Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gun For Christmas

The recent Sandy Hook shooting has deeply affected the American nation, and has reached the ears of most of the western world at least. For those immediately affected, this is a horrible tragedy and devastating event that will leave a long lasting impact on the community. For almost everyone else it's a great chance to talk about gun control and, misguidedly, mental illness. The debate has been mired in all sorts of intentional half truths, unintentional half truths, out of date statistics, fallacious reasoning and outright lies. This of course, has happened on both sides of the issue. I like to think of myself as a sceptic, but rummaging through the multitude of information that could go either way was tiresome at best. There are a few things I would like to clear up.

The first thing to do here is to dispel a few myths. The first is really important, but not super relevant. It is assumed, by a large amount of people and news program hosts, that any mass shooter is a crazed, mentally ill human being. This is not a healthy attitude, for a variety of reasons, most of them resting on the shoulders of “not necessarily”. Two blog posts deal with this issue here  and here

A common question lodged by people who are pro gun is “what about the Swiss?” - Supposedly Switzerland has low gun control, a high number of people who own guns and little gun violence. Well, firstly this source here shows that Switzerland actually has an extremely high number of gun related deaths per 100,000 people, especially compared with other countries with similar living conditions. Another country with a high figure in this arena is Finland, which also has a high percentage of the populace that own guns. It should also be pointed out that this article here suggests that Switzerland is not the gun toting utopia once thought. Some comments on that article, from people claiming to be Swiss, say some of the information here is incorrect, with one commenter saying since Switzerland introduced gun control crime had gone up 15% every year. This is an hilarious claim. Crime statistics for Switzerland show rising terms of traffic offences. Criminal offences have increased in Switzerland since 1999, quite drastically too (roughly 30% from 2000-2005 before stabilising), but so have traffic offences. Narcotics offences have remained virtually the same. The number of Homicides has more or less been unchanged between 2005-2009, and was at its lowest in 2009. The point here is that some of the things floating around about certain example countries might not always be right, in the online discourse on gun control it is recommend that statistics, especially if claimed without any kind of evidence, are checked. 

This post here is about how we shouldn't renew the assault weapons ban the US issued in 1994. It argues it did nothing to reduce crime, and that the ban contained all sorts of unreasonable definitions of things like “high capacity clip” and “assault weapon”. This blog here briefly points out that the Assault Weapons ban included more than 600 exceptions, and was rather flimsy. This issue about gun control working or not based on how successful the 1994 ban is an issue that still seems to be open, with arguments pouring in from either side of the issue.

 Many people fail to grasp the fundamental trivialities of living in a society. This is super simple stuff: to live in a society you surrender parts of your freedom. The government imposes consequences for actions outside of acceptable bounds, we tend to call these laws. Some are very useful, like don't murder people, others less so, like don't jaywalk. Then again, the idea is that the government exists for the people, by the people and offers them identity, sovereignty and protection (in all forms). If the laissez fair attitude towards gun control in the US is actually endangering society, the government can and probably should step in. It is worth noting that there is a substantial difference between your right to something like free speech and your right to own a gun: in form, value and necessity. Of course both can be viewed from the rising up against the government view, in which free speech and the right to bear arms both hold equal footing on grounds of fighting against government oppression (in all its forms). The idea that the American people would ever fight the American government is absurd, but if it does happen it is unlikely owning an assault weapon/gun is going to help. Points can be made about successful guerilla fighting against even the US military, but I would hardly call the Taliban successful and the Vietnam war was not just fought by guerilla warfare. Nowadays, the upper hand seems to be determined by how the international community reacts, not whether everyone has a gun in their home. More importantly, when society breaks down and reaches a civil war like state, it won't be hard to obtain a gun, with interested parties racing in to the supply the insurgents. So the only real footing for owning a gun being a right is either a belief in minimal government that interrupts as few freedoms as possible or belief that the constitution is an absolute and timeless document that should never be violated.

Of course, we don't just need arguments, but figures as well. In Australia, introducing strict and rigorous gun control halved gun crimes, in a country that tends to be very violent. The data here and here strongly suggests a link between reduced gun ownership and reduced gun violence. And almost all evidence goes to show that gun control reduces suicide, or rather than there is a link between gun ownership and suicide . Honesty is important, and so is balance, and there are a couple of things worth noting, one is that gun control in Washington D.C, or rather the handgun ban, seems to have done little to stem gun violence, even when it is considered that the ban was introduced not too long before the crack epidemic of the 80s which saw the murder rate in D.C peak at an all time high in 1991. The other is that apparently gun crime in Australia had already been falling before the 1996 gun ban. However, I am unable to obtain any data on if there was an increase in the rate gun crime fell after 1996

The one thing that's apparent is that there appears to be a multitude of information that can go either way. It would be silly to ignore other factors, such as a culture of violence, that might exist in the USA. The approach shouldn't be one dimensional either and any solution should  try to encompass an multi-pronged approach to tackling the issue. I might write another post on violence, once I research the topic of violence. Ultimately introducing gun control laws may or may not actually reduce crime: some studies say it will, while others suggest a negative correlation between gun control and violence! The reason there are multiple well reasoned opinions on both sides of the debate is because it seems that the statistics, obtained in a variety of ways, can be used to show multiple and opposing things. There are certain things that are total bullshit: one is that mass shooters have to be mentally ill, the other is that Switzerland is some gun slinging utopia, the third is the claim that it is an undeniable right to own a gun that the government has no business interfering in. The rest can be fought over tooth and claw. I would encourage one to go through all the sources, they offer a plethora of information, that one can use to become more informed on a issue that may prove to be extremely crucial. 

Further Recommended Reading: – Anti gun Control, worth reading comments section – Interesting mix of data. I've noticed at one point it mentions statistics between 1975-1984, the later portion of these years were during a crack cocaine epidemic that affected many major cities and centres of population in the USA. Crime in the USA was, in general, extremely high during that period and any statistics from the era should be viewed with a suspicious eye.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Deconstructing Towers

So I'm currently in Vienna, Austria, a grand old city whose walls and capitalistic monoliths (read: buildings) have centuries of history embedded in them.Of course, I am gathering about some high rolling Vienna life experience, namely, going to very nice and very old art galleries. Imagine a four story palace, filled with paintings. This building no doubt contains art from all eons, but the section I was examining one, fine, cold Austrian morning, contained almost exclusively 16th and 17th century paintings. The level of technical ability present in the paintings was extremely high. The  attention to detail, contrast, depth and general craftsmanship was all very impressive. These paintings had a life like quality.

We're talking about 16th and 17th  century paintings reach a technical peak. I'm sure painting, in terms of pure skill, hasn't reached it's ultimate limit yet, but it seems that by the 17th century art was at a high level of technical excellence. So what happens if the only place to go is down? Well, it may have taken a few centuries, and perhaps several other important factors, but it seems like a big motivator in the more abstract and unusual artistic styles that dominated the early 20th century's artistic landscape. Cubism, expressionism and abstract art all began to be on the rise. In this movement, their appears to be a shift away from pure technical ability towards more abstract and more intellectual focuses. Art that used to focus on depiction of events evolved to be concerned with ideas and meaning (or lack thereof). Indeed, many people who remain skeptical of say, Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko can often be heard retorting "but I could have done that", these people have utterly and completely missed the point. Art here, by which I mostly mean paintings, became about expression or evocation, emotional or intellectual. While it would be naive and dangerous of me to say that art in 16th and 17th century did not also have similar aims, by stripping away the aesthetic virtue of something, by making it not conform to standard ideas of beauty and pleasantness, we can engage with ideas more directly, and more purely. We ask "this is unpleasant. Why?", or if we find these distilled and abstract objects enticing, we once again are forced to ask questions.

With music, it reached its apex around a similar time. Sure shredding didn't really become a thing until the 70s, but there are many pieces from 16th and 17th century that require dexterity, grace and the fastest Jazz Hands the planet has ever seen. And most of them were compose a few hundred years ago. At some point, also around the start of the 20th century, music was slowly picked apart. John Cage's 4'33" is actually not music in a strict sense, yet in some ways it is completely music (this depends on audience engagement with the piece). A similar counterpoint happened in contemporary music around the 80s. A lot of music in the 70s had at least some technical focus, the rise of progressive bands like Genesis and Yes, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the origins of Shred music all are distinctly 70s thing. One decade later noise, musical deconstruction at its purest, was becoming a distinct aspect of music. Bands like Fugazi, Big Black, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr all incorporated noise (elements of feedback, and so on) into thier songs and definitely their live sets. By the 90s, noise was a widely accepted aspect of popular music, provided it didn't interfere with our standard song structure. Nirvana had some very noisy songs, and nosier live sets and thier influence on modern music, in all aspects is tremendous (you'll be surprised how many bands are working on their cover of Tourette's, right now).

Of course, total noise 'music' still exists on the fringe, but the presence of musical deconstruction has touched most elements of modern music. Likewise, elements of 20th century abstract art has had a definitive influence  on the course of 'modern art'. It would be naive to attribute changes in any social system to a singular cause, but it seems like part of the technical decline of 'art' would have something to do with the high levels of skill reached at certain epochs, and this deconstruction and shift of focus away from talent has become an important part of the modern world. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Life In The Universe

Background: This is an essay I wrote for a Uni class called "Philosophy of The Cosmos" - if you're an ANU student or plan to be at any point, you should take this course as it's interesting and fairly straightforward. If you don't know what the Drake's Equation is kill yourself, but first watch this. Also there's an actual scientific paper referenced (it's the fourth reference in the bibliography), which is also worth reading if you think this sort of mega speculative stuff is cool. So without further ado, feast your eyes upon my sheer genius (*cough, cough*):


Before presenting the equations and estimates it is worth noting that for the purposes of this essay, Drake’s Equation is useless. Drake’s equation is for life forms, in the galaxy, trying to communicate with earth. Here the concern is with biosystems. Biosystems are simply systems which contain life. Their domain can be on planets, moons, comets and asteroids. The equations presented below will reflect this fact. The other thing worth noting is that a different equation will be used to obtain the lower number in the range. This is because the lower number represents the more conservative approach: this means not only using smaller estimates but also the removal of factors that are implausible or highly speculative. Thus two equations will be used.

A) Biosystems in The Galaxy:

Conservative Factor s
Non Conservative Factors
100 Billion
400 Billion
Pn ave
Pn av
5.68 x 10-3


Final Values
1.8 x 108

Note: the final value is obtained by multiplying all the factors together.

Number of Stars in galaxy: Sf – This ranged from 400 Billion[1] to 100 Billion[2], these numbers are observable and detectable, and should need little justification.

Fraction of stars with planets: Pn – This factor determines that of the stars, how many have planets in our galaxy. A lot of evidence suggests this number is 1[3] (I.e 100% of stars have planets), however on the conservative side we say half (if there is no clear way to determine a conservative value, it will be the non-conservative value times 0.5)

Average number of planets per star: Pn ave – For our non-conservative value we model this off our own solar system, with 8 planets per star, our conservative value is simply this halved (4).

Number of Moons per planet:  Mpn – Some of the best candidates for life outside Earth and within the solar system are moons (Titan and Europa), so for this reason Moons have been included in our estimate. Once again for the non-conservative estimate this was modeled off the number of moons per planet (total number of moons/number of planets) which is 168/8 = 21. The figures for calculating this were taken from: .For the conservative estimate, the range of moons (63-0 = 63) was taken and divided by number of planets in the solar system. This gave a value of 7.9

Planets suitable for biosystems: Ps – In our own solar system, of the 176 planets and moons, there immediately springs to mind 4 bodies (moons and planets) which life could inhabit. These are: Mars, Earth, Europa and Titan. Dividing 4 by 176 gives us our conservative estimate.  Our non-conservative estimate is much harder to calculate. Given the nature of extremophiles to be able to survive even the most, extreme, conditions, it is hard to estimate what number of planets and moons are unsuitable for life. I am going to say, that in fact 80% of all moons and planets in the solar system are suitable for life, though not necessarily life as we know it. 

Planets on which life/biosystems actually arise:  Plf -  our  conservative estimate can be modeled on the solar system, where 1 in 176 bodies have produced life. This gives us a scaling value 5.68x10-3 for planetary bodies on which biosystems emerge. For our non-conservative value, speculation is accounted for. We have one planet where we are certain there is life, but several moons and planets on which it is entirely plausible that biosystems exists. We take into account Mars, Europa, Titan, and the gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, to reach our non-conservative value of 0.05 (8/176 rounded up).

Small bodies in unstable orbits: Sb – This figure, 10^12 was taken from: , I take small bodies in unstable orbits to mean meteors, comets and asteroids. Because of the fairly speculative nature of biosystems arising on such objects, this factor is excluded from the more conservative estimate.
Small Bodies in unstable orbits biosystem likelihood factor: Sblf – This is taken to be 5 x 10-8, the reason is that of all observed bodies, none have shown strongly either a disposition towards life or any actual life itself. The factor is not set to 10-12 as it is still possible biosystems can and do emerge on such bodies.

Final values:
We find that our conservative value places the number of biosystems in the galaxy at 1.8x108 and our non-conservative value is 1.3 x 1017. The difference is one of nine orders of magnitude. So how reliable are these results? It is safer to go with the more conservative value, but keeping in mind that we are looking at biosystems and life as we know it, it certainly seems plausible that there is at least one biosystem per star, especially if all stars are likely to have planets and the Copernican principal is applied to the emergence of biosystems.

B) Biosystems in the universe:
For this calculation, we apply a galactic Copernican principal, and assume that our galaxy holds no special place in the universe. Assuming this we can calculate the number of biosystems in the galaxy by using the following equation:
Bu = Bg x Ng
In other words, the number of Biosystems in the galaxy is multipled by the number of galaxies in the universe. Any attempt to add a scaling factor of some sort is ignored, since following the Copernican principle any such factor would be near one, and result in no significant change to the overall value (especially not in terms of order of magnitude).
The number of galaxies in the universe (Ng) seems to be somewhere between 100 billion and 125 billion[4].
Applying our conservative value for Bg against the lower limit of Ng we have:
Bu = Bg x Ng = (1.8x108)x(100x109) = 1.8x1020
Applying our non-conservative value with the upper limit of our values for Ng, we have:
 Bu = Bg x Ng = (1.3x1017)x(125x109) = 1.6x1028
Once again, the difference in order of magnitude is considerable, but considering the size of the universe, the less conservative value seems to be least unlikely. I wouldn’t say either of these values is definitive, but I think they suggest a reasonable range to expect for the emergence of biosystems in the universe.

C) Biosystems in the Universe:
How many biosystems in the Universe are there? This depends on what theory of the Universe we use/accept. If we say our Universe is the only one, it is an almost impossible question to answer since every value would be based entirely on speculation. If we apply a multiverse view, in which the universe is one of an infinite number of universes, the number of biosystems, is of course, infinite. In fact, this question can be answered by saying the number of biosystems in the Universe probably sits between two values: 1 and infinity. I am one hundred percent certain of the lower bound, but it is extremely hard to be certain of the upper bound on this range.

If I was to be entirely honest, the only value that is certain for the number of biosystems in the Universe, the Universe and our galaxy, is 1. But, there are many good reasons to think the life has, will, and does emerge elsewhere in the universe. It need not be intelligent life, or sophisticated, and this greatly increases the likelihood of its existence. The numbers calculated, conservative and non-conservative, are large from an earthling perspective, but if we apply the Copernican principle to the life and the galaxy, it makes sense that there should be at least one biosystem for every star. If we then apply this to the number of stars in the universe, we realize that the universe should be teeming with life. Before anything definitive can be said, we need to actually find life elsewhere, until then, the best we have is an estimate that may be correct, or several orders of magnitude wrong.


Internet Sources:  - Last Accessed on the 12th of June 2012 Last accessed on the 11th of June 2012  - Last Accessed on the 12th of June 2012 - Last Accessed on the 12th of June 2012

Thursday, 12 April 2012


So, I was reading through old emails and being nostalgic as shit, when I stumbled across a poem I had to write for year 11 english class, fitting into a "The World's Wife" kind of format. My poem was/is about Margaret Thatcher, and as far as I can recall, I did actually read the last line out (we had to present the poems to the class). So with out further ado, here is some shitty poetry:


She was always putting down.
Nagging hound.
She’d bite and bark
Bitch and moan.

And that was just the dinner conversation.
There was always a meeting the next morning,
and always something else to do.

The poor are poor because theyre lazy and stupid
Then she would sit in her office all day
Sipping the finest chardonnay.
Only she wouldn’t know chardonnay from cabaret.

But, my god could she talk.
For hours on end, she would go on
Never actually saying a word mind you
But merely creating the illusion she did.

Dinner took hours to get through.
And that’s another thing,
She never cooked,
She expected a plate,
With the head of the labor unions,
At exactly a quarter past eight,
And not a second more.

Less, and less for the poor.
Yet whenever she need new clothes,
Or another behemoth to wrap
around her neck
It was always my wallet
That was empty
Never hers.

But her four story houses,
And cities of money,
And her friends that were runts,
Making her all the more deserving
Of the title:
“Insufferable cunt”

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The evolution of a conversation: Krauss And Dawkins at ANU: A Recap

Before I begin, I would like to make the disclaimer that my memory is far from perfect and nothing here is a direct quote, and therefore, this is only a recap of the evening, not a full fledged report. With that in mind, allow me to clear my throat and proceed.

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss should need no introduction, but for those that do not know, Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, who is most well known for being the strange combination of British and an atheist. He is also known for being outspoken, and considered by quite a few religious people as rude and abrasive.

Lawrence Krauss is a particle physicist with his hands in cosmology (he worked/works on neutrino astrophysics) and an outspoken anti-theist. From my experience he seems to be more offensive (perhaps he would prefer the term direct) than Richard Dawkins, but also a lot funnier.

Well versed in the rites of Dawkins and familiar with Lawrence Krauss's awesome talk on the concept of a universe from nothing, I was pretty excited when I heard that both of them would be coming to the ANU (Australian National University - where I study), to have a discussion. The tickets were free and "sold" out fast, even after the venue was changed to one of the largest venue's on campus: Lleweylln Hall.

After some anticipation, the calendar finally ticked over to the 10th of April, a cold, clear, chilly autumn day. With my free ticket printed out and stuffed reckless into my pocket, I approached the venue, melding into the cacophony of noise and people, all waiting for the doors to open.

Ushered in by the uh....ushers, my friends and I took a seat in the spacious auditorium, waiting for the event to begin. After thirty minutes, the lights dimmed and, rather anti climatically, the weedy Vice Chancellor of ANU, Ian Young (Darth Ianus to all ANU students), glided across the stage to the microphone, and began the brief opening:

"Welcome to ANU, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land,  Richard Dawkins has a whole bunch of honary degrees, and Lawrence Krauss doesn't."  - This was basically the gist of Ian Young's opening remarks.

Finally the two renowned atheists, or critics of religion, entered from stage left, Lawrence Krauss' red converse sneakers adding a dimension of "I'm a physicist, no really!" to his stage presence.

They sat down in their rather superior looking armchairs, and began their conversation for the evening. The first topic of discussion was in fact, the reason they enjoy holding discussions, moderator free, over debates. Dawkins probably summed it up best "A moderator tends to stop things just when they are getting interesting." This flowed rather naturally into a discussion of Dawkin's appearance on Q&A the previous evening (see here), in which he went head to head against George Pell, the Australian cardinal for the Roman Catholic Church. They discussed some of Pell's moments of excellent ignorance (including that Neanderthals were descendants of humans, as oppose to cousins), which led to Krauss making a cruel but hilarious joke about Pell being a Neanderthal, which sounds harsh, but if you watch the Q&A footage, you'll see Krauss has a point.

This led on to a discussion of common misinterpretations of evolution, before the conversation bounced back towards Pell, and his comments about Lawrence Krauss' new book, A Universe From Nothing, including Pell's discussion of Richard Dawkins foreword, despite the fact Richard Dawkins wrote the Afterword, and this is stated on the front cover of the book.

The conversation then moved towards how physics has begun to move away from common sense, with Dawkins giving an evolutionary explanation about why both Relativity ( the physics of the super big and super speedy) and Quantum Mechanics (the physics of the super small) defy our common sense: saying that our minds evolved to understand a world situated between the macroscopic and the microscopic. Both Dawkins and Krauss mentioned their awe that the brain can even do physics and complex mathematics (well, complex to us humans), something it never really evolved to do.

The conversation then shifted towards the idea of rationality and irrationality in religion and God. This was sparked by mention of Lawrence's debate the previous evening with an Islamic scholar, (as Dawkins said "In my country a scholar is someone who has read more than one book), in which his opponent spent a lot of time insisting on the rationality of religion and belief in god. Dawkins and Krauss were quick to explore and exploit this argument, Krauss asking if believing an illiterate peasant being visited by an angel is a logical procession of events, or if have a religion based on the word of known con man saying he found gold plates in the ground, and translated them in a hat, was also rational  thing to believe. As far as pure logic goes, Krauss presented an example of syllogisms that can become redundant:

Tom is human
Humans are mortal
Tom is mortal.

If humans become immortal, the second premise changes in response to science, thus presenting a problem for carrying on with logic and syllogisms of the past. Dawkins then presented the idea that religions could be internally consistent, but this was meaningless, as rationality would ask for external consistence as well.

Staying on the topic of religion, they next point discussed was the issue of comfort and religion. Dawkins briefly mentioned the power of belief, via the measured effects of placebos, but was also quick to point out that a double blind test had been preformed on the power of prayer, which yield no results, until the patient was told that they were being prayed for, at which point their recovery rate was worse! Dawkins also noted that science provides physical and perhaps emotional comfort through modern medicine and treatments.

The conversation then drifted towards science and spirituality, both Krauss and Dawkins mentioning that they found comfort in the idea of there being a final end, and mentioning that to them looking up at the night sky in all its glory, "opens your mind to wonder", as Krauss put it. They also emphasized that control and freedom is liberating, and that religion places as you back under the control of a being. God is, as Christopher Hitchens use to say, an eternal parent who never lets you grow up. Krauss also mentioned that there is fulfilment in science and that the exciting thing about science is that "we don't know all the answers", briefly talking about the question of conciousness  and the fact our brains are "ten million million times more efficient" than a computer, noting that a computer would need ten terawatts of power to run a full simulation of the brain, yet our brain uses just ten watts of power.

There was then a brief and humorous aside about Dawkins attempts to obtain tax exemption for his foundation: The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (trying say that ten times fast), from the board of British Charities, who ask Dawkins to "Kindly explain how science education benefits humanity".

The conversation then shifted back to religion and about the privileged position of religion in society. Dawkins recounted tales of children being kicked out of sunday school for asking questions (which makes it a bit misleading to call it a school) and Krauss mentioned the important role ridicule plays in society and in allowing us to point out the inconsistencies of ideas and people.

Following this, came what I refer to as the Dawkins Impetus, though I am sure he would reject such a term. Dawkins ask the audience to go out and make some question their belief, or a part of their belief. Ask a Roman Catholic if they truly believe the wafer they have at holy communion becomes the body of Christ. And don't let them say "You can't criticize my beliefs!"

Following this Krauss then asked Dawkins what the hardest thing had been for him to accept intellectually. Dawkins replied it was the fact that Hippopotamus' are close cousins of the Whale, and are far closer to whales than they are to pigs, something traditional zoology would reject, but which was proven in molecular biology.

Dawkins then asked Krauss to answer the same question, to which Krauss replied "The possibility that the laws of physics are an accident."

It was approaching question time, and as Dawkins and Krauss wrapped up, Krauss delivered what I would call The Krauss Impetus, although it was more of a hope and a desire than an impetus: "I hope that you have at least one idea you hold dear proven wrong."

The main bulk of the discussion was now over, and question time began. I've watched enough debates and talks about religion from atheists to know that there is always at least one rambling question and one totally insane question. Tonight was no different (ANU you are not special).

The first question of the evening asked if Krauss and Dawkins thought that religion's man centric view of the world had helped foster an indifference to environmental issue in society. Krauss reckon it did, but said it was also worth noting that there were religious environmental groups and Dawkins said it was probably a bigger challenge to achieve global political unity on tackling the issue.

The second question was someone saying that they wanted to question Dawkins and Krauss' faith in science. Dawkins mentioned you can't prove anything 100%, but science does a lot better than religion which proves something 0%, and Krauss mentioned that science works and has "progressive refinement", it changes based on the evidence. Both emphasized that science was fundamentally different from religion.

 The third question ask if there was only a rational path to truth, and if truth was cultural. Dawkins argued that the truth of science is universal, and Krauss was quick to say that there are no absolute truths in science, only absolute falsehoods, the elimination of which brings us closer to the truth.

The next questioner was clearly a philosophy student, complete with a hipster like skinny-ness and a bad haircut, and asked, after name dropping Nietzsche, if atheism exists in a theological framework. Krauss' response was to say that neither him nor Dawkins deny religion, they merely argue that the evidence suggests the existence of a god is unlikely.

"Will we ever be able to disprove god?" Was the long and short of the next question, Dawkins suggesting it wouldn't matter, given a poll where Christians said they would not stop believing in Jesus even if zero historical evidence was found for him. Krauss simply stated that if something is not falsifiable, then science cannot address it.

The next two questions were probably the most interesting question asked all evening. The first one probed Dawkins' on what he thought of his idolization and his being quote verbatim in the internet,and if he was even aware of it, to which Dawkins replied he thought the idea of idolizing and making an absolute authority figure of someone a horrible and disturbing idea. Krauss' take on the question was that he had no problem being quoted but one must avoid simply appealing to authority.

The next question asked what Dawkins' favourite story in the bible was, with him replying he didn't have a favourite story, but  favourite books, namely "Song of Songs" and "Ecclesiasticus", if only because they have some beautiful lyricism, especially when read in 17th century English.

The final question of the evening rambled on a bit ,but basically asked what success for atheism would look like and if it is achievable? Should we be working towards co-operation with religious people, instead of making enemies?

Dawkins' response was that there is a lot to be said for putting aside differences and working towards a common goal, but if your aim is to understand, then religion is counter to that goal. Krauss summed it up by saying that as a scientist you cannot compromise, but as an educator religion is irrelevant, and creating interest in science is what matters.

With that the evening wrapped up, and someone who was distinctly not Ian Young gave the closing remarks, thanking both Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss for giving up their time, and ending with "thank you, goodnight and may your god go with you." A quote from comedian Dave Allen .

So concluded the conversation between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins, and yes the line for the book signing was long, the evening air was cool, and 3 hours later I found myself talking about free will in a Mcdonald's. Because life is absurd. And awesome.

Much thanks to Roy Cruz for the photos. Here's a ridiculous photo of Richard Dawkins :

Friday, 9 March 2012

2012 Beats Off

By now, most of you have seen the Kony 2012 video. 50 million people have viewed this video, which is a lot, but is still only about 0.7% of the Earth's population, 16% of America's population, and approximately the same number of people who died in World War II.

Most of my concerns with the Kony 2012 video have been effectively raised by the Visible Children blog, which does some pretty solid analysis of why you should raise your eyebrow, and perhaps type "Joseph Kony" and "Invisible Children" into google.

The problem I wish to raise here is one of a lack of foresight. I'm not about to accuse Invisible Children of poor planning, in fact planning has got them very far indeed, but amongst the pang of facebook's poorly researched and poorly informed statuses, and the unbelievably self righteous tone of the video, a simple thought struck me: what about after Kony?

Yes Kony needs to be removed, and when he does, you will celebrate, unaware that at the time of writing, his armed forces are estimated to be 250. He will either fade away on the run, or he will be cornered and his existence made forfeit, provided that some other African nation doesn't start funding him purely out of spite (way to go Sudan). So perhaps my first point is that when Kony does go, maybe the members of Invisible Children can indulge in a little bit of smugness, but you certainly can't.

However Kony is responsible for some horrendous crimes. Crimes of his magnitude leave emotional scars etched across the face of the populace. The arrest of Joseph Kony may decapitate the LRA, and leave them harmless (or perhaps not), but even if Joseph Kony goes, bringing the number of terminated LRA leaders down to three (out of five), what is going to be done about the children that are now murderers, and victims of war? Which organisation will fund the efforts of support, help build the infrastructure to help reduce the consequences of a generation of traumatised children? I know that after Kony is gone, indeed, after the 20th of April, your keen, self righteous, college campus activism will evaporate. Indeed, life will become hell with all those fucking exams you have coming, and man is life tough when you're not sure if that girl (or boy) likes you or not. Sure, focusing on your own life is unavoidable for anyone; you have the life your attached to, and the cause you support, and you can't be an activist all the time, but you probably won't even notice the drift.

And when Kony falls, you will cheer, triumphantly, so glad of what you did to help (yeah thanks for covering all the music event flyers in an excessive amount of Kony posters, assholes), you will rarely ever talk about Uganda again, except when applying for that job with that NGO, and talking about the key role you played in "making the world a better place".

And meanwhile, across the ocean, in a world still far removed, another storm is brewing, built on the back of cause and effect. Thousands of scarified children, trying to find their place in a cruel world, with the tools of murder and suffering etched onto their brains. Kony planted his roots deep, and the damage he has caused has spread far and wide. You want to help? You want to donate? Then simply, go forth, and find a charity that offers to build the support system needed for the disaffect youth of Kony, the victims of the LRA, and the Ugandan Military. The day Kony falls, remind people, what's next?

You want to make a change? Be the first generation with the foresight to see what is need to truly end Joseph Kony, to not just remove a man of evil, but to nurse his taint from the ground, and the stop what once happened from happening again. A historical moment, where a generation finally understands history. Do that, and you'll reach far beyond the expectations of Kony 2012 and the Ugandan people.  

Monday, 5 March 2012


There's this rather swagalicous (now a word) quote from the Star Wars Character Boba Fett, and it goes like this:

"Everyone dies. It is the final and only ever lasting justice. Evil exists; it is intelligence in the service of entropy. When the side of a mountain slides to kill a village, this is not evil, for evil requires intent. Should a sentient being cause that landslide, there is evil; and requires justice as a consequence, so that civilization can exist. There is no greater good than justice; and only if law serves justice is it a good law. It is said correctly that law exists not for the just but for the unjust, for the just carry the law in their hearts, and do not need to call it from afar. I bow to no one and give service only for cause. "

The idea here is perhaps one you are very familiar with. At some point in your life, you've realised that you don't 100% agree with the laws we have. I'm not suggesting you want to kill someone, but you've decided that maybe it doesn't matter if you drink before the legal age, that there appears to be no reason that you can't watch adult movies before you're 18. Do drugs, just don't get caught. Once again, I'm not saying I agree with all these things, however those examples where chosen as they show the laws most commonly broken. Do you jaywalk? You've probably committed some form of verbal abuse, perhaps not with serious intent, but the point stands. 

To ask a more serious question, are you an absolutist about the law against murder? What about war? What if someone was trying to kill you? What about the case of Osama Bin Laden? Technically he was murdered. I'm sure you can all think of instances where you would steal, perhaps reluctantly, but steal nonetheless. Why is the idea of the vigilante so appealing? 

In legal terms the vigilante is merely a criminal. He may steal, trespass, kill, harm and threaten people. He almost certainly breaks the law. Vigilantism is discouraged (illegal) by your local law enforcement, mostly because life is not a movie, but the appeal of this figure represents something very fundamental about our society: There are a set of values we agree on.

To qualify that statement we need to ignore fringe groups. This is necessarily dangerous as it cuts out certain amounts of the population, as we must exclude psychopaths (who, last I heard, make up 3% of the population, but you should fact check that), and people in desperate situations. 

Now I can make a sweeping general comment. It appears that we have something resembling a universal morality. There is a set of values we agree on. Killing is bad. If someone honestly doesn't think that, we put them down as criminally insane. Theft is wrong. Generally. Please raise your hand if you  approve of rape. 

With the exception of rape, these things will change in certain contexts, i.e extenuating circumstances. Now of course you can say "Well isn't everything an extenuating circumstance?" - but that's just a smart ass pseudo intellectual comment. Because how many times in your life, do you come across these circumstances? I'm not saying it never happens to anyone, but there are 7 billion people on the planet. It happens to some people, sometimes. 7 billion is a fuck load. 

We have decided our own laws, we have our own laws. We debate the non-esstianals, and we have our own sense of justice. Laws are for the unjust, because the just do carry the law. Perhaps not in their heart, but the point still stands. 

So next time someone tells you about morals being relative, stab them in the throat and steal their pocket money. Just don't rape them. Cause that's never okay.