27 February 2011

Galileo was wrong. Vive la Bible! [Part II]

Several months ago, I posted something cynical about a conference organised by geocentrist creationists. It is unbelievable that such idiots can exist. Religion and irrational thought produces all kinds of vegetables. Unfortunately.

The particular movement is headed by a certain Robert Sungenis, who believes that
physics and the Bible prove that the sun and all the planets orbit the Earth and that the Earth does not rotate. In support of his beliefs, Sungenis published the book Galileo Was Wrong in the hope that people will "give Scripture its due place and show that science is not all it's cracked up to be."
This guy lives in the US where he can find lots of similarly-minded deluded morons who "believe" that the earth is still and the centre of the Universe. There are other idiots who believe that the earth is a few thousand years old. Others, believe that the earth is flat. Others believe that the people who wrote the Quran were engaged in embryology. The amount of stupidity in this world is unbounded.

I was reminded of this nonsense this morning, thanks to James B. Phillips who posted the following in my blog:

James said...

Childish name calling is the typical caliber of those who offer their non-substantive denigrations of geocentrism. Often they mock religion in general and Christianity in particular -- the very same people who make a god of and place their materialistic blind faith in science which has a history of making countless errors.

Most moderns who reject geocentrism do so out of an ignornance of the true science involved and or because they are philosophically pre-disposed to refuse to accept the possibility of a God who not only has placed our earth at the center of the universe, but who actually has the entire matererial universe go around that heavaenly body which Jesus Christ lived on in the flesh some 2000 years ago.

See www.galileowaswrong.com and galileowaswrong.blogspot.com.

James B. Phillips 

The reason that the world is full of problems is because there are uneducated, deluded, irrational individuals like the aforementioned individuals. They pose a threat to civilisation itself because they can easily attract supporters who are ready to believe anything irrational as a substitute for possible real problems. People use irrational behaviour as a drug. And these people are as dangerous as drug dealers. Perhaps more so.

21 February 2011


Riots in Libya too.
Which reminded me of Gaddafi's signature.
There is an ancient proverb saying that "your signature is your mirror".

19 February 2011

What's in a title

Some people find that my family name is too long. Not infrequently, US supermarket cashiers used to  ask whether I had difficulty learning how to write my name when I was little (!)

But the length of my name (20 letters) in comparison to "Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg" (89 letters, not counting spaces) is small.

If you've never heard of this fellow, besides your obvious guess that he is noble, he is also Christian (Catholic, to be exact), he is a member of a political party with a religious name, the "Christian Social Union of Bavaria", the current minister of defence in Germany, married to an equally noble person, Countess Stephanie of Bismarck-Schönhausen, great-great-granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck.

Besides his fame, he has very recently become infamous too as he was accused of incorporating numerous excerpts from previously published literature in his doctoral thesis, without crediting the sources. See here and here.

Of course, he refuses this. And he is backed up by Angela Merkel. Of course.

According to BBC, ZDF television website dubbed him "Zu Copyberg", Financial Times Deutschland named him "Baron Cut-and-Paste", and Berlin daily Tageszeitung nicknamed him "Zu Googleberg".

The plagiarism allegation arose when a law professor from Bremen University began writing a review of Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg's thesis, using the Internet. Most likely, the wonderful Internet helped Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg finish his PhD (and do something more important, politics) and also the Bremen prof. who easily discovered plagiarism by googling Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg's thesis.

Are we surprised?
No. (i) There is a strong correlation between someone being a politician and being dishonest. A colleague from the US once told me "I don't understand why people are so surprised every time a scandal about a politician is revealed; I'd be surprised if the opposite happened." (ii) I personally wouldn't trust anyone who belongs to a party with a religious name. (iii) The titles! You can have as long name as you wish, but it is so much more comfortable to have a long name, especially one that uses both VON and ZU (I've actually never heard of that before), so much so that, if you're the holder of such a name, you probably feel more important than others and, hence, less vulnerable, and can justify to yourself to plagiarize (a wee bit) in order to achieve a noble purpose.

Back to the titles, however. Although I have no proof about the following claim (just empirical evidence) I feel that people who are von's and zu's and people who attach lots of name titles after their surname (Prof. Dr. Qxqz Xpliwar, BSc, MSc, PhD, FFS, FRBS) do so because they feel that their titles equip them with a certain shield. Even though they will refute any claim of importance to titles, the mere fact that they carry them on their web sites, business cards and at their doors, feels (to me) like an attempt to impress and, therefore, make their lives easier. Imagine, for example, a professor in a university with lots of titles (of nobility or academic ones). Suppose, for instance, that this professor, at some point, got tired of learning anything new in his/her field, or doing anything new, and started teaching/researching the same old stuff forever. In such a case, titles help. They help because it is more difficult to accuse someone with lots of titles, rather than someone with none. As a matter of fact, certain combinations of titles make it obvious (to me) that they are used precisely for this purpose. For what is the purpose of, say, preceding "PhD" with "MSc" and "BSc"? If you see a name, followed by "PhD" only, would you think that this person got a PhD without first getting a lower degree? (If so, then this person is brilliant.) But the bottomline of using lots of titles excessively is (in my opinion again) insecurity.

Having said that, of course, I do not want to trivialize important awards given to people for real work, awards which lead to a distinction with a name title. Life-time achievements are, and rightly so, rewarded. What I am saying is that acquired titles and the use of excessive name titles are nothing but a sign of insecurity and incompetence (in my opinion).

So, no, I'm not surprised that Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg is accused of plagiarism.

2 February 2011

The moral landscape

New book by Sam Harris, dealing with the question whether science can determine morality, human values. The last bastion of theists, namely that without belief in the supernatural there is no way for people to behave ethically, is challenged by Harris who defends his position apparently well. I just bought the book and am reading it, so I am not yet in a position to offer my personal views. A review by Michael Schermer which just appeared in the Scientific American is positive. Another review by Massimo Pigliucci which just appeared in the latest edition of the Skeptic is more negative.

What is important for me is mostly that the question can be asked and the dogmatic view be challenged. Almost certainly, morality has nothing to do with these people, or these ones, or these ones, or these ones, or these ones. And, certainly, the hypocrisy of Blair is not an answer but means for providing further divide between those who believe and those who don't, whatever the verb may mean.

Oh, by the way, for those who asked me recently, I don't only read books or articles I only agree with.

1 February 2011

Greece, 2011 CE

Trafficking of human organs, firearms, drugs and babies are easier to take place in countries without borders (and this has nothing to do with having a large sea-coast or thousands of islands).  

Yesterday, in Kavala, some Afghans were on their way, in their learjets,  to Italy to sell their own kidneys.  Today, Bulgarians and their Greek brothers were selling babies (everybody knows the tariff). How many lawyers, supposedly, can have now view? Black economy flourishes and unlawfulness renders our small European country an Eldorado of fraud. 

Our land has always been a passage. This was a cause for the birth of  philosophy and civilization. A passage where hypocrisy, piracy, smuggling and fraud bloomed. At some point, this land acquired  boundaries, but this has not resulted in any significant change. Lawlessness remains a way of life. The Prime Minister's decision to touch directly upon the issue of illegal billboards appeared to be a strange act. But he started doing something. Could he, perhaps, realize the illegality of the recent occupation of the Athens Law School and do something about it? As he once declared, the PM has been an immigrant himself and so he could possibly understand a bit more.

Among the five continents, there is a small country which receives 300 souls [immigrants] every day. A country that everyone is entitled to curse and degrade. But we are not all illegal. Immigrants, yes, we may be. But we do deserve some dignity even if hypocrisy is a national virtue.

Somewhat free translation of the Greek original from Law Blog.


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