Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Moment.

John Gray is apparently one of the most well-regarded philosophers currently published. Still, I find it hard to read this without stumbling across a few of the old classic right-wing arguments.
  • Science as a uniform discipline? Check.

  • An absence of doubt as integral to the scientific method? Check.

  • Evolution as 'ideology'? Check.

  • A deliberate misunderstanding of theory and theorem? Check.

  • A 'belief' in evolution as tangential to fascism? Check.

Of course, they're all nonsense, but he continues through the usual well-worn anti-intellectual paths for a while (Morality without religion? Impossible!), and of course, his arguments are inherently Judeo-Christian. Why give to conscience anything else? But that's not the problem here.

This man earns his living as a philosopher. He is both published (regularly, in book form as well as article) and a teacher at LSE. That he should present such appallingly weak arguments should be a cause for concern. An example:

"Promoting Darwinism as an intellectual orthodoxy - a creed rather than a provisional hypothesis - these writers renew the old quarrel between science and religion. Though controversy has been intense, it can hardly be described as having made any large intellectual advance on the debate that raged in Victorian times."

I have never wanted more for the written equivalent of a slide whistle. Let's pretend for a moment that the remark is not vapid nonsense (that is to say, the discovery and understanding of DNA, to name but one small step made in the last hundred years, should be thought of as a trivial thing). What 'intellectual advances' are we supposed to have made? The fact that the majority of scientific discoveries, and here I do mean quantifiably, and of all time, have been made in the last fifty years seems to have escaped this man. That they were meant to be set as some vast scheme to disprove religion is a nonsense, and they were never put forth, initially at least, as part of that debate. That they continue to weaken the hold superstition has over the human race is a blessing, but the idea that that is what they have been working towards is precious little but a right-wing fallacy. In Gray's case, though he has always been demonstrably right-wing, you have to wonder what he imagines scientific endeavour to be. Is the quest for knowledge deliberate counterpoint to his musings? From this evidence, he would certainly seem to think so.

The term 'provisional hypothesis' is something I always appreciate when it comes up in a rant of this nature. To call evolution a 'hypothesis' is to misunderstand the nature of scientific inquiry. As previously stated, Mr. Gray is a philosopher, and so I have to hope that he understands what qualifies as a hypothesis. A hypothesis is either untested, or in the process of being tested. Evolution is a theory. The most tested theory in history, in point of fact. Genuinely remarkable amounts of work go into it each and every day. Have a problem with gravity? Call it a hypothesis - after all, God could be holding you down. But know this - gravity, the theory of gravity - hasn't had one-thousandth of the practical work conducted on it that evolution has. That certainly doesn't make it a hypothesis, much less one one-thousandth of a hypothesis.

Here's another memorable quote:

“Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons? If memory serves, not the Vatican.”

Not Gray's own words, but ones he feels suit his arguments quite well. Again, the need for a slide whistle is profound. Poison gas and barbed wire? No - not work of the Vatican. Work of organised athiests? If you want to believe that, then quite frankly you can fuck off right now. Two things that were amongst the many horrors to come out of the trenches of WW1. An atheist invention? No. How does that even merit an argument? It's genuinely pathetic.

High explosives? Again, I'm pretty sure that wasn't the vatican. The first modern high explosive, TNT, or dynamite, was invented by Alfred Nobel, renowned scientist and philanthropist. It was designed to make mining operations safer. What a cunt.

Zyclon B was created under the auspices of Nazi Germany, led by known Catholic, Adolf Hitler. Of course, Hitler held whatever religion served him best at the time, but you could play this game all day. Most of these things were the works of single men or women, working for a company or government, with precious little idea or control of how their inventions would be used.

Let's play another game. Who covered up organised paedophilia amongst priests in the US and the UK? Who endorsed the Nazi government of Germany? Who organised witch hunts from the 14th through 16th centuries? Who denies resources to help prevent the spread of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa? Whose agents have beaten women in Irish communities? Who has systematically persecuted people whose only crime is to have known more than those persecuting them?

Going beyond the Catholic Church, of course Northern Ireland, where I was born, has seen an grotesque amount of bloodshed in the name of religion. It can't have escaped many people's notice that there has been a certain amount of trouble with non-Christian religions of late (not that it would bother Mr. Gray - after all, his discourse is not against religious persecution, but is explicitly pro-Christianity). Then you have the Crusades, anti-Jewish pogroms across Europe from the middle ages to the middle of twentieth century, persecution of Muslims in Palestine and across the world, honour killings (which are socio-religious, but require religion as justification). Stop me if this gets old.

Isn't the blame game fun? Seems to me as though we could play for hours.

The idea that this short list of things that are not ostensibly Christian constitutes an argument for Christianity is hilarious. These things are no more Athiest (we're getting a capital letter too, spellcheck be damned) than they are Christian. It's a standard of modern politics - the argument that's there to be read and accepted, never questioned - but it should never be one of philosophy.

These are the piss-poor arguments of a man who's already made up his mind - dangerous territory for any philosopher, particularly one chasing tenure. It's going to take quite a lot more to convince me.

Try harder.

Not Bioshock.

Peoples of the internet, hello. I've been drinking for nine hours. This makes me incredulous. I was wrong about the last Doctor Who. There were not bees, but there may have been wasps.

With that in mind: "I chose the impossible! I chose - The Libwawy!"

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sonic Death Monkey.

By now, you know that cyborg monkeys have dropped us to 2nd place in the food chain.

I'd wanted to write something about this in my usual witty and erudite style. Unfortunately, someone else got there first.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Words Fail Me.

The 28th of May, 2008, and apparently this still qualifies as news.

UPDATE: Sadly, CNN have changed the headline. Originally it was 'Aide accuses Bush of using 'spin' in run up to Iraq war'.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Well Fahkin' Street.

Possibly the best use of 'street speak' to date, discussing the finer points of Nokia 3G compatibility:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Human Tetris.

This cheered me immensely today, though if you can sit to the very end of it you are a better person than me.

When I can squeeze out the words in a sensible order, I'll write something about Indiana jones. Short preview: so angry.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones Rant

So, on Thursday night I watched new Indiana Jones film. This is going to be an angry, spoiler heavy review. If you wish for the experience to be preserved, I suggest you look away now. Those of you in the mood for bile, come back after the poster.

A little context is required for my first concern. One of the trailers was for Kung Fu Panda, a film that is being marketed solely on the fact that it has no discernable merits whatsoever. I was still on a trail of thought that started with 'Surely no-one wants to watch goddamn comedy animal movies any more' and was heading to a way of using a predilection for the things as the basis of a humane euthanasia program, when Indy started.

With comedy CGI animals.

Not so good. I'll get the CGI problem out of the way first of all. There is fucking tons of it, it's very badly done, for the most part, and is incredibly intrusive. I wouldn't have minded so much if the pre-release hype hadn't explained, over and over again, that there was going to be a huge focus on practical effects. This was a lie. A big blatant one. It's a big problem, because it really prevents Crystal Skull
from feeling like an Indy film.

There seems to be a strain of protest online blaming George Lucas for this. Which is preposterous. There are so many people out there claiming to see his grubby, ILM-coated fingerprints all over certain scenes they seem to be forgetting that they have no way of discerning this, and also that Spielberg is not exactly averse to using it himself. The idea that you can single out the bits you don't like, shrug and say 'Well, it's that George Lucas, innit?' strikes me as beyond preposterous.

The next problem is that, just like Temple of Doom, the film suffers for a lack of Nazis. Few things can be described as worse off from the absence of fascism, but right here is the exception that proves the rule. I'd have been happier with a weird jungle-dwelling cabal of aging Nazis (with head-in-a-jar Robo-Hitler) than the muddled communists that serve as the bad guys. Two main flaws. The first is that the America presented is one suffering under the peculiar scrutinies of McCarthy and his ilk, and there's no doubt left as to this being A Very Bad Thing. But then, if the communists have infiltrated the army, then it's kind of justified. It's meant to be pulp adventure - it simply doesn't support such a muddled message.

If the Russians were cackling Red Menace-style caricatures, then it would fit. But they're not, so problem number two rears it's ugly head. They don't have any character whatsoever. Nazis can be boo-hiss bad guys, and it's fine. Modern audiences won't accept that from the (lest we forget, non-combatant) Russians. So they're not inflated stereotypes (which I genuinely believe a film like this needs, or at least something approaching it), but they're not human either. As a result, they're simply fodder (in a couple of occasions this is literally true).

At this point, I feel that I should balance this out. The cast are all pretty good. Harrison Ford still clearly is Indiana Jones, there's no problem there. Shia LeBoeuf is even pretty decent. This surprised me, as I'd only seen him in Constantine and Transformers which didn't give me a whole lot of hope for him. The rest of the cast all fit their purpose in small and underdeveloped roles. They're not great, but they never really get the chance to be. One big character problem for me was Ray Winstone's comedy lag. He's supposed to be ex-secret service and ex-MI6, but he's shit. He's utterly incompetent. I get that he's meant to be a comic foil, but really, if that's the case then it wouldn't have been too much of an ask not to set him up as someone incapable of walking two steps without falling over. That would work. Don't make him superhuman twice over.

Cate Blanchett suffers too. Her character is fine, and she acts well (occasionally wandering accent aside), but really she's a sidekick in want of a moustache-twirling villain to stand behind. There's just not enough there to hang a movie off. She never really feels like a palpable threat. There's also a horrendously underdeveloped character point about her being psychic, but this just drifts in and out of the story as required.

The aliens (told you not to read on) that form the centre of the plot may as well not be there. There are a great many interesting things that could have been done with them. For some reason, 13 alien skeletons, when placed in an aztec centrifuge, become one live alien. One live alien that doesn't really do anything, it just serves to have fire shoot out of the bad guys eyes. Essentially, what's described as an advanced race that provided the entirety of human knowledge before a certain point in history (something that might warrant a certain level of explanation) acts only within the bounds of the film to ensure that the bad guy gets a suitably Indiana Jones-style death.

As always in an Indiana Jones flick, the bad guy must perish because they overreach. There's always been a sense that you shouldn't peek behind the curtain, that it'll always be the downfall of whoever and yaddah yaddah. More than anything here, I was disapointed. It would not take much to develop the aliens here. They are supposed to have crossed the stars and what have you to bring knowledge to the human race. Why do they then kill someone off for wanting to know some poorly-defined something?

This last (I promise) point is probably one that is only a problem to me. These aliens are meant to have provided knowledge of architecture, irrigation and so on to the films pre-mayan culture, and been worshiped for it. In mythology, those gods that provide knowledge to mankind are known as culture heroes, and occur throughout many strands of mythology (Prometheus, Hermes, the Japanese god of agriculture whose name I'm not going to look up just to appear smart on the internet). Typically these figures will be trickster gods, and will have taken this knowledge from other gods for mankind's benefit. Now, the fact that they missed this is something that only I care about, but hey - instant backstory. Better than having this ancient interstellar civilisation serve only as bad guy incinerators.

Basically, when all's said and done, the problem here is that they trampled on my inner child, and I can't really handle that. I wouldn't say that people should avoid it - there are a couple of moments where the old magic is there - but I can't see how anyone could come away from this less than disappointed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A warning.

If I hear one more person get some fairly basic scientific facts crucially, mind-fuckingly wrong today, I may herniate through sheer rage.

If it happens on the news again, you may hear a rather wet pop. This is an indicator that you should duck and cover.

Setting Myself Up For A Fall.

This is extraordinarily good news. Not only does it relocate an important character in the Marvel pantheon back to a time when America had some sort of idea about when combat was morally justifiable (though a newfound love of it does seem to have come with a dramatic increase in the speed with which it will be engaged), but it's also perfect for the character.

Not to mention the fact that a period piece Superhero flick is something that a lot of people who are me have been clamouring for. Basically, a fleshed-out version of the flashback scenes in The Ultimates would be good enough for me.

Of course, there's no word on director or casting yet. Personally, I think Ridley Scott should be making this. Though there's every chance he doesn't.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shambling Inadequacy.

Sat at my expansive desk at New Job, I like nothing more than to piss the company's practically limitless bandwidth up the wall streaming music all day. I'd been without a DAB radio for a while, and Old Laptop, whilst a masterpiece of design that stands up to this day, was full of loose change and spiders where complex computer components should be, and so wasn't really up to the task.

Finding myself in possession of Unnecessarily Swish Computer as part of New Job, I started listening to BBC 6 Music again. This was a station I used to love. Lots of exciting new music, good presenters who were both entertaining and knowledgeable, all good stuff. Somehow though, in my absence, the dribbling font of inadequacy that is George Lamb crept in.

If you ever listened to Mark and Lard on Radio 1 about ten years ago, you'll know the sort of show I'm talking about here. Canned sound effects, phone-ins, endless gibbering. At least with Mark and Lard they showed that they had nothing but contempt for the format, and actually tried to get decent music onto Radio 1, something that would be impossible now. Still, it was infuriating.

George Lamb is so much worse. He revels in the vacuous shit that he pumps out. He has cronies (two who gurn and chuckle at his every feculent utterance, and a producer who sounds as though he should be on suicide watch). He shows utter contempt for the music he's meant to playing, because all he really wants to do is educate the masses as to the merits of Jamaican Dancehall. That's fine, but it should be on at two in the morning, because 6 music is the whitenest, middle-classingest radio station you could possibly imagine, and quite frankly it jars next to the Arcade Fire.

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that he knows that he's shit, but he thinks that if, every now and then he claims that it's ironic, his entire career takes on the form of sort of gigantic meta-textual joke the likes of which the world has never seen before. His inadequacy is, to him, the route to true genius.

He's not solely to blame for this. His Handler, Lesley Douglas is the one who brought him in. Amazingly, she also has ties to the talent (never less appropriately used) agency that manages Georgie boy. They also manage Dermot 'Oxygen Thief' O'Leary, who is also getting a slot on a station she manages. But don't worry, it's all above board. As was his recent Sony award for best newcomer. If the reports are to be believed, Lesley was on the judging panel.

Not to worry though. All this quasi-legal nepotism is in a good cause. Apparently, there weren't enough women listening to the station. Now, Lesley says this is because the shows were too smart, and women need some eye candy. On the radio, that most visual of all media. That's it, the justification for fucking up my morning is that this imbecile seems to think that women are dumb. By essentially changing the format to exactly resemble the Chris Moyles show (for those unfamiliar, it's an unfunny man grunting dispassionately for 4 hours - pretty much like a night in the pub with me), purely in order to lure these imaginary cretins to her station.

Lesley in her secret volcano base, yesterday.

I think this is closing in on being the longest post I've ever written here, and it essentially boils down to the fact that these two goons have forced me to switch off the radio for three hours in the morning. I'll leave the final word on the matter to someone with less decorum than I.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Something I found in a bored five minutes of tapping 'stumble':

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cartoonish Supervillainy.

Fantastic Four 2. Just like the first one, it was kinda inept, but fun. Actually, that's unfair. It's much better than the first film, it's just that it's wrong in most of the same ways. Most of which can, in turn, be forgiven. There is one slight problem that needs sorting, however:


Not Doom:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Italics, You Say? Overused?

One thing tonight's Doctor Who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that just because something is entirely (and I do stress this, entirely) predictable, that doesn't mean it's not fun.

Next week: Bees!

Cheap Yucks.

The supermarket was like a jungle today.

Which is why I had the machete.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Once again, it's movie night. A brief one this time, as all I want to say is: The Punisher should never, under any fucking circumstances whatsoever, ever, ever, ever offer to clear the plates away after dinner. There seems to have been the slightest misunderstanding as to the nature of the character.

Targeted Marketing.

It wasn't me:

But I kinda wish it was.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Guess which headline was my favourite:

Now that's journalism.

Public Service Announcement.

Iron Man is a fairly splendid movie. Possibly the best Marvel adaptation yet. Watch it, make sure you stay to the end of the credits. Good times guaranteed.