Sunday, 31 May 2009

Skeptics United!

This weekend a bunch of our skeptical friends from Sydney came down to Melbourne for drinks.

There were some lectures and stuff too, but mainly drinks.

I could go on and on about what a great time it was, but the erstwhile Jack Scanlan over at Homologous Legs provides an excellent summary of events, so I don’t really have to bother.

Plus it’s late and I’m tired.

All you need to know is that it was tops.

If you’re really keen, Podblack Cat has posted a bunch of stuff, including photos and videos. Knock yourselves out, kids.

Anyway, here’s a cool photo of me with the gang.

Skeptics at the Pub

From left: me, Dr Rachel Dunlop and Richard Saunders from the Skeptic Zone podcast, Dave the Happy Singer, Kylie Sturgess (aka Podblack Cat) and the very cool Mr. Joel Birch.

A big thanks to the Young Australian Skeptics for organising this truly excellent event.

Let’s do it again soon!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

You Have the Right to be Offended

AtheistSuppose I call religion a waste of intellectual capacity.

Suppose I say the idea of an omniscient God is abhorrent to anyone who values true freedom.

Suppose I say dogmatic religion is a blight on society and does nothing but justify mindless obeisance and suppress genuine knowledge and progress.

You may be offended. You have the right to be offended.

What you do not have is the right not to be offended.

Argue with me. Tell me I’m wrong. Give me a reason to change my mind. Engage in meaningful debate.

But don’t try to silence me.

We must all have the right to freely call ideas dangerous, divisive and prejudicial. We must all have the right to freely call the people who hold those ideas foolish, small minded and moronic.

We must all have the right to free speech. And if our speech is not allowed to offend, then it is no longer free.

This is why UN draft resolution VI on “Combating Defamation of Religions” (document A/C.3/62/L.35) must be denounced as the blatant attack on free speech that it is.

The Assembly would emphasize that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations, according to law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others; protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals; and respect for religions and beliefs.

This is not only nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense.

Every major step forward in society has required the denouncement of one or more deeply held religious ideals.

To suppress the defamation of religion is to stop society in its tracks.

After all, any idea worth anything is bound to offend someone.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

V is for Very Excited

The original 1980s series V was was one my earliest exposures to science fiction, and it’s still good.

The long-awaited remake is almost upon us, and it’s looking amazing.

Yes, that’s Morena Baccarin with a pixie cut. That should nicely offset the presence of Scott Wolf.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Tale of Two Tailors

During our recent visit to Hong Kong I decided to get a new suit.

Hong Kong is of course famous for its tailors. Or at least, famous for the way its tailors stand out in the street touting their wares.

And it just so happened that our hotel was in the middle of a veritable tailor’s market. Convenient.

Every morning as we stepped outside we ran a gauntlet of well-dressed gentlemen handing us cards, describing the lovely suits and shirts they could make for us and stopping just short of physically manhandling us into their shops.

Over the course of the week we got to know them and they got to know us. Some stopped bothering us after a day or two. Others didn’t.

And one, let’s call him Lakshaman, was particularly persistent.

All this choice was intoxicating but in the end it was no choice at all. I went to Sam’s Tailor. Tailor to royalty. Tailor to the stars.

The shop walls were papered with photos of every celebrity you can think of. Each one was standing next to Manu (aka “Sam”), his measuring tape slung casually over his shoulder and a beaming smile on his face.

I tried on my new suit watched over by David Bowie, Tony Blair and George Bush Senior. I shook Manu’s hand and walked back to the hotel, proudly carrying my “Sam’s Tailor” suit bag.

And that was when I saw Lakshaman. He wasn’t happy. In fact, he took it quite personally.

“Every day I ask you if you want a suit! Every day you say no! And now here! Here you have gone to Sam’s! Why not me? What is wrong with my suits? Why do you insult me like this?”

And so on. And on. And on.

Every time I walked past him he would pick up where he last left off. After a day or two we both got a little tired of it. Around then he decided to abbreviate his tirades to simply calling me “Sam”.

I’ll be watching out for Lakshaman next time I’m in Hong Kong. Maybe I’ll even buy a suit from him.

I better. Or he’ll probably shank me at the airport.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell

Charles 'Bud' Tingwell The great Australian actor Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell has passed away at the age of 86.

One of Australia’s hardest working and most respected actors, Bud was loved by generations of Australians.

Bud brought a touch of class to everything he did, whether it was the Australian war movies of the 1940s, the Hammer horror films of the 1960s, or the ‘Charlie the Wonder Dog’ segment of the D-Generation’s The Late Show.

He will be sadly missed.

In the wake of Bud’s sad death we solemnly and respectfully award 14 points to Ty, who is now running equal first with Benn in this year’s competition.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Star Trek

Here we go. This is where I add my voice to the growing chorus of admiration for J.J. Abrams and his new Star Trek movie.

Star TrekI was all keen to hate it too. Star Trek movies have a history of being bloated gabfests or extended TV episodes filmed in 35mm, but this wasn’t. It’s actually really good.

And I hate to admit it, but therein lies the rub. The reason it’s really good is that it’s not really a Star Trek film at all. It’s more like a Star Wars film. (Original trilogy of course, not the later ones. Which ironically were more like Star Trek films. But I digress…)

Enterprise It’s fun, it’s action packed, it doesn’t pay too much attention to previous canon or scientific principles, and there wasn’t even one scene where Starfleet suits sit around a conference table crapping on about how to deal diplomatically with those darn Romulans.

Rather, we get the classic original series approach of tooling around in starships, shooting first and asking questions later.

Zoe SaldanaThe ships are shiny and new, Kirk’s a young punk, Spock’s not quite as emotionless as we remember, Uhura’s sexy as hell and Simon Pegg as Scotty is just hilarious.

The series needed a serious reboot, and this was it. It’s a great universe with great stories to tell, but the stiff stylings of previous cinematic outings weren’t doing its longevity any favours at all.

What J.J. has given us here is most definitely Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it. And it’s about goddamn time.

4.5 out of 5

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Hong Kong in Pictures

Here’s a bunch of photos from our trip to Hong Kong last week.

Monday. Generic Hong Kong street scene.Honkers

Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Kowloon. As well as your usual selection of sparrows and parrots there were cockatoos, galahs and this toucan. I suspect not all of this was strictly legal.I feel like some Froot Loops

Tuesday. Ferry to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.Ferry Street market in Soho on Hong Kong Island. Travelling companions Ty and Debbie in left of frame.Soho MarketThe new-ish Bank of China building on Hong Kong Island, which has the locals up in arms for its shameless violation of Feng Shui principles. Triangles are bad mmkay.Bad Feng Shui

Looking down on Hong Kong Island from halfway up the scenic Peak Tram route. That hill was seriously steep. Nice view

Group shot at the Peak, after we’d walked away from the tourists and found a nice quiet spot to enjoy some wine. No glasses, so we just necked it straight from the bottle. Classy.Drunken loutsWednesday. Phallic art and phallic buildings outside the art gallery in Kowloon.Saucy Dinner at One-thirtyone in Sai Kung. This refined dining was followed up by drinking in our hotel room and watching the Top 100 songs of the 80s on Chinese MTV. Good times.Why is this tilted?Thursday. A quick drink while waiting for the boat to Lantau Island. I wasn’t expecting to find officially licensed Monty Python beer, but then again, NO-ONE expects . . . oh never mind. Extra credit to anyone who can read what it says on my t-shirt and complete the phrase.License and registration please sirThe Big Buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. This bad boy is 34 metres tall. Luckily we had been fortified with a vegetarian lunch at the nearly Po Lin monastery before climbing the 268 steps to the base. I got that number from Wikipedia. I didn’t count them. Really.Wassup Buddha Cable car down from Ngong Ping to Tung Chung. While it was scary, it was a lot less scary than the taxi ride on the way up.Whoa. That's high.Final night celebrations at Shui Hu Ju in Soho. That’s a bunch of deep fried chicken under all those chillies. It took a lot of beer to make the burning stop, let me tell you.It's Hot. Damn Hot.

And that’s it. A thoroughly awesome trip and like always, over far too quickly.

Hope you enjoyed it. We certainly did.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Land of Magic and Dumplings

A quick update as we head into day three in Hong Kong.

Day one breakfast was successfully procured, you'll be pleased to know, as were mountainous volumes of dumplings for most meals since.

Ah, dumplings. How I love thee and thy messy splutziness.

Yesterday was eventful, with a ferry trip across to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon, a ride up to the peak on the skytram and once we made it safely back down, celebratory mango daiquiris in a bar trying very hard to look like 1930s Shanghai.

Today will apparently involve a trip to a Buddhist temple. And, I suspect, more dumplings.

We've taken lots of photos, but my iPod (upon which I'm laboriously tapping this out) isn't ideally suited to uploading them

I will upload them though, as soon as I find some technology better able to cope with that sort of thing.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Gone Honkin'

Updates may be intermittent for the next few days, as we've skived off for a week's holiday in Hong Kong.

We arrived this morning, 6.30am local time, after an 8-hour flight.

Expected level of activity this first day: low.

First mission: to find some breakfast.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Separating Science and Religion

Atheist Once again our friend Stan over at Atheism Analyzed is indulging in his usual nonsense about the intellectual jurisdictions of science and religion.

In short, science adopts a voluntary (“functional”) materialism because it cannot empirically address or measure non-material issues. So any output from science has no bearing – by definition – on the non-material realm.

So let me get this straight: scientists should stay out of religion because science is only concerned with material things?

But this is a fantastic idea! In fact, let’s go one better. Let’s have a complete separation of duties between science and religion!

I can see it now. Science will concern itself only with the material world (that should be easy . . . it’s what it does anyway) and religion will concern itself only with the non-material world.

Both sides will solemnly promise not to encroach on the other’s turf.

Of course that completely does away with the idea of an interventionist God. Such interventions are necessarily material and therefore only in the realm of science.

But that’s ok.

And religions would no longer be able to claim that God works in people’s lives in any material way. Or heals the sick. Or answers prayer.

Still, that sounds workable.

It also does away with all these silly debates about Creation vs Evolution. Evolution wins by default because it’s a material issue, and hence outside the realm of religious enquiry!

Wow. I could really get used to this. Excellent idea, Stan!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Dead Pool 2009 – April Update

Celebrity Dead Pool now has its own blog!
Find it at Celebrity Dead Pool 

Welcome back to the 2009 dead pool.

Our first score for the year has been realised, with the tragic passing of the legendary Bea Arthur scoring Benn an estimable 14 points.

Dave ArnesonIn other celebrity mortality news, the 7th saw the death of game designer Dave Arneson. Along with Gary Gygax who sadly passed away just over a year ago, Arneson was the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons.

JG Ballard  On the 19th science fiction author J.G. Ballard passed away at the age of 78. Although best known for the film adaptations of his novels Crash and Empire of the Sun (neither of which can be reasonably labelled sci-fi) Ballard was hugely influential on the genre as he explored themes of ecological catastrophe, dystopian futures and the cult of celebrity.

Richard Pratt Finally, on the 28th we farewelled Australian businessman and philanthropist Richard Pratt at the age of 74. Pratt made his fortune by illegally inflating prices in the Australian cardboard box industry as part of a cartel, but depending on who you ask he was either a criminal who should have been jailed or a great guy because he gave some of that money to charity. I’ll let my readers decided for themselves on that one.

And that wraps it up for April

Once again, congratulations to Benn who is now leading with a score of 14, and we’ll see you again next month.