20 December 2009

Happy Newtonmas

Last year, I designed and posted some cards for the season. Here they are again. Please feel free to copy, print on hard paper, and send them around. There is a front side and a back side which should be glued together. Depending on taste, you may pick any of the front side versions.

12 December 2009

UK gov't accused of treating religious faith as an "eccentricity"

According to the Daily Telegraph (a.k.a. Daily Torygraph) the Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the government of treating religious faith as an "eccentricity" practised by "oddities". Dr Rowan Williams said ministers were wrong to think that Christian beliefs were no longer relevant in modern Britain and he criticised Labour for looking at religious faith as a “problem” rather than valuing the contribution it made to society. He added that political leaders should be more open about their beliefs.

The BBC asked the following question in the "have your say" page:

Does religion have a part to play in politics?

I am happy to see that the vast majority of respondents think NO, NO and NO! This is a relief.

I checked the to 47 responses and here are the first few, the mot recommended ones:

No and I would go further and say all local authority schools should also be 100% secular. Paul Price, Carmarthen, United Kingdom

Religion and politics should stay separate.
I hate using pain and misery to make a point, but the Church in Ireland shows us the dangers. O.W.

It is absolutely right for the Government to ignore religion. This is 2009 - laws should be based on democratic values, not superstition. If you want to see what a society run according to religious rule of law is like you only have to look at Iran. Richard Lewis, Cambridge

Organised religion has caused more war than peace. Lucien Piers

an "eccentricity" practised by "oddities" Sounds spot on to me [paulmathome], London

Already we have the politicians in a so-called 'class war.'
All we need now is for 'faith war' where they needle each other about which religious sect they belong to. NO NO NO to religion in politics! Norman

The first irrational response is 48th in rank:

Strange thing – countries or states that seek to deny Christ normally end up as terrible places to be in [grainsofsand], United Kingdom
I can imagine what people would reply if the same question was asked in the U.S....

Nigeria and Congo

Two very disturbing postings from "a Nadder!" below.

Witch Children of Nigeria

Children are being accused for being witches. As a result they are being beaten, tied up, denied food, burned, cut, stabbed, burnt with acid or simply murdered by their parents. Over 10,000 have been abandoned, kicked out onto the streets where they are prone to disease, malnutrition and starvation, gangs and sexual slavery.

Tale of a Phone
A graphic description of organized crimes in central Africa and the double Congolese genocide for peace in Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2009 people in the Congo are still dying at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month (half being children under 5), and 2,700,000 people have died since 2004. An estimated 200,000 women have been raped. 20,000 hippopotamuses have been killed. Brutalities include burning and boiling alive, chopping human parts off and cannibalism.

10 December 2009

Intelligent designers deny the need for a designer

Recursivity: The Fruitlessness of ID "Research"

A heated discussion in Shallit's blog, where, for the first time I realized that there are supporters of the Intelligent Design movement, a spin-off of creationism, claiming that Intelligent Design does not require a designer or the supernatural (god, etc.)

This is in sharp contrast to the main writings of ID. Indeed, ID is defined as
the assertion that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as It is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, but one which avoids specifying the nature or identity of the designer. The idea was developed by a group of American creationists who reformulated their argument in the creation-evolution controversy to circumvent court rulings that prohibit the teaching of creationism as science. Intelligent design's leading proponents – all of whom are associated with the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank, believe the designer to be the God of Christianity.
It's the article written on Wikipedia by, obviously, Intelligent Designers themselves. One of the main proponents of ID, W. Dembski, is a theologian/philosopher at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and all his writings, talks and work incorporate and propagate christianity very heavily. (He is also trying to use mathematics to support the ID religion but his papers are laughable.) However, someone, writing under the name Joe G and posting in Shallit's blog, insists that (oh yes, he's a bit repetitive):

ID doesn't require the supernatural.
Does ID require a belief in "God"? No.
ID does not require a belief in "God".
ID does not require the supernatural.
All IDists are not religious.
I am an IDists and don't care about religion.
ID does not say anything about worship- nothiung about who, what, where, when nor how.
ID does not say anything about giving service.
ID is not based on any religious doctrine.
ID does not say anything about the supernatural.
ID does not require a belief in "God".
So the bottom line is ID is religious if and only if we change the definition of religion.
The designer could be "God" and that would not mean ID is religious.
ID does NOT argue for the existence of "God".
What IDists do does not have any impact on ID.
IDists have not written that ID is an argument for the existence of "God".
ID is about the DESIGN not the designer(s).
The Wikipedia entry on Intelligent Design can be refuted to any ID FAQ posted on pro-ID websites.
They should be sued for posting such nonsense and then perhaps they would think BEFORE they publish.
I asked him to modify the Wikipedia article (and also tell Dembski and the others about his non-beliefs in gods and religion). But he shies away from doing so. Wikipedia is a public document which can be changed if the information provided is not correct. However, Joe G will not do that. And even if he attempts to do so, leading IDists will not allow him. The reason is simple: ID is a religion, not a science. Scientific entries of Wikipedia welcome modifications (and they become better and better) and corrections of mistakes. But ID is of theological nature and, as such, it relies on faith and dogma.

9 December 2009

Hasse diagrams

This is a piece of the class of amusing mathematical diversions.

I'm working on a problem involving random directed graphs and use the concept of a Hasse diagram: it's just a graph representing a partial order in a minimal way. I stumbled across a site which draws Hasse diagrams of the relation i divides j, where i and j are positive integers. I tried it for various numbers. For example, the Hasse diagram corresponding to the divisors of 2010 is a graph with constant degree equal to 4. Whereas 2009 does not have this property. Besides the obvious significance in numerology [yes, this is a joke], there is a natural question as to what kind of numbers have the property that their Hasse diagram has constant degree.

The page above is part of what seems to be a nice undergraduate book on Algebra, titled Interactive Algebra, by A.M. Cohen, H. Cuypers and H. Sterk.

8 December 2009

Sarah Palin supporters are dumb

I found this here. Watch this inimitable hilarious video. Sarah Palin's devotees gather at Border's bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, on 20 November 2009 waiting for Sarah's autographs. A reporter asks them what exactly Palin stands for and here is a selection from the dialogue:

- She'll make differences.
Rep: which ones?
- I don't know, I guess I haven't really thought about that.

Rep: What do you know about her foreign policy?
- I don't know her well enough, I don't know her foreign policies.

Rep: What kind of spending would you like to see cut?
- All of it, all of it.

- Obama wrote two books describing in detail what he's going to do.
Rep: And what do the books describe?
- Aw, you know, Marxism, Leninism, you know, socialism...

- I think she would acknowledge a system of government in the US rather than focusing on administration czars.
Rep: What do you think is the problem with czars?
- I 'm an American, we don't have czars in America.

- I don't think he [Obama] is even an American citizen.

- I mean we're Americans and she sticks out for the American people not for other people.

- We need to get the polar bears off the endangered list so we can drill there.

Dumb? Yes, totally idiotic folk.

4 December 2009

She saw Jesus on her iron

Mary Jo Coady of Methuen, Massatchusetts, saw Jesus Christ on her iron. And so did other members of her family. "Jesus hit me on my head", she said. The appearance reassured her that "life is going to be good." And the iron is not going to be used again.

Other apparitions of Jesus, Mary, etc., really worthwhile looking at them, are here. Make sure not to miss them!

3 December 2009

Recursivity: The Fruitlessness of ID "Research"

Recursivity: The Fruitlessness of ID "Research"
A wonderful posting debunking claims about the "science" of a branch of Creationists performing Intelligent Design "Research". Shallit explains how a paper by intelligent-designist Stephen Meyer which, unfortunately, was published (but without peer review!) in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, is NOT a research paper, that it has been repudiated by the editors of the journal, and that most of papers referring to it are not research papers. Good posting!

2 December 2009

An angry creationist

As we all now well know, a Mr Ray Comfort, a religious parasite (also known as the banana man because he explains creationism by peeling bananas), has created a new version of Darwin's Origin of Species with his own introduction, and his protégés are now handing them out at college campuses in the US. There has been a huge uproar about this act of barbarism, including lots of comments in the Amazon site which screwed up with a mixup of the original Darwin's book and Comfort's idiocy. I found the following comment, by an angry creationist/intelligent-designist, very amusing [emphasis is mine]:
In response to Mr. Rimmel: Would you seriously take the time and read the Bible, let's say, the NASB or New King James translation, for yourself and not rely on what others say before you make statements that undermine honesty and integrity? You will find that God is the author of Science and He upholds true science. You will be astounded at all the scientific information to be found in the Bible. And a good site to investigate yourself would be Answers In Genesis as well as www.icr.org, with many scientists putting their work out there for you and I to intelligently sift and seperate, coming to conclusions that are well grounded. You will do yourself justice if you give the time to check these out. And if you don't believe that Ray Comfort is credible, then why are you so concerned with what he wrote only in the introduction? If it is not credible to you, it will not be credible to other thinkers, so relax and let it die down on its own. You have nothing to lose by Mr. Comfort speaking his mind on the works of Darwin, do you? If Darwin's work is unbeatable, then it should stand up to Ray Comfort in the least, don't you agree? I hope you do go digging for yourself. Sharpen that shovel and go, Mr. Rummel!!

This made me laugh, hysterically. This person claims (let's read again) that there is a lot of scientific information in the Bible. Like what? Quantum Mechanics? Biology? Mathematics? Physics? Last time I read the bible (and I do review it from time to time), not only I could see no science, but I saw hatred, psychological and physical terror, inaccuracies, contradictions (the list is endless). Check it out for yourself in a simplified version. Or, if you want more in-depth analysis of Bible monstrosities, look here, for example. It's funny, but Muslims, also believe that the Quran is full of science. But think about it, even for a minute. Have you seen *any*, no matter how simple, mathematical or scientific argument in the Bible (say the Pythagorean theorem), with proof? Not really. The Bible has no science, no mathematics, no logic, no rationality. It is a collection of stories (some very gruesome indeed), such as the Odyssey. The difference is that the Oddyssey is a piece of literature, which the Bible isn't (as far as I can tell by reading the parts of the Bible written in Greek; I don't know ancient Hebrew).

And if you want to read the Genesis, as the reader above suggests and you have no time, I suggest reading Crumb's version. Science you will not learn, but, at least, you will be entertained.

30 November 2009

A bit of fun: fossils say no

This picture is not new. I've seen it many times on the Internet.
Nevertheless, it never seizes to intrigue me. I can't imagine what's in the brains of the car owner. He (say it's a "he") is a "proud American", an "anti-evolutionist", he wants "god" to "bless America", and he believes he has a proof for all this because he probably lives in a redneck corner where other morons like him will honk every time they drive by. And he will feel justified with so many people supporting him. Even if, occasionally, a rational person happens to disagree, this car owner will feel even more proud for his holding his beliefs and for managing to annoy some people (a minority, I suppose, in the place where he lives). There is something deeply perverted about this thing...

The white ribbon: a review

The 150 minutes long black&white film portrays a repressed society in a small German village just before the beginning of WWI. Although there is no central story, the film does not feel as long as it is because it manages to capture the spectators' attention who are seeking to comprehend every little detail in it. Even staring at the closed door, for what seems a long time, listening to childrens' screams, while they are being caned in a ritual punishment ordeal by their father (the priest), is not boring and makes you wonder. A society where almost nobody dares question the status quo be it patriarchical, feudal, religious, or sexual sadistic. Things are they way they are and must remain so, most villagers think. There is no escape from tyranny, work for the Baron is the only option available, and fun is only permitted when the Baron says so. One must feel guilty at all occasions: in school, at home, at work, in the church. Love, if it exists, is only in moderation and must not be seen or acknowledged.

Where are members of such a society led to? No wonder, they become torturers, killers, abusers, repressed individuals. Some of them have no choice because they have never been permitted to show their anger even as little kids. This anger grows and grows and, in the end, we know what happens: The little child will become the Nazi killer later on (no the film does not go there, but it clearly suggests so).

Yes, there are unresolved mysteries in the film, we wonder who did this hideous things, we start suspecting, and, in the end, perhaps we know. But this is not the point of the film. The film is not about trying to find the culprits as it has been suggested in many reviews. This is a secondary point, one that, if you wish, you can see in this way, but you'll be missing the central idea which is a bit more subtle. Or you can ponder on it later...

What I find most interesting in the film is not so much the direct punishment itself, but rather the implicit suppression of all kinds of things, including your thoughts, your opinions, your expressions... You are not allowed to even have a thought that may be different from the one imposed upon you by the feudal or religious establishment. If you do, you better hang yourself. There are, fortunately, survivors of this, and the narrator himself, the teacher of the village, is a rational person, one who will express what he feels and thinks. Fortunately for him, and for everybody else, deus ex machina in the form of WWI comes to provide a kind of cleansing: there is no other way for this society to heal itself other than be destroyed. Thus, the narrator, never has to go through the painful process of exposing his findings. He is saved.

The film is a psychological masterpiece. In it we can see all kinds of human emotions and acts: anger, revenge, love, repression, humiliation, pride, subordination, perversion, faith, exasperation, hope,.... We can take a look at what has happened, time and again, happens and will happen in human societies. And we can learn that, unless we question those out there who tell us how to think, when to laugh or cry, what to believe and how to behave, we will constribute, especially if this happens en masse, to our self-destruction.

27 November 2009

The white ribbon (das weiße Band)

I'm looking forward to seeing this new film, by Michael Haneke. In two hours, at the Filmhouse. The film is about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature." It's set up in a village in northern Germany in 1914, just before WWI. Strange incidents occur, acts of vandalism and violence, which gradually assume the character of a ritual punishment.

From the Filmhouse description:
The White Ribbon is not about the repercussions of a single buried event, but a continuous diseased process, in which those without power – children and disenfranchised adults – are in a permanent state of futile rebellion against authority, expressed in spiteful acts of anonymous nastiness; these trigger spasms of fear in both the community and their masters, who respond by redoubling their resented discipline. 
The White Ribbon has an absolute confidence and mastery of its own cinematic language, and the performances Haneke elicits from his first-rate cast, particularly the children, are eerily perfect.
The film won the palm d'or award at the May 2009 Cannes film festival. Report on it afterwards. My report on it later.

24 November 2009

Welsh Police consult with psychics

The following piece of news needs no comment or explanation for its absurdity:

Earlier this month it emerged that Dyfed Powys Police had spent £20,000 following a line of investigation in a murder inquiry, based on information passed on by a medium.
Joe Power [a "psychic medium"] says that he was contacted by the Metropolitan Police, asking for assistance on a very high profile murder investigation. "I got an e-mail from the Met police asking for assistance," Joe Power insists."I gave them some information that was coming through the murder victim and people on the other side. Without a doubt they followed up on it." In an initial statement, the Metropolitan Police denied Joe had any involvement in the case.... A former Scotland Yard man who now practises as a medium, he says: "I think the police are sceptical, but they have a right to be so because some mediums and psychics make false claims." "But, ultimately officers don't mind where the evidence comes from as long as it proves or disproves the case."... While police forces across the UK refuse to either confirm or deny their use of psychics in major investigations, it is difficult to gauge how widespread the practice is. But Joe Power is in no doubt that he and others will continue to play a role in solving crime: "I predict that in the next 30 to 40 years you will actually get people like me who will find bodies, where there's no question about it. "The psychic world is moving on very fast and it's getting more accurate with the information all the time."
I thought that mediums, psychics, fortune tellers, etc. are there for morons only, for those idiots who have extra money to waste. But when you hear that the state is using them then you must be alarmed!

23 November 2009

Charles Freeman

I'm looking forward to getting hold of a copy of Charles Freeman's new book, "A New History of Early Christianity".

The book was just published by Yale University Press and there are not many reviews around. A description of the book, taken from Yale U.P., is as follows:
The relevance of Christianity is as hotly contested today as it has ever been. "A New History of Early Christianity" shows how our current debates are rooted in the many controversies surrounding the birth of the religion and the earliest attempts to resolve them. Charles Freeman's meticulous historical account of Christianity from its birth in Judaea in the first century A.D. to the emergence of Western and Eastern churches by A.D. 600 reveals that it was a distinctive, vibrant, and incredibly diverse movement brought into order at the cost of intellectual and spiritual vitality. Against the conventional narrative of the inevitable 'triumph' of a single distinct Christianity, Freeman shows that there was a host of competing Christianities, many of which had as much claim to authenticity as those that eventually dominated. Tracing the astonishing transformation that the early Christian church underwent - from sporadic niches of Christian communities surviving in the wake of a horrific crucifixion to sanctioned alliance with the state - Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of 'correct belief', and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the church's relationships with Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, Freeman offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers and emperors.
Judging from his earlier book, "The Closing of the Western Mind: the Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason", where Freeman gives a superb account of how, around the 4th c. AD, there was a phase transition: whereas science and reason was thriving in the early AD years as a direct continuation of the ancient Greek tradition, something happened in the 4th c., and rationality was suddenly lost; science was condemned and even thinking was considered dangerous. We all know what followed for hundreds of years to come. In the words of Freeman himself,

My thesis is that Christianity was heavily politicised by the late Roman empire, certainly to the extent that it would have been unrecognisable to Jesus. Note the linking of the church to the empire's success in war, opulent church building and an ever narrowing definition of what beliefs one had to hold to be saved. (Hand in hand with this went an elaboration of the horrors of hell, a radical and unhappy development which can only have discouraged freedom of thought.) My core argument is that one result of the combination of the forces of authority (the empire) and faith (the church) was a stifling of a sophisticated tradition of intellectual thought which had stretched back over nearly a thousand years and which relied strongly on the use of the reasoning mind.
I did not depend on Gibbon. I do not agree with him that intellectual thought in the early Christian centuries was dead and I believe that the well established hierarchy of the church strengthened not undermined the empire. After all it was the church which survived the collapse of the western empire. Of course, Gibbon writes so eloquently that I could not resist quoting from him at times but my argument is developed independently of him and draws on both primary sources and recent scholarship.
On the relationship between Christianity and philosophy I argue that there were two major strands of Greek philosophy , those of Plato and Aristotle. The early church did not reject Greek philosophy but drew heavily on Platonism to the exclusion of Aristotle. In the thirteenth century Christianity was reinvigorated by the adoption of Aristotelianism , notably by Thomas Aquinas. It seems clear that Christianity needed injections of pagan philosophy to maintain its vitality and a new era in Christian intellectual life was now possible. I don't explore it in this book. Even so, when one compares the rich and broad intellectual achievements of the `pagan' Greek centuries with those of the Middle Ages, it is hard to make a comparison in favour of the latter. Where are the great names? (The critic who mentioned the ninth century philosopher Erigena should also have mentioned that he was condemned as a heretic.)
When one reads the great works of second and third century AD thinkers such as Plutarch, Galen, Ptolemy and Plotinus, which are remarkable for their range and depth, one cannot but feel that much has been lost in the west by the fifth century. Something dramatic happened in the fourth century. In 313 Constantine brought the traditional policy of Roman toleration for different religious beliefs to its culmination by offering Christians (who had condemned the pagan gods as demons) a privileged place within the empire alongside other religions. By 381 the Christian emperor Theodosius when enforcing the Nicene creed condemns other Christians as `foolish madmen.. We decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious names of heretics . . .they will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation, and in the second the punishment which our authority , in accordance with the will of heaven, shall decided to inflict'.If this is not a `closing of the western mind' it is difficult to know what is. It goes hand in hand with a mass of texts which condemn rational thought and the violent suppression of Jewish and pagan sacred places. There is no precedent for such a powerful imposition of a religious ideology in the Greco-Roman world. The evidence of suppression is so overwhelming that the onus must be on those who argue otherwise to refute it.
Some readers have related my book to the present day- I leave it to them to do so if they wish -it is important to understand ANY age in which perspectives seem to narrow and religion and politics become intertwined as they certainly did in the fourth century. After all American Christianity was founded by those attempting to escape just such political straitjackets. Christianity has never been monolithic or static. In fact,as my book makes clear, one of my heroes is Gregory the Great who, I believe, brought back spirituality, moderation and compassion into the Christian tradition after the extremes of the fourth century. It is the sheer variety of Christianities which make the religion such an absorbing area of study.
I hope Amazon readers will continue to engage with my arguments whether they agree with them or not. Keep the western mind open and good reading!

22 November 2009

The Book of Genesis

By Robert Crumb, now available at amazon.

While creationists/intelligent-designers/religious-morons are usurping the science classic, Darwin's Origin of Species, by publishing it together with an introduction by a parasite, called Ray Comfort, and distributing it for free to US university students, here is another classic, a religious classic this time, presented from the marvelous point of view of Robert Crumb, the underground comics dude, the one whose illustrated stories are full of lewd, perverted but very much loved and admired content by many. A much better text, to be sure.

I suggest that people buy Crumb's Genesis and hand it to creationists as a response to Comfort's book. And watch their reaction.

Crumb's Genesis has been promoted as racy, and the front cover warns "adult supervision recommended for minors". Book of Genesis 'teases imagination', says the BBC.

Well, this is not a surprise. The original Genesis, as well as the whole Bible, should come with adult warnings. It is full of hideous acts that, if read by minors, and not only, might cause major disturbances to society. But what am I saying? Sorry. The Bible HAS caused major disturbances for several millennia.

21 November 2009

On professionalism

The word "professional'' as been used and abused. It is nowadays often confused with "bureaucrat'' or with "wearing a suit and a tie''. But let's see what Schopenhauer had to say when he contrasted professionals to dilettantes, an also confused word:

"Dilettantes! Dilettantes! - this is the derogatory cry (directed at) those who apply themselves to art or science for the sake of gain raise against those who pursue it for love of it and pleasure in it... The truth, however, is that to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is diretly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come." Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851 (Essays and Aphorisms, R. J. Hollingdale, trans., London Penguin Books, 1970), p 227.

18 November 2009

What qualifies as a religion?

From today's news:

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said he will consider calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the Church of Scientology. But he said the evidence must be looked at carefully before proceeding. Senator Nick Xenophon launched a scathing attack on Scientology, citing letters from former followers alleging extensive criminal activity: "letters received by me which were written by former followers in Australia, contain extensive allegations of crimes and abuses which are truly shocking." Senator Xenophon said their correspondence implicated the organisation in a range of crimes, including forced imprisonment, coerced abortions, physical violence and blackmail.

Good. I have no problem in questioning each and every religion of crimes and abuses made in the name of god. It seems, however, that in order to put a religion in a corner we must classify it as a sect:

Given [that Scientology has] religion status in many countries, it enjoys tax-free privileges - but revelations from former followers have sparked huge legal battles in Europe where in several countries it is deemed a sect, not a religion.

So, what, exactly, is a religion and what a sect? Is it a matter of age? Christian Science, the Bahai faith, Wicca, and Raelism, for example, are all relatively new religions. Or are they sects? What is the difference? Is it a matter of number of followers? Or is it, simply, a matter of whether, by classifying them as religions we make them tax exempt? At some point, all religions were young. And they were considered as sects. It seems to me that the division is arbitrary and the survival of the fittest rule applies here. If your religion makes it for a couple of hundred years then you're in good shape. Your descendants will benefit tax-free privileges and respect from all because their beliefs and acts will be blessed by some mataphysical, divine, superhuman force. Or so they will claim.

Last month, a French court convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud.
Excellent. I want to see the French court convict the Catholic Church of fraud and I want to see the Greek court convict the Orthodox Church for fraud too.

14 November 2009

European court of human rights bans crucifixes in Italian schools

In 1920, when Italy was a fascist state, crucifixes were made compulsory, by law, in the classroom.

Recently, an Italian mother (born in Finland), Soile Lautsi, who wants to give her children a secular education, brought a case, against the depiction of crucifixes, to Italy's Constitutional Court and her case was thrown out. She appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. And she won. The seven judges said state schools had to "observe confessional neutrality". Well-said. Article from the Guardian here. Article from BBC here.

Not surprisingly, there was an uproar in Italy by fascistoids (Berlusconites and the Northern League), by Catholics, and the Vatican. Outside Italy, the first to react was another reactionary organization, the Greek Orthodox Church. Even though they believe and teach that the Pope is a fool, they decided to offer their unanimous support to those Italians opposing the Human Rights Court decision.

In Greece, things are just as ridiculous as in Italy, or even worse: In the courts of law there are icons (not just symbols) of saints from above the judge's bench. The gospel is be used for swearing oaths in the witness box and every time one assumes a public post (e.g. professor in a university). Crucifixes abound in Greek schools, just as in Italy. Education in Greece is intricately linked to Greek Orthodoxy. Everybody in Greece pays the salary of Orthodox priests via taxes--no exceptions made. The Greek Church is afraid to lose all its state-supported advertising. And this may have financial cosequences: The Greek Church is ridiculously wealthy, usurping a large fraction of the Greek Economy.

A human rights group called Helsinki Monitor is seeking to set the Italian case as a precedent in Greece. In fact, I hope they do. I am going to write to the European Court of Human Rights asking them to apply justice to the theocratic state of Greece as well.

12 November 2009

Crossing boundaries

I was inspired to write this entry, mainly as a reminder to myself for future reference, when I learned, yesterday, that a plant geneticist, Dr John C Sanford, wrote a book titled Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome in which he probably abuses the concept of entropy in order to draw conclusions about his own field: "This book strongly refutes the Darwinian concept that man is just the result of a random and pointless natural process." The sentence, appearing in the book's description is wrong: the Darwinian process is not just random and cannot be described, merely, as a random process. (I also say "probably abuses" because I have not read the book yet.) I'd be interested to see if Jeff Shallit has spotted this, as he often likes to comment on the abuse of Information Theory by Creationists/Intelligent designers.

People transgress boundaries all the time, especially in Academia, and, often, for good reasons. In fact, I am a big supporter of cross-disciplinary research. However, it is not enough to merely have a haphazard knowledge of a secondary field: experience and knowledge are necessary. Otherwise, funny things can happen. Just as the Sanford example I mentioned above. Let me mention a few more:

The domain of biologically-inspired computing: Although I don't condemn the field, there are many silly papers written all the time. Here is one, published in the IEEE Transactions of Evolutionary Computation. This paper says the following, literally: If you have 1 million grains of sand numbered 1, 2, up to 1 million, one of which is red, but you don't know which is red, then there is no algorithm that will perform better than blind search; that is, choose a grain at random, look at the colour, and keep doing it until you find the red one. This theorem, now known as the No Free-Lunch Theorem (NFLT) is proved in a convoluted (and silly) manner in the paper. Many papers of this sort are produced (daily?) by Computer Scientists, Mathematicians and Engineers who decided to use Biological language in their research (without, perhaps, understanding this discipline).

The mathematically-inspired research on religion: Religion, per se, is, of course, not an academic discipline (or should not be), just as Astrology is not. (The study of the religious phenomenon, as a social phenomenon, on the contrary, is an academic discipline, just as the study of mental diseases is.) However, there are many researchers and "researchers" in Academia who have decided to use Mathematics to prove that their religion is correct. I'm saying it bluntly, but it is so even if they pretend to be arguing only about the existence of a deity or about design in the universe. Ultimately, they are only arguing from their own religious viewpoint. Two examples here: William Dembski, Professor of Theology and Science at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, ex-mathematician, is constantly abusing his prior field, Mathematics, in order to promote the so-called Intelligent Design (ID) ideas, which are versions of the so-called Creationism. In his Jesus Tomb Math paper is not the worst example. But his papers where he "uses" Information Theory for ID purposes are a good laugh. Second example is John Lennox, Professor of Algebra at the more reputable University of Oxford. He is a mathematician and a priest and uses mathematics to "prove" that god exists. I've written about him before.

The physico- mathematically-inspired research on post-modern philosophy is another case, beautifully exposed by Alan Sokal. In his paper, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", he exposes the idiocies of post-modernism, by writing a paper on this field, a paper which he managed to publish! Irene Irigaray is one of the post-modern philosophers who, among other things, argues that equations in Physics are predominantly male.

Examples of this sort abound. I can think of some more. I would be interested in discovering the ones I am not aware of.

11 November 2009

Criticising Khamenei

Defying all conventions, a young mathematics student in Iran, Mahmoud Vahidnia, stood up and openly criticised Khamenei, talked about lack of freedom in Iran and lack of freedom of speech. His talk lasted 20 minutes. The official claim is that he is not arrested but, of course, we do not know for sure.

In a rational world, everybody and everything should be subject to criticism, questioning and doubt. There is no democracy without rationality. And this is true at all levels. At the moment we feel fear of raising a question we (should) know that something is wrong; and we should have the courage to admit so, at least to ourselves. Unfortunately, most will suppress their very thoughts and even subject themselves to self-brain-washing: this is the most comfortable approach.

9 November 2009

Professors in the UK are required to act as police agents, Part II

Earlier this autumn, I wrote a post explaining how we, professors, are requirted to monitor students with visas and report back to the university who will report to the UK Border Agency. Another bureaucratic rule established means one more opportunity for the administrator to rejoice and one less opportunity for those of us who would like to engage in actual education and research, rather than bureaucratic meetings.

Rules, rules, and more rules is what will bring the university down.

But let's momentarily have a laugh about the whole thing by looking at some cartoons:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

What bothers me is not the rules themselves, neither the people who establish them. This is their job. They have to justify their salary, invent something, keep the wheels rolling. What bothers me is that nobody in the academic establishment talks about this. It is as if anything goes. Which raises the question: What if we lived in a dictatorship? Would everybody keep their mouths equally shut? (I'm afraid, yes...)

P.S. Thanks to Michael Fridman for the cartoon references.

19 October 2009

Church files for bankruptcy, but why?

A Catholic diocese based in Wilmington, in the state of Delaware has filed for bankruptcy protection [Chapter 11] just before a civil trial involving high-profile sex abuse.

The diocese covered up, for decades, despicable crimes of sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children. The Church fought hard to maintain secrecy surrounding its responsibility and complicity in the sexual abuse.

The bankruptcy action is the latest desperate attempt to hide the truth from the public. However, the Wilmington diocese is not the first to adopt this tactic to save their ass: it is is the seventh diocese to seek bankruptcy protection since the abuse scandal in Boston archdiocese in 2002. It has so far paid out $6.2 million to settle sexual abuse cases and has settled with other victims who did not go to court. (This is peanuts compared with the Los Angeles archdiocese, which settled 508 cases with $660 million in July 2007.)

Source: BBC news.

8 October 2009

The shroud of Turin and the blood of St Gennaro

The Shroud of Turin: It is a linen cloth showing the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, marked by what appears to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side. The man appears to have been physically hurt in a manner consistent with crucifixion. Believers assume that the shroud is the cloth placed on the body of Jesus Christ at the time of his burial:

Radiocarbon dating [c.f. P.E. Damon et al: Radiocarbon dating of the shroud of Turin, Nature 337, 611-615, 1989] shows that the shroud was made during the middle ages. Nevertheless, believers claim that the carbon measured by scientists was due to some fire deposits. They claim that Basically the shroud has some strange properties and characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human hands. But, a few days ago, a professor of Organic Chemistry, Luigi Garlaschelli, announced that he managed to create a copy of the shroud by wrapping a specially woven cloth over one of his students, painting it with pigment, baking it in an oven (which he called a "shroud machine") for several hours, then washing it.

The blood of St Gennaro: St Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. Faithful gather three times a year to witness the alleged liquefaction of a sample of his dried blood kept in a sealed glass ampoule. We know little about St Gennaro's life who lived in the 3d c. CE. According to legend, his blood was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint's death. During the liquefaction ceremonies, the archbishop holds up the vial and tilts it again to demonstrate that liquefaction has taken place. (There is a procession which makes its way through streets lined with shops selling religious items.) The announcement of the liquefaction is greeted with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. The ampoules remains exposed on the altar for eight days, while the priests move or turn them periodically to show that the contents remains liquid. During this time, the faithful kiss the ampoule. (But, recently, they stopped the kisses due to swine flu fears.)
In an article published by Luigi Garlaschelli et al. [c.f. L. Garlaschelli, F. Ramaccini and S. Della Salla: The blood of St Januarius, Chemistry in Britain 30, 2, 123 , 1994], the authors announce that they can replicate the liquefaction phenomenon and conclude that:
Further tests to investigate the real nature of the holy "blood" without opening the ampoule come readily to mind: for example, molecular absorptions and fluorescence spectroscopy, and Raman scattering measurements, made with modern electronic instruments by qualified spectroscopists. Controlled temperature increments and shock tests also represent non-destructive analytical methods by which our or alternative hypotheses might be verified or disproved. Whether these simple tests will be allowed to go ahead wholly depends upon the Catholic Church. At present however, given that the phenomenon has been replicated, it would be rather too naive to consider it irreproducible or unexplainable.

-- Has science proved that these centuries' old "miracles" are reproducible?
Well, yes!
-- Will that stop any of the faithful from believing in them?
Not at all. As is usual in these cases, those who believe will believe even more strongly. In religious matters, it doesn't matter what you prove or not. Whoever wants to believe he or she will believe no matter what. For them, proofs, science and logic are utterly irrelevant.

6 October 2009

The Edinburgh Crackpots Group, II

Some time ago, I commented on the Edinburgh Crackpots Group. I checked their web page today to see what they're up to. Nothing much, really, because they operate (so they say) half the year. So we have to wait to see what kind of brilliant events they will schedule. I am looking forward in anticipation, because they are amusing (besides being dangerous).

Meanwhile, I amused myself by looking at their "Gospel for Idiots" page: just in case you can't read the (boring) Bible, you can find a series of stupid cartoons explaining what these texts are about. With pictures:A better word for their page is: "How to become a Christian in 20 easy steps."

3 October 2009

International blasphemy day

30 September 2009 was the first international Blasphemy Day, organised by the Center For Inquiry to commemorate the Mohammed cartoons controversy and celebrate free expression and the “God-given” right to mock, ridicule and blaspheme religions. Read more about this here.

I learned from that site that UN nations passed, a few months ago, a resolution on religious defamation: “Defamation of religious is a serious affront to human dignity leading to a restriction on the freedom of their adherents and incitement to religious violence,” the adopted text read, adding that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

The resolution is both obscene (clearly) and irrational. Indeed, by adopting religion A, say, chances are you are blaspheming religion B. (Example: In the Greek Orthodox “tradition”, there is a song/poem some older people sing during the week before Easter that mentions the “thrice-cursed Jews who crucified Christ”.)

Therefore, if one is to abide to the law, one should not be a member of a religion that is in conflict with at least another religion. Since (I think) there is no religion that has absolutely zero conflicts with another, the only logical conclusion, following from the UN resolution, is that one should be an atheist. This could (should?) be pointed out to the brains who voted for such an obscene/irrational thing.

28 September 2009

Disgusting customs

This is taken from BBC News:

A leading Egyptian scholar (Abdul Mouti Bayoum of al-Azhar University) has demanded that people caught importing a female virginity-faking device into the country should face the death penalty. He said that supplying the item was akin to spreading vice in society, a crime punishable by death in Islamic Sharia law; and that it undermines the moral deterrent of fornication, which he described as a crime and one of the cardinal sins in Islam.

The device is said to release liquid imitating blood, allowing a female to feign virginity on her wedding night. The contraption is seen as a cheap and simple alternative to hymen repair surgery, which is carried out in secret by some clinics in the Middle East. It is produced in China and has already become available in other parts of the Arab world. The device is reported to be on sale in Syria for $15.

P.S. In the university where I work I see dozens of Islamic women wearing the veil covering their heads. (Men don't wear anything of the sort.) But for the first time this year I also saw female students with their faces entirely hidden, like in the picture above. I must admit I find it utterly disturbing. I cannot help but think that men of these societies treat women like objects. And women accept that....

20 September 2009

A dangerous holocaust denialist with childish arguments

They [western powers] launched the myth of the Holocaust. They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews. The pretext [the Holocaust] for the creation of the Zionist regime [Israel] is a lie … a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust.
These are the words uttered by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a couple of days ago, to his worshippers at Tehran university, during the Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally, the regime's annual display of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Death to Israel!
cried his supporters in unison. This is not the first time Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust. His usual claims are these:

"I belong to the university, I am an academician. I am interested in a scientific approach. I raise the question: In WWII over 60 million people lost their lives. Were they not human beings? Why is it only the Jews we focus on? If this a historical event then we should conduct research on it to make sure it is a reality. Why is it those who ask questions are being persecuted? Whereas we can question God, freedom, democracy, we are not allowed to question the Holocaust. If this happened, where did it happen? Did the Palestinian people have anything to do with it? Palestinians leave under threat, losing their lives. You might argue the Jews have the right to have a government. But where? Not by displacing a whole nation."

It is easy to see that Ahmadinejad is totally irrational: The first thing he mentions is that he is an academic. This is the usual tactic of those who do not have real arguments; they use their "scientific hat" to impress the audience. Second, he seems to want to deny the Holocaust, not because of the event per se, but because of other crimes and deaths that took place during WWII; and because he "feels" for the Palestinians. The fact the Palestinians have no state is NOT a reason for denying the Holocaust. This is absurd; irrational. Third, he claims we are not allowed to conduct a scientific investigation on the Holocaust. He is ignorant. There is probably more evidence of the Holocaust’s details than for any other genocide in history. Not only we have survivors, we also have details written and recorded by the Nazis themselves who wanted to satisfy their weird perversions in trying to extinguish a people. Fourth, nobody, in a free nation (unlike Iran), prohibits anyone to question the Holocaust, Democracy, God(s), whatever. It is in his nation where people are not allowed to question certain things like Allah's existence, Ahmadinejad's right to be a president. All his claims about the "myth of the Holocaust" return to the same point: Give Palestinians a state.

I happen to agree that Palestinians should have a state. But what does this have to do with a historical event like the Holocaust? It is as if Ahmadinejad is saying:
"I am going to deny the Holocaust as long as Palestine is not a sovereign nation. When that happens, I will withdraw and, perhaps, withdraw my claims that Holocaust did not take place."
The science of psychology must have studied these kind of people: those who are stubborn upon an issue and will be stubborn and adamant about it until they receive the reward they want. Children act exactly this way, until their parents fullfil their favours. But Ahmadinejad is, as far as we know, an adolescent. Yet he behaves exactly like a spoiled child.

What's unique about the Holocaust? Michael Fridman commented on it recently. There are denialists of all kinds of things (genocides, wars, terrorist acts, etc) but the Holocaust, according to Michael, is unique. Because it is simultaneously the most well-documented genocide in history and the most denied one.

On a positive side, several protesters in Iran did not agree with Ahmadinejad. "Death to the dictator", they cried, while marching in Teheran. Strikingly, one of the strongest calls for opposition participation in the Quds Day protests came from Hojatolleslam Sayyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution. In a thinly disguised rebuke to the hardliners, Khomeini called Quds Day "a day for the oppressed to resist against the oppressors", implying that it is also a day of protest against repression and oppression in Iran.

18 September 2009

Ways of knowing

I borrowed this title from here. Read the post of Jason Rosenhouse first.

I'd like to add one (out of dozens) of my personal experiences about what constitutes knowledge. (Most of them stem from religious faith, others from sheer idiocy. The first category I've encountered mostly in Texas. The second category is universal.)

Back in 1992, a professor, call him C, at the University of Texas came to my office and told me that the local "expert" in probability, Gary Wise (who is now in jail, despite the fact that he was a good Texas, bible-studying guy, but he managed, you see, to shoot the dean's car) referred him to me when C asked Gary something about Poisson processes. So C asks me the question, also referring to me as "the expert in Poisson processes". The question involved a rather trivial (well-understood) property of a Poisson process: Namely, if we consider two successive points of the Poisson process we know that their expected distance is the inverse of its rate, but if, in addition, we know that these points contain a specific observation time (12 o'clock, say), then their expected distance is twice the inverse of the rate.

There is nothing wrong with this. When we compute the expectation of a random variable, conditional on some information, we compute, in general, something very different from the expectation of the random variable.

Prof C asks me if the above property of the Poisson process is correct because he thought it was incorrect whereas the students in his class thought otherwise. I say, yes, of course. He replies, "I don't believe that!". "Well, let me give you a proof", I say. "I don't want a proof; this violates my sense of causality", says C. I could not, for the life of me, understand what he meant by "sense of causality". I explained to him that whereas a Poisson process may be used as a model of a random phenomenon in time, mathematically time plays no role as such. It could be space or whatever. Prof C went on giving a speech about the sky, the stars and god. I apologised and said that I will not go into these domains and that the only thing I can give him is a mathematical proof. He did not accept this. He repeated he needs no proof. Before leaving he said, "OK give me a reference". So I told him to look it up in Feller's book.

Several days later, C saw me at the corridor and shouted: "I believe it, I believe it! It's in Feller's book!" So, I asked if he has read the proof. "No, I haven't, but it's in Feller's book, so it's correct!"

For C, knowing was tantamount to seeing it written in a respectable book. For him, this is much better than a proof. I should not fail to mention that C is a born-again christian fundamentalist.

17 September 2009

Professors in the UK are required to act as police agents

A 3-page document originating at the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) was distributed to us today. It outlines certain new procedures requiring teaching staff to be policing foreign students with visas and report them to the officials if they fail to come to classes.

According to the document, teaching staff are required to
1. highlight students at risk of missing 10 expected contacts
2. chase highlighted students
3. report non-attendance to UKBA.
By "expected contacts" they mean class or tutorial attendance, submission of homework, etc. So if a student misses 4 classes, 4 tutorials and 2 homeworks, then I must report him or her to the police. This is absurd because:
  1. It forces us, professors, to micromanage every class, every meeting and keep detailed records.
  2. It requires students to attend lectures. Whereas this is something that, in general, a student has to do, it does not take into account students who can do perfectly well without attending lectures. Universities are full of boring lectures and lecturers. Why should a (presumably intelligent) university student be treated like a schoolchild? If I was required to attend all lectures when I was at the university, I'd probably quit: I couldn't stand irrational or boring teachers. I did better (much better) by studying in bed.
  3. It creates a new load for everybody: for the computer people (who, according to the document, will have to create a computerized monitoring system), for teaching staff (who must act as police officers even though they are neither trained nor ever desired to do so), for administrators who will be chasing professors who are not chasing students, for secretaries, etc. (Actually, some administrators may be happy with this new measure because it creates work for them.)
The UK is, as well-known, a surveillance society. A few days ago, the Sunday Times published an article reporting that
Britain has 1% of the world’s population but about 20% of its CCTV cameras; it has one camera for every 14 people in the country.
In another Guardian article, it is reported that CCTV is the worst of all possible worlds.

For some reason I cannot quite understand, the UK wants to monitor everybody at all times. And now they try to make people (professors) who are out of the game, get into it.


So, why don't the UK officials install a few more CCTVs in each classroom to monitor the students they want? As a matter of fact, why don't they electronically tag each incoming foreign student, immediately upon entering, so that they can monitor his/her presence in lectures, tutorials, home or the toilet?


19 August 2009

A Governor’s prayer for rain

I just received an email from Michael Schermer's e-skeptic about a method used in Atlanta, GA, to produce rain in a period of drought in 2007:
On Tuesday, November 13, 2007, Sonny Perdue, the Governor of Georgia, led a group of approximately 250 persons, including many state officials, in a prayer for rain on the steps of the state capitol in Atlanta. Georgia had been suffering an extreme drought, and the level of Lake Lanier, an important water reservoir near Atlanta, had been decreasing dramatically over several months. Governor Perdue believed that a divine intervention was necessary and so he boldly asked God to bring rain. Fully expecting his prayer to be effective, Perdue said “Hopefully we will be better conservators of the blessings God’s given us as he gives us more [rain].”
There is no need to discuss further the idiocy of such an act. But (miracle of miracles!) ....
the next day there was light rain in Atlanta and much rain came to the area over the next couple of months. Many Georgians considered Perdue a hero and thought that his prayer had influenced God to increase rainfall to the drought stricken vicinity of Atlanta.

So, the e-skeptic people decided to conduct a
[statistical] investigation to determine whether the prayer was correlated with an increase in rain, and if so, how likely it was to have caused the increase.
And guess what they found:
However, no evidence was found for a causal relationship between the prayer and the increase in rain. The Governor did not produce the increase, despite the claims of many that he did! This is clear from comparing the outcome of his day of prayer to the outcomes of nonprayer days. Nonprayer days were likely to be followed by rainfall increases equal to or greater than what followed the Governor’s prayer day approximately 11% of the time for all nonprayer days, 17% of the time for nonprayer days in November, and 50% of the time for nonprayer days preceded by periods of low rainfall. Any belief that the Governor produced an increase in rain by his prayer on November 13, 2007 can be considered to be wishful thinking.
It is sad that there are so many idiots who are ready to believe that there is a causal relationshop between prayer and rainfall. It is also equally sad that we have to run scientific experiments to prove (to these idiots) the obvious. But guess what: no matter what proof you give (to these idiots), these people will remain unconvinced. Faith is more powerful (for them) than proof.

Watch the following video (about a minute after the start) to hear what the moron Governor says:

Here is a little problem... WHICH God did this moron (and the idiots who prayed along) pray to? Some prayed to Allah, some to Zeus, some to other gods. Do gods of different religions collaborate to answe the prayer, to produce the rain? Hm... probably not. This simple thought alone should be enough to spare e-skeptic from conducting a scientific experiment to prove the obvious.

It seems that many politicians act completely irrationally, by appealing to "gods", to "prayers" and to "faith". I commented on one of them earlier. And it would be OK as long as they did so for their own private reasons. Nevertheless, they do use "gods", "prayers" and "faith" in order to take decisions that affect peoples' lives. (Remember that Bush invaded Iraq because "god told him so"?) This IS the problem.

4 August 2009

An Einstein quote

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.

9 July 2009


In the Ukrainian language, holod=hunger, mor=plague

Holdomor refers to another Stalinist crime: the famine of 1932–1933 in the Ukraine during which millions of people were starved to death. I knew little about it, until the "a Nadder!'' blogger informed me that, like Katyn, Holodomor is yet another Soviet massacre.

What is more surpsising is that, unlike Katyn which is now almost universally acknowledged as a Soviet mass murder (excepting the deniers who live in their own world), Holodomor is, still, thought to be just another Stalinist operation, not a particular crime per se. One of the problem seems to be that, during the 30's, Walter Duranty, a pro-Stalin journalist living in the USSR, published in the New York Times denying the famine, contradicting other voices, like that of Gareth Jones, and thus establishing a lie, even in the west. I also read that western intellectuals, sympathetic to the Leninist/Stalinist "progressive'' regime, talked down the famine.

What is interesting to consider is this: How can it be that such huge crimes, murders of incredible magnitude, can be trivialized or denied? The blame is not (only) with the regime that caused the murders: they do their job. It is the others, the good boys, the deniers, who propagate the lies.

I will give a parallel in my domain: I constantly see the decline of the education system, the way that, nowadays, the university spoon-feeds students, collects their tuition and grants them a piece of paper. I wonder how it is possible to have system in which, say, maths/science students cannot do elementary high-school algebra; and I shout about it. Well, the politicians (who cause the situation) will definitely not speak about it. But what about academics? Among them, there are several deniers who will contradict me and it is they who are the most dangerous ones. The politicians are doing their job: they ensure that more students will go through the university pipeline, they will establish a good name for themselves and they will be re-elected; this is their goal. However, this goal would not have been possible had the deniers been absent.

Certainly, I do not claim that deniers of the university ridicule are at the same level as deniers of mass massacres, but, logically (and I'd dare say psychologically), there are parallels. So it seems to me.

7 July 2009


I saw, yesterday, the film Katyń by the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Probably one of the most important films of the early 21st century, it tries to restore the historical truth about the mass murder of 22 thousand Polish people (military officers, engineers, intellectuals, merchants) in the Russian Katyn (Катынь) forest near the Polish border. Ordered by Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the secret Soviet Police NKVD, these people were captured, shortly after USSR invaded Poland, kept as prisoners for several months, and finally executed and buried in mass graves. The Nazis, who invaded Poland almost simultaneously as the Soviets, took advantage of the massacre for their own propaganda. At the end of the war, the Soviet-occupied Poland started an organized propaganda to convince everyone that it was the Nazis who had committed the massacre; anyone who dared deny this was imprisoned, marginalized or killed. The situation lasted until 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility; and Boris Yeltsin made public the documents authorizing the massacre.

An excellent review of the film is written by Anne Applebaum who tells us that the film is in the classic Wajda style:
For half a century, beginning in the darkest era of communism and continuing through the years of Solidarity, martial law, and the post-Communist present, Wajda has been conducting precisely this kind of cinematic dialogue with Polish audiences. Although they have sometimes been celebrated abroad, his movies have always been made with his countrymen in mind, which gives them a special flavor.
We don't need too much of Polish history to watch the film, although some certainly helps. From Applebaum's review I also learned that Wajda's father was among the Katyn massacre victims and that there are several references in the film about Wajda's own life; for example, that he wanted to be an art student, and that his mother had, for years, no idea what had happened to her husband. Wajda was asked why he made the film now.
Most of those who actually remembered the events of 1939 were now dead, he explained—Wajda himself is eighty-one—so the film could no longer be made for them. Instead, he said, he wanted to tell the story again for young people—but not just any young people. Wajda said he wanted to reach "those moviegoers for whom it matters that we are a society, and not just an accidental crowd."
But both in the interviews he's given and in the film itself, Wajda seems to be saying something rather different about the need for a national cinema. By making Katyn, he wanted to create something that would get Poles to talk to one another, to reflect upon common experiences, to define common values, to admire similar virtues, to forge a civil society out of an anonymous crowd. Katyn is deliberately intended to inspire patriotism, in the most positive sense of the word. This too helps explain why Wajda made a film that asks not just "what happened?" or "what did the Soviet Union do to us?" but rather "how did we, as a society, react afterward?" as well as "and how do we remember it now?"
Wajda has achieved his goals as he has, indeed, created discussions, and
"Have you been to see Katyn yet?" was something one was asked with some frequency in Warsaw this past fall.
Most interestingly, he has managed to solicit some Russian reaction:
[O]n the day after the film's release, a government-owned Russian newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, declared that Soviet responsibility for Katyn was "not obvious." In a snide article, one of the newspaper's pundits threw doubt on a decade's worth of voluminous archival publications, and accused Wajda of "separating us further from the truth."
The film includes rare original photographs, excerpts from German newsreels presenting the Katyn massacre as a Soviet crime, and excerpts from Soviet newsreels presenting the massacre as a German crime.

Unfortunately, not everybody will be able to watch the film because it's not a main Hollywood production. I'm lucky to be in Edinburgh where the film scene is very good.

P.S. (Added 20 Feb. 2013). Here is a link on Andrzej Wajda's biography, as presented by culture.pl

21 June 2009

What's wrong with the word HELLO?

Have you said hello today? Chances are you have.

Have you realized this is not a proper way to speak? Chances are you haven't.

Why is that? If you haven't thought about it yet, think again. Perhaps, you won't guess it, no matter how hard you try, but the truth is...

The word hello is offensive!

Indeed, it is: it contains the word hell. Whenever you say hello, you are essentially sending someone to burn in hell. Not a nice thing to do, isn't it?

This is what was discovered, after years of intensive research--to be sure, in the State of Texas! And, being progressive, they passed a resolution in Kleberg County, Texas, where the offensive word is going to be replaced by the more progressive, ethical, morally correct, godly-like word heaven-o.

A professor of English, David Sabrio, dared to note that hello has nothing to do with hell. But what does he know? In Texas, they think otherwise. Some groups of atheists also think it's stupid. But what do they know? They're probably based in Communist countries, not in Texas. It is now official: Wikipedia has modified its article on "hello" to include the new word, first founded in Texas.

Heaven-o to all!

29 May 2009

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Chinsagu No Hana

Chinsagu No Hana (てぃんさぐぬ花): The Balsam Flowers

by Ryūichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍)

chinsagu no hana ya chinsachi ni sumiti uya no yushi gututoya chimu ni sumire
red of balsam flower colour finger tips but parents' words colour one's mind

yoru harasu funiya nirufabushi miate wannacheru uyaya wando miate
sailing in the dark, one is in need of the starlight but old parents are in need of me

ten no muribusiya yumiba yumarisiga, uya no yushigutoya, yumin naran
one can count the number of stars, but one cannot count parents' love and wisdom

Chinsagu No Hana is an example of Ryukyuan Music, the traditional music of the Ryūkyū Kingdom (Okinawa). Music from the Ryukyu islands uses tonal structure that is different from that of the main islands of Japan: different scales and different intervals. Mainland Japan uses the major pentatonic scale Do, Re, Mi, Sol, La. Ryukyuan Music uses Do, Mi, Fa, Sol, Si. The composed version of the traditional okinawan folk song was written for the film "Japanese Story". The lyrics are traditional Confucian teachings.

11 May 2009

Texas School Board votes on the age of the Universe

Texas has decided: We should ignore scientific theory and observations and leave question of the age of the Universe open to debate in the classroom. After all, the Universe could be a few thousand years old because the Judeo-Christian Bible says so. This is what the Texas School Board member Barbara Cargill thinks and this is what the Texas School Board voted for (11:3).

The amazingly eloquent speech by Cargill can be watched here.

Interesting discussions on this appear on the Pharyngula blog.

Also, in a New Scientist article.

23 April 2009

The Atheist Experience

The Atheist Experience is a weekly cable access television show in Austin, Texas geared at a non-atheist audience. Every week they receive live calls from atheists and believers and what they say is hilarious. They are prime examples of the following dictum:

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe. --Einstein

Here are some examples. Enjoy!

Example 1:
Caller 1: I hear peoplet alking about the Atheist Experience. You are a Marxist, you are an atheist, and you're from Russia.
Caller 2: So, you're saying you're a minister?
AE: Yes.
Caller 2: And you don't believe in God?
AE: That's correct.
Caller 2: Ha ha ha. Man, you're the devil man.

Example 2:
Caller 3: You know what I really like to do, I'm just gonna... some day I'm just gonna come and punch your fat face for Jesus, that's what I'm gonna do.
AE: Really? Do you think that's what Jesus wants you to do? Because...
Caller 3: Yeah, definitely, he's gonna come back and he's gonna...
AE: Does he want me to turn the other cheeck?
Caller 4: So y'all don't believe in God, y'all don't believe in anything?
AE: No, that's not true.
Caller 4: Well, God's everything, so if you don't believe in Him you believe in nothing.

Example 3:
Caller 5: Hey, I got proof.
AE: Proof for what?
Caller 5: My explanation that the God is real?
AE: OK. Good.
Caller 5: My explanatation is, my mother was in the hospital, correct? Well, my correction.
AE: [Silence]
Caller 5 goes on to explain how his mother was to the verge of death, she stopped breathing, they take her downstairs, call us, and, all of a sudden she starts breathing! So what is that, mother nature doctors, or is it God?


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant