undertake a reconciliation between myth and history is pathetic. There was no global flood, there was no single point of radiation of life, and the Genesis account of the global flood is not meant to be taken as science. All else that follows is mistaken on that error, though it was interesting to see the failure in reason that such a pitiful "defence" offered.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Behaving Like Animals

The event* in Colorado was unspeakably tragic. There's simply not the words to adequately express the horror of such an action. Rubbing salt into the wound, though, are those who seek to capitalise the tragedy for their own agenda. Perhaps it's understandable when it's trying to highlight the plight of the mentally ill or to have a conversation about what role a society has with guns, as those conversations at least seem relevant. But there's Rick Warren, who was quick to point the blame at the teaching of evolution.

One could take issue with the cheap opportunism; that the convenient scapegoating has little to do with reality and only serves to push Warren's ideological agenda. But the sentiment seems quite in line with a narrative that fundamentalists have been pushing about evolution. One only needs to watch Expelled** to see the tight coupling of evolution and immorality. The biblical scholar Hector Avalos has gone so far as to say: "One understands nothing about creationism unless one understands that it is meant to be a system of ethics."

Evidentially, this is a hot-button issue among creationists. But however irritating the persistent associations between evolution and immorality are, the most irritating thing is how badly creationists miss the point. Of course we are going to behave like animals. We are animals, ergo we behave like animals.

What Rick Warren and others like him miss, is that there's nothing to preclude animal nature from having a moral component to it. It's an interesting question for biologists as to why it is that there's so much in the way of cooperative behaviour in nature***, but are we to see ourselves warning others of an impending danger to our own detriment as some angelic act, while dismissing the same in a prairie dog? Does our protection of the young have a nobility that a bear defending its young lacks?

Even if Rick Warren thinks that moral prescriptions are handed down from a deity, it doesn't mean that a view without a deity is simply how he sees the world minus what God adds to the framework. It's a failure to comprehend the view in question, which is what a good education system should work to alleviate. Perhaps if creationists weren't so busy trying to water down the teaching of evolution, they might at least understand what it is to be an animal.

*The Dark Knight Rises shooting.
**Or not, it's a terrible film.
*** One interesting answer

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Righteous And The Oblivious: A Parable

There once was a person who saw a grave problem with the world. Everywhere they looked, they saw the problem perpetuate and persist. Yet this problem could have been resolved or minimised if only people would be aware that the problem existed. They decided to take up the righteous cause to help make the world a better place.

The righteous person encountered an oblivious person, one who didn't see there was a problem. The oblivious person couldn't understand where the righteous person was coming from, while the righteous person got mad at the oblivious person for being so oblivious. After all, how could the oblivious person not see the right that inspired the righteousness?

The oblivious person, on the other hand, couldn't see what the problem was. All that person saw was the righteous attitude that was being taken; that they were being preached to and belittled over something they couldn't see as a problem. After all, how could the righteous person expect the oblivious person to see they're right?

The oblivious person came to associate the cause of the righteous with the negativity of the message. The label came to be used in a derogatory manner, with the message lost behind the hostility of the messengers. A person sympathetic to the cause would distance themselves from the label, while the righteous would lambast the sympathist for either not taking the issue seriously enough or for undermining those who are speaking out.

An argument broke out between the righteous and the sympathist. The righteous saw the sympathist as not taking the problem seriously enough, and as being ineffectual. At the same time the sympathist saw the righteous person as exacerbating the problem by creating a negative image, and not getting through to the oblivious person.

In the end, the oblivious person remained oblivious, and the problem remained a problem. The righteous person remained outraged, while the sympathist lamented the lack of progress being made on both sides. The sympathist couldn't become righteous because the oblivious person would remain oblivious. The oblivious person couldn't become righteous because they could not see the problem. And the righteous person remained righteous as the problem persisted.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Thought Of The Day

If analogies were perfect, they would be examples.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Thought Of The Day

People in a movement based on knowledge have an obligation to argue their case on its merits, and to not let righteous indignation detract from that aim.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Won't Someone Please Think Of The Children?

With all the talk of online behaviour and whether or not any of it is acceptable, I do wonder how it is we could put the discussions into some perspective. My proposal:
A place would be out of hand if one couldn't take a transcript of the discussion and show it to a child on how we ought to resolve disagreements.
Even if we do take into account the odd individual who is there to bait, as well as the occasional angry tirade as being exceptions, what good are we doing if we cannot even begin to live up to what we would expect of our children? It's odd, to me at least, that there was more expected of me when I was 8 than in any dialogue as an adult.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Chick Tract In The Mail

Aside from the usual assortment of catalogues that clog up my mailbox, today's haul had two interesting things. The first: a ticket that enables a free IQ and personality test from Scientology. While I appreciate their offer, I know how smart and awesome I am already so I don't need any "test" to tell me that. The second, and slightly more surprising, was a Chick Tract!

The tract was entitled "Men Of Peace?" with some stereotypical Arabs on the front cover. It starts off innocuous enough, describing a spate of terrorist attacks on major cities by a Jihadist group, and an argument between an uppity college-educated girl and her learned Grandfather where he paints the actions as an extension of Muhammad's holy war. Then after proceeding through what I can only assume was an immaculately unbiased account of Muslim history, it turns to the kicker. The uppity college-educated daughter is just like Muhammad in that *gasp* she rejects the divinity of Jesus.

Unfortunately, perhaps lost in the limited space, was the no-doubt nuanced discussion that demonstrated the existence of heaven and hell which ultimately led to the final kicker of the grandpa saying she needed to repent to Jesus as her lord and saviour. But as the tract says, "Even the most hate-filled terrorist can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ." Her pitiful objection that she wasn't a terrorist does little in the eyes of Jesus, because the only way to heaven is to recognise Jesus' divinity. It's complete with biblical citations so you know it's true!

It's one of those interesting things that follow from this line of thought. We all fail to meet God's standard, so we are deserving of an eternity in hell for falling short of that. The only way out, as was given to the would-be terrorists, is to accept Jesus as one's lord and saviour. For all her moral fortitude in her outrage at the terrorist, the uppity college-educated girl failed to realise that doesn't matter when it comes to her afterlife. The only thing that matters is she believes in the right thing, and until she does that she'll remain lost.

The moral of the story: Jesus is great, a college education is no substitute for knowing the bible, and if you reject Jesus then you're making the same decision as that evil zealot Muhammad! Perhaps the nuance of such a view is lost in the mere 42 frames the artist had to work with, but I think the point is made. Believe in Jesus, or else!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 25

Sunday (17/06): Pale Divine - Painted Windows Black
Monday (18/06): Lord Mantis - Pervertor
Tuesday (19/06): Law Of The Tongue - Law Of The Tongue
Wednesday (20/06): Gigan - Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes
Thursday (21/06): Inverse Phase - Pretty Eight Machine
Friday (22/06): Kansas - Leftoverture
Saturday (23/06): Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania

Thursday, 21 June 2012


"Many people are way too confident in their moral views." - Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ownership: Inventing Mine And Yours

There is no objective ownership. This isn't a controversial statement, nor is it one that people particularly lament. Sure, at times, people will decry that others don't see the value that they do in something particular, but in general I don't think that there's any serious defence of ownership being objective.

Yet, if we reflect on it for even a second, valuation of ownership is integral to our lives. We could not function even in small groups, let alone as a society, without having a set of similar values towards the notion of ownership. Among our friends and family, we may have different ways of treating ownership than we would with a stranger, but we do none the less think that our ownership is beyond the mere subjective and ought to be respected and even protected among the society we live in.

We even go so far as to teach children from a young age about the rights and obligations of ownership, and hold those who don't respect it accountable. We will gladly punish those who violate this notion, even though this valuation is by our own reckoning subjective. We have no problems recognising ownership as something that performs an integral role in our lives even though it has no meaning outside of our personal agency.

So the question is, why is it problematic if we substituted morality into the same argument? Why can't morality be useful without it needing to be true?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 24

Sunday (10/06): Dumbsaint - Something That You Feel Will Find Its Own Form
Monday (11/06): 7 Horns 7 Eyes - Throes Of Absolution
Tuesday (12/06): Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
Wednesday (13/06): Atriarch - Forever The End
Thursday (14/06): Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Friday (15/06): Mencea - Pyrophoric
Saturday (16/06): Pain Of Salvation - The Perfect Element Part 1

Sunday, 10 June 2012

God Debates

After watching yet another debate, I've come to the conclusion that it's not that I don't know the arguments for God, but that I don't understand the significance of the arguments for the theistic position. I do wonder what's missing so that I can at least appreciate where the theists are coming from. Is there some connection that I'm missing, or is it that perhaps the arguments would make sense if I were a believer? In any case, there's an infuriating futility in that I can't see how to get from the case to the conclusion.

The Problem Of Hell Belief

Hell didn't really come into my thinking much when I became an atheist - most of the scripture teachers I had focused on the role of God on earth and in our lives - but it has come to bother me over the years. I can understand, to an extent, that perhaps a belief in hell follows from certain Christian doctrines, or that perhaps that it might be a good motivator to help people do good. After all, there are similar analogues in other systems of thought, so it's not hard to imagine that the idea of hell is such an implausible notion in itself. But thinking about it, what bothers me is that people aren't horrified by that notion, and that some even relish in the prospect.

To forget all the problems with reconciling a "good" God with hell - the inconsistencies are pseudoproblems in my view - the concern is how such a belief has an effect in the real world. The only reaction that one could adequately have to such a notion is to try to do the utmost they can to save as many people from the fate as possible. If they aren't, then they haven't adequately comprehended just what it would mean. Of all the human analogues to hell, of torture and torment, of forced dehumanisation, these are things that as a species we have decided as being unacceptable to us. If anyone were to defend the likes of Hitler and Stalin for their crimes against humanity, they would be seen as defending the indefensible. Yet if hell is anything like some of the fantastical visions that makes it so undesirable to begin with, then we're facing up to something infinitely worse! To not try to save everyone possible would mean that there's something wrong with the person in question.

Yet it's not just inaction that's the concern, but the rationalisation that those who are in hell are there because they deserve it. From Answers In Genesis: "Even though God loves us, it is because He is completely good and just that He cannot simply overlook or tolerate evil—He hates it!" In other words, not only can you not be in God's presence because of the sins of some fruit-eating ancestor, but it's only good and just that you will spend eternity in tortured agony for that ancestral transgression.

Following on the Answers In Genesis page: "Every person is a sinner by nature and by choice (Romans 5:12-21; Isaiah 53:6), and we cannot do anything to purify ourselves; no amount of “good” works can cover what we have done wrong. In fact, the Bible says that all of our righteousness is like a pile of “filthy rags” before the holy Creator God (Isaiah 64:6)." So we can't help but be horrible and wicked, and even if we appear to be doing good, it's still nothing. As they say: "This is justice. Everyone stands guilty before God, and if He were to condemn all of humanity, that would be just—because we all deserve punishment of eternal death in hell."

That someone could even write those words should be very disheartening. That many people believe it is downright dangerous. What good can come of a view of humanity where all action except belief in the vicarious atonement of the godman is deserving of an eternity of torture? That everything but accepting Jesus' "sacrifice" warrants an eternal punishment that pales in comparison to what the most evil of evil people on this planet has done. What value could there be in human life if human life is irredeemably wicked? I'm reminded of the saint Zarathustra encounters: "Now I love God: men, I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. Love to man would be fatal to me."

The hope would be that anyone who believes in such a notion doesn't live by it; that pragmatism guides their actions in this life while their belief of the next world remains otherworldly. Words like good and just have no earthly use when framed in such a manner other than to cast others in a dehumanising light. Even some of the causes taken up by hell-fearing fundamentalists doesn't make much sense in light of what counts as good and just. What good is fighting against abortion or homosexuality when neither of them is any more deserving of hell than giving to charity is? It's stroking one's own sense of righteousness in terms of that which is declared to be sinful!

But even if one takes the AiG interpretation of good and just as being wrong, and that hell is not a matter of heresy but one of action, the thought of a punishment amounting to eternal torture is still just as problematic - just that such a punishment sits better with our moral intuitions. It would not be unreasonable to think of Hitler being punished, but even Hitler being tortured cruelly and endlessly should be something that even the most vengeful of us should be horrified by.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 23

Sunday (03/06): Secrets Of The Moon - Seven Bells
Monday (04/06): Witch - Paralyzed
Tuesday (05/06): Saint Vitus - Lillie: F-65
Wednesday (06/06): Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff
Thursday (07/06): Fear Factory - The Industrialist
Friday (08/06): Melvins Lite - Freak Puke
Saturday (09/06): Meniscus - Absence Of I

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Thus Spake Zarathustra

"Much that passed for good with one people was regarded with scorn and contempt by another [..] Never did the one neighbour understand the other: ever did his soul marvel at his neighbour's delusion and wickedness." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 22

Sunday (27/05): Damn The Machine - Damn The Machine
Monday (28/05): The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute
Tuesday (29/05): Ouroboros - Glorification Of A Myth
Wednesday (30/05): Cyclopian - Cyclopian
Thursday (31/05): Deerhunter - Turn It Up Faggot
Friday (01/06): Roxy Music - Avalon
Saturday (02/06): Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Good News For NSW Schools
A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has recommended that ethics classes continue in the state's public schools. The inquiry was set up after Christian Democrats Upper House MP Fred Nile put forward a private members bill last year seeking to abolish the classes. Reverend Nile's bid came less than a year after the classes were introduced by the former Labor government as an option for students who do not attend weekly scripture classes. Nearly 500 groups and individuals made submissions to the inquiry, which has now recommended the classes continue. But the Upper House committee says there should be another review of ethics and special religious education classes in 2014-15. Opposition spokeswoman Carmel Tebbutt has welcomed the endorsement, but says there was no need for an inquiry in the first place. "The Government I think supported this inquiry because they wanted to gain the support of Upper House member Fred Nile on a range of issues," she said. "This inquiry led to a lot of anxiety among parents and schools."
What I've wondered with the ethics classes is why any person would oppose them. Does anyone not want children to learn how to think through ethical dilemmas? The only way I can make sense of it is that there are those who put ideas of morality and ethics solely in the domain of religion, so teaching any human form of critical thought would be to diminish the divine purposes in our actions. What other reason is there to oppose it? Any that are actually grounded in what is taught or what the outcomes are for students?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 21

Sunday (20/05): Ne Obliviscaris - Portal Of I
Monday (21/05): Sting - Dream Of The Blue Turtles
Tuesday (22/05): Marcy Playground - Marcy Playground
Wednesday (23/05): Bossk - .1
Thursday (24/05): Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
Friday (25/05): Warrel Dane - Praises To The War Machine
Saturday (26/05): Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

Monday, 21 May 2012

Thought Of The Day

Any argumentative refutation of a belief that's largely based on experience is going to fall short, because any description of the experience on which the refutation is based will always seem inadequate by comparison.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 20

Sunday (13/05): Cormorant - Metazoa
Monday (14/05): Lo! - Look And Behold
Tuesday (15/05): Revocation - Chaos Of Forms
Wednesday (16/05): Wreck And Reference - No Youth
Thursday (17/05): Yes - Close To The Edge
Friday (18/05): Faustcoven - Hellfire and Funeral Bells
Saturday (19/05): Anathema - Weather Systems

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 19

Sunday (06/05): Beastie Boys - Solid Gold Hits
Monday (07/05): Amorphis - Tales From The Thousand Lakes
Tuesday (08/05): Shihad - Love Is The New Hate
Wednesday (09/05): Iron Thrones - The Wretched Sun
Thursday (10/05): Horseback - Half Blood
Friday (11/05): Kraftwerk - Die Mensch-Maschine
Saturday (12/05): Twilight - Monument To Time End

Friday, 11 May 2012

Postmodernism In Action

One of my favourite line from Michael Specter's TED talk went something along the lines of "you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts". Of course being able to see the difference in one's own position can be difficult, but in terms of discourse that distinction needs to be made.

What was impressive about this article on The Drum was that it made the point by showing it in action - our former prime minister shooting down someone who had no idea what they were talking about beyond their own feeling of something being wrong. The exchange is too good not to quote fully:
Caller: Good morning.
John Laws: Okay, the Prime Minister is here.
Caller: Yes, good morning. Just a very broad question, Mr Keating, is: why does your government see the Aboriginal people as a much more equal people than the average white Australian?
Paul Keating: We don't. We see them as equal.
Caller: Well, you might say that, but all the indications are that you don't.
Paul Keating: But what's implied in your question is that you don't; you think that non-Aboriginal Australians, there ought to be discrimination in their favour against blacks.
Caller: Not... whatsoever. I... I don't say that at all. But my... myself and every person I talk to - and I'm not racist - but every person I talk to...
Paul Keating: But that's what they all say, don't they? They put these questions - they always say, "I'm not racist, but, you know, I don't believe that Aboriginal Australians ought to have a basis in equality with non-Aboriginal Australians. Well, of course, that's part of the problem.
Caller: Aren't they more equal than us at the moment, with the preferences they get?
Paul Keating: More equal? They were... I mean, it's not for me to be giving you a history lesson - they were largely dispossessed of the land they held.
Caller: There's a question over that. I think a lot of people will tell you that. You're telling us one thing...
Paul Keating: Well, if you're sitting on the title of any block of land in NSW, you can bet an Aboriginal person at some stage was dispossessed of it.
Caller: You know that for sure, do you?
Paul Keating: Of course we know it for sure!
Caller: Yeah, [inaudible].
Paul Keating: You're challenging the High Court decision, are you? You're saying the High Court got this all wrong.
Caller: No, I'm not saying that at all! I wouldn't know who was on the High Court.
Paul Keating: Well, why don't you sign off, if you don't know anything about it and you're not interested. Good bye!
Caller: Yeah, well, that's your ...
Paul Keating: No, I mean, you can't challenge these things and then say, "I don't know about them".
John Laws: Oh well, he's gone.

If only more people were willing to do that today. While it's easy to blame spineless politicians and pandering journalists for not taking a stand for facts over opinion, it's not like this phenomenon is isolated to those in power. They aren't setting a standard, they are appealing to it. It's us as citizens who need to be cognisant of the distinction, and not just tribal or reactionary in our rush to judgement.

It makes matters worse that the power of the media and authority figures also plays into discussions, that standing up for "facts" has become synonymous with defending the ideology of authorities. It's not a matter of simply looking at where the expertise lies on climate change, but now it's a matter of where the media bias lies. As Jonathan Green laments: "Five years ago we had something near to a national consensus based on unambiguous science, a consensus cynically talked down often through shorthand distortions and misrepresentations pitched at the uninformed." The scientific consensus is still there, but support of the science among politicians reflects ideological lines. Something has gone horribly wrong!

There's a certain irony in that as a society we're equipped with more knowledge, more access to that knowledge, and more ways to gain knowledge, that we're in a situation that seems a practical application of postmodernist ideas about truth. It's not just that we're ignorant, we're not required to hold to any higher aspiration. "It's my belief" has somehow become a respectable conversation stopper, and attacking the media spin or personal biases as if attacking the argument has become an acceptable strategy. When there are right and wrong answers, or at the very least right and wrong approaches, then "it's my belief" shouldn't be left alone, nor pandered to.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Thought Of The Day

Pascal's Wager isn't an argument for the reasonableness of a belief in God, it's a concession that God isn't a matter of rational argument. Thus any pretence of rational justification has been merely a foil for an unshakeable faith.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 18

Sunday (29/04): Woods Of Ypres - Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light
Monday (30/04): Circle Of Ouroboros - Eleven Fingers
Tuesday (01/05): Green Day - Insomniac
Wednesday (02/05): Coroner - No More Color
Thursday (03/05): Weezer - Weezer (Green Album)
Friday (04/05): Terrorust - Post Mortal Archives
Saturday (05/05): Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 17

Sunday (22/04): Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Deaden the Fields
Monday (23/04): Liturgy - Renihilation
Tuesday (24/04): Wavves - Wavves
Wednesday (25/04): Locrian & Mamiffer - Bless Them That Curse You
Thursday (26/04): Torche - Harmonicraft
Friday (27/04): Azarath - Blasphemer's Maledictions
Saturday (28/04): Sigh - In Somniphobia

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Blind Faith (My Encounter With A Mormon)

I live in an apartment, so one thing I don't get is doorknockers. It's not like doorknockers have been a problem for me in the past, but however sporadic it feels somewhat intrusive. Instead, intrusion comes in the form of flyers and having to dodge people who for some reason want to talk to me in the street.

Of course, I should have seen the signs today. To be fair, two days ago, someone stopped to ask directions and it was near a bus interchange. But a man in a suit coming up to introduce himself? I had my mind on getting back to work. So the conversation starts with "I'm from the church." I ask "which church?" as my mind starts to comprehend the situation. As if taken aback at how preposterous that there could be more than one church, the reply comes "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." And good news, they wanted to help me with my happiness and family relationships! I was asked if I was familiar at all with their teachings, and I said I was.

And from there, the conversation took an odd turn, instead of being told of the no doubt wonderful account of who Joseph Smith was and how the Book Of Mormon was God's final testament to humanity, I was asked if I had any questions. And with this offer to learn from the master, all I could think to ask was one of those irritating reflexive questions that highlight the spiritually tone-deaf approach so characteristic of new atheists: "Do you really believe that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson county, Missouri?"

At first he blamed his lack of argument on poor communication skills and that it was because English wasn't his first language (fair enough). Then later, after I had given a scientific argument against the existence of Adam & Eve, all he could do was say "Well, I believe it." Any ground for the validity of the position is conceded right there, as my second spiritually tone-deaf utterance saying that belief in Santa doesn't make Santa true, and that the way to assess whether or not Santa is real is to look at the evidence. By that stage, I needed to get back to work, so I in as polite a way as possible declined the offer of a Mormon business card and left.

As I was walking back to work, the thing that bothered me about the exchange was how unaware he seemed of his own position. Perhaps it was the pressure of speaking a second language, or being challenged in a way that wouldn't normally happened, but he didn't do much of a job at all in giving any indication he knew what he was talking about. That last comment of "I believe it" summed up the problem for me. Here's someone who didn't really know what they were talking about, nor could offer any defence of what they were trying to convince others about, yet they were happy to stop a stranger in the street to have that conversation.

It's fair enough to an extent that we have beliefs that we can't properly articulate, and that we hold things to be true largely on the basis of the authority they have come from. Given the question at the very beginning, I was wondering if this person really cared much at all about the nuances of Mormon theology and instead had devoted part of his life to preaching to strangers on the basis of what the church had done for him personally. If that's the case, and it's purely speculation on my part, then what chance did I have to expect a reasoned defence of theism?

But to stand out on the street and try to convert strangers to a system of belief that you don't yourself properly understand is problematic. If he doesn't know what he's talking about, and manages to convince someone else on the matter, then that's now two people who believe without really knowing why. It's ignorance propagating ignorance, and nothing good can come of it.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 16

Sunday (15/04): Radiohead - OK Computer
Monday (16/04): High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
Tuesday (17/04): Faust - Faust
Wednesday (18/04): NOFX - Pump Up The Valuum
Thursday (19/04): Lair Of The Minotaur - Evil Power
Friday (20/04): The Strokes - Is This It
Saturday (21/04): Elysian - Wires Of Creation

Thought Of The Day

The fight against piracy isn't so much a fight for royalties as it is a fight to control information.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Owning The Narrative

I've been loosely following the reports of the Anders Breivik trial. What Breivik did was despicable; there's no justification for murder - let alone in that manner. What did those teenagers do? Yet according to the media, how Breivik justified his action was that of necessity. He saw himself as doing good.

It will come as no surprise that I'm not keen on the idea of living under any form of theocracy, it's an affront to human dignity and to freedom of conscience. I'm very lucky to be living in a country that not only has a strong focus on civil liberties, but will largely still work towards them. That we live in a country where there's a public debate over gay marriage is something to be proud of, not for the fact that homosexuals are still treated as inferior in the eyes of the government, but that we have a society that is focusing on a question like that. So it goes without saying that I'm against any incursion onto society that's going to limit individual rights, and especially rights of minorities. And on that, I am in opposition to fundamentalist Islam.

Yet Breivik doesn't speak for me. In that we might be (barely) bedfellows on opposing fundamentalist Islam, I don't think that Breivik in his words or actions embodied any of the liberal democratic values that are at the core of my opposition. I'm all for multiculturalism, and think it's a measure of a healthy society. And I don't care whether or not someone is a Muslim any more than a Christian or an atheist, provided that belief doesn't by necessity be forced on others.

So again it should be no surprise that I have no love for right-wing nationalist groups or those who wrap themselves in patriotism and try to place a barrier between our culture and others. Yet it's the right-wing nationalists who are trying their best to be the voices of opposition to particular aspects of culture that people should genuinely be afraid of. That people can live in multiple ways and bring different experiences and perspectives on life should be a good thing, there's nothing to fear in someone eating falafel instead of sausage, or being Buddhist instead of Christian. Yet the prejudices that can and do follow need to be vetted in the same introspective light we do our own society.

It shouldn't be those right-wing groups who are the voices of opposition to any fundamentalist Islamic incursion of values, it should be the domain of all those with conscience and a respect for human dignity. That there are problems with immigration policies shouldn't be a matter of being racist or xenophobic, nor conversely that it's hating one's own culture or wishing for a destruction of society. There's got to be some way to have the conversation in reasonable terms, so that unreasonable voices don't dominate it.

Breivik, apparently, is trying to put his views on trial, with desired witnesses including right wing bloggers and Muslim fanatics. And that is what should be a concern, that a man who felt "doing good" involved personally killing 69 people - most of whom were teenagers - and killed 8 more by setting off a bomb, is trying to be the frontlines against the problems that have arisen from Islamic migration in Europe. Some of his concerns are no doubt imagined, overblown, and taking extreme cases as being the norm. But that he's the voice speaking out, like the jingoist political parties, is what should be of real concern. They, by being the voices in opposition, are the ones owning the narrative by which the discussion is framed.

Monday, 16 April 2012

No Place For Civility?

I was reading Pharyngula today, where PZ Myer's account of a protest outside the GAC got me thinking about how the conversation between believers and non-believers is meant to happen. One could say that it's just human nature that any exchange of this matter will be hostile - we're born believers, not born reasoners after all - but for all the talk of having a fruitful exchange on the topic of religion, how can we possibly do it?

Depite the amount of flyers I get in my mailbox, it's not like I can just walk into a church and start up a spirited, yet respectful, exchange. Likewise I think that any bible study that would have me through the doors would find me a disruption - and in any case my desires are more to talk about the philosophical rather than theological nuances of belief. Where can we go to have this spirited debate?

When I see books like The God Delusion, blogs like Pharyngula, and events like the Reason Rally, what it represents to me is the pushing for a voice in the current cultural climate. I was an atheist long before I found a voice for atheism, but there was little I could do about it other than annoy anyone and everyone with long rants on the topic. Lucky there is personal blogging where I can (mostly) keep it to myself while exercising that desire to speak out. The atheist movement, if movement isn't overselling what is a very small action, in its totality is being one minor voice in a huge sea of voices and topics. One might speculate that the impact it has had in part due to the lack of previous representation.

And even with those few voices and fewer outlets, there's already quite a strong push back. Even among secularists there's at best lukewarm support for the people who have become prominent voices. And at every push to make beyond the most banal of points, there's the accusations of arrogance, stridency, militancy, etc. Jonathan Haidt, in a piece on moral psychology (very interesting stuff, I must add), felt it necessary to take any flaw in the works of the new atheists as being symptomatic of a morally-based militancy. Case in point, that Dawkins didn't spend enough time talking about group selection in The God Delusion as being an example of his moral reasoning rather than scientific reasoning on the process. Hold secular voices to a higher standard? Perhaps. But hold them to an impossible one? Dawkins isn't the only voice sceptical of David Sloan Wilson on group selection...

To make some sort of point with all this, the calls for a civilised conversation are noble. It would be really nice to be able to have civilised conversations, to have constructive dialogues, to have informed and respectful exchanges where being learned was an asset. The question is how that can be achieved. It seems that however a respectful dialogue is meant to be achieved, it's not the way it's going now. And maybe that's true, but it seems that a little incivility is needed to even start the dialogue. Because what other option is there?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 15

Sunday (08/04): Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events
Monday (09/04): Karnivool - Sound Awake
Tuesday (10/04): Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
Wednesday (11/04): Coliseum - No Salvation
Thursday (12/04): Split Cranium - s/t
Friday (13/04): Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Saturday (14/04): Dragonforce - The Power Within

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Articulating Reason

I went to see a discussion between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins tonight. I'll see over the next few days if I feel like writing up some of the things that came to mind. But for now, I want to focus on an incident during the Q&A, where a young self-identifying Catholic accused science of being a religion. I was facepalming as she tried to get it out, and I'm sure I wasn't alone on hearing it yet again. But what was interesting was that after she asked it, she first stormed back to her seat, then got back up and went to the microphone and resumed arguing. At one stage it sounded like she was about to burst into tears.

I don't mean for that emotion-laden account to dismiss what she had to say. Her question was hostile, and in the course of arguing implicitly accused Dawkins of thinking George Pell was a paedophile. It would be easy to just dismiss it as inane, but what it seemed to me was that the problem was largely her inability to effectively communicate her point. And on that, at least I would hope, this is something we can all empathise with.

Language, despite it's potential power, is often very limited in how well we can use it to share ideas with others. Our experience of what it's like to see a sunset, for example, is vastly richer than any verbal account. The best writers and poets, in my view at least, aren't the people with the richest vocabulary but the ones who can best articulate what most of us can only experience. It's important to remember that for all our intellectual musings that much of how we see the world isn't something that can be so abstractly expressed.

I tend to think that if she asked the question in a different way that there may have been a different response. It was just silly for her to try to argue that the reason Dawkins disagrees is because she dared to challenge him, but what was not silly was an underlying point about the nature of scientific authority and inquiry. Questions about what it is science can know, and to what extent it can know it; questions about the role of "other ways of knowing"; questions about the potential dogmaticism of science. Putting it that way, the questions seem downright reasonable - or at the very least pertinent to ask.

In that exchange, I think there's an important lesson. Krauss and Dawkins did well in handling the questioner, but such exchanges aren't confined to experienced educators. It's certainly something I've come across multiple times before, and I somehow doubt I'm alone in that. In any case, it's given me pause to think about how to handle questions like that; not to dismiss them as incoherent ramblings of people who haven't thought through properly, but to take them as what they are: attempts to articulate that which does not come easily to us.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Who Pays For All This? A Review Of Inside Job

When poker machine legislation was being proposed in Australia, despite the harm that poker machines can do, the legislation would not have outlawed poker machine use. Indeed, very few people who used poker machines would be affected by it at all. The proposed legislation was targeted specifically at problem gamblers, and predominantly the rules would have helped to limit the damage that problem gamblers could do. The response was a targeted campaign against the government, that it would damage clubs and communities, and that the government was being a nanny state trying to restrict our freedoms. If a few lives needed to be wrecked so that clubs could take in as much money as possible, so be it.

Inside Job is a look at the financial services industry and the practices that were said to lead up to the global financial crisis. The lack of regulatory oversight was the central theme; starting with the story of Iceland's banking sector then moving onto the major players in the American story. It's the story of greed, excess, risk-taking, and the complete lack of any regulation on the industry. Even when companies were violating what little regulation there was, the regulators didn't do anything about it.

A movie like this isn't going to be able to tell a complete or detailed account of the events. It's good in how it presents the information, though as to its economic accuracy I cannot verify. It did very little in the way of offering practical advice, so it differed in the hopeful manner of An Inconvenient Truth. The question is left as to why the government is doing nothing about this, which leaves a somewhat bitter taste. The message: we're fucked and the people who fucked us are still there fucking us, and worst of all the people in charge are oblivious (or at the very least indifferent) as to how they are fucking us.

For me, though, the worst part was the lengths at which those in the financial industry went to denying that a problem even existed, let alone whether or not their practices needed to change. It reminded me of the personality types described in The Authoritarians, people who were apologists for the power structures and practices irrespective of their merits. The film tried to paint them as slaves to ideologies, unable to see the world any other way than the failed way in which they adhere to. Whether or not that's accurate, that the people who had a strong influence couldn't even answer in the affirmative about a simple conflict of interest question doesn't leave me with much hope for the future of the financial industry. That these corporations could lawyer up, had people in high places, and had people who would defend their interests no matter what is chilling. It got me thinking, on no account should anyone who wants to be in the financial sector be allowed to be in such a position.

One question I did have was how the influx in revenue in the financial sector was going to be accounted for. When we talk about poker revenue, it's understood that the revenue is the money that is lost by those playing. Anyone's winnings is going to be at the expense of those others who tried, and the money on top of that is what the operators make. If the financial system is in such a way that profits are going higher, that there's huge salaries and bonuses, that there's large fines being dished out that can be absorbed, and there's even a lobby group that has billions of dollars a year at its disposal - then where is this extra revenue coming from?

The documentary gives a number of causes of this: artificial inflation of the house market, excessive corporate borrowing, people taking on more debt, predatory lending, etc. With a system that promoted certain behaviours financially, the argument was that such practices were inevitable - each part of the system acting in its own self-interest, with the whole thing eventually falling apart. Possibly the most egregious moment of the film were the ratings firms defending their dodgy (and well rewarded) ratings as being mere "opinion", which seems about as much opinion as yelling fire in a crowded theatre after being paid by the usher to make a scene.

If nothing else, any industry, especially an otherwise well-established offering no new service, making more and more money should warrant investigation into how that money is being generated. How is it the financial services could become so lucrative for those involved without that money coming from somewhere else?

Getting back to the analogy of the poker machine reforms, the obvious disanalogy is that the poker machine reforms are there to try to help specific individuals who have a problem. Their negative effects are largely sociological and confined to the immediate family and friends of problem gamblers. When the financial system collapses under its own bad practices, nearly everyone is affected. If that's not reason enough to try to put some regulation in place to prevent there being such huge potential collapses in the system, then what would be?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Motivated Reasoning And The Historical Jesus

Since it's Easter and I have four days off, I want to write a post I've been thinking about for a while. When I learned about Christianity, there were two things that my teachers put a strong emphasis on. First was the need for faith, that religious belief would prove itself invaluable as our lives went on. Second was that the biblical narratives were accurate accounts of God on Earth.

The second point is quite an interesting one in that we're compelled to have at least some form of opinion on the matter. My general thinking on the matter was what I later found out Hume was talking about with the problem of miracles - there's really just no way one can take personal accounts as proof of the miraculous. Yet even if one takes this position, the question of how the gospel accounts came about remains.

Somewhere between complete fabrication and accurate historical retelling the truth lies. As to the historical development of the accounts, it's really a question for historians. Most of us are arguing for a particular conclusion, and it's one that's much more theological than historical. And on that, the historical questions in so much as to how much the historical Jesus matches a theological one.

God Incarnate Conclusion
In various discussions with theists, the historical Jesus seems an inevitability. Going back to my days in scripture class, I remember a video telling us that Jesus was the most well-attested historical figure from that era. It was then a surprise later to find out that all this really means was that there were lots of copies of the bible made, and a reference in Josephus that at the very least was embellished by Christian scholars who "preserved" the text.

Yet that is what I'm often told is the clinching evidence that Jesus was who he said he was and did what people say he did. I'm given all sorts of reasoning about the way that the ancients preserved knowledge through oral traditions, claims about eyewitness nature of the gospel accounts, that particular narratives of the gospels couldn't have come about any other way, etc. While the arguments are dependent on the history, they're trying to massage history towards a particular conclusion.

What really stuns me is how tenuous the links are between the facts and the conclusion. There's incredible accounts with very little real evidence supporting them, and making claims about the nature of the evidence that can only lead to that conclusion. There may be a case if it were the other way around, that people followed history to theological conclusions, but who can honestly claim this is how it happened for them?

The best hope is that while it may be today that any sense of addressing the question is tainted by the theology, that the theology is the natural development of historical events. While this could be the case, it still requires many assumptions about the nature of the original authors and events that would be difficult to separate from the motivation to see the theological Jesus as the historical figure.

Jesus Myth Conclusion
One of the more memorable "explanations" of Jesus I've heard is that Jesus was a skilled magician, which I would assume comes from that same vantage point of hearing about the gospel accounts then thinking how they can best be explained. Us as pseudohistorians are meant to be the judge on the biblical accounts as we are presented them, making sense of it with the best understanding we can bring.

Yet it should never be forgotten that we are talking about a proposed time and sequence of events in history. In terms of what heuristics are best to apply, it requires an understanding of more than just the claims themselves. It's understanding the origin of the claims, how they came to be written and in what context the claims are made. It's also having to understand the period itself, what exists there and what ought to exist. This is why it's not really wise to try to theorise on what really happened - not only do most of us not know, we don't have the right tools to change that.

When I hear "Jesus is a myth", it's one of those statements that requires clarification in the same manner as J.L. Mackie's "there is no objective ethics". Even among scholarly proponents, there's several overlapping meanings, so what one means by myth is not apparently obvious. In at least a trivial sense, anyone who denies the biblical accounts as accurate is putting forward a mythic view of Jesus. But obviously there's a big difference between embellishments on a historical figure and the invention of one; in the former then many Christians would be considered proponents of the Jesus myth hypothesis.

But if we are to take the question seriously, blanket statements like "Jesus in a myth" are unhelpful. It's framing the premise wrongly. To illustrate this, consider the statement that Uri Geller is a myth. If one made the statement that it just meant that a Uri Geller who had psychic powers couldn't exist, then it's not really saying much. A Uri Geller does exist, and he did claim to have psychic powers and developed a following on that basis. Even if one takes the accounts as not being possibly true, it doesn't say much at all about how the accounts came about. In Uri Geller's case, Uri Geller did perform the tricks ascribed to him - only that they were tricks.

A Reluctant Search
The history of Jesus matters to a lot of people, even if the historical nature of the question does not. It's important to understand not only what evidence there is (and what evidence there isn't), but what that evidence can show. It's not a question I'm particularly interested in exploring, but it's one that I feel I have little choice but to at least have an awareness of the relevant evidence. Beyond that, any specific conclusion about what the evidence says is going to be more a product of motivated reasoning than an accurate reading than of careful scholarship. For myself, I'm going to push through a Bart Ehrman lecture series on the historical Jesus - so then I can get back to learning about something of actual consequence.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 14

Sunday (01/04): Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle
Monday (02/04): Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
Tuesday (03/04): The Dillinger Escape Plan - Miss Machine
Wednesday (04/04): Eagles Of Death Metal - Death By Sexy
Thursday (05/04): The Saints - (I'm) Stranded
Friday (06/04): Syven - Aikaintaite
Saturday (07/04): Agalloch - Marrow Of The Spirit

Thursday, 5 April 2012


"Not pretending to know things that you don't know is a virtue." - Peter Boghossian

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Creationists Using "Reason"

It's fair to say that pretty much all creationist arguments are trite. It would also be fair to say that the belief in creationism has little or nothing to do with those arguments. Perhaps some design analogies might be of some influence, but for the most part reason doesn't factor into it. Well, reason around the creationist arguments anyway.

The sad fact is, though, that creationists will use creationist arguments without seeing the problem with them. After all, they come to the conclusion that they hold for other reasons, so how could they be wrong!? Unfortunately going through the arguments and picking apart their reasoning isn't enough, as the following video demonstrates.

The reason for the need to stand up for reason is right there. Even with all the arguments dissected and countered, creationist #2 still thinks that he's the one with truth on his side and that he's one bringing truth to the table. It's laughable.

But therein lies the heart of the matter. They are not arguing from reason, but from conviction. The arguments are merely a foil for that, not really understood except for their perceived implication - that their conviction is vindicated in reason. Any counter isn't going to be on the argument itself, but measured against the conviction.

In short, the creationists are playing a game that they are ill-equipped to play. Instead of taking the time and effort to understand evolutionary theory and work through the arguments, they've jumped on whatever sounds good to back up the position they already hold to be true. There's just no reasoning with that, as evidenced in the video. The only rectification is if the creationists would take the time to study what evolution is - but why would they do that when they know that it must be false!

Album Of The Day: Week 13

Sunday (25/03): Anubis - A Tower Of Silence
Monday (26/03): Heidevolk - Batavi
Tuesday (27/03): Pennywise - Full Circle
Wednesday (28/03): Slayer - Reign In Blood
Thursday (29/03): Darkthrone - Transilvanian Hunger
Friday (30/03): Porno For Pyros - Good God's Urge
Saturday (31/03): Meshuggah - Koloss

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 12

Sunday (18/03): Mournful Congregation - The Book Of Kings
Monday (19/03): Drudkh - Eternal Turn Of The Wheel
Tuesday (20/03): Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction
Wednesday (21/03): Animals As Leaders - Weightless
Thursday (22/03): Ghost - Opus Eponymous
Friday (23/03): Loincloth - Iron Balls Of Steel
Saturday (24/03): Barren Earth - The Devil's Resolve

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Consuming Music In Australia

Australia can be a really isolated place at times. Media has for a long time tricked us into thinking otherwise, and especially the internet has given us the illusion that we are not as isolated as the physical reality would suggest it should seem.

Yet the reality is that while we have this interconnected infrastructure, the boundaries still exist. And as the internet has matured, so too has the capacity to put those boundaries back in. I used to stream full episodes of The Daily Show and Colbert Report through their website, then it got restricted so I could only see the clips. Now I can't see it at all - and they were an anomaly in that there was once a point I could actually watch it!

Trying to find digital music similarly has this problems. If there are MP3s at all, they are usually through iTunes or The former will double the price upon seeing you are Australian while the latter will let you get to the point of buying then politely inform you that they can sell only in the United States! I'm trying to pay for music, but they won't let me!

In trying to keep up with modern music, I'm often finding myself on the basis of recommendations or good reviews trying to hunt down a legal copy. If I'm lucky they have a bandcamp, where I can buy it without much hassle. But usually the music can only be bought in CD form and almost always accompanied by huge shipping fees. I understand that shipping isn't going to be a charity, but the geography does play a role.

Take the new Paradise Lost CD. To pre-order it from the label, the CD costs $10, while there's $9 for shipping. I'd be more than happy to give the label (preferably the band, but one step at a time) $10 for the album, but I can't do that without paying almost that much again for distribution. Meanwhile I don't think I'd have any problems finding that album illegally. So it goes.

I wish this was the exception rather than the norm. When I ordered the new Opeth CD last year, delivery was the bulk of the cost - I threw in a shirt to try to at least shift that balance a little. Just today I was checking up the new Adrenaline Mob CD where the delivery was higher than the cost of the CD. When delivery was included, it was usually an extra $5 to get something internationally. The only store that didn't seem to charge extra (perhaps delivery costs are hidden based on I.P.) was ProMedia.

This is trying to catalogue some of the frustrations I have had in trying to be a legitimate consumer of music. I don't blame any record label for their delivery costs, nor particularly do I blame them for the lack of decent digital sales. It might just not be viable except through Amazon or iTunes. And there are no-doubt leftover remnants of a once-viable business model that don't fit at all well with the new way the internet connects us.

It is a frustration, however, that Napster was well over a decade ago and there's still only a half-arsed attempt to shift towards digital sales. Perhaps Australia isn't enough of a market to warrant consideration (though enough of one to crack down on piracy), but what good is putting up digital barriers based on geography to restrict when the technology it's in response to doesn't?

Album Of The Day: Week 11

Sunday (11/03): Hypno5e - Acid Mist Tomorrow
Monday (12/03): The Cure - Disintegration
Tuesday (13/03): Textures - Drawing Circles
Wednesday (14/03): Summonus - Zeichen Der Hexe
Thursday (15/03): Ufomammut - Eve
Friday (16/03): Strapping Young Lad - City
Saturday (17/03): The Devin Townsend Project - Ghost

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 10

Sunday (04/03): Puscifer - Conditions Of My Parole
Monday (05/03): Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins - A Scarcity Of Miracles
Tuesday (06/03): No Age - Nouns
Wednesday (07/03): Alarum - Natural Causes
Thursday (08/03): Wizard Smoke - The Speed Of Smoke
Friday (09/03): Craft - Void
Saturday (10/03): Altar Of Plagues - Mammal

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 9

Sunday (26/02): Haken - Visions
Monday (27/02): Turisas - Stand Up And Fight
Tuesday (28/02): Les Discrets - Ariettes Oubliées...
Wednesday (29/02): The Sun Aesthetic - Composure
Thursday (01/03): Zero Hour - The Towers Of Avarice
Friday (02/03): Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Saturday (03/03): Looking Glass - III

The Great Uterine Conspiracy

Governments need to legislate against birth control options, because they know that if women actually have a choice in the matter, they know that the human race would be doomed to extinction. Because if we can't trick women into having babies through ignorance and lack of intention, then what chance do we have? Women, if given the chance, will lock their uterus down with so much baby-preventing chemicals that the only hope will be funding the construction of mechanical incubators - and do you know how expensive that would be?

If it sounds dumb, think of any given rationale that politicians give.

Friday, 2 March 2012


"In terms of its gross effect on the outcomes of physical processes, knowledge is at least as significant as any other physical quantity." - David Deutsch

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cathedral Farewell Show

With the better capacity to capture and reproduce cultural expressions, any new generation is faced not only with a bigger amount of culture than the last, but a bigger rate of cultural creation than before. Most of us, even in exploring small sections of the cultural landscape, will not adequately explore even that.

I discovered Cathedral after they released their most recent album: The Guessing Game - very late on the Cathedral timeline. So when I found out they were calling it quits after this tour, I didn't have the sentiment to have to see them, but the desire to see them while there was the chance to. Combined with Paradise Lost, whose last two albums rate among my favourite releases of the last 5 years, I eagerly anticipated this show.

Opening were Finnish "battle metal" band, Turisas. I had heard their latest album: Stand Up And Fight a couple of times, it's got some nice moments but doesn't do much for me. Live, however, the songs really come into their own. It's high energy, entertaining stuff, and when they finished after 5 frenetic fun tracks later, it felt far too short. Though there were some issues (at least from my vantage point) from the music being too loud where the reverberation of the venue drowned out any otherwise discernible sounds that should have been there.

Paradise Lost were probably the band I was the most excited to see, and I wasn't alone. I heard one member of the crowd speculate that Paradise Lost were the main drawcard of the gig (not for him, just fullstop). I was disappointed in advance that they were only getting 45 minutes, though it didn't feel shortchanged. The setlist was excellent, opening with the opening track of Draconian Times and playing a good mix of old and new. The new track sounded good (search for a dodgy version on Youtube, there were enough camera-phones out all through their set), so I'm excited for their upcoming album already. Compared to Turisas and Cathedral their performance lacked some flair, but what else should one expect given their music? I really hope they do a headline tour for their new album.

I don't really know how to describe Cathedral. I went into the gig without any preconceptions or expectations, and came out very satisfied with what I had witnessed. Their vocalist was great as a frontman, putting energy where he could into the performance, and revving up the crowd when it didn't quite seem energised enough. Not that the lack of energy would have been a bad thing, musically there was more than enough to excite and amaze, but the theatrical demanded more energy and the crowd obliged. Though my personal high moment was the jam at the end of Carnival Bizarre, where I was truly lost in the music. Their set lasted 1 hour, then 15 minutes of encore. A great set, and a great send-off for an amazing band. The diehard fans in the audience seemed satisfied, anyway, if the impression of a burgeoning fan isn't good enough.

It might be that Cathedral will join the ranks of the many bands doing reunion tours in the years to come. If that happens, I won't mind in the least, as this experience was in no way predicated on this being their final tour (merely an impetus for going). It's odd to contemplate, for me at least, how it was I came to discover them. Thanks to the capacity to record music, I could theoretically have discovered them at any time. It's conceivable that their upcoming swansong The Last Spire would have been what introduced me and I'd have been kicking myself for getting into them just too late. That's both the advantage to, and downside of, capturing cultural phenomena.

Whatever the case, this experience was a great reminder that performance is a part of music, and that part of the regret of missing out on seeing a band live is missing out on that component. And too, perhaps, sharing that experience with others. With Cathedral, I was fortunate enough not to miss my chance. But I'm sure as I continue to explore the vast and deep cultural landscape that I'll find times where I won't be so fortunate. To me, it's reason enough to seize the moment when it's there.

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Respectful Dialogue

Since I didn't take notes, here's a few recollections about the discussion.

  • This format is a great way to have a dialogue. Instead of having two people getting the platform to try to rhetorically out-compete the other, they had three people trying to express themselves in a way that was amenable to conversation and understanding by the wider audience.

  • I don't think it would be possible to have a more civilised exchange than this. For all the talk about the tone Dawkins brings to the table, there was nothing there to lower the tone of the conversation.

  • The question the audience had about "unrealised potentiality" reeked of attempting to sound profound, and all it ended up doing was needing clarification - and even then it was the waste of a question.

  • Dawkins was really out of his depth when talking about notions like free will and consciousness being "illusions". It was good to see Williams and Kenny told Dawkins to task for his sloppy use of terminology.

  • It was good to see the Archbishop not shy away from serious questions that were problematic to his belief, and that he willingly admitted faith on his part when asked about certain aspects of his belief.

  • That said, when Dawkins pressed him on why bother to read Genesis at all, Williams failed to give a satisfactory answer.

  • When Kenny asked why Dawkins wasn't an agnostic and Dawkins replied that he was, it wasn't any different to the position Dawkins laid out in The God Delusion.

  • Kenny's explanation of the differences in complexity was refreshing, but it doesn't really resolve the problem. The cut-throat razor may have more functionality than an electric razor despite being a more simple design, but there's only so much structural complexity you can lose without losing the complex function. We might be able to be more simple than we are and keep our capacities, but how much could we really lose in terms of complexity before we cannot have something like language or conscious thought?

  • The jab at the blogosphere at the end was a bit snobbish, more than anything else, and probably could have been done in a more constructive manner.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

The case of the West Memphis 3 was something that I've only briefly read about, something that I knew of through reading up on Pearl Jam, and friends occasionally talking about it. The film, like the two before it apparently, makes the compelling case that the 3 were innocent - with lawyers, forensic experts, and even the stepfather of one of the victims there to help. It would be hard to walk away and not think that it was anything other than a gross miscarriage of justice. Of course, the police who investigated it, the state of Arkansas, and the stepfather of another of the murdered children see it otherwise.

That's the interesting thing looking at this case in documentary form. We, as the viewer, are hearing a selected part of the story, and how accurate that is can only really be gotten by looking into it further. For one thing, I admire the courage of the original filmmakers. These were three people accused of killing children - possibly the worst crime to be accused of - and yet there were people willing to stand up and fight for these three people in the face of an incredibly emotional and hostile situation. I can only imagine what the parents must have felt about a bunch of outsiders trying to free who they saw as evildoers.

What really shocked me, though, was the court testimony of an expert on the occult. A man who had a mail order Ph.D and had done no real study, yet the judge let him stand as an expert witness? I burst out laughing at that point, which again is easy looking back after the whole satanic cult scare had been an evangelical fantasy. But here was a man with no qualification other than the belief that he has found a pattern, and the judge thought it okay to include him as an expert witness because he'd been finding that pattern for years?

And that, to me, is the whole problem with the situation. The children would have never even been considered if it weren't for the satanic cult sacrifice element. Now not only have three people spent half their lives in prison because of that false pattern, they are forever tarnished with the question of whether or not they actually did it. The moral panic around satanic cults, that false positive identification of a pattern, and now three people have lost nearly 20 years of their lives because of it.

With the story about the injustice surrounding the West Memphis three, it's easy to forget that why they are imprisoned was because of another injustice - that three young boys being murdered. The documentary ends with the stepfather of one of the children outraged at Arkansas doing a plea bargain with the accused that would make the whole thing go away because the real killer(s) was still out there and the state had no interest in pursuing the case further - unless new evidence were to come to light.

As far as I can tell, an attempt to rectify one grave injustice, one fuelled by moral panic, has led to another. When I see people tip into "bleeding heart liberals" who just want to "identify with the criminals" (or some variant thereof), this is why I think they've missed the point. Establishing guilt, establishing intent - these are flawed endeavours even in the best of all possible circumstances. None of us "dirty liberals" wants child killers walking around, nor are we looking to diminish the tragedy of what the victims went through. But it's as much an injustice to take that injustice and go on a witch-hunt. For what justice can there be found in failing to get it right?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

For Science! A Review Of Project Nim

What could be learned about insights into humanity from studying other animals? Perhaps the biggest thing is that it teaches us that most of what we consider human behaviour is more quantitatively distinct rather than qualitative. In terms of specifically human traits, the problem is hindered by there being about 6,000,000 years between us and our nearest living relative. How much insight can we gain from studying chimpanzees for questions like language abilities?

The documentary, for better or worse, doesn't really focus on this question. Indeed, given the scientific nature of the endeavour it hardly mentioned any science at all. This was a story about a chimpanzee and the people who were a part of that story, and the science mattered in so much as it was part of that tale. Just how much was Nim Chimpsky able to communicate? It wasn't really addressed beyond a few superficial mentions.

This criticism isn't meant to say the documentary was bad, or even lacking, just that the science wasn't really the focus. The story is very compelling, and it's very well put together. It was a good choice to use people involved to narrate the story; that combined with stock-footage made for a very powerful story.

Running through my head were the words "for science!" When Nim's mother was shot with a tranquilliser so that they could take Nim away - for science! When they tried to teach him sign language - for science! When they shoved Nim in a small lifeless room at a university to measure his progress - for science! When he was taken back to the compound where he was born and put into a cage - for science! When he was sold to a medical testing facility - for science!

By the end of the film, all I could think was that it's not worth it. Whatever lessons could be learned from chimpanzees seemed to come at the cost of the chimpanzee's personhood. They differed from humans enough that treating them as humans made no sense, but at the same time displayed enough human-like traits that to lock them in a cage or isolate them seemed one of the most horrible things that could be done. Even the altruistic people at the end who bought Nim from the medical testing laboratory sought fit to put Nim in isolation, including from the handler whom Nim was very close to.

The whole thing seemed very undignified looking back now. Shoving a 2-week old chimpanzee into a human house with people who had no experience with chimpanzees (and even gave the young chimpanzee marijuana) then to try to make somewhat of an objective go at teaching it sign language, then when things started going bad just dumping it back in a caged facility.

Perhaps the whole thing is a damning of the scientific process - that in the quest to understand they've caused harm to the very thing they were meant to be studying. At the end, we've got a grey area between person and animal, where we as viewers are brought to empathise with something that's so close to that line between anthropomorphising and what's there. The lesson I've taken away from the film is that if we are going to research on chimpanzees, there's a great gap between what happened here and what the qualities of chimpanzees warrant.

Album Of The Day: Week 8

Sunday (19/02): The Ocean - Precambrian
Monday (20/02): Earthship - Exit Eden
Tuesday (21/02): Red Fang - Red Fang
Wednesday (22/02): The Atlas Moth - An Ache For The Distance
Thursday (23/02): Riverside - Anno Domini High Definition
Friday (24/02): Deafheaven - Roads To Judah
Saturday (25/02): Noctis - Silent Atonement

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Thus Spake Zarathustra

"[O]nce upon a time, did I also cast my fancy beyond man, like all backworldsmen. Beyond man, forsooth?
Ah, yet brethren, that God whom I created was human work and human madness, like all the Gods!
A man was he, and only a poor fragment of a man and ego. Out of mine own ashes and glow it came unto me, that phantom. And verily, it came not unto me from the beyond!" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Thus Spake Zarathustra

"I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 7

Sunday (12/02): Psycroptic - The Inherited Repression
Monday (13/02): Abraham - An Eye On The Universe
Tuesday (14/02): Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted
Wednesday (15/02): Kent - En Plats I Solen
Thursday (16/02): Stielas Storhett - Expulse
Friday (17/02): Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Saturday (18/02): Tenhi - Saivo

Friday, 17 February 2012

You Should Expect It!
Interesting logic, let's explore this:

If you buy expensive things, what can you expect but to have them stolen? When we live in a society that places different value on goods and divides haves from have-nots, is anyone surprised that robbery takes place?

And theft adds unnecessary cost to the taxpayer. It means we've got police chasing after people who take these material possessions, instead of doing their job of helping to prevent and punish real crime like rape* or murder. We've got court systems and all those associated costs in prosecuting the criminals - meanwhile these criminals are treated as "defendants" and have hired protection that seeks to get in the way of justice. We've got prisons to run, and paroles to guard. And all this is documented too, all this overhead regulation of unnecessary expense that wouldn't be there if people just learnt to not buy valuable things.

Our tax dollars and precious man hours are being wasted on something which is unnecessary. People don't need their stuff protected, if they didn't want it stolen then they shouldn't have been in possession of valuable things to begin with. You can't be both materialistic and the victim.

* unless you are in the military, or you dress too sexy.

Birth Control vs Religious Liberty
Religious leaders from multiple faiths have united in an unprecedented show of strength against US president Barack Obama's healthcare plan to ensure all women have access to birth control.

Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori likened the situation, of the government forcing church-affiliated groups to provide insurance cover for birth control, to forcing a kosher deli to serve ham sandwiches.

"It is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich, but it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed up with a coercive power of the state, and downright surreal to apply that coercive power when the government can get that same sandwich cheaply or even free just a few doors down," he said.
A number of years ago I heard a report about a small town in Australia that had the highest birthrate in Australia. The only pharmacist in the town had refused to stock and supply birth control on religious grounds.

His place in the community was not just a matter of religious freedom, however. By deciding that he couldn't sell contraception on his religious grounds, he made that choice on behalf of everyone. After all, why should people need contraception? The pharmacist was Catholic!

And this is the problem with this analogy of religious freedom. Healthcare is not a religious service. Any individual is free to avoid using and buying birth control if they choose to on religious grounds, but being a healthcare provider while refusing to stock health supplies is pushing those religious grounds onto others that they may or may not want.

In short, if you want to be a health provider, then it's not a matter of religious choice. If religion cannot provide a public service in a manner that best serves the public, then they shouldn't be in that business. They as individuals are free to ignore any contraceptives that may be on offer, what they are losing here is the ability to deny that service to others.

Baptist leader Professor Ben Mitchell said his church members would be prepared to defend their religious freedom.

"Tens of thousands of us, maybe hundreds of thousands of us, would be very willing to spend nights in jail for the sake of the preservation of religious liberty," he said.

"It's not just our coffers that are at risk, it is our very freedom."
What's at risk is the ability to easily push one's religious belief onto others. That's a very Orwellian take on religious freedom.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Thought Of The Day

"What about the artist?" goes out the window the moment people start sourcing entertainment online. Then it becomes "what about the storefront?" and sales for the artist don't seem to matter anymore.

It's not the artists we support when we buy entertainment, it's the multiple industries between the artist and us. Our purchases are more about keeping those industries afloat than they are supporting the artist, yet it's that desire for supporting the artist that is exploited.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Thought Of The Day

Self-authenticating private evidence is useless, because it is indistinguishable from the illusion of it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Thought Of The Day

Proselytism would be redundant if the inner witness to the holy spirit was really as powerful as some believers credit it. If the holy spirit can show the truth of Christianity and can do so more powerfully than any philosophical, scientific, or historical evidence, then why do anything else? Proselytism would just taint the evidence as the testimony would be indistinguishable from cultural transmission.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Thought Of The Day

No-one online complains about the epistemic viability of methodological naturalism until after they turn their computer on.

Album Of The Day: Week 6

Sunday (05/02): Fen - Epoch
Monday (06/02): Mindsnare - Disturb The Hive
Tuesday (07/02): Sophie Madeleine - The Rhythm You Started
Wednesday (08/02): Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb
Thursday (09/02): Torche - Meanderthal
Friday (10/02): The Bronx - The Bronx (I)
Saturday (11/02): Meshuggah - obZen

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 5

Sunday (29/01): Killing Joke - Pandemonium
Monday (30/01): Helmet - Meantime
Tuesday (31/01): Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
Wednesday (01/02): Gorgoroth - Antichrist
Thursday (02/02): Mogwai - Happy Songs For Happy People
Friday (03/02): Genghis Tron - Dead Mountain Mouth
Saturday (04/02): Alchemist - Spiritech

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Album Of The Day: Week 4

Sunday (22/01): Opeth - Blackwater Park
Monday (23/01): sleepmakeswaves - ...and so we destroyed everything
Tuesday (24/01): Cathedral - Forest Of Equilibrium
Wednesday (25/01): Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet
Thursday (26/01): Argus - Boldly Stride The Doomed
Friday (27/01): Black Tusk - Set The Dial
Saturday (28/01): Tool - Ænima

Thursday, 26 January 2012

My Country, Right Or Wrong

If Australian culture was really the best possible culture, then there would be no need to try to protect Australian culture - it would just be protecting good culture. Likewise, if Australian values were really good values to hold, then there would be no need to protect Australian values - it would just be protecting good values.

There's a certain irony in jingoistic behaviour, that it enshrines Australian values and reduces it to a form of tribalism. There's an even greater irony when the enforcement of this jingoism is accompanied with lip service to the notion that freedom of expression is part of the values they are protecting. That freedom, it seems, extends to everyone who will say how fucking great Australia really is.

For all the talk of foreigners taking over Australia and trying to enforce their values on us, it's not the forigners who are trying to force their culture onto others - it's the idiots draped in Australian flags complaining about the foreign incursion. The foreigners are the scapegoats for multiculturalism, for the widening of the cultural narrative to recognise that there's more than one way to live.

I challenged someone yesterday about what she meant by foreigners pushing their way of life onto us - the response was that we're not allowed to play Christmas carols in shopping centres or do Christmas in schools, have to sing "baa baa rainbow sheep" instead of "baa baa black sheep", and being called racist for displaying Australian flags. What. The. Fuck?! That's got very little to do with foreigners, it's just listing off gripes about political correctness.

That racist idiots drape themselves in the flag and proudly declare that their narrow view of culture is what we should all aspire to - or find a new residence is part of the reason why there's an association built up between flags and racism. Flag waving has that inevitable pull towards the extreme as it's the extreme that tries to own flag waving. Instead of complaining at foreigners, why not complain at all the idiots who use the flag as part of their racism?

It's not foreigners who are trying to push their way of life onto me, it's entitled Australians who are. They're the ones trying to define being Australian in such narrow terms, and wanting to push their way of life onto others.

If being Australian is about freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as those bigots say they are for, then the foreign incursion is only a problem in so far that it tries to stifle those values. And when foreigners do that, I'll stand alongside all those trying to stop such a travesty. But if those values are really Australian values, then we should rail against the bigots who do no more than pay lip service to them.

Is it that I need to say "my country, right or wrong" or seek foreign citizenship? Is Australian value merely tribalism with a veneer of enlightenment? I hope not, and I really don't think it does come down to that. They wouldn't have to fight so hard for the narrowing of the cultural narrative if the tide was turning away from such small-mindedness.