Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dawkins' publisher faces jail over 'atheist manifesto'

The Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is facing six months to a year in jail for "inciting hatred and enmity.” The London newspaper The Independent quoted the publisher who stated that a reader of the book had complained to Istanbul state prosecutor and asked that the book be banned and the publisher prosecuted. Apparently, the prosecutor’s office is actively pursuing the issue.

If you haven’t read The God Delusion, I recommend you do so. (If you live in Turkey, I suggest you buy it on-line, read it in secret, and hide the evidence well.) It’s not a great book, but it is better than some of the other “atheist manifestos” that have been published lately. Regardless of your opinion of Dawkins, by writing The God Delusion, he has certainly started a dialogue concerning atheism. Whether that is a good or bad thing will depend on your own views and beliefs. The six thousand copies of The God Delusion sold in Turkey are hardly a threat to the republic or the faith of Islam. The 1.25 million copies of the English version that have been sold haven’t brought down any governments or caused any church to board its doors and windows. What it may have done though, is encouraged some readers to consider their faith and the consequences of believing. That’s a good thing though; to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, a person who does not think for themselves, does not think at all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon was noted for a few things other than his genre writing. One was what has become known as Sturgeon’s Law, ninety percent of everything is crap, and the other was the lesser known but more significant concept of, “Ask the next question.” With it, Sturgeon advocated inquiry, asking the next question and then the next question until either the truth was obtained or the imagination exhausted. In an article published in Cavalier Magazine in June, 1967, Sturgeon stated; "Every advance this species has ever made is the result of someone, somewhere, looking at his world, his neighborhood, his neighbor, his cave, or himself and asking that next question. Every deadly error this species has committed, every sin against itself and its high destiny, is the result of not asking the next question, or of not listening to those who do ask it."

Representing the “Ask the next question” credo was the symbol “Q->,” a question mark with an arrow dissecting it and pointing to the right. During the last years of his life, Sturgeon so believed in “Ask the next question” he used the symbol as an addendum to his signature and wore it on a necklace around his neck. I’ve posted the links to Sturgeon’s Cavalier Magazine article where he introduced it as a method of inquiry. Whether “Ask the next question” was a great idea lying dormant for the last twenty years or the eccentric rumblings from an active imagination I’ll let you decide.

From the "Wrong place, wrong time" school of practical jokes.

Just For Laughs: Demonstrator Prank - Funny videos are here

CNN's ghost update

Rebecca Watson, the celebrated Skepchick, posted a video analysis, taken from You Tube, of CNN's security camera ghost.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Devil’s Dictionary

HOMOEOPATHIST, n. The humorist of the medical profession.

HOMOEOPATHY, n. A school of medicine midway between Allopathy and Christian Science. To the last both the others are distinctly inferior, for Christian Science will cure imaginary diseases, and they can not.

PHRENOLOGY, n. The science of picking the pocket through the scalp. It consists in locating and exploiting the organ that one is a dupe with.

PHYSICIAN, n. One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well.

Excerpts from The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce, 1911

Theo Jansen

Incredible art/engineering projects from the Dutch artist Theo Jansen. I am probably misstating this, but one of the concepts of great art is originality. Perhaps anyone can paint like Picasso, but Picasso was the first. He invented cubism and earned his subsequent notoriety. Jansen blends engineering and art in such a manner that his creations are unique. Well worth watching.

Monday, November 26, 2007

This Week in Tech (TWiT)

TWiT is an award winning weekly technology centered podcast hosted by Leo Laporte and is one of thirteen podcasts or video casts available from TWiT.TV. The website Digg identifies TWiT as the second most popular podcast in all of its categories, collecting twice as many votes as the third place entry. Other podcast centric websites have listed TWiT as it’s most popular. TWiT is downloadable from iTunes, but the availability of past episodes is limited to about twenty. The entire collection of episodes is obtainable from the TWiT.TV website with the length of the episodes from iTunes and the website averaging about an hour. The Emmy winning Leo Laporte is the author of several technology related books and articles and a former host of the cable television shows The Screen Savers and Call for Help. He presently hosts a technology program on Canadian television, a syndicated Los Angeles radio program, and is a repeat guest as a technology expert on several U.S. television programs. A biography of Laporte is available in his Wikipedia entry, although Laporte stated during one of the TWiT broadcasts that the entry contained inaccuracies. A probably truthful assertion since past entries described Laporte as a “nobody” and it is unlikely he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”

TWiT is a round table discussion following a rough agenda prepared by Laporte. Regulars to the program include the outspoken John C. Dvorak and several Screen Savers and Call for Help denizens. Program guests have ranged from Apple computer founder Steve Wozniak, computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, and science fiction author Jerry Pournelle. The tone of the show is informal and mostly friendly. Ordinarily, the participants discuss consumer electronics although occasionally the conversation can drift toward technology that is more esoteric. Ironically, for a show about technology, the drawback to the program is technical. The participants are scattered around the world and the roundtable is connected by cellular or voice over internet telephone. Dropped calls, low quality connections, background noises, and unplanned events do occur. During one episode the inflatable exercise ball Laporte was using as a chair audibly burst. While these occurrences add to the informality of the program, and sometimes provide an element of humor, they can accumulate quickly during an episode and become an annoyance.

TWiT accepts commercial sponsorship but rather than being an irritating commercial, Laporte skillfully blends the sponsor’s plug into the roundtable discussion. A moment that could be tiresome with repeated listening is instead varied and interesting as the roundtable members discuss their use of the sponsor’s products.

Amidst the abundance of consumer reviews available through the Internet and popular media, TWiT stands out by providing unique insights concerning the latest and greatest gadgets. Laporte and his colleagues provide pertinent information in a lively and amicable style. If you have an interest in the latest technology and the time to listen, TWiT is one of the podcasts you should be downloading.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I can't embed this, the service doesn't apparently allow it, but this is a very cool live action/animation mixed film.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Found it, it was posted. This was what I like about science and investigations, common sensical, rational, logical arguments destroyed by experimentation.

Common Sense is not so common. - Voltaire

Of mice and elephants.

Those warriors of urban myth deflation, The Mythbusters, have conclusively proved...elephants are scared of mice. Well, at least they did a pretty good job of it, but I wouldn't call it conclusive. While watching the program, I came up with a reason for the elephant's reaction to the mouse....which as the show went on The Mythbusters tested and shot down. I thought the elephant might have been frightened by the movement of the dung heap the mouse was hiding under. Of all the popular myths of modern times, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, do a pretty good job providing evidence supporting one of the strangest. This isn't film of the elephant and mouse (the show just aired), but of Savage and Hyneman discussing the test. I'll post the film of the test if it shows up on You Tube.

Inquiry is fatal to certainty. Will Durant

Got a question?

Ask500People is an interesting website; post a question of your own and one hundred people around the world answer it. The 500 People question is, I think, a paid option. My username is Grillparzer but I have not asked a question for a few days. Some of my past results:

Are you smarter than average? Seventy-nine yes’s and twenty-one no’s. (Apparently, some people are kidding themselves.)

Do you believe it is possible to speak with the spirits of the dead? Forty-two yes votes and fifty-seven no votes.

Which are the better tools to have while going through life? Sixty-five people voted for “Science, Reason, and Logic” while thirty-five voted for “Religious Faith.”

Have you ever seen a ghost? Twenty-one people voted yes and seventy-nine voted no.

How did life develop? Evolution or intelligent design. Fifty-nine people voted for “Evolution” and forty-one people voted for “intelligent design.”

I will not go into the reasons why these polls do not provide scientifically reliable results since I have no training in statistics. If you have questions on the subject, I recommend a Google search, which should pull up some primers. If you have more questions after that, take a college course because you are on your own. Most of the respondents to the polls are European or North American, with a smattering from other parts of the world. I think the polls reflect worldwide access to the Internet rather than real opinions, but the website is a fun thing to play with.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Penn and Teller

A question answered by Penn and Teller (or at least Penn), discussing how their program Bullshit was picked up by Showtime.

CNN's ghost.

This CNN story about a ghost at a Ohio gas station has already been covered and debunked by numerous blogs , but I wanted to try embedding a video so your stuck with it too. Blue, out of focus image on a security camera. Watch for the bug like movements, the faint hint of antenna, and the occasional wing flutter. Keep in mind that static security cameras are focussed on selected areas to record events, so something close to or on the lens will be blurry. Now write CNN and tell them how this isn't newsworthy and why story pandering is bad.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Freethought Radio Review

Freethought Radio Podcast

Of the non-theist podcasts I listen to, Freethought Radio, probably the only atheism themed radio program in existence, is my least favorite. Freethought Radio is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and broadcast live every Saturday on WXXM, The Mic 92.1, in Madison, Wisconsin. WXXM is a progressive talk radio station and is affiliated with the Air America Radio network. Freethought Radio is also available via Air America, on line streaming, and by podcast. The podcasts lengths are generally between forty to fifty minutes duration and episodes dating from April 2006 to the present are available on iTunes and the Freethought Radio website. This review is of the podcasts downloaded from iTunes. The podcasts are jointly hosted by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, accomplished authors and co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The format of the show varies somewhat from episode to episode but opens with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” normally includes a guest interview or interviews, the segments “Theocracy Alert” and “Freethinker Almanac,” and music written and played by Barker.

Barker and Gaylor fall into the category of “angry” atheists and they display little tolerance for people of faith. As the “Theocracy Alert” segment deals with theocratic intrusions on the church and state doctrine, some indignation is necessary but the hosts tend to be needlessly emotional, exaggeratory, and snide. A less inflammatory approach would serve Freethought Radio's audience better. Barker and Gaylor are, pardon the irony, “preaching to the choir” with these podcasts, but many freethinkers will find their antagonism toward the religious repugnant. Not all atheists see religion as an enemy, some are content just not to believe.

Freethought Radio is the only non-theist podcast that relies on music every episode to convey its message, but it is more of an annoyance than an asset to the program. Since Freethought Radio is radio broadcasted, the music might have some entertainment value, but other radio talk shows do well without it. In particular, the use of the song “Imagine,” as an opener frankly, lacks imagination. Lennon’s anthem has been played to death by every leftist cause for the last thirty years. I know there are not many freethought themed songs out there but something more distinctive is needed.

The strength of the podcasts are the people chosen for the program by Baker and Gaylor. Although they have had some notable guests the ones I enjoyed most are with the less well-known people and the difficulties they have encountered because of their beliefs. As a Birmingham resident, I found the interview with Emily Lyons fascinating. Birmingham Police Officer Robert Sanderson was killed and Lyons was seriously injured in the woman’s clinic bombing perpetrated by Eric Rudolph in 1998. At the time, I was working as a police officer in a town near Birmingham so the case holds an interest for me. Some other interviews worth listening to are the ones with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Gaylor sometimes asks leading questions during the interviews, but I think it is a result of editing prerecorded interviews rather than trying to force the guests to make specific points. All of the guests present some aspect of freethought, the interviews are not confrontational, and during this segment Barker and Gaylor are at their best.

In many ways Freethought Radio feels like it was produced by amateurs. The inclusion of Barker’s music makes the presentation uneven and the hosts attitude might alienate members of their audience.

This blog is an experiment and a test on a couple of fronts. One, it is a writing experiment for me. Can I repeatedly find subjects and write about them in such a manner that it will interest an audience for an extended period of time? What writing experience I have I gained in the Army and it shows. I write like a soldier standing at parade, stiff and formal. I want to develop a more casual style, something that is easier to read. Two, after some deliberation, I’ve decided I have a few things to say on a variety of subjects. I am a lifelong skeptic and am horrified by what I think is some of the pure garbage other people have chosen to believe. Reason, logic, and science, have shown themselves to be the best tools to accompany me through life, I do not understood why others have not adopted them. However, I am not out to change anyone’s mind but I might be able to point you toward a little introspection. If you post comments you will probably not change my mind either but you could provide me with new insights. Learning is a lifetime process and I always enjoy new perspectives. I am a regular listener to a variety of podcasts, generally political, scientific, and skepticism themed. I foresee a lot of the posts to this blog being critical reviews of podcasts and blogs since this appears to be a somewhat ignored area on the Internet. I draw as a hobby, note the self portrait, and am an avid bicyclist and bicycle collector. I’m in the process of rebuilding an unknown model of Raleigh mountain bike and turning it into a commuter, and I own a 1957 Hiawatha, a 1939 Rudge Whitworth, a 1963 Raleigh Sports, and a 1983 Trek road bike. I don’t actually ride these bikes, I just take them apart and leave them lying around my living room which seems to fulfill some deep subconscious need. I love to read, mostly nonfiction and the classics, but I stray sometimes. I’m currently rereading Dickens’s David Copperfield, my favorite of his works and probably the twentieth time I’ve gone through it. Wilkins Micawber may be my favorite literary character of all time. Come back and check me out. Let’s see what happens.