Friday, February 27, 2009

Ramblings of a White Witch sympathizer

I never liked C S Lewis. I think his books are rubbish, especially Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. While I will freely concede that he is indeed a skilled writer with a talent for creating immersive fantasy worlds you can lose yourself in for a few hours, I am not in the slightest bit impressed with his sense of narrative structure, and found the whole business of "have faith, and the Lion will come and save everybody on a minor technicality which was conveniently overlooked by an apparently inept (though rather hawt in the movie) nemesis" sorely lacking in storytelling skillz. I don't know about you, but I find something deeply unsatisfying about an epic struggle between good and evil where victory is won against all odds by the better rules lawyer, bolstered by a dose of that most convenient of all deus ex machina devices, magic.

Another thing really ticks me off about C S Lewis - his role as Christian apologist. At the age of 30, he gave up on rational thought and turned from atheism to the Church of England and has been a favourite poster boy ever since. I attended the Alpha Course while in university to satisfy my curiousity re: Christianity. It's very telling of the intellectual bankruptcy of Christianity if the best they can do is shove C S Lewis' lack of resolve in my face. Even more so if the best argument he could come up with is the argument from morality.

I had just gotten acquainted with C S Lewis' Universal Morality last night, over a pint in the pub (which, as we know, is the only real way to discuss philosophy) which appeared to me to be trying bang a fifth wheel onto a car. For those who don't know about it, Lewis basically argues that the apparent manifestation of certain "universal" moral traits suggests that a higher being is behind the creation of said traits. In his own words:

These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

Oh, the pomposity... The moment this argument was laid out to me, I was led to doubt. Call me a cynic, but I catch a whiff of bullshit anytime anyone talks about a "Law of Nature" from anything other than the standpoint of mathematics and/or the physical sciences. For the sake of my being able to keep my lunch down, we'll stop abusing the phrase "Law of Nature" in this childish manner and stick to calling it by it's appropriately fanciful name, universal morality.

Now, there's any number of ways to rip this silly idea to shreds*, I went with Occam's Razor, looking at the development of our social norms from the evolutionary standpoint to show that there's simply no need for the concept of a universal morality to create the illusion of it's existence.

Think of these social norms, these unwritten rules of behaviour, as memes. Just like genes, what it takes for memes to survive and prosper, the three magic words, fidelity, fecundity and longevity. Does it not follow that, of the possible rules and rituals for a society to live by, there is a small subset of rules that serve to help said society survive and prosper? Other rules don't do so well or simply do not really serve the greater good of the societies in which they are practiced, e.g. Female circumcision, polygamy/polyandry**, use of phallocarps***, ferret legging, etc. As such, such practices, though they still exist, are viewed as bizarre or downright wrong by the rest of us, who haven't been held back wasting time and resources on them.

As history takes it's course, we find that, of the original set of societies, each with their own sets of memes governing behaviour, some will rise, some will fall, and a few will prosper. Those that prosper will have the memes accepted as "right" by the largest number of people - the utilitarian ideal given form by the forces of evolution by natural selection. The unquestioning masses living by these memes will have their sense of morality defined by these memes. Many individuals will become those gormless conservatives who will tell you that certain things are morally wrong "because it's just wrong". Be that as it may, we see here that what we take for granted as right or wrong are simply illusions. What is real is that what we call right or wrong are simply the right mix of memes governing behaviour that allow a society to be stable enough to survive and prosper. And at no point is it ever necessary for a sky fairy to plant such notions, i.e. universal morality, into our heads.

Consider the anthropic principle. Take a dozen men, have them each pray to their own deities, then shoot them all in the heads with a dozen guns but only eleven bullets. Somebody's going to feel he was obviously praying to the right god, but the fact of the matter is that the praying had sodall to do with his survival. In the same way, the notion of a universal morality, while cute and , in a way, appealing to simple-minded, insecure people who fear the cold touch of existential angst, is a completely unnecessary fiction.

Now, the brevity of my argument here is owed to the assumption that whoever reads it has some measure of understanding of the mechanism of evolution by natural selection and, of course, a little about memes. Alas, the bloke I was discussing this with last night, does not. So meh. This is just me recording my thoughts on the matter for my own benefit, because I'm rather pleased that I managed to come up with this on a gut full of awesome Thai food, Carlsberg and Hoegaarden. So much for getting my chubby arse back under 82kg.... :-(

Addendum: I just read that again and realised I'm being a bit harsh to Mr Lewis. Public understanding of evolutionary biology has made leaps and bounds (well, except among Republicans, of course) since C S Lewis' time, and his position, while still wrong, is based upon an ignorance of matters scientific quite typical of the period. The point still stands, though, so I'm not bothering with editing the above post more I already have.

* Here's a nice one that Google popped up pretty quick.

** Not really a good idea with a species equipped with all the biological hardware to produce males and females in more or less even numbers.

*** Go on, Google it. You know you want to.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shock! Horror! Eh?

I just laughed when I saw this. Long story short, if you cannae be arsed to clicky the link:

- Malaysians suck in bed. No, not literally! I mean, Malaysians can't get no satisfaction. 2 out of 3 men and 3 out of 4 women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, apparently, placing them number 6 of 13 countries surveyed in the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness Survey, conducted by Pfizer.

- Singaporeans are even worse off, at number 8. Nya, nya, nyaaaa...

This didn't strike me as terribly surprising, seeing as the general impression one gets of the two countries is that Malaysia bears the unfortunate taint of widespread theistic religion, bringing with it the usual intellectual consequences and, of course, sexual repression. And Singapore, hell, everyone knows Singaporeans are generally too stressed out trying to earn moar money to enjoy some sweet lovin'.

What really surprised me was who was at the bottom - Japan! JAPAN?! zomg wtf r u kidding me?? From the country that brought us THE most diabolical pornography on this side of the planet? The same people who regularly redefine Rule 34 with every new manga? The nation that tried* to outdo 2 Girls 1 Cup? Where you can hire a woman of negotiable affection dressed up as Hello Kitty? Where you can take a train ride through THIS?

You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking it's like... wasabi.

At first you take a little, then you get used to it, so you take a little more... Then by the time you're say, 50, you've got to check underneath your wasabi to make sure the sushi's still there. Same thing with Japan and sex. They've been so open and had so much of it that what it takes to satisfy them defies normal human imagination. Well, that's the closest thing to an explanation I can come up with.

If anyone out there comes up with something better, I'm willing to hear it. For now, my cats are in dire need of a bath...

* And succeeded. I really shouldn't bring up something like this just after having lunch. Don't ask me for details.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


... that I'll probably never know the answer to. Starting with this picture:

1) How does this man pee? Is using urinals even an option anymore?

2) How does he poop? Does he need help? Upon sitting, does he completely engulf the toilet seat? How does he wipe his nether regions?

3) How does he even put his clothes on? Can one, with a physique like that, actually reach down to tie one's shoelaces?

4) How does one reach this unfortunate state of being? Is it really just a case of too many calories + too little exercise? Is it an unfortunate accident of genetics? What do people like this actually do for a living?

5) Is it even physically possible for this man to engage in sexual intercourse?

If anyone out there has any answers, do tell, coz I don't think I'm going to be pursuing this line of inquiry any further...

Friday, February 20, 2009


Is that... Taiwan they're pissing on?

Ah, well, since I'm here, here's a bunch more fun pics I nabbed off the vast sea of teh intertoobs...

Oh, and I consider myself fairly open-minded, and I love Japan and everything but sometimes even I have to ask, wtf?

Ah, fun, fun, fun.... Promise a serious post soon...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

V-day for singletons

Fuck you, Facebook. No, really, fuck you...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

From that guy on the 5000 yen note

I'm not sure if he's still on it, though. Anyway, I'd read Inazo Nitobe's Bushido: The Soul of Japan and came across this paragraph:

Have you seen in your tour of Japan many a young man with unkempt hair, dressed in shabbiest garb, carrying in his hand a large cane or a book, stalking about the streets with an air of utter indifference to mundane things? He is the shosei (student), to whom the earth is too small and the Heavens are not high enough. He has his own theories of the universe and of life. He dwells in castles of air and feeds on ethereal words of wisdom. In his eyes beams the fire of ambition; his mind is athirst for knowledge. Penury is only a stimulus to drive him onward; worldly goods are in his sight shackles to his character. He is the repository of Loyalty and Patriotism. He is the self-imposed guardian of national honor. With all his virtues and his faults, he is the last fragment of Bushido.

I just laughed when I saw that. Not because I disagree or find it a preposterously simplistic view of the university student* but because of the sheer contrast with a previous encounter with the shosei, found in a book written by no other than the bloke on the 1000 yen bill, Natsume Souseki (after whom my cat is named). But of course, the book is I am a Cat, and here's what the shosei looks like there, from the very first page:

I am a cat. As yet I have no name. I've no idea where I was born. All I remember is that I was miaowing in a dampish dark place when, for the first time, I saw a human being. This human being, I head afterwards, was a member of the most ferocious human species; a shosei, one of those students who, in return for board and lodging, perform small chores about the house. I hear that, on occasion, this species catches, boils, and eats us...

Shortly after that, if appeared that this particular shosei found our protagonist too small and scrawny to be worth eating and flung the poor devil into a clump of bamboo grass. Man, I love that book. If you haven't read it, do. You might find yourself tempted, like me, to learn Japanese because of it.

* In my experience, university students are usually found at the bottom of pint glasses in the Student Union pub. Or urinating on your doorstep. Or your car. Ah, British education...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Travels on the Net

I often tell people I mostly live on the Net, and sometimes they ask what on earth is it I do there*. So here, I'm-a bring you a wee slice of what I wolf down each day:

Chun Li cures melanoma! I kid. The researcher's name is known by civilized people (that is, those who actually know where a Chinese surname is supposed to go) as Li Chun. What actually caught my eye was the bit about using targeted nanoparticles, which is always exciting.

Bill Gates unleashes mosquito swarm into crowd! Hokay, perhaps an exaggeration. It was a wee jar. And they were clean, i.e. no interesting diseases on them. I'm sorry, I'm Malaysian, skeetoes are a fact of life round here, I snap 'em out of the air with chopsticks and, as such, am not impressed in the slightest by such a gesture. Still, props to the guy for chucking USD169 million towards a good cause. Epic win.

Try my kung fu! I've been teaching myself how to use sai off Youtube, mostly from this chap here. Yep, I know, it's not even vaguely the same as learning from the dojo but exercise is exercise. I'm not going to pretend for even a moment that I'm a capable combatant with sai, but hey, I find performing the kata relaxing, and a good workout. Each of those things weigh about as much as my heaviest bokken so this is proving most useful for building up the strength and stamina I need for my eventual return to kendo. If you like the look of sai, do check this out for supreme sai l33tness. I personally like it better in hakama. As for self defense, you want self defense? Here's your self-defense.

Don't try his kung fu! In the search for nice kata to copy and practice, one also finds a fair number of deviants. And by deviants I mean facepalmingly pretentious little goits who take a perfectly decent martial art, stick in some cute but utterly meaningless flourishes and then try to sell it as a martial art. Like Ultimate Fail over here. However, there's something to be said for guys who actually do have the mad skills and decide to break the mold to take a martial art and make a performing art out of it. The results are kinda pretty, actually.

Happy birthday to Darwin... but fuck the Associated Press for having the gall to suggest that evolution is "in controversy" anywhere other than in the deluded little minds of Creotards.

Malaysian politics = epic fail! In case you didn't know already. On 8 March 2008, the Opposition finally made it's voice known, breaking the ruling party's 2/3 majority in the Dewan Rakyat. w00t. Still, I'll say that I presently feel more than a bit vindicated for not voting. Why? Because democracy in this country (indeed in many countries) is a fucking joke, the simple reason being that democracy being what it is, it serves the utilitarian ideal of maximum happiness for the maximum number of people if and only if the voting populace is reasonably enlightened and well informed enough to choose in favour of what serves the greater good. If, however, the greater bulk of the voting populace are selfish, petty and gullible** then democracy simply becomes shorthand for tyranny of the masses, with power going to the best salesman. In Malaysia, democracy means trying to choose between the least of all evils. Thanks to Malaysian politics, our newspapers are borderline worthless rags, fit only to wrap up the morning's nasi lemak. So, where to go for decent news?

Malaysia Today is pretty much as good as it gets, really. RPK's for the most part neutral, unbiased and has a sense of justice which I mostly agree with. The only point of contention in which I seriously oppose RPK is his stance as a Muslim apologist. Most of my regular readers (all three of them) know by now that, like many who bear the 'A' on their blogs, I view all the Abrahamic religions as a cancer that needs to be eradicated. Of course, one could do worse than to look to a decent historian for political commentary. My uncles inform me that the political blogs also make for good reading. I'm not convinced. Some of those bloggers might do well to act their age for a bit.

Whatever the case may be, recent events have shown that the 8 March victory has achieved nothing other than to take the mudslinging to new depths. Meanwhile, over at the KLSE...

Oh, yes, I do indeed think that certain people have better things to do than fuck about over who gets to wear the big hat in the state next door. Petty little bastards.

And when it all gets too much, one would do well to remember that, no matter how dire things look, no matter how much this world gets you down, there exist a good number of reasons to smile and hope. Here's one:

And that's it from me for now. That cat's starting to harass the Roomba again...

* And by there I mean here. Um.

** e.g. Republicans, anyone who takes the Star's political commentary seriously and 90% of those who commented on this article posted in Malaysia Today, among others. To their credit, at least Republicans for the most part have the decency to stfu and deal with it until the next election.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bale-ing out is now a meme

I think of cussing as the linguistic equivalent of chili - a wee bit gives the spoken word some flavour. Think George Carlin or Eddie Izzard. Then, of course, there's the therapeutic value of cussing, preferably practiced by venting where no one can hear you. And then there's Christian Bale:

And, surprisingly enough, Barack Obama. You know there's a remix coming...

How... comforting?

I could survive for 1 minute, 22 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Happy, happy, happy!

Verily, I am happy. I am blissful. I did gaze upon the picture below and the quality of my life was drastically improved on knowing how far removed I am from the people below. Gaze thee upon this pic and maybe, you may find some happiness, too:

Yep... Sadder than the usual internet whipping boys, the furries and the goths, the otaku* is the epitome of the sad, no-life SOB with a rapidly fading grip on reality. Hum. The militant atheist in me just replaced the word 'otaku' with 'born-again Christian' and finds the sentence to be more accurate that way. But let's not go there, eh? There's a wee bottle of Warsteiner with my name on it that says I'm not in the mood to be ripping on the most exasperating bunch of delusional half-wits on the planet right now.

* I just read that again. That's a bit unfair. I know a lot of... well, I suppose you'd call them "moderate" otakus? The ones in the pic aren't really indicative of the otaku community at large, who are, for the most part, harmless and often really interesting and funny geeks. I think it would be fairer to say that the sad cases depicted above are to otakus what Creationists are to theists.

I forget, how many 'n's in Brun(n?)hilde?

Dug this up on a whim from Youtube. Man, they don't make cartoons like they used to:

And on a related note, sssshhh! Farmer Coppen is hunting wabbit...

No WAY!!!

Was looking through Science Daily and found this. And I thought the Egyptians with the brain out through the nose thing was bad. Maaaan... Why did they do it, you ask? Hell, medicine's really not my field, so I've barely a clue what's going on here, but according Robert Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the transplant division at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

Since the first laparoscopic donor nephrectomy was performed at Johns Hopkins in 1995, surgeons have been troubled by the need to make a relatively large incision in the patient’s abdomen after completing the nephrectomy to extract the donor kidney. “That incision is thought to significantly add to the patient’s pain, hospitalization and convalescence,” says Montgomery. “Removing the kidney through a natural opening should hasten the patient’s recovery and provide a better cosmetic result."

Got that? I thought so...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Remember what Ghandi said about eye for an eye?

I just watched Waltz with Bashir* and, as any decent movie should do, it had me thinking. For those who haven't watched, it's about the Lebanese War and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. The story was told in the form of an Israeli film director who served with the Israeli armed forces at the time and, 20 years later, is trying to recall where he was on the day of the massacre. In the course of the movie, he goes to speak with various friends who also served with the Israeli army at the time of the massacre, and finds that many of them, too, have lost much of their memories of that day.

What struck me most about the movie was perhaps the humanity of it. The question it had me asking most was: What is a soldier? I've dabbled in martial arts long enough to understand and appreciate one-on-one combat, but watching Waltz with Bashir, it feels light years away from the chaos and horror of being a soldier in wartime. What I have trouble grasping is what it means to be one of many standing against another enemy to fight and die, but for what? As an empiricist, I find it tremendously absurd to die or, worse yet, to kill for one's beliefs, for precisely the same reason as Bertrand Russell: What if I'm wrong?

Having grown up on many mindless 80s Hollywood movies, I, for a very long time, had a pretty distorted view of what a soldier should be. For most of my childhood I was under the impression that a good soldier had to be unwaveringly patriotic and have no real skill other than being able to pull a trigger and shout, maybe pose a bit, at the same time, and just how good you were was easily quantified by one's body count. Nowadays I look at Rambo and just shake my head at the mind-numbing absurdity of it, knowing that that kind of soldiering only happens in silly videogames.

I have very little doubt in my mind that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not really based on religion. I don't think I can even begin to understand who or what started it - everytime I try it seems the chain of grudges stretches further and further back, so now we're left with a situation where it doesn't matter who struck first, that first transgression is but a miniscule speck compared with the mountains of atrocities each side has accumulated against the other. Each sides' justification for continued aggression is simply reciprocation. Sadly, it still doesn't look like either side is just going to go: "Right, sod this. We'll stop if you stop, alright? And screw the flags, we'll ditch both of them and make up a new one for both of us, deal?" But I digress.

It was interesting to see the various perspectives on the war, to see what it made of the people who touched it, to see what bearing weapons and being pushed to face an elusive and devious enemy made of men. Some, like the narrator, were still their plain old selves behind the flak jacket and carbine. They fired their guns not to kill, but because they didn't want to die. They thought not to destroy an enemy, but simply to go home as soon as possible. Faced with the chaos and horror of it, they found themselves lost and stumbling, their own sense of reason crumbling in the face of the madness around them.

Others, like the Phalangites, fell oh, so far. As depicted in the movie, the Phalangites were a textbook example of situational forces making monsters of men. The Us and Them mentality. The mentality of dehumanizing the infidel enemy. The anonymity of being men with uniforms, instruments of the state. The empowering influence of having a gun in hand. And, perhaps most deadly of all, the paranoia of knowing that guerillas or suicide bombers may be hiding among any one of the luckless people of Sabra and Shatila.

As the Phalangites went into the refugee camps to do their dire deeds, the Israeli army simply watched. At that point in the movie the words of Edmund Burke did pop into my head:

"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

And when you see the videoclips of the aftermath, that's when you understand why the incident simply dropped out of the heads of the narrator and his brothers-in-arms. Who wants to be the one with that on their heads? To be the ones who stood by, weapons in hand and did nothing while unforgivable atrocities were committed right in front of their faces? I doubt very much I'd be strong enough to still be me, having witnessed something like that firsthand.

It brought to mind all those videos on Youtube, CCTV footage of people in, say, the queue at McD's, where some guy beats the everloving shit out of another, while perhaps a dozen or so people stand by and watch.

Who knows what other, similar tales have unfolded, on that scrap of land, fought over for as long as recorded history? I really wonder sometimes if, as I saw posted on Yahoo! Answers once, the only solution is to nuke the entire region off the map and leave it so irradiated it can't support any human life at all. Like an angry mother separating squabbling children: "I don't care who started it, if you don't stop, I'm going to end it."

Well, hell, that's my tuppence on the matter. I've no solutions, but Waltz with Bashir is a visually stunning movie that's well worth a watch. Of course, seeing as it tells the story from an Israeli perspective, that most certainly means it will never be shown in Malaysia, no thanks to certain irrational anti-Semites. But hey, that doesn't stop the pirates! Go watch. Think. Know. Now if you'll excuse me, my cats need a bath...

* Rotten Tomatoes gives it 95%. You MUST watch this, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You CAN'T possibly be serious...

Well, that's what I thought when I saw this:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

And the dragon comes in the NIIIIIGHT!!!

Man, why are Strong Bad's e-mails capped at 200? I wanna see him unleash another meme like Trogdor. Who or what is the Trogdor, you ask? Right, I tell you a tale of a meme.

It's started with Strong Bad's e-mails*, a once-weekly feature in which Strong Bad, a short dude dressed as a masked wrestler with unnaturally huge boxing gloves, would verbally abuse and mock anyone who wrote to him. This is more fun than it sounds. Then, along came this e-mail, where some bright spark asked him to draw a dragon, spawning Trogdor, with accompanying theme song, and eventually his own game. Since then, Trogdor's popped up all over the net, with miniatures:

...a Guitar Hero song:

... and his own Magic card, though I suspect this one may be shooped:

And of course, he wouldn't be complete without his own Myspace page, Urban Dictionary entry and Wiki.

Ah, I luvs you, internetz...

* Start from the bottom.