Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Brilliant quote

You laugh at me because I am different; I laugh because you are all the same.

--Daniel Knode

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fascinating exposition about computers in the Soviet Union

Posted by Serious Science on YouTube. During the 60s and 70s, the former Soviet Union showed great promise in the advance of computer technology and computer networks, but for various political reason, the latter never went beyond the conceptual stage except within the tightly walled-off military sector.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Something to think about

I'm not sure what I think of/feel about this, but it's certainly food for thought. Mr 1001 Nights explains what he calls the God vs The Progress Delusion:





Friday, January 22, 2016

The best scene in movie history

Robert De Niro as Rodrigo Mendoza, slave trader, mercenary, and murderer of his brother. From "The Mission" (1986):

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Richest 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population combined

from The Guardian

Larry Elliott - Economics Editor

The vast and growing gap between rich and poor has been laid bare in a new Oxfam report showing that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.
 
 
Oxfam said that the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41% between 2010 and 2015, despite an increase in the global population of 400m. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 people increased by $500bn to $1.76tn.
 
The charity said that, in 2010, the 388 richest people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50%. This dropped to 80 in 2014 before falling again in 2015.
 
Mark Goldring, the Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world population owns no more than a small group of the global super-rich – so few, you could fit them all on a single coach.
 
“World leaders’ concern about the escalating inequality crisis has so far not translated into concrete action to ensure that those at the bottom get their fair share of economic growth. In a world where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, we cannot afford to carry on giving the richest an ever bigger slice of the cake.”
 
Leading figures from Pope Francis to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have called for action to reverse the trend in inequality, but Oxfam said words had not been translated into action. Its prediction that the richest 1% would own the same wealth as the poorest 50% by 2016 had come true a year earlier than expected.
 
The World Economic Forum in Davos comes amid fears that the turmoil in financial markets since the turn of the year may herald the start of a new phase to the global crisis that began eight years ago – this time originating in the less-developed emerging countries.
 
Oxfam said a three-pronged approach was needed: a crackdown on tax dodging; higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid. It said a priority should be to close down tax havens, increasingly used by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying tax and which had deprived governments of the resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.
 
Three years ago, David Cameron told the WEF that the UK would spearhead a global effort to end aggressive tax avoidance in the UK and in poor countries, but Oxfam said promised measures to increase transparency in British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, such as the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands, had not been implemented.
 
Goldring said: “We need to end the era of tax havens which has allowed rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid their responsibilities to society by hiding ever increasing amounts of money offshore.
 
“Tackling the veil of secrecy surrounding the UK’s network of tax havens would be a big step towards ending extreme inequality. Three years after he made his promise to make tax dodgers ‘wake up and smell the coffee’, it is time for David Cameron to deliver.”
 
Oxfam cited estimates that rich individuals have placed a total of $7.6tn in offshore accounts, adding that if tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190bn would be available to governments every year.
 
The charity said as much as 30% of all African financial wealth was thought to be held offshore. The estimated loss of $14bn in tax revenues would be enough to pay forhealthcare for mothers and children that could save 4 million children’s lives a year and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.
 
Oxfam said it intended to challenge the executives of multi-national corporations in Davos on their tax policies. It said nine out of 10 WEF corporate partners had a presence in at least one tax haven and it was estimated that tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries at least $100bn every year. Corporate investment in tax havens almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2014.
 
The Equality Trust, which campaigns against inequality in the UK, said Britain’s 100 richest families had increased their wealth by at least £57bn since 2010, a period in which average incomes declined.

Duncan Exley, the trust’s director, said: “Inequality, both globally but also in the UK, is now at staggering levels. We know that such a vast gap between the richest and the rest of us is bad for our economy and society. We now need our politicians to wake up and address this dangerous concentration of wealth and power in the hands of so few.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

George Lucas is a dick

The new Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens has hit the screens to much public and critical acclaim, and the father of the franchise isn't happy about it one little bit. But get this: he had already sold the rights to the franchise for 4 billion dollars. Now he's whining like an idiot that the new film doesn't have enough new stuff in it. This, from the guy who gave us such whoppers as Jar-Jar Binks, CGI bullshit plastered over the originals, and a dump-truck of other nonsense. He now has the nerve to bad-mouth a film that people actually like and will at least do something to undo the damage that he himself wrought. Remember: this is after he sold the rights. My fondest memory of The Phantom Menace was of being bored and wondering how this was possible. I doubt I'll ever watch it again, but I can see myself re-watching The Force Awakens for years to come. That sort of thing has to suck for George-boy. The amount of jealousy sloughing off him is palpable.

Lucas has said that Star Wars is "like my kids". Sure, George. Whatever you say. Perhaps you can one day explain to everyone why you kept disrespecting your "kids", along with your fans, with your gratuitous and weird bullshit edits and three terrible prequels in which you sat on a chair in front of green screens and managed to make good actors appear stilted and lost for words?

Let's recap on all that again:

1) Lucas weird-edits the originals with stupid bullshit;
2) He produces three prequels filled with more bullshit;
3) He sells the rights to the franchise for an ungodly amount of money;
4) When a new guy directs the sequel and the public loves it, George wines that he "doesn't like" what Abrams has done.

This dude is seriously detached from reality, in a really, really bad way. There are no words left for how much contempt I have for Lucas.

J.J. Abrahams has my respect; you no longer do, George, especially after that offensive allusion to Disney being like "white slavers". Your prequels were filled with racist innuendos against minorities; now you're comparing yourself to someone who's sold your kids to "whiter slavers" for the franchise that YOU fucked up and that YOU got paid billions for.

Abrams has directed a fantastic and worthy sequel which, while not perfect in all respects, is certainly a good film that has lots of memorable moments and makes sense.

Please never make another film. Don't ever come near this franchise again - not that anyone would ever pay you to do that, nor would they take your cash.

Tell 'em, Buckley:


Monday, December 14, 2015

My views on cosmology and physics

I admit to holding a number of views on cosmology and physics that would be considered "fringe science" by the mainstream. The problem, as I see it, is that the mainstream isn't particularly scientific when it comes to questions of cosmology and physics, because it has committed itself to using a set of irrational and unexamined assumptions that inform (or rather, misinform) the interpretations they arrive at when studying physical phenomena.

There are many reasons why I say this, even if I normally keep these opinions to myself. One of them is that modern physics is laden with a whole bunch of philosophical idealist conceits. For them, mathematics is everything. This leads to a propensity to reify mathematical concepts, to the detriment of materialist, causal explanations. They are quite happy - eager, even - to promote notions such as "zero dimensional particles", "curved space", "quantum fluctuations", "wave-particule duality", "causeless events", and all manner of other concepts that are, in essence, completely oxymoronic and are no more materialist than those pushed by religion. In place of God, the physicists have their "quantum fluctuations", the "uncaused cause" that makes particles "pop in and out of existence" from "nothing". These are not caricatures on my part; these are taken verbatim from the mouths of self-anointed atheist scientists such as Lawrence Krauss, and promoted by other atheists scientists such as Richard Dawkins in the "New Atheist" guise. Mathematical physicists think that time can be "dilated", that "spooky action at a distance" precludes the need for a physical connection between the entities in question, and that the universe, "given quantum mechanics", exploded "out of nothing". These guys even talk openly about "immaterial fields" having physical effects, and of "unphysical events". What are these categories if not philosophical idealist, quasi-religious interpretations of physical phenomena? To get around the inevitable contradictions in their interpretations, they excuse themselves on the premise that questions pertaining to the nature of these phenomena belong in the realm of "philosophy" rather than science. Yet philosophy is precisely the point here. The operational and solipsistic orientation that largely constitutes modern "physics" is a handy device that allows the theorist to move the goalposts as needed, ironically in much the same way that religious apologists move the goalposts (for which they are criticized by the same atheist scientists) when defending their conception of God as a non-personal being who nevertheless has a "plan" for humanity, listens to prayers, has a personal relationship with us, and so forth.

The irrational, mystical, religious notions pushed by modern physics stem from the conceit that if a phenomenon can be treated mathematically, and if we can only peer down to a certain level of reality with our instruments, then we are licensed to assign to the mathematical abstractions that are used to calculate the motions and interactions of matter a real existence of their own while doing away with matter. This has become so extreme that matter is no longer considered a fundamental concept in physics, while "causeless events" are recited like a mantra. Some physicists have truly gone off the deep end by proposing that the universe is "frozen nothing" (the late Victor Stenger, a prominent "New Atheist"), that it's composed of "mathematical entities" (Max Tegmark), and even that it "doesn't exist"! I was once treated to a particularly clear example of the solipsism that physicists are capable of when reading a book by Stenger, in a chapter discussing the well known phenomenon of atomic decay. Stenger wrote that since we can't discern a cause for decay, "therefore, there is no cause." (his actual words) No justification for this enormous jump was forthcoming, yet it should be clear that a great deal hinges on such leaps, which means that they must be all the more carefully arrived at. We might even term such a leap The Great Leap Backwards. Stenger, on the other hand, simply assumed that his assumption was so self-evidently correct that no explanation need be bothered with. But of course, much flows from assumptions, just as much flows from ignoring that all assumptions have philosophical content. For a scientist to say that atomic decay is "uncaused" is to say something profound about how the universe works, and no amount of hand-aving about operational definitions can change that. In other words, the route to getting to such a truth claim cannot be casually cast to the side if one is also serious about how knowledge is constructed. The New Atheists, as well as most of modern physics, therefore, haven't a clue about the philosophical grounding of their claims, and their attitude to such dealing with closer examinations of such "mere" details is decidedly gruff. Their positions are the ideological offspring of the philosophies of subjective and objective idealism, and yet they don't seem to understand that this is a problem for their "science".

Truly, only someone infected with idealist notions can entertain the literal claims of the Stengers, Krausses and Tegmarks of the world. There are many social and cultural aspects to this, but one that is particulary ironic is that, while some of the New Atheists and other mathematical idealists fight theistic ignorance and rail against the intrusions of religion into political and social life, these same critics also confuse and obfuscate those issues that should, for them, be central: namely, the struggle between materialism and idealism as it has played out through human history, their role in this struggle, and the ways in which this struggle continues to infuse itself into the content of the natural sciences. These physicists are most assuredly key players in this historical battle, whether they are cognizant of it or not. Their role, with respect to scientific understanding, is actually a regressive one, for they are trying to replace the mysticism and obfuscation of traditional religion (which reigned supreme in pre-capitalist production) with another that finds expression in the modern epoch of capitalist production, this time wrapped in the cloak of equations and snobbish appeals to mathematical proficiency. It is of course true that the level of mathematical sophistication of today's scientists is beyond compare to that at any other time in human history, but that brilliant mathematicians are the ones espousing truth claims bursting at the seams with mystical conceits and surrealistic gibberish dos not in any way mean that their interpretations should be credited. They still operate, like all other scientists (and, indeed, everyone else, with zero exceptions) according to a set of philosophical assumptions, whether or not they are consciously held. A lesson in all this is: Be wary of anyone who claims to be offering you nothing but "objective truth" but who grows agitated when you peruse his or her philosophical justifications, thinks that science is only about "describing the world", or who thinks that the results of experiments can be interpreted divorced from philosophical assumptions. Show me a thinker who thinks that holding contradictory notions is reasonable and that science is a purely operational exercise, and I'll show you someone who is, despite appearances, a pretty shallow thinker.

I once tried explaining this stuff to a mathematician friend of mine. The occasion for our interaction was an article about the Higgs particle that had been posted on the website of Richard Dawkins. I wasn't pleased that he didn't "get" my critique, but I wasn't at all surprised, either. It's easy for people whose stock and trade is numbers and equations to mistake the maths for the reality, and to get completely carried away with this. Apart from the fact that they appreciate the undoubted power of maths in helping to solve human problems, and are obviously enchanted with the precision and elegance of maths, they are predisposed to projecting a mathematical hegemony onto the universe in which matter itself is cast out and all that remains are the abstractions that were conceived precisely to help explain the interactions of matter. But there's an additional factor at play here. People who deal in the abstract, ideal world of mathematics can easily grow accustomed to the esteem they receive for their particular proficiency. After all, complex maths is challenging for most people, and those who are exceptionally good at it must inevitably come to see themselves as gifted in a way that affords them "profound" insights into everything. They're not only seen as a new type of priesthood; they actively want to be seen as a priesthood, to whom lay people must consult on all matters of "fundamental reality". The irony is that these people are often the most divorced from reality (and a few even deny that real things even exist). Such people are especially prone to expending only very limited consideration to the philosophy of science, the origins of philosophical assumptions, the dialectical interplay between the content of science and the social context in which that science is developed and deployed, and so forth. The very fact that they are consulted (and well paid) to help understand the behavior of matter leads also to the strong sense that their interpretive conceits must be credited. But this simply doesn't follow. For example, it's one thing to say that we can treat time as though it were a "thing" in an equation, but it's quite another to say that since time can be treated in this operational sense, that it therefore "might as well" be a thing. Or to return to our example of atomic decay, it is one thing to say that can cannot divine the cause of an atom of uranium 238 decaying into uranium 235, but a very different thing to say that "therefore" such a cause does not exist. When causality is stripped from science, mysticism must necessarily take its place.

Here is another irony. Mathematics as a profession can only exist because of the exertions of physical brains and muscles exerted by millions of other people who made it possible for society to have eough of a surplus that some people could devote themselves more or less entiretly to thinking about abstract intellectual problems. From their proverbial Ivory Tower, mathematicians and mathematical physicists detach themselves from the social relations and the physical exertions that made their profession possible in the first place. The detachment of processes and motion from matter in modern treatments of quantum mechanics and relativity is a reflection of this social detachment.

Physics is in a very sorry state these days from the point of view of correct philosophical approach, much more so than any other branch of science (with the possible exception of economics, for which mockery is legion even within the mainstream context in which it funds so much favor). Even proponents regularly talk about there being a "crisis". Please don't confuse what I'm saying, though: I don't think that mathematics is "wrong". That itself is the wrong way of putting it. It's absolutely true that one cannot do physics and science without it. What I am saying is that mathematics and experiment aren't enough in science to avoid veering into idealist dead-ends. We also need coherent and materialistically-grounded interpretations, and to recognize that we are operating according to a set of assumptions that invariably infuse themselves into the conclusions we draw about the universe. The consequences of these assumptions do not confine themselves to science, but play a role in maintaining those social relations of which they are an expression. By consciously aiming to grasp this interplay, we help to guard against introducing phantoms and mysticism into science by cleaning up the way we utilize language, and we stop confusing lay people with new forms of philosophical idealism.

I believe that the current Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe will eventually yield to a new interpretation of the data that more harmoniously brings together the many observations for which the prevailing model has had to add numerous "free parameters" and "fudges" to remain viable. There are signs that this is already happening, with more and more cosmologists promulgating the view that the Big Bang was not truly the "beginning" of the universe, but that it rather represents one phase in its evolution. Other scientists are also pushing for the (albeit contradictory) notion that there are "many universes" (the famous "multiverse" idea). While contradictory, such forays are still small steps in the right direction, and open up for consideration the possibility of an infinite universe, with no beginning and no end. The creationist notion of an origin to physical existence itself, whether through an act of God or through an equally mysterious "quantum fluctuation", is destined to be thrown into the trash-heap of outdated ideas. The universe had no origin, nor will it have a "heat death" or any other "end". It has no spatial limit, nor a finite age. We occupy a portion of the universe that happens to have conditions that are suitable for the evolution of life as we know it. There is, by definition, only one universe, but this universe is infinitely varied. The answer to the question, "Where did all this stuff come from?" is simple and yields to only one scientific answer: it came from some other place, ad infinitum. In the infinite universe, one can always pass the buck.

In place of these materialist notions, we are treated every day to the anti-materialist and obscurantist notions pushed by mathematical idealist physics. But this will surely change, with no small help coming the conceptual evolution of people struggling for changes in the social sphere, wherein ever-present contradictions produce an ever growing appreciation that, in order to improve the world, world must first be understood through a concrete analysis that acknowledge its objective existence.

Friday, September 04, 2015

My favorie 35 movies: countdown

35: Batman




34: The Last Boy Scout




33: Network




32: Breaking Away




31: How to Marry a Millionaire




30: Conan the Barbarian




29: The Odd Couple




28: The Island of Dr. Moreau




27: 2001: A Space Odyssey




26: No Country for Old Men




25: The Andromeda Strain




24: Transformers: The Movie




23: Serenity




22: Alien




21: Che




20: Terminator 2




19: Dr Strangelove



18: Kill Bill Volume 1




17: Glengarry Glenn Ross




16: Training Day




15: Contact




14: Close Encounters of the Third Kind




13: Total Recall




12: American Gangster




11: The Departed




10: Donnie Darko




9: Pulp Fiction





8: The Big Lebowski




7: The Dark Crystal





6: Snatch




5: Predator




4: Henry V





3: Jurassic Park





2: The Mission




1: Aliens

Friday, August 07, 2015

Thoughts on Jurassic World

I watched the new Jurassic World movie the other day. While I enjoyed it, I have very mixed feelings about it overall.

First's thing's first: the movie is nowhere as good as the original. While that didn't surprise me, I was simultaneously disappointed by how far off the mark the movie was while also being far better than I was actually expecting. The latter came as a relief, given the crap Hollywood churns out these days. So the movie is pretty good, and exceeded my expectations for a large-budget, CGI-heavy movie made in this day and age. And yet...it was such a let down in so many different ways. The movie is a good one where it should, and could, have been a great one. When it comes to making a sequel to the legend of Jurassic Park, there really can't be an excuse for mediocrity. Again, nothing will or can ever live up to JP, but it should still strive to. This movie really didn't. It gave itself a lot of opportunities, and then fell flat.

Jurassic World certainly made too much use of CGI, which is admittedly the norm these days, but given how many times it's been mentioned that throwing more CGI at something doesn't add up to a great movie, the producers should have heeded what everyone knows: CGI only really works (in the sense of being memorable for all the right reasons) when it complements practical effects. Except for one scene where they had practical effects in JW (and it worked very well), this movie just went balls-to-the-wall with computer graphics, even on close-ups. That irked me. And even when it was wide-shot, a lot of it just didn't look that good, if I'm being honest. It's a testament to the skill of the Jurassic Park crew that a movie made over 20 years ago still holds up against and is more convincing than anything put out in 2015. That's genius at work, but you'd think someone would have caught on by now. Not that the graphics in JW are bad as such; it's just that they're often used in a way that makes them less than completely convincing.

By virtue of that, and the way that the CGI is seen as a way to tell less of a story, JW also lacks the tension of JP. We're treated to some cool action sequences, but it feels too much like the stuff is in there because we're expected to feel something.

Another major sticking point for me is the annoying (and annoyingly obligatory) family backstory. And the mopey teenage kid; Jesus Christ, what a downer. We see T. rex in one of the shots, and this kid is checking messages on his phone. The rest of the time he's checking out girls and staring at them, which made me feel uncomfortable. Do we really need that in a movie about a dinosaur park?  Sure, there was some character development between the kid and his younger brother, but it took place in the context of some pretty unconvincing stuff: the pod cars (what ever happened to just using 4x4s? And why are the cars allowed to go near Triceratops?) and the part where the brothers get a Jeep to work again after 20 years? I'm no car expert but I'm pretty sure that batteries don't last that long.

And why couldn't they work with Triceratops more? We only ever got to see a sick Triceratops in JP, and now that it's waking about, we only get to see it for a bit.

On top of all that, the movie just didn't have much sense of wonder. My favorite scene was where a group of people were paddling along the river looking at Brontosaurs - and this scene lasted for only about five seconds. The tranquility of it made me think of what it made me want to be in one of those boats, admiring these animals. But you hardly get that in the rest of the film.

But in spite of these shortcomings, the movie was still quite good. The final "boss battle" was excellent. The lay-out and feel of the park looked spot-on. I'm really struggling to find anything truly memorable about the film, unfortunately. Indominus rex was cool, but I certainly remember it 15 years from now in the same way that I remember T. rex from Jurassic Park. Maybe that's because of the incredible realism of the first film and how ground-breaking it was at the time. JW, by comparison, as cool stuff in it, but you're not blown away by it. Still, I look forward to seeng it again sometime in the not-too-distant future.

7/10.

Falklands War documentary




An interesting documentary about the Falklands War and the weapons used by the Argentines, most notably the Exocet anti-ship missile. Video posted by mohanbelisario's channel on YouTube.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Passive radar to detect...UFOs

This is an interesting article: http://www.nuforc.org/MUFONPresentation.pdf

It's entitled "Using multistatic passive radar for real-time detection of UFOs in the near Earth environment".

I'm not sure exactly where I stand on UFOs. I'm not a "believer" in the extraterrestrial hypothesis, but I'm open to the possibility, so I don't dismiss it out of hand. Most UFOs are undoubtedly instances of misidentifications of aircraft, atmospheric effects, and other Earthly phenomena. Apparently, though, there have been numerous compelling sightings by technically competent observers (notably military pilots) of difficult-to-explain aerial phenomena which do not fall so easily into these categories. It's certainly something I'd like to delve into more deeply. For me, the UFO issue is simple: go by the evidence. If there's compelling evidence that these are indeed intelligently controlled craft, then we should accept that this is what the evidence points to (but we'd need a very high standard of evidence give the profound ramifications of such a fact). If not, then we should accept that as well. Dogmatism in science is bad, and we can't prejudge the outcome of something simply because we want to interpret it in a certain way. So far, I haven't garnered enough of a knowledge base to give an informed opinion on the matter of the small percentage of compelling UFO sightings, though. Like I said, I'm open the possibility.

This article is well worth a read even if you're not particularly interested in UFOs if only because of its discussion of radar systems, which is both fascinating and compelling for other reasons. Radar have been the workhorses of aerial detection for decades. Militaries have devoted much energy and resources towards both perfecting and defeating radar systems. One of the latter technologies is known as "stealth", which has to do with minimizing the radar "echo" that returns to the source emitting the radar beam, effectively making you invisible to it (though no aircraft is actually invisible in the true sense. "Difficult to detect" is much more accurate). This has led to investment in counter-stealth technologies, such as passive radar. Passive radar means that the emitter is at a different geographical location to the receiver/s, allowing for triangulation of an aircraft's location by picking up its echo at different points while also concealing the receiver (since it's simply "listening" instead of broadcasting). This application has historically been limited by the poor resolution of such radars and the difficulties of filtering out noise from the signal. However, advances in computing power now allow for substantial improvements in this. Russia and China in particular have invested heavily in such radars in order to counter a stealth threat from the United States (while also investing in their own stealth aircraft). One of the most compelling features of passive radar is that it can use "emitters of opportunity", such as commercial radio, TV and cell-phone towers.

All of this sets up an interesting possibility for how hostile extraterrestrials might choose to win a war against Earth. Given how radar systems continue to advance in leaps and bounds in terms of effectiveness, coverage and sophistication, it might become necessary for the aliens to simply cancel out all of our electronic emissions rather than risk getting into a risky electronic arms race with us. Then again, these would be freaking aliens we're talking about, and goodness knows what manner of technological evolution they've achieved. It does seem reasonable to assume that a civilization capable of interstellar flight would be considerably ahead of us in most other technologies. But my suspicion is that these beings wouldn't be invulnerable; we would be able to hurt them, even if only to a very marginal degree. It's fascinating to imagine that UFOs might be probes that are investigating and testing the quality of Earth's radar systems. Obviously, it would be better for us if such investigations weren't being done for the sake of preparation for an invasion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thoughts of the day

- What if religion is literally a childhood comfort blanket? I don't mean figuratively, but literally. Its central theme of "spirit" as the foundation for existence might be an unconscious refinement on and expression of the childhood wish and expectation for the world to change as a result of simply wishing it to change. Prayer and heaven are the two most prominent manifestations of this religious philosophy;

- When someone says that you're "over-analyzing" something, it's often because they want to continue acting in a reprehensible manner, or at least to not have to confront something they've done. "Over"-analysis means that you're stepping over the self-enclosing line that this person has drawn in the sand so that they don't have to reflect on their own behaviour. You're "over"-analyzing because you're providing a good analysis that sweeps past their bullshit. When you find yourself telling someone to stop over-analyzing what you've done, you should pause and check yourself in case you're actually acting like a dip-shit. I'm not saying that genuine over-analysis doesn't occur; there is such a thing as looking into something beyond the point that it serves anyone's interests to do so. But it's also a cheap excuse and fall-back position that's used by people who want maximum freedom of action to act in ways that suck;

- Richard Dawkins and Laurence Krauss are atheists but they believe in the creation of the universe from nothing, which means they're still infected with philosophical idealism, the opponent of philosophical materialism. Physicists like Krauss mistake their equations and mathematical concepts for physical reality, and forget that experimental results must still be interpreted through a philosophical worldview. I'm reading and listening to philosopher Glenn Borchardt (author of a book called "The Scientific Worldview"). He says: the real opposite of creationism isn't evolutionary biology, but conservation. Matter and motion are eternal, and neither can be created nor destroyed. The universe had no beginning and will have no end. There is never genuine creation in the physical sense, only reconfiguration of ever-moving matter. Those who claim that the universe will one day "disappear" or that it had a "beginning" are peddling religion, not science, which posits that the context in which all events occur is one that already includes matter, motion and the interactions of matter in motion;

- richarddawkins.net is making itself increasingly irrelevant by ignoring political-economy. Lacking a concrete analysis of the situation in the world, Dawkins and the other "New Atheists" tend strongly towards casting everything in terms of "rational vs irrational", and thereby irrationally sideline the material underpinnings of religious belief. Another irony of this is that Dawkins and other "New Atheists" tend to subscribe to cosmogony - the doctrine that the universe had a beginning. They also subscribe to all manner of indeterministic and idealist notions typical of "physics" these days.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Okay, this is pretty cool


>

The cars of Mad Max. Video created and posted by Jalopnik on YouTube.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Thoughts on Michael Crichton's 'Jurassic Park'

I've finally read Jurassic Park, twenty-something years after I first held a copy in my hands as a child in a K-Mart store while the movie was playing in the theaters (sadly, I never did get to see it on the big screen). Even at that young age, I could tell that there was some heavy stuff in the book and that it was a techno-thriller roller coaster.

I'm pleased to say that my expectations have been fully met and even exceeded. Even with some of the faulty science, the book is indeed chillingly life-like, as well as being an awesome adventure/horror story.

I was surprised at the very substantial differences between the book and the film. The book is certainly much, much darker, and belongs in the genre of proper science-horror, while the movie is a science-fiction adventure with some gruesome elements. I'd love to see a movie that's really true to the book, though I can totally understand why Spielberg would never have been able to pull that off. An epic and groundbreaking film about dinosaurs has to be marketable to children and their parents, so the violence obviously had to be toned down a great deal. I love the movie as much as anyone (in fact I drove to the site where the gates were filmed in Kauai during my recent field trip to Hawaii, and I watched the movie pretty much immediately after getting back to California), but in some respects, I appreciate the book even more. Partly this is because of its darkness, but also because of its greater technical detail. I especially enjoyed the explanations offered by Ian Malcolm, the chaos theoreatician depicted by Jeff Goldblum in the movie, as to why the park would fail. To be fair, these explanations were a bit of a stretch, as were the techniques for resurrecting dinosaurs, but these represented artistic allowances for drawing the reader into the story and getting them to think about its underlying themes. It's almost certainly impossible for dinosaurs to ever be re-constructed using DNA sitting in the bellies of amber-entombed mosquitos, but that's fine. It's science fiction, after all.

However, there were some things I found hard to stomach that detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the book. The part where the Tyrannosaurus is pulling Tim into its mouth with its tongue (don't worry, Tim doesn't die!) was certainly very creepy and memorable, but a bit too fanciful. T. rex's tongue might have had such dexterity (who knows?), but manuevouring living prey in that manner seems like a dicey business, given that prey can fight back, and the tongue is a pretty delicate organ. And the way the Rex kept pursuing Grant and the kids was hard to take seriously, since the dinosaur had already killed an Apatosaurus which it had to guard against a smaller tyrannosaur in the vicinity. Why would Rexy expend precious time and energy chasing after prey many dozens of times more petite than what it had killed, which also had to be defended against a rival? Perhaps it just enjoyed hunting after being fed goats for so long, but still, it was weird.

There were also a number of annoying outright scientific errors. At one point, dinosaurs are mentioned as having "mammalian descendants", which dinosaurs most certainly didn't. Probably Chrichton meant successors, as "descendants" has a clear evolutionary meaning. There is strong evidence that birds were descended from dinosaurs - specifically, from, or genealogically near, the group of theropods known as the Dromeasauridae, of which the iconic Velociraptor was a member - but even here an erroneous claim is made when dinosaurs are described as "fundamentally birds". No, dinosaurs weren't "fundamentally birds". Birds are desceneded from a particular lineage of dinosaurs, and the largest sub-divisions of the Dinosauria were very different to one another. The group we call "dinosaurs" comprised about known 350 species (though the palaeontologist Jack Horner, who worked as a scientific consultant for the movie, thinks that many supposed species didn't actually exist and were merely the sub-adult individuals of proper species), many of them large herbivores like Apatosaurus (dropped in favor of Brachiosaurus in the movie) which were surely not very bird-like at all and were only distantly related to the Dromeasauridae. This also reminds me of an annoying error in the movie, when Tim says that the dinosaurs "turned into birds, and that's where they all went." NO, that's not where they "all went", Tim. Learn your phylogenetics. They really did go extinct, and into the ground is where they all went, except for the clade Aves (birds). All the rest died.

Ian Malcolm also comes across as downright anti-science at times, making some rather broad-brush caricatures about science and scientists. But he did make a nice juxtaposition to John Hammond, who is a proper sociopath in the book. Hammond really is a dick, who at one point even mentions to Henry Wu, the chief geneticist, that "personally, I would never help mankind." What a dick! The film adaptation of Hammond was far more likeable, though he retained a touch of the book version's blinding arrogance and short-sightedness.

My favorite Jurassic Park error has to do with the nomenclature of Velociraptor. The actual animal was called Velociraptor mongoliensis, but Chrichton wanted to base the vicious killers in the story on Deinonychus antirrhopus, which was much more closely matched to a human in terms of size (Velociraptor was nearer the size of a chicken). However, given that "Velociraptor" sounds so fricken cool, Chrichton chose the name of this genus and bolted on "antirrhopus" as its specific name, producing a fictitious animal. Interestingly, it turned out not to be pure sci-fi after all, when fossil remains of a terrifying dinosaur called Utahraptor, which was even larger than the raptors depicted in the book and film, was discovered about a year after the movie was released.

The book made me think about whether bringing dinosaurs back is a good. Frankly, I don't think it would be, not in this world where everything is being turned into a commodity. This isn't because I think the dinosaurs would necessarily escape or wreak havoc. I'm actually much more worried about the dinosaurs themselves, who would have to live in a world dictated to them by corporate overlords. It's a certainty that these animals would be treated as attractions first and foremost, which means that were they do to something unexpected and dangerous, a lot of people would lose their shit and see them as "monsters". Some idiots would even thirst for revenge if one of these animals were to kill a person. If that happened, I would at least hope that the raptors would break out of their pens and eat the corporate types.

Other groups of people would also have less than pure intentions towards the poor dinos. They can be divided into two categories: exploiters, and ideological opponents. Among the exploiters would be game hunters, seeking the glory of the kill, and biotechnology companies, seeking to patent and profit from biological processes and genes (or to test drugs). The ideological opponents would include religious extremists, who would see these animals as a violation of God's will (or as outright abominations in their own right and false idols to humanity's mastery of science) and would try to kill the dinosaurs or the people working with them; and certain animal rights activists, who might try to release the dinosaurs and just end up causing a biological crisis which won't be fun for anyone, least of all the dinosaurs they'd be trying to help.

So, no, I don't think dinosaurs and capitalism would mix very well. Dinosaurs might do well in a situation where the productive forces of society are dedicated to fulfilling the needs and wants of the masses of people of the world while preserving the natural world in a state of renewable health, where the scientific and ideological level of people has been raised way, way above the current pitiful playing field, and where people have a deep sense for their connectedness with nature. Right now, there are just too many archaic and irrational notions embedded into human culture, juxtaposed with the equally bad and ruthless logic of capitalist accumulation, for me to feel good about bringing back these wonderful creatures.

Jurassic Park is a stark and beautiful warning about the dangers of fusing scientific power with arrogance. I love this book, and really recommend it to anyone who's watched the movie. Read it!