Intellectual vandalism….

There is a new fictional film, masquerading as a documentary, currently being aired in the US.  Several of my US friends went to see it (admittedly mourning their monetary contribution to the creationist cause) and have let me know not to waste my life, or money, going to see it. In turn, I encourage similar of anyone reading this. The fiction-doc is called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and it is yet more anti-science propaganda in favour of Intelligent Design, spewing outlandish, intellectually dishonest rhetoric. In their polemic pursuit of self-righteousness they also managed to demean a host very respected scientists, including Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers.

I’m not fond of commenting on things I haven’t actually seen, but I am of like-mind with my friends, and to be honest, I’m painfully well aware of the nature of such attacks on science; the very discipline that has permitted them the technology of producing a film in the first place. The National Centre for Science Education has produced a website to address the intellectual vandalism the film may do to those lay audience members who may inadvertently take the producer at his word.

The producer, amongst other things, contends that the theory of evolution contributed to the holocaust committed by the Nazis, communism and the rise of atheism. This is of course nothing new, creationists have been peddling this tripe for a long time; it is all part of their belief that atheists are inherently immoral, as if atheism is itself a religion that preaches immorality. Alas, like little children, they cannot believe that anyone can know something that they don’t.

To address one point however, one might suspect that such an arrogant and self-righteous man as Hitler would happily go into depth about how he employed evolutionary theory in his final solution, yet never once does mention evolutionary theory in the whole sorry tirade of Mein Kampf, I know, I’ve read it. Furthermore, he was on a crusade to create an Aryan race, whom he believed to be the created in the highest image of the lord; hardly the comment of a proud atheist or evolutionist.

Religions deal in the manner in which they believe people should live their lives, unfortunately, to those arguing from a platform of ignorance about science, there is a general misunderstanding that science similarly prescribes a way of living. This is not correct. Even if Hitler had been employing the theory of evolution in his reasoning, this does not mean that the theory is any way morally awry. Evolution is a scientific theory, it is neither good, nor evil; science makes no prescriptions on how to live your life. It is not to be confused with Social Darwinism, which is a philosophical construct based upon “survival of the fittest”.

Richard Dawkin’s premise is that by understanding natural selection we can selectively abrogate the rather emotionless and indifferent edge of this process, not become slaves to it.

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Rocket leaves prevent alien abduction!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just make stuff up and have it be true?

All those years spent in diligent study, working hard to understand difficult concepts, essay after essay, exam after exam for year after year. You might then decide that you’ve done enough and leave it there, commit to yet more study and yet more work. All that time, we fools, we could have just invented a subject, a discipline, a theory, a fact and use the following reasoning to support it:

1. If you disagree with it, then it is doubly true (and if you tell me that I can’t say that, then it’s triply true! Nah, nah, na, nah, nah).

2. I believe in it, I have faith in it, and if you say anything against it then that’s intolerance.

3. Give me 32% of your salary and I’ll give you all the secrets.

It’d be great! You see, I’ve found this weed that grows between the paving slabs next to the road of my house. People call it Rocket (other people call it Arugela), and it’s become very fashionable in cook books recently. Now, if you eat a single one of these leaves, every day, for the rest of your life, you will never be abducted by aliens.

It’s true, I shit you not! It just came to me, I’ve been reading all around these hollistic food websites, and I realised they were all talking crazyspeak; obviously it’s called Rocket for a reason, noone seems to know why, but I knew that I had the answer, call it a revelation. It seems so clear to me that it was seeded on the Earth by a benevolant alien race to prevent others in their government being able to take us!

So go forth and eat Rocket, and just watch how you’re not abducted by aliens!

Stage right…

This is the rear entrance (or exit) to the Centre for Disability Studies. “So what?” I hear you ask?

Well, the thing of it is, this is an automatic door. It is an extra wide door at that, to permit access to wheelchair users, but what I really want to draw your attention to is where the door leads to. It leads to tiny landing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, a very steep flight of stairs, with no chair lift or any disability aids what so ever.

So it is an entrance for someone too weak or inconvenienced to open the door, too wide to fit through a narrow door, yet someone strong enough to make it to the top of a steep flight of stairs unaided?

Perhaps it is an exercise on how things shouldn’t be done in a public building? The mind boggles.

Violence

[ratings]

SO, in a complete parody of the light-heartedness of yesterday’s musings, today I have also been coming to grips with Slavoj Žižek’s “Violence“, which I finally finished reading (I have six books on the go, it’s a work in progress). I spend a lot of time reading academic literature, mainly in the sciences, thus pure philosophy is always a little antagonising.

Having practise at academic reading is useful, and the usual formula applies: skim read the whole thing first, get an idea of what the premise is and basic structure, so you know what to look for on your next scan. Read the introduction and conclusion too, this will help you identify the lines of evidence/reasoning you require to agree/disagree with the premise. Then you have to read it in some detail, if you’ve not already disregarded it, all the while juggling the lines of reasoning, often over several pages, until they drop into place. So it’s never really bed-time reading, and some writers are better than others.

The main subject of the book can be paraphrased reasonably well from the author’s own introduction, and the blurb on the dust-jacket:

The premise of Žižek’s theory is that the subjective violence we see – violence with a clear identifiable agent – is only the tip of an iceberg made up of systemic violence, which is essentially the catastrophic consequence of the smooth functioning of our economic & political systems.

He uses some rather contentious rhetoric when describing the different forms of violence in society: “subjective”, “symbolic” and “systemic”, but this is largely a means to clear the way so that he can get to the guts of his argument, that of “systemic violence”.
Continue reading “Violence”

Overdrive

When I poured the boiling water from my kettle into my bowl of Weetabix, rather than my mug, I knew I wasn’t going to get much done today.

Every other Monday I have early-o’clock meetings with The Consortium, which means getting up at stupid-o’clock and generally dithering on otherwise straight-forward tasks for half an hour, until my higher brain functions kick-start. Today was no different, with the exception that my brain has been running on overdrive ever since.

In an attempt to assuage today’s thirst for knowledge, I’ve finished two non-fiction books (the subect of a later blog), skimmed two others and read copious wikis, blogs and usernets of various topics, from the Slavoj Žižek’s study on violence to the excellent and obsessive self-portraiture photo projects of Noah Kalina (Noah K) and Jonathan Keller (JK).

Noah K created the emotive video “Everyday“, set to the haunting music of Carly Commando, wherein we see the last six and a half years of his life quite literally flash before our eyes. The video is a time-lapse montage constructed from a picture he took of himself, every day, over this period.  Over the five minutes that the video runs, we stare into the eyes of a complete stranger as he ages, and somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd minute, you start to realise the immensely personal nature of this observation. Even though, at the end of it, we may not know anything specific about his life, you can’t help but feel that you somehow know him.

I’m not sure that our brains are really hard-wired to process such imagery, which is why it is so excellent; time is precious, and we hate to see it thrown away, yet this is partly what we are seeing, a gratuitous display of time-travel with a whole day reduced to a fraction of a second. We have no idea what he was doing just before, or after, these pictures were taken, what he was thinking or how his life was going; well enough to maintain his project it seems. Evidently Noah K.’s gained some notoriety, with the ultimate accolade of having been parodied in The Simpsons, along with a slew of other awards.

A related project, and one that has been running for somewhat longer, is that of Jonathan Keller (JK). I  encourage you to take a look at his video montage. He scrolls through 8 years at an even greater speed than Noah K., and whilst not set to quite as enjoyable a soundtrack, he has managed the greater precision in positioning of his face in each photo.

His website is more than a little chaotic, but if you can navigate your way through it, and I insist that you should, you will find his further links to other “obsessive” projects by himself, and others. All of these tug very strongly at my obsessive and collective tendencies; the repetitive nature of my job means that I have a huge array of possible time-lapse projects from which to choose, not least of which myself. Watch this space.

ON a completely separate note. I discovered the table that I want/need/desire; it’s called “MILK“, it’s Danish, the designer wants to sell them, and I want to buy one. Supply and demand, you can’t argue with it:

If someone out there is ready to buy it for me, then I’m very ready to receive it.

Thanks.

A room without a view

The view from my window at work is an uninspiring one. It is a view replete with the type of dreary, grey, office blocks that bruise the sky, so commonly left to us as a legacy of unthoughtful, low-cost, late 60’s commissioning of infrastructure. There are currently three new blocks rising steadily in my view, all of which are sterile, grey monoliths. In some parts of Leeds they have at least clad the new builds with variations of pastel colours, a necessary, if somewhat retarded, means of tidying up such Luddite architectural designs.

It’s not as if they were incapable of interesting “block” design in the 60’s, take for example Habitat ’67 in Montreal, built to house delegates of the 1967 Expo. It’s a chaotic mass of concrete, but is at least visually interesting.

I can only imagine that the architects responsible are either having their arms bent behind their backs by local government zoning laws, or are the pusillanimous retards of the profession, incapable of drawing anything other than straight lines, and covering up for their lack of design prowess by cladding their buildings in shaded glass or coloured panels.

Just once I would like to see a truly inspiring building go up, something along the lines of Hundertwasser or Goudi.

I live in hope, but at the very least, the lack of view keeps me looking inwards for inspiration, and not outwards.

Communal peeing

[ratings]

I happened upon a paper that made me smile this morning.

Apparently there are these Ants, Cataulacus muticus, which happen to be obligate bamboo-nesting Ants. They live inside giant bamboo, which as any survival expert knows is prone to a bit of flooding in the hollow internodes. This of course riles the Ants a little, so their response is apparently two-fold. During the heavy rains, the workers form a living umbrella over their nest entrance using their packed heads.

Of course, rainwater may still seep in. So not being ones to shirk responsibility, the Ants respond by drinking the water, exiting the nest and excreting the water droplets down the outer stem surface – basically, they hang their arses out of the window. This, in the wit of the authors, has been termed communal, or cooperative, “peeing”. Fantastic.

For those with access: Maschwitz & Moog (2000) Communal Peeing: a new mode of flood control in ants. Naturwissenschaften 87: 563-565.

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