Archive for September, 2009

International Blasphemy Day today

September 30, 2009

Hmm, blasphemy. The dictionary says “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God”.

Which god? Do the Greek gods count — or the Norse gods? How about Ganesha? (There are about one billion Hindus. That’s a lot of people to piss off if you diss the elephant. And there must be at least four Odinists left, most probably in a black metal band in Norway.) What about Satanists — is there any logical way to show at the same time the requisite extrareligious reverence for both Sathanas the Ruler Dark and Supreme, and Jesus Who Treads the Naughty Black Goat Under His Glittering Heels?

Come to think of it, how do you simultaneously revere one and not-lack-reverence for the other when you consider Jesus, the Only True God, and Allah, the Only True God? (And Larry the Sandwichboardoperator, the Only True God, New Jersey?)

What about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? What about this nifty god Dramaurge that I just invented? What about Melkor, Torak, Takhisis, Usires Aedon and the god in Dogma? (I sense a great tool for silencing bothersome critics here… “Three stars? A blasphemy!“)

Or does the god have to be distant, unformed, miracle-abstinent, lonely, at least a century old, and vaguely Judeo-Christian to be worthy of blasphemy?

Apparently this does not work so that each venerates only his or her own god and atheists cavort around pissing on everything; that would be nice, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for some people. But do Muslims show reverence for Zeus and Odin? And how much reverence is enough — Muslims apparently think Jesus was a prophet, but does that help any when they add that he surely wasn’t the son of God; that sounds mightily like something a Christian would take as blasphemy, but surely there’s nothing more a Muslim can say without blaspheming against his own god. (“There is no god but Allah, and we are not prepared to discuss any examples of that right now.”)

Well, there’s the intriguing idea that the best way to avoid blasphemy is to shut up shut up about every alien god, which is fine if you just have no metaphorical genitalia whatsoever. Also, the idea of setting something as Not To Be Spoken Of has always, and will always, turned out to be shooting oneself in the foot, and having the blind led by the frothing mad over a cliff into a bottomless pit. (I may have mangled a phrase there; sorry.) I’ve been reading Finkelstein and Silberman’s the Bible Unearthed, a book about what archaeology tells of the historicity of the Old Testament (mostly, “it’s bollocks!”), over the last few days, and it’s powerful, clarifying, immensely satisfying reading — but, unless one engages in spectacular theological contortions, fatal blasphemy against the Jewish religion.

It’s always fun when something is, in addition to a victimless crime, also a crime where the victim cannot be reached for a comment as he is clearly an imaginary creature… and no-one is allowed to say that! (In fact, saying that some god is imaginary would probably be blasphemy too; a nice bind.)

Blasphemy makes no more sense than would suing the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe because they have hurt Nessie’s feelings. (To say nothing of the Mongolian Death Worm, the poor offended creature.)

And if one removes God from the formulation and says that it’s forbidden and a bad thing to criticize group A’s widely held identity-forming belief; well, bollocks then, can’t say a word about neo-Nazis and anti-vaccinationists anymore. Wouldn’t want to offend the despicable little fucks.

And as for insulting supposed God(s), that’s easy. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim gods don’t exist, and if they did, they would be horrible monsters and makers of miserable worlds that no sane person could worship except out of despair and fear. If you supposed this world has a designer, or even an originator, it would be not merely incompetent, but actually sadistic and hostile, and in its callous disregard, re: noma, tsunamis and Hell, worse than any human villain that has ever lived. (Also, nothing is sacred is what I honestly believe, and if that’s not blasphemy I don’t know what is.)

And I think this instance of “yo momma don’t exist, and if she did she’d be so ugly the sight would kill everybody!” is enough for today.

And you know I couldn’t end this on anything else than this, now could I?

Edit: Suppose it will be a very interesting thread over at Pharyngula. And can’t link elsewhere without noting that Cuttlefish has again shown that the less words you use, the better you get the message across.

Chatter preserved

September 30, 2009

One more good thing about computers: they make archiving small hilarities much easier.

In the days gone by, a joke, once told in normal human discussion, was gone and lost forever unless someone recalled it; and that was uncertain and imperfect. Words could only survive if written down: but the vast majority of interpersonal discussion and pontification of various quality was not written down in letters, books or diaries; indeed so dark and dire were the days once upon time that some people frowned on humor as a frivolous and needless thing.

Then, enter LPs, videotape and ARPANET. All of a sudden archiving something was a push of a button away, and as years passed such archival-work got cheaper, and the methods of communication used got more archive-friendly; eventually preserving the words was an integral part of the communication method (say a forum) rather than a weird intrusion (“Now, engage in your traditional amusing Scots banter while Osgood holds the recording-horn to your nose. And what a nosy business this all is! Ah, ah, did you get that, Osgood? No? Jolly well, I shall repeat myself into the horn then… Honeywell, we need a third device of horny nature here!”).

And as a result, though (I think, though come to think of it I don’t really have a clue) most of all the Usenet talk and IRC discussions, though public, are not archived anywhere, snipping out and saving the best bits has become a trivially cheap and easy thing; and as a result (and by now you start to wonder, “wait, is the fool again trying to set up a link?”) you can go to sites like UGBox Quotes and QDB and see the quips that in a lesser age would have been irretrievably lost. (And, by the way, this is how you make giggling over penis jokes respectable. Except you don’t leave parenthetical remarks like this in.)

In a way it makes me sad to think that centuries and centuries of no doubt hilarious horse-and-plow-related quips, goofs and japes are lost forever, to say nothing of the little jokes of monasteries, plague doctors and stench-maddened rat-catchers; but there’s something very amusing in that thought, too. And it makes me happy to think that we may be the first generation to engage in serious chatter-preservation. (There have been diarists and letter-writers for thousands of years, but an IRC or a forum is more like a discussion than a sequence of formally formatted missive exchange; and some kinds of spontaneous humor don’t work without the immediacy.)

Estonia

September 28, 2009

Fifteen years since MS Estonia sank; 852 died and 137 lived. I was twelve when this all happened; my only connection was that my family had been on similar ferries before; they were something like a poor man’s holiday. The only bother was getting together a busload of people to share the costs of getting the hundreds of kilometers to the harbor.

Human unease being what it is, it was a long time before we felt comfortable enough with the thought to go on one again. And you just can’t help thinking how incredibly against you the odds would be if something happened.

One of the most terrible rumors (and no less terrible for being unsubstantiated and probably false) was the whisper that circulated after the sinking — that over 700 people had gone down inside the ship, in their cabins, down some 70 meters to the sea bottom… and for a day or two, phones far away rung and futile whispers for help were heard through the static; then mobile batteries and air ran out.

Moan, gripe, moan

September 28, 2009

Hello all. Feeling spectacularly like bovine excrement today. (No oinking yet, though.) As there’s no entertainment in me moaning, I’ll let others do the job.

Banned books week

September 26, 2009

Gaugh. Really tired after a particularly busy week; thus happy to notice it’s the last week of September, and thus the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. Hence the following repost from last year.

* * *

The last week of September is a time to remember that though this world of ours is better than any past, no matter how fondly remembered with the illusions of distance, there still is plenty of stupidity, timidity and prudishness everywhere.

And, yeah, I do know this is an American week of awareness, something I as a Finn don’t “officially” fall under, but the subject, and the need to remember that such a thing happens, is universal.

There still are people that think ignorance is the way to go.

There still are people who think some words on a page are a poison, a contagion, an unspeakable evil that should be locked away or burned; people that don’t believe human minds can read something and still disagree with it. (Then again, minds that have read but a little are easily corrupted; that’s why one should read everything!)

There still are loads and loads of people willing to make your choices for you, even for your reading material.

There still are too many people who think their children are best brought to adulthood by keeping the nature of life and reality hidden from them.

There still are too many people who think mere entertainment is bad and sinful (whatever that might be), or think children will take fiction for reality. Children are stronger than that. (One is tempted to say that in many cases — coughfundamentalistchristianscough — the banners themselves are the ones that’ve been tricked into believing a fiction true!)

There, to say it all shorter, still are too many prudes, tyrants and just generally misguided cowards for this week to be ignored.

Banning books is saying that some words can’t be spoken, some thoughts can’t be formulated, some ideas can’t be allowed to spread free.

Banning books is censorship; something that has no place in a free society.

Banning books is propaganda, squashing an idea or a viewpoint that some authority dislikes; such action has no place in a free society.

Banning books is a way of forcing one’s own opinions and personal prohibitions on others. It is like a housewife leading a pitchforked mob cleansing the city of strawberries since she’s allergic; the difference is that banning books is a quiet, insidious crime, and something much easier to conceal under various robes of sanctimony.

Banning books is the deed of a tyrant that prefers to keep his slaves dumb and thus compliant. Often this happens inside a single household.

Banning books is an insult: it is a scream that you, the prospective reader, can’t be trusted, because you are pitifully weak and fragile, dumb and easily persuaded, and prone to shatter and be changed if given a single glimpse of an alien world. Then again, if you’ve been brought up sheltered from thought and reality, as book-banners often want to, you most likely have become a gullible idiot from sheer intellectual starvation; such is the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Banning books isn’t protecting children; it’s burying them alive so no perceived evil of the world, no scary different thing can touch them; it’s making them into mental midget pets of the parents so they will do as their father and mother say and never grow up to be real adults of their own.

Childhood is a transitory stage. Books are one of the most important methods of transit. Okay?

Banning books is something that really, really, really pisses me off, though I’ve never encounter such an evil thing in real life. (Then again, maybe I have but haven’t noticed — it is an insidious crime.) I hope I never will, because then someone might lose limbs.

If I don’t find time to write anything more on the subject, you can see my last year’s (2007) screed on this.

Spaghetti banjo

September 24, 2009

Sometimes you just want to introduce a single link with something clever.

Sometimes it gets terribly out of hand.

* * *

In the intracranial void, two voices echo.

The first: “So. Any ideas for a blog post?”

The second: “No.”

1: “Hey, what if I waxed eloquent and impassionate —”

2: “You mean got all polysyllabic and huffy?”

1: “Yup. Namely about the fact that some people call blog posts ‘blogs’ — like, ‘I don’t know if this blog makes any sense’, or ‘I wrote this blog in a great hurry’. That’s maddening. Imprecise. Unaesthetic.”

2: “Hah.”

1: “I mean, a blog is a collection of (blog) posts. To call a blog a collection of blogs just invites confusions and paradoxes of set-theoretical magnitude!”

2: “Well, you certainly have the steam for it.”

1: “Not to mention the whole blogging terminology… ‘blog’ still sounds like a cat yurking something liquid onto the carpet. Or the sound effect of plucking a banjo whose strings are made of spaghetti!”

2: “The sound effect of what now?”

1: “Sounds effects are a complicated thing, you know. They go a lot beyond the ‘POW’ and ‘KABONG’ of Batman serials. You know that Rumiko Takahashi invented a sound effect for a public bath — a sound effect that means, ‘this is a public bathhouse, a sento‘?”

2: “No?”

1: “It’s ka-ponnn.”

2: “Sure?”

(Half an hour passes with increasingly despondent clicking, and increasingly loud snickering.)

1: “Used to be sure; now I’m not sure I’m sure. Damn the internet. And there’s a sound effect for silence.”

2: “What?”

1: “Sure. It’s shii—n.”

2: “That makes no sense at all.”

1: “But on blogging terminology: I blog; that is, write blog posts on my blog, which is a part of the blogosphere —”

2: “Or the Blogohedron.”

1: “Yes. And occasionally I observe cases where someone has turned on the Large Blogohedron Collider. Like PZ Myers and his ilk versus the Cretinists and their stooges.”

2: “I believe you meant to say ‘the Creationists’.”

1: “You are wrong. Now, if you think ‘blogosphere’ is analogous to ‘biosphere’ —”

2: “Or a successor. The blogosphere is a proto-noosphere.”

1: “What now?”

2: “Geosphere, biosphere, noosphere. Spheres of inanimate, animate and thinking things.”

1: “Wait a minute… you’re just reading that off Wikipedia! You don’t know squat about this here noothingie, you’re just using the word because you think it sounds cute!”

2: “Uh, yeah. You got a problem with cute?”

1: “Now listen. Our biosphere has its extremophiles — those volcanic vent bacteria, cacti and Swedes —”

2: “Wait, what? How come Swedes are extremophiles?”

1: “Gotta be an extreme environment, having so many Swedes around. I could never survive there.”

2: “Is this the festering xenophobia thingy or the playful neighbory ribbing thingy?”

1: “You decide. Anyway, what are the extremophiles of the blogosphere?”

2: “You’re trying to make me think of some Rule 34 stuff, aren’t you? Well, you’re not going to — oh god.”

1: “Ha ha.”

2: “I did not want to think of this again! Take it away!”

1: “I love flashbacks. Just Photoshop, a picture of Mother Teresa, and a sudden pop-up, and thanks to the funny ways of human recall, you’ll have randomly occurring fun for weeks.”

2: “Why can’t I forget?”

1: “Not quite as fun as the idea of taking some 3D shooter game and modding it to include the likenesses of every American Congressperson as enemies. Or would that cross the line from whimsy to Top News Daily Controversy Cancer of Society It’s the Kids Stupid… or would you need a level modelled after the Capitol for that? I’ve never understood why Tom Clancy writing the decapitation of the whole American government is okay fiction, but doing a game of the same might be controversial. Would it be the real people thing? They’re public people, and you’re harming just pixels. Pixels ain’t got no humanity. And there’s dislike but hardly intimations of murder in burning an effigy of someone. And it would be so satisfying after hearing some of these people talk, though I’m not a violent man.”

2: “Gaah no. You dastardly villain. What sick, depraved, ill-considered, unholy things have you been blabbing about while your better half was indisposed, thinking of… of…”

1: “And there he goes again.”

2: “Noooo! The wrinkles! The wrinkles!”

1: “As I was saying: like the whole Harris levels legend thing — I wouldn’t care even if it was true. As if the people who take their frustrations out on a punching bag aren’t thinking of anything. The important thing is you get rid of your aggressions without brooding on them, and without resorting to real violence.”

2: “Eyogh. You’re channeling Gilmore of Satan again, aren’t you? And resuming my words, extremophiles aren’t defined by the extremity of their content, but rather by the harshness of their environment. Are there harsh internet environs?”

1: “Iran? And anyway harsh to whom? Twitter and Flickr are pretty harshly limiting environs: 140 characters only, or pictures only. Blog hosts limit the ‘attachments’ you can include; other hosts limit the traffic you can receive. And the rampaging beast of Pharyngulation or BoingBoinging (farking, slashdotting, and so on) crashes a server now and then. Situations with only sporadic net access make for entirely different adaptations from those that twitter their every bowel movement. Controversial subjects make anonymity and comment moderation good adaptations for survival, though not necessarily popularity. Institutional homepages have content-limiting pressures that usually disallow Time Cube analogues — as a boundary point, witness the Behe disclaimer. Copyright concerns and legislative hysteria can differentiate parts of the Net by nationality; the more lax parts are freer, free to the point of indifference (good) and actual fostering of criminal greed (bad); witness the Russian parts’ sometime reputation as a thief’s paradise of piracy for fun and profit — and elsewhere the bastard pinhead autocrats like those in China, Iran and Australia that can turn their slices of heaven into a wet dream of false safety over real freedom. (Though I feel bad for all the illegitimate children and non-cephalic persons of the world, comparing them to the idiot tyrant builders of the Great Firewalls and similar affronts to human dignity.) And —”

2: “Now stop before you start calling specific conservative politicians hateful slobbering baboon populist troglodytes, or something similarly redundant and hurtful in its bald accuracy. Also stop before your rant goes on for so long that I start to talk like you. Look, you just wanted a subject for a post, and now you’re pontificating about the similarities of evolutionary biology and internet sociology, both subjects you know diddly-squat about. Just link at something, erm, ‘lulzy’, and be done with it.”

1: “Huh? You can’t blog just by putting in a link to FMyLife and saying that’s a post, can you?”

2: “So you’d rather have a thousand words of idiotic self-indulgent shallow metadialogue crap of your good-free and bad-asshat halves talking, and then link to FMyLife? What kind of a moron trainwreck of a weasel travesty would that be?”

1: “Depends on whether I’d get to be the bad half.”

2: “Agh, I’m the bad half. You’re the worse one. And now a collapse into a self-referential singularity of Hofstadterian dimensions, presto!

Also: a link to FMyLife. Go and amuse yourself; I’ve already amused myself more than enough.

Going to be an interesting day

September 23, 2009

If ye should hear of me no more, two three-hour demonstrations back to back were too much for me.

Er, actually, if ye should hear “maniac TA defenestrates class — lucky it was ground floor”, then ye ken it was naught else I could do.

Covered in chalk-dust and clumps of torn hair he lies, hey nonny nonny nonny. Go see Lemmata. A good one about napping drops around midday Finnish time.

Uninspired

September 22, 2009

Well, as I momentarily cannot think of anything to say… wait. Would that be blogstipation? Blogger’s block? Bloggo blowout? Going unpostal? White box fever? Bletrification — as in “blog petrification”, turning to stone and changing no more?

Well, as I cannot think of anything else, a few pictures courtesy of my Sony-Ericsson’s camera. Since I’ve resized these way down you can’t see how awful their original resolution was. (Also, yes, a Finn with a non-Nokia phone. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone or they’ll stone me.)

Glowy thingieThe first, to the right… well, it looks like either the Eldritch Atheist Idol, or then some physics experiment that’s going to go terribly wrong. Wrong in a way that cannot be fixed except by the equally reality-bending application of stunningly awful sciwoo exposition and highly implausible action scenes. But no, neither of those — I’m a mathematician, not a physicist, and the EAI is red, not green. Just those cylinder-and-ball magnetic playthings; a variety that glows in the dark for a bit after you off the lights.

Must be the radium in it.

Money money moneyNext — and I really apologize for the quality — a slip of paper, telling what doing mathematics while sipping soft drinks does: After a winter, you notice there’s this giant plastic trash bag full of empty plastic bottles, and when you’re done pushing them into the return machine, it vomits out a slip for 19.60 e, or 98 times 0.20 e per bottle. I’ve done this kind of a return several times; usually the machine starts to emit agonized noises around the fifty-bottle mark, and a salesperson has to go, sweep the glut of plastic away and push reset. Once this happened twice; they were surprisingly nonchalant about it.

Please note: soft drinks. Alcohol and maths don’t mix; or, if you drink, don’t derive.

(That’s the Second Main Rule of Mathematics. The First is “Never trust anything derived after midnight.” The Third, “Dream proofs don’t work in real life.”)

GlasseyesA random doodle, next. Your stereotypical idea of what maths students should look like.

Well, no. (First, I’ve never seen any girl in a top with an epsilon printed on it; if I did, I might just fall in love that instant.)

There’s something in the glasses, though. After one department research seminar I realized that there had been thirteen people present, and all had been beglassed. Apparently maths is one more thing that will make you blind.

Well, in closing one more image: drawn in the times before we knew the title of the last Harry Potter book. I had this sudden flash of a name that was both hilariously inappropriate, and totally keeping with the feel of the previous titles — but ah, it was not to be.HP7... or not.(At least 21% of my motivation for including this last image is the faint hope it’ll inspire some atrocious bit of fanfic. “We have a new Potions teacher, class.” “It rubs the lotion on its skin.”)

The adventures of Zen master Goto

September 20, 2009

I

A novice presented Zen master Goto with the question of a dog’s Buddha-nature. Master Goto answered, saying “Fuck you”, and at that moment the novice was enlightened.

II

A novice came to Zen master Goto and asked if a dog had Buddha-nature. Upon him asking this, Goto killed him with a hatchet and buried his body in the garden, under the cypress tree. When this all came to light, Goto said: “Buddha made me do it.”

III

The policeman asked: “Who is Buddha?” Goto said, “What is Buddha?” and ran.

(This koan is also told as follows. The policeman asked: “Who is Buddha?” Goto said, “If you meet Buddha, kill him.” Then he ran.)

IV

The FBI investigator asked Goto, “Why is there a body in your garden?” Goto said this was indeed so. The investigator repeated his question. Goto said, “To answer your question, you must unask it.”

V

The FBI investigator said to Goto, “I know who you are now.” Goto said, “Five pounds of flax?” The investigator said, “Now I am certain, but I am not enlightened.”

VI

The first neighbor said, “Goto is a very nice, quiet little man. Keeps to himself, but everyone likes him.” The second neighbor said, “Goto is a bit too nice, too quiet little man. Keeps to himself too much, even if everyone likes him.” The reporter was enlightened.

VII

The Zen master Goto was brought before a judge. He was fined for contempt of court.

VIII

The newspaper said: “Mad Monk Massacre Mayhem! Senator Says US Soft On The Zen Terror Menace!” Goto said, “The Zenator has killed the mind of logic.”

IX

The Zen master Goto was in prison, making license plates. They all said “MU”, and nothing more. There were 964 of them. The guard supervisor was enlightened and fired.

X

The criminal said, “You have dropped your soap.” “The soap is meaningless”, said Goto. He bent to pick it up anyway.

XI

The criminal said, “You have dropped your soap.” “Oh pull the other one”, Goto said. “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” the criminal asked. Goto bent over.

XII

Goto had a novice. The novice said, “What can you give to me?” Goto said, “Five pounds of flax.” Then Goto had five novices. Goto said, “I do not have five pounds of flax.” He had no disciples after that.

* * *

The worst/best thing is, after a while you begin to think that there’s something in writing these; which as far as I understand Zen Buddhism (about 1.2 inches) is not what you are supposed to begin to think.

Oh, and the name Goto is lifted from the programming command that is widely considered bad form, much like the activities of ZM Goto above, and my doings in writing a piss-take like this.

September 19th, the Great Holiday

September 19, 2009

Arrr.

And being a fool I left my eyepatch at the university and am not going to go get it, not when it’s a Saturday. At least I walk all peg-leggedy because of an ill-fitting pair of new shoes. (The patch is one half of a set that also includes a spectacularly fake-looking small moustache. I keep it in my room just in case I need to sneak out without the advisor noticing.)

(Haven’t had such a need yet, but doesn’t hurt to be prepared.)

Also, arrr matey, I got me some Spanish pieces of eight from galley-slave work, showing the ropes to the first-year landlubbers at them TA job, ahoy. Regular bosun, me. Babbling like a parrot I’m at them, keelhaul me if I lie, I chanty and I teach them betarrrr ways to calculate. Shiver me timbers, I do.

Them rats say this be the only day of the year when you can, arrr, talk like a pirate, avast! and not be entirely insane, insaner than a Tortugas sailmaker, and I arrr-dently feel a two days of this and I’d be insane, sailless in the topmast, forevarrr.

Edit, latarrr the same day: The good excellent folks at Mobileread have a collection of free pirate-themed e-books up. Hoist the mailsails, topple the masts, drop the anchors and a-sail that way!


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