Wednesday, January 28, 2009
How does one reconcile the ethic of reciprocity with the unhappy reality that there are some cultural traditions that other cultures find repulsive?
For instance, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has pointed out in her brilliant book, Infidel, that female circumcision* is still practiced in parts of Somalia. To some, particularly the conservative older generation, such practices are age old traditions, not to be questioned. To the rest of us, it's just plain barbarism.
At the time, no answer was forthcoming, and it seemed to me that the ethic of reciprocity had its limits, that it was not a hard and fast rule. "I can have my traditions, but you can't have yours if they offend the sensibilities of the greater part of society," it seemed. So, female circumcision is wrong because the majority says it's wrong? This is not a basis for truth. As great revolutions in science has proven, time and again, belief does not create truth. It may create the illusion of truth, i.e. lies. It may, through sufficient insight, agree with or come close to the truth, i.e. empirically derived truth.
But, after fermenting in my head for a bit, I did hit upon a solution so simple it seemed odd that it didn't occur to me before: Strip away the veneer of tradition and what are you left with? A minority of people in the world, who engage in a practise that brings unnecessary pain and permanent scarring to half their population. Behind the absurd mask of tradition, that is all this so-called "coming of age ritual" is. Tradition masks the ugly truth of this barbaric ritual: It exists simply to perpetuate male dominance. Because of the childish insecurities of one half of the population, the other half must suffer needlessly their whole lives. Perversely enough, many of the women actually buy into the delusion that this tradition is sacred and protects the purity of virgin girls in some way.
And here we come to realize a truth of society: Tradition is a mask, and as society evolves, tradition must be questioned. One must see past the face of it and understand truly what purpose it serves in society. To make progress possible, everything must be subject to the same standards of truth - nothing may be held as sacred.
In this light, such practices as female circumcision (or indeed any form of circumcision, for that matter) serve no constructive purpose in society and have no justification for their continued practice, leading us to the conclusion that they simply shouldn't be carried out. And of course, this says something about the level of ethical and intellectual maturity of the societies that do engage in such meaningless mutilations of their own children. They're arrogant savages, so caught up in misplaced pride for their own traditions, however inane or barbaric, that they cannot see the harsh reality of what their doing.
Perhaps they might argue that such practices are what brings them closer together as a community. Such an argument is nonsensical in light of the fact that there are many, far more agreeable ways to achieve such ends. Exchange of gifts is a good start. As was pointed out by Jared Diamond (in Collapse, I think), there's an old Inuit saying: "The best place to keep a spare fish is in another man's stomach." And so that happy game around which societies are really built, reciprocal altruism, is initiated.
So remember, comrades: Tradition is NOT a valid justification. It's just a pretty word to keep simple minds from asking questions.
* That's the polite term. A more accurate phrase would be female genital mutilation. This link is not for the faint of heart.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
For the impatient: Mad skillz start at 4:40.
Verily, I know of few displays of strength and skill more spectacular than a good lion dance. And no, I don't what those last few poles were for if the lion wasn't going to attempt to jump them.
By the way, for the M'sians reading, any of you notice the flag at the start was missing a stripe?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Yeah, you know you've made it when you're an action figure. Here's some shotgunishment:
And after a hard day's work, some karaoke fun:
... followed by a well-earned rest under the comfy spot of a kotatsu:
Epic win. Here's looking forward to some changes for the better. Pics from Gamu Toys.
- "...akin to insulting eastern culture, belittling local artistes, intentionally causing losses to the country's economy and supporting Israel's war policy, which is supported by America."
- "... unsuitable because she often performed suggestively and wore skimpy, sexy outfits."
- "Whether Rihanna realizes it or not, we know that the taxes she paid also contributed to the war in Gaza."
Happily enough, Malaysia is still very much free from the truly batshit insane breed of worshipper. Seems the local nutters are quite happy to satisfy themselves trying to jiahd against their hormones. Unfortunately, serious, intellectually valid criticism of Islam at its most fundamental level is still haram round these here parts, so I'm going to leave it to those courageous people with the mad skillz to raise valid points against them and manage not to get killed for their opinions. Here's Pat Condell, giving his tuppence:
Do bear in mind that Comrade Condell lives in the same country as these fine specimens, so I daresay his position is very much justified indeed.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I did take a peep at the helptheneumanns site, and truth be told, I did find it quite useful, that is, it points out all the bits of Wisconsin law that support the Neumanns' actions in choosing prayer over medicine and hence are in obvious need of amendment. Among other things, it also had links to press releases from the Neumanns' delusion dispensers of choice, Unleavened Bread Ministries. They begin with:
"We at UBM would like to clear up some misconceptions from what we know, which is little."
Well, at least they're honest about one thing. However, I didn't think having this plastered across the top of their page did much for their credibility:
This kind of silliness should be very familiar among those of you keeping an eye on the culture war. For the benefit of those who aren't, this is a common strategy among religious institutions to maintain their hold on the flock: Fearmongering.
In the ancient art of demagoguery, the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the preacher man is fear. That's what Hell was created for. Of course, Heaven and Hell are light years away, that is, on the other side of life and death. So, the preacher man has to come up with other boogiemen to keep the sheeple fearful: The End of Days, demons, witches, foreigners, abortion, contraception, other religions, the lack of religion, video games, the internet, science, Richard Dawkins... With skill, a preacher can set up boogiemen in so many places that his flock's worldview gets narrower and narrower until the preacher becomes the sole beacon of truth in their hapless little lives.
Take a look at this quote from another luckless victim of faith-induced glaucoma:
That's from a former Christian Scientist whose 16 month old son expired after she'd postponed taking the poor lad to the hospital a wee bit too long.
Anyway, the rest of the UBM site was a silly mess of scripture-quoting, infantile platitudes and saccharine testimonials. I, and no doubt many atheists, are very much immune to such tripe, but I really wonder sometimes, how utterly warped does a mind have to be to actually take such silliness seriously? How can those who stand on the side of reason reach out to the poor sots whose idea of truth is "the [insert scripture of choice here] says so, so it must be true?" Anyone who has tried to explain evolution to a fundie will have felt the same exasperation I've felt so many times before. Have they truly fallen so far? Are they really below our reach? Well, this atheist won't stop trying.
Where do I stand on the Neumanns? Frankly, I most certainly do think they deserve to be punished for the manslaughter of their child. However, I do think 25 years each seems a bit much. Who do you really suppose is at fault here? The sheep or the shepherd? I think this David Eells joker has a LOT to answer for.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Balloon Priest
2008 Darwin Award Nominee
Confirmed True by Darwin
a) He really did bring it on himself;
b) He really, really should have known better; and
c) His selfless removal of his stupidity from the human gene pool makes us a better species.
So, thank you very much indeed, Father Adelir, for your services to mankind and a damn good laugh.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Maureen Dowd: The long, lame goodbye
WASHINGTON: As Barack Obama got to town, one of the first things he did was seek the counsel of past presidents, including George Bush senior.
As W. was leaving town, one of the last things he did was explain why he never sought the counsel of his father on issues that his father knew intimately, like Iraq and Saddam.
When Brit Hume did a joint interview last week with Bush father and son, dubbed "41st guy" and "43rd guy" by W., the Fox anchor asked whether it was true that "there wasn't a lot of give and take" between them, except on family matters.
"See," the Oedipally oddball W. replied, "the interesting thing is that a president has got plenty of advisers, but what a president never has is someone who gave him unconditional love."
He talks about his father, who went to war with Saddam before he did, like a puppy. "You rarely have people," he said, "who can pick up the phone and say, 'I love you, son,' or, 'Hang in there, son."'
Maybe he wouldn't have needed so many Hang-in-there-sons if he had actually consulted his dad before he ignorantly and fraudulently rammed into the Middle East.
When W. admits the convoluted nature of his relationship with his father, you realize that, despite all the cocky swagger we've seen, this is not a confident man.
That is vividly apparent as we watch W. and Obama share the stage as they pass the battered baton. One seems small and inconsequential, even though he keeps insisting he's not; the other grows large and impressive, filling Americans with cockeyed hope even as he warns them not to expect too much too soon.
Even Obama's caution - a commodity notably absent from the White House for eight years - fills people with optimism.
W. lives in the shadow of his father's presence, while Obama lives in the shadow of his father's absence. W.'s parlous presidency, spent trashing the Constitution, the economy and the environment, was bound up, and burdened by, the psychological traits of an asphyxiated and pampered son.
The exiting and entering presidents are opposite poles - one the parody of a monosyllabic Western gunslinger who disdains nuance, and one a complex, polysyllabic professor sort who will make a decision only after he has held it up to the light and examined it from all sides.
W. was immune to doubt and afraid of it. (His fear of doubt led to the cooking of war intelligence.) Obama is delighted by doubt.
It's astonishing that, as banks continue to fail and Americans continue to lose jobs and homes, W. was obtuse enough to go on TV and give a canned ode to can-do-ism. "Good and evil are present in this world," he reiterated, "and between the two of them there can be no compromise."
He gives the good-and-evil view of things a bad name. Good and evil intermingle in the same breath, let alone the same society. A moral analysis cannot be a simplistic analysis.
"You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made," he said Thursday night. "But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."
Actually, no. His decisions have been, for the most part, disastrous. If he'd paid as much attention to facts as fitness, 9/11, Iraq, the drowning of New Orleans, the deterioration in Afghanistan and the financial deregulation orgy could have been prevented.
Bush fancied himself the Decider; Obama fancies himself the Convener. Some worry that a President Obama will overdo it and turn the Situation Room into the Seminar Room. (He's already showing a distressing lack of concern over whether his cherished eggheads bend the rules, like Tim Geithner's not paying all his taxes, because, after all, they're the Best and the Brightest, not ordinary folk.)
W., Cheney and Rummy loved making enemies, under the mistaken assumption that the more people hated America, the more the Bushies were standing up for principle. But is Obama neurotically reluctant to make enemies, and overly concerned with winning over those who have smacked him, from Hillary and Bill to conservative columnists?
If W. and Cheney preferred Fox News because they liked hearing their cheerleaders, Obama may leave the channel on Fox because he prefers seducing and sparring with antagonists to spooning with allies.
Right now, though, it's a huge relief to be getting an inquisitive, complicated mind in the White House.
W. decided there was no need to be president of the whole country. He could just be president of his base. Obama is determined to be president of as much of the country as possible.
We're trading a dogmatic president for one who's shopping for a dog. It feels good.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Ethics of having non-reproductive intercourse with my brother?
I was already on birth control, but my brother used a condom just in case. We absolutely do not want to have kids, we just like the feeling of having sex. Making love with him always blows my mind, and it feels like a passionate, pure extension of our love. We told our parents, and they were supportive, so long as we continued to use contraceptives.
In this age of contraception, can the simple act of sex between siblings still be fairly labeled as ethically wrong?
Is it fair to assume that all cases of non-reproductive incest are abusive and not just an expression of love?
If the sex is consensual, and contraceptives are employed, how could anyone term our behavior as wrong?
No comments of a religious nature or concerning "god" please. We are both rational atheists, so that morality is irrelevant to us.
Look familiar? If you've visited yourmorals.org then maybe it should, being one of the questions Jonathan Haidt looks at in his exploration of the human sense of morality. I was rather chuffed when my answer was chosen as best:
You're not Jonathan Haidt are you? He's asked this exact same question before. On the off chance that you're not Haidt or connected with Haidt's research in any way, I'd say:
There is no logical reason why what you're doing is wrong. Society's taboos on incest are in place for a reason, i.e. the prevention of producing genetically inferior children. In this day and age, rational consenting humans with access to proper contraception can enjoy sex with absolutely no risk of having children and, as such, the taboo on incest in this context is meaningless.
Nevertheless, as the other answers you find here have shown, many people will express great disgust at your suggestion, yet are incapable of justifying their disapproval, indicating that a great majority of people develop a sense of morality largely independent of their capacity for reason, falling back instead on copying the norm of the societies in which they live.
There is, however, one little thing that leads me to oppose this unorthodox relationship with your brother and it is this, crass though it may sound: Love makes fools of us all. Really, it does. It takes one mistake on the part of either you or your brother for you to concieve and that will open up a truly hideous can of worms for you and your brother. As such, though love is nice, and orgasms are nice, I really must recommend you and your brother quit while you're ahead and seek sexual relationships elsewhere.
It only occured to me later that there's another reason not to continue a relationship like this: It's simply not worth the trouble. The reward is a source of orgasms. The price is the social stigma one has to bear, surrounded as we are by shallow, stupid sheeple or, worse yet, fundies. Not quite worth it, I reckon, though perhaps in the long run, it may well give society the jolt it needs every so often to rethink some of the values we hold dear.
You never feed me.
Perhaps I'll sleep on your face.
That will sure show you.
You must scratch me there!
Yes, above my tail!
Behold, elevator butt.
The rule for today
Touch my tail, I shred your hand.
New rule tomorrow.
In deep sleep hear sound
cat vomit hairball somewhere
will find in morning.
I leap into the window.
I meant to do that.
Blur of motion, then-
silence, me, a paper bag.
What is so funny?
The mighty hunter
Returns with gifts of plump birds-
your foot just squashed one.
You're always typing.
Well, let's see you ignore my
sitting on your hands.
My small cardboard box.
You cannot see me if I
can just hide my head.
I fought for hours. Come and see!
What's a 'term paper'?
Small brave carnivores
Kill pine cones and mosquitoes
Fear vacuum cleaner
I want to be close
to you. Can I fit my head
inside your armpit?
Wanna go outside.
Oh, shit! Help! I got outside!
Let me back inside!
Oh no! Big One
has been trapped by newspaper!
Cat to the rescue!
Humans are so strange.
Mine lies still in bed, then screams
My claws are not that sharp.
Cats meow out of angst
"Thumbs! If only we had thumbs!
We could break so much!"
The Big Ones snore now
Every room is dark and cold
Time for "Cup Hockey"
We're almost equals
I purr to show I love you
Want to smell my butt?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Please bear with comrade Thunderf00t's apparent tone of exasperated superciliousness - this is the 27th video in the series and, as this video shows (and I've pointed out somewhere on this blog before) there's no logical limit to the amount of comforting fiction a true religious bigot will fabricate in order to justify his beliefs.
The second is this essay at Talk.Origins which dealt with the exceedingly common Creationist claim: "Evolution is just a theory, so it's not necessarily true."
Now, it was on encountering these two little things that I was harshly reminded of the sheer mind-numbing obscenity of the Creationist stance. No, I really don't think I'm exaggerating here and here's why.
There is, quite literally, more evidence in favour of evolution than one can shake a stick at. There is more documentation on it than you'd find in an audit firm (accountants out there will nod sadly and knowingly at the forests that have died for their profession), fossil evidence to fill natural history museums across continents, it is manifest in every aspect of life from behaviourial science to bacteriological warfare. It is the mighty bastion upon which our understanding of life on earth has come to be based on, yet it is so very fragile, for all it takes is for one little piece of fossil evidence to turn up in the wrong place and time, one aberration outside of the tree of life to send it all crashing down and have biologists scratching their heads for years to come. As yet, that has not happened nor is there any reason to believe it will any time soon.
Evolution IS. Like Mt Everest, it IS. But just as we can know that Mt Everest is, yet not quite know the precise location of every nook and cranny or the number of snowflakes adorning it, there are of course unexplored realms to evolution that are yet to be revealed, minute details that need fleshing out, but the overarching theory holds fast: That living organisms can and will evolve over time, changing minutely to better suit their environments, with the overall effect over many, many generations turning out descendants radically different from the ancestors.
Yet, in the face of these simple truths, the Creationist chooses to reject the physical evidence! The egotism of their God, which really is a proxy for their own egotism, simply doesn't allow the possibility that life could exist without divine intervention. In the sciences, you do get die-hard radicals who defy the prevailing theory and set off on their own path, and as long as their search is ,voluntarily or not, empirically honest and strikes close to the truth, a new truth will reveal itself, and science is stronger for it.
I understand that in France, there is a certain turn of phrase to describe something difficult to digest which translates: "So hard they could choke a Christian." In defense of a fictitious entity, they will do anything, believe anything. The oppurtunistic will churn out any amount of drivel for their flock to swallow, and the flock remain, grunting and and pawing about in the abyssmal darkness of their chosen ignorance, shying away from the light of reason like dwellers in deep caverns who have never seen the sun.
This is the darker half of modern religion. Behind the facade of faith, hope and charity is a world of empty promises, false hopes, exclusivism and wilfully perpetuated ignorance. If you're a believer in human dignity* one may well be inclined to ask why we continue to tolerate this absurd state of affairs any longer.
But, this is not about dignity, it's about the cancer afflicting untold millions of human minds that should know better. It about their delusions impeding scientific progress. It is their flawed logic that leads to a greater number of inferior decisions. It is their blind adoration for a fairy tale wasting insane amounts of time and money better spent on eradicating poverty or researching green technologies.
And it is on this front, this so-called Evolution vs Creation "debate" that the truly delusional make themselves known. Here, clear as day, we see the ridiculous affront to reason that is religion. I for one am offended by the continued existence of religion, especially the Abrahamic ones, and you should be, too.
By the way, note I choose "Creationists" as opposed to "Creationism" in my title. This is because Creationism is simply an idea, a fiction, like unicorns, Optimus Prime or Harry Potter. Fantasies are of great entertainment value. It's the Creationists, those who deny evolution and put forth silly fantasies as truth that are the true insults to human reason.
* I'm not sure I am, actually. Almost all of us came into this world getting pushed screaming out of a punani so I don't quite see what there is to be all dignified about.
Monday, January 12, 2009
How cool is that? Almost tempts me to leave the lair and start travelling...
Friday, January 9, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
On a vaguely related note, I just witnessed Rule 34 on Richard Dawkins in South Park.
I know, I'm a bit late, but verily, I am scarred. What did Dawkins have to say?
"I wouldn’t have minded so much if only it had been in the service of some serious point, but if there was a serious point in there I couldn’t discern it. And then there’s the matter of the accent they gave me. Now, if only I could be offered a cameo role in The Simpsons, I could show that actor how to do a real British accent."
Honestly, I think South Park does, at times, raise serious points and it certainly did in this episode. That having been said, I'm doubt the good Prof Dawkins is accustomed to seeing the joys of science and reason being packaged together with the likes of, say, Mrs/Mr Garrison...
For the sake of argument, let's interpret this in the best possible light for the hapless policeman, that is, let's assume that he was a good cop executing his duty in dispersing what appeared to be a rowdy gathering of Mat Rempits. Assuming this to be so, what does this mean for Malaysian society?
Under ordinary circumstances, the badge alone is enough to allow one man to stand against many. Depending on how any given society's fate has played out, that badge could represent any number of things. To some, it carries with it the promise of severe retribution on opposing the will of the bearer. To others, it is a mark borne by those chosen to inflict the will of their government, for good or ill. To others still, the badge is a symbol of those who give their lives selflessly to maintain the very fragile order that keeps us from falling upon each other like rabid animals.
But whatever the case may be, in most civilized societies, you listen to the man in the uniform wearing a badge. Whether it's because he's armed and you're not, or you have commited some crime against society, or simply because it's what you were taught, you listen. This is normal. The man with the badge is here to keep the peace and uphold the law. That's the ideal, anyway, and, however far away it is from reality, it's an ideal worth pursuing.
But here, something has fallen apart. A policeman ordered some ruffians to disperse, but something went wrong. The badge didn't work and he was just one guy against ten. The badge meant nothing, a line has been crossed. Or not.
Since I started this blog, I've put up quite a few posts detailing the failures of the Malaysian policeman. Not out of spite or anything, but because I felt an integral part of society was not functioning as it should. In my eyes, this incident of a policeman getting thumped by ten hooligans is not a failure on the part of the one policeman. It is merely indicative of how Malaysia's respect for its policemen has well and truly fallen from grace.
How many of us have been pulled over for speeding, to be confronted by a traffic policeman in a shining white uniform, wearing a big badge saying "Saya Anti Rasuah*", whose very first words to you are:
Trans: Need a little "help"?
If you're Malaysian, and you drive, odds are this has happened to you. And of course, you'd also probably be well aware of the myriad little incidents that have slowly chipped away at their credibility, some of which have been recorded on this blog for posterity**. Seeing as my stomach simply isn't quite strong enough to sift through all of the Star for tales of the antics of the Malaysian police, I'm pretty sure there are many more I haven't recorded.
In this most recent incident, public respect for the police has dropped yet another notch and harsh questions that should have been asked long ago once again come to light. Do Malaysians respect the police? Do they feel any safer for police presence? Is there such thing as a good cop anymore? What does the badge mean? What will it take for the Malaysian police to win back their credibility with the common people? And by the common people I mean the ones who know the current price of bribing one's way out of a speeding ticket is RM50.
I'd like to hope that some effort is being made to restore the policeman to his rightful place in Malaysian society, but from what we've seen so far, I'm not holding my breath.
* Translated: "I'm anti-bribery".
** See here, here and here.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Fruit salad! And I thought Teletubbies were bad. Here's another one I found more interesting than freaky creepy, based on Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger, or so the description says:
Somehow, I can't quite reconcile this coming out of the same head that gave us Huck Finn.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
So imagine my horror when I open up today's paper and find this whopping great leap backwards into the realm of stupid. Long story short, PAS' (the Islamist party) candidate for the Kuala Terrengganu by election was selected by the party president's (Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang ) divine inspiration. Not making this up. His exact words:
"I had this dream that we should field (Mohd Abdul) Wahid Endut as the candidate."
"I am confident that he is the right candidate to guarantee us a thumping victory with the blessing from the Almighty."
A dream. That's his "basis". You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking this is another Patrick Stewart facepalm moment. I'm thinking yet another new low has been reached when a leader of a political party cites "divine inspiration" as his one and only basis for selecting a candidate.
But, on the other hand... That article was in the Star, and, as we've seen from their level of reporting integrity, odds are the PAS prez's words were taken out of context.
Either way, this is not a game that can be won by an atheist voter. On the one hand is BN, a hapless mess of racist, nepotistic and utterly corrupt old men, blithely churning out infantile platitudes while voraciously shovelling taxpayer money into their pockets with their chubby little (and some suspect blood-stained) fingers. And on the other is PR, quietly disintegrating (like Anwar's credibility) and lumped with a component party so ludicrously backward as to take religious scripture as a basis for government.
I swear, the only way to look at all this happening around me and stay sane is to get some popcorn and think of it as entertainment...
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Anyhoo, I figured now's as good a time as any (though I be recovering from 1 glass too much sangria) to do the New Year's Resolution thing. This blog didn't exist this time last year, so this'll be the first time I'm doing this. I suppose on 1 Jan 2010, I'll rummage around for this post and see how many I've kept. So, here we go:
1. Return to kendo, and don't stop until I'm qualified to wield 2 swords at once. This will take many years...
2. Go to Japan. (Will have to think a bit about coming back.)
3. Finish writing my 1st book.
4. Get back that good physicsy stuff, the good stuff that I was supposed to have with my Physics, MSci, before 3 years in an accounting firm rotted my brain.
5. Teach myself a programming language.
6. Get my chubby arse below 83 kg again.
7. Get good enough at Japanese until I don't need the subtitles when watching NHK.
Right. 7 little things. 365 days to make it happen. Except for #1, but hell, taking the first step's a good start. SO! Best foot forward, dust off the armour, oil the swords, books in hand and into the future, comrades! And here, for no reason at all, is Kotatsuneko: