Saturday, October 29, 2005

Version 0.w.2.718281828459040 - The Flame War


I've about had it with this whole universe project. Look at where we're at guys - version 0.w.2.718281828459040 and we're still nowhere near a stable release. It MIGHT HELP if some of you PUTZES would actually follow some of the AGREED SPECS. Like:

Way back at release 0.w.2.71828182800042 we AGREED that hair was more efficient than feathers. But some of you guys wanted creatures that could fly - you insisted we needed feathers so you could have your birds. Hell, we already had the flight thing licked with the insects, but no, that wasn't good enough for you. At release 0.w.2.71828182800151 we cracked flying hairy things with bats. That should have been it for the friggin' birds, IMHO, but no, birds were cute, they had to stay in. What do you guys really want - a universe that's full of cute stuff or one that friggin' WORKS????

Posted by Tetragrammaton

Here we go again. POT/KETTLE/BLACK, Tet! When are you vertebrate guys going to get around to implementing the new eye design we prototyped in the cephalopods? And whose brilliant idea was it to combine intelligence with an opposable thumb? If you're so sick of this project why don't you just F**K OFF!!!! Go screw someone else's pooch.

Posted by Shiva

Please, can we discuss this without getting into that whole "intelligence is fine for cetaceans but bad for apes" debate again? That topic is SOOOO last eternity.

Posted by Yahweh

Hey Tet, is this Yahweh real, or is another one of your sock puppets? Or is it the other way round? Either way, you guys are pathetic. You want intelligent apes - fine, create an experimental branch and work on them there until you iron the bugs out or maybe finally get the idea that the damn things just don't work. Like in release 0.w.2.71828182700013 when you were expecting the little buggers to worship you andinstead they came up with that crazy "Evolution" theory. Still ROFLMAO over that one. And what about that idea of intelligent females who were naturally submissive to the males? Looked really good until they came up with that "feminism" thing.

Your biggest problem is that you think you're the only one on this project with any good ideas. If maybe you'd had the humility to recognise some of the rest of us are capable of good work, this project wouldn't be so F**KED UP. Like maybe if you'd built those praying mantis behaviours I sent you into your beloved Hom sap you'd be able to get the thing to work, mister F**CKING PERFECT.

Posted by Asmodeus

Female androphagy RAWKS!

Posted by Beelzebub


Friday, October 28, 2005

21st Century Schizoid Man

On the front page of today's Age, Tom Allard reminds us that Phil Ruddock's "competent authorities" are anything but:

... As family members cowered and complained, an ASIO "technical team" began to film the premises and take photographs.

According to an account of the incident by the then Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Bill Blick, the senior ASIO officer then realised he had made a "serious" error.

He had the wrong address on the search-and-seizure warrant. That should have been patently obvious because ASIO and police had earlier gone to the actual address on the warrant — Mr Daye's father's grocery shop — about 100 metres down the road.

On the opinion pages, Tony Parkinson is having a bit of trouble working out where he stands:

Whatever the challenges of fighting terrorism, the Howard Government would have done better to let the sedition laws lie fallow in Australia, as they have done since the 1940s. For it seems a very old-fashioned, ill-suited legal remedy with which to address security threats to a 21st century democracy.


Dangerously, for the Federal Government, the debate over sedition laws is becoming a distraction from the need for practical, effective measures aimed at preventing a terrorist attack on home soil. Frankly, there is more than enough medievalism going around at the moment without an Australian Government introducing its own blast from the past.


[Muslim militants] happen to live in Western societies. In their determination to protect Islamic doctrine from criticism (or scrutiny) they do not defer to courts or parliaments. They don't seek the acquiescence of Jon Stanhope. They take up a gun, a knife, or a cudgel, and kill those they see as infidels. Simple as that.

Open societies are resilient. They accommodate divergent voices — even strident voices. But a line must be drawn when voices advocate killing or maiming other Australians to advance a religious or political cause. For this reason, the bill to be introduced into Federal Parliament next week — or something like it — is a necessary safeguard ...

Actually, there is one point Tony's pretty clear on - he doesn't like John Pilger:

To prosecute and jail Pilger for sedition, whatever his opinions, would be a travesty: a cruel and unwarranted punishment. If nothing else, spare a thought for the other inmates.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Laugh, Damn It - or You're Next

Each year since 2003, I've intended to put up a celebratory, commemoratory or commiseratory post on the general theme of what's changed in the blogosphere since I started. I think, of the three alternatives listed, a commiseratory post would probably be the most appropriate, in view of our complementary misfortunes; I'm stuck with the pernicious, and ultimately narcissistic, habit of blogging, you're stuck with the equally pernicious habit of reading this guff.

There's been a lot of bloggage over the past few days on the derision bloggers have been getting from a couple of op-ed dunces; among other things this has led to some debate over at John Quiggin's blog on the nature of humour. I've so far resisted the temptation to get too involved in it. Although I'm sometimes accused of being a droll writer, I have little confidence that I could tell anyone how to be funny or defend a claim that I'm much funnier than anyone else. Humourists (especially the self-styled ones) don't seem too good at defining what they do. For example, here's an incomplete James Thurber quote on the difference between the humourist, the wit and the satirist:

The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself ...

That statement is somewhere between half-right and completely wrong. It certainly doesn't apply very well to Thurber's own writing; he's often very witty and not necessarily through poking fun at other people. When you complete the quotation, it starts to sound more plausible, but it might still be a little inflated:

... but in so doing, he identifies himself with people--that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.

Why present the incomplete quotation? Because that's the form in which I first found it on one of those quotes from famous people sites. Which shows a second problem that occurs when humourists get into defining their craft; they get misunderstood and misquoted.

When I started this blog, it was with two motivations. One was the belief that my daft ideas were just as worthy of space on the Internet as all of the other daft ideas I was reading at other people's blogs. The other was to demonstrate that there was at least one lefty in the world with a sense of humour and, what's more, on a good day I could be a damn sight funnier than either Tim Blair or Professor Bunyip. Over time, the writing changed; the humour became a means, rather than an end. Mixed in with the pointed topical humour, I started doing other stuff. Some of that other stuff was to do with exorcising personal demons, like thoughts of brain devouring scrambled eggs and the grey plasticine assassin who stalked my dreams one memorable night or, as in this case, a nasty memory that just keeps coming back, no matter how hard you try to shut it out.

Remember Biafra? I do, for two reasons. It was the first African famine to rate on prime-time TV for one. And the other is that it somehow spawned the worst joke I've ever heard in my life. Some of you may wish to skip the next few italicised paragraphs: there's some pretty offensive stuff in there.

Lunchtime at Greenfields High, in the asphalt section of the schoolyard where the third formers hung out. Slim, the accredited class clown, came up to me and said, "Hey Gummo, you heard the one about the Australian, the Biafran and the Jew?"

"No." I answered; he took that as an invitation to tell the joke.

"Well there's this Australian, this Biafran and this Jew, see, and they're travelling on a train together. This blow-fly comes in through the window and buzzes around the Australian and he waves it away." Here he matched gesture to speech, miming the action of waving away a fly. "It buzzes the Jew, and he waves it away too. Then it flies over to the Biafran and he does this:"

Slim grabbed an imaginary fly out the air, put his hands to his mouth and made gobbling noises.

"Well, the Australian was put off and he looked out the window; so did the Jew. A bit later a moth fies in the window. The Australian waves it away andit flies over to the Jew. The Jew grabs it," Slim grabbed the imaginary moth out of the air, "turns to the Biafran and says 'Oy maate? You vant to buy a moth?"

There was a pause, while I remembered that when the accredited class clown tells you a joke, you're supposed to laugh. But I wasn't quick enough, or hearty enough. He looked at me with a scornful expression and said "What's the matter, Trotsky? Aincha gotta sensayuma?"

It would be pleasing to editorialise this incident as an expression of precocious good taste or political correctness. Any claim I might make to the former would be somewhat compromised by my compendious knowledge of franger jokes and my dubious reputation, among my peers, for having the dirtiest mind in the school. The simple fact is that I didn't laugh because I didn't find Slim's joke particularly funny. Jew jokes didn't bother me that much at that time of my life. Possibly it was tossing in the Biafran that took it out of the realm of genuine humour and into the realm of things you'd damn well better laugh at if you know what's good for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Scoop, Exclusive & All That Jazz

This week's Sunday Age reported that:

Police and ASIO could move before Christmas to impose restrictions on terrorist suspects, with the Howard Government urging authorities to take "the first available opportunity" to use the new anti-terror powers.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock [who, let us not forget, owns an Amnesty International Badge] last night told The Sunday Age it was "quite possible" the new control orders would be used as soon as the legislation was passed in December.

Like Michelle Grattan and a few others, I've been wondering what all the rush is for. I spoke to a mate about it, and he got onto someone who knew someone and so on, right up to the someone who had access to the back of a photocopier in Parliament House. I'd say more, but us citizen journalists have to protect our sources, just like the professionals do.

The upshot of it is that I've actually seen a copy of the revised anti-Terrorism Bill which will actually be going to parliament. There are some interesting revisions beyond the removal of the "shoot to kill" power which got all the State Premiers in a flap. For example:

seditious intention means an intention to effect any of the following purposes:
(a) to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
(b) to urge disaffection against the following:
(i) the Constitution;
(ii) the Government of the Commonwealth;
(iii) either House of the Parliament;
(c) to urge another person to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure a change to any matter established by law in the Commonwealth;
(d) to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different groups so as to threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth.
(e) to bring a great Australian cultural icon into hatred or contempt.

There's some other sections specifying what a great Australian cultural icon is: basically it's any person or thing that has been declared a great Australian cultural icon by the government of the day. The Bill, if passsed, will give the government the power to declare anyone or anything a great Australian cultural icon by regulation, signed by the Governor in Council and published in the Commonwealth Gazette. There's also a schedule giving an extensive list of the great Australian cultural icons that will be regulated for immediately the bill is passed. They include Aeroplane Jelly, Anzac Biscuits, Arnott's Tim Tams, Sir Donald Bradman, Burkean Conservatism, Ita Buttrose, the Easter Bunny, Four 'n' Twenty Pies, Delta Goodrem, a Hard-Earned Thirst, The Hills Hoist, the Liberal Tradition of John Stuart Mill, Sir R G Menzies, Ramsay Street, Santa Claus, Simpson, Simpson's Donkey, Summer Bay, the Tooth Fairy, Vegemite and, of course, the Victa Motor Mower.

So there it is: if the Government gets the bill through in its revised form, that will put paid to politically correct, Santa-deficient Christmases once and for all.

Insignificant Blackbird

I picked up a new bit of jargon at the pub trivia quiz last night: Base Rate Fallacy. I was wittering on about statistical significance testing and Rob, one of my team-mates remarked "You know it's all based on a fallacy don't you?" Actually, I didn't. I took a bit of convincing too; it wasn't until about 4 o'clock this morning, when I was thinking it through (as a distraction from the raucous "I suppose a root would be out of the question" noises coming from the blackbird that's adopted the gable above my bedroom window as its favourite perch) that I decided there really was something in Rob's remark and the cryptic notes he made on a piece of scrap paper to illustrate the fallacy.

As I understand it, the argument goes something like this. When scientists (psychometricians, for example) employ null hypothesis testing, or significance testing (or whatever they choose to call it), they're employing the following pattern of logical inference:

If H1 (the experimental hypothesis) is true then the test statistic will have an improbable value.
The test statistic does not have an improbable value.
Therefore H1 is improbable. [And we write off the experimental results as random variation]

Apparently, this is called Bayesian Modus Tollens, and there's a bit of controversy within statistical circles over whether or not it's valid. It certainly looks dodgy to me but that may be because of the way I've expressed it, translating Rob's formal notation into something a little short of plain English. What got me convinced that there is a fallacy here (while I was trying to ignore that randy blackbird), was working out the pattern of logical inference that's involved in accepting experimental results as significant (as in worth publishing and maybe throwing your hat into the ring for a Nobel prize while you're at it):

If H1 (the experimental hypothesis) is true then the test statistic will have an improbable value.
The test statistic does have an improbable value.
Therefore H1 is probable.

Straight up, this is a fallacy; it's not any sort of logical inference at all. A fact that's easily demonstrated with the help of the classic Socrates example:

If Socrates is a man then Socrates is mortal.
Socrates is mortal.
Therefore Socrates is a man.

There's more on the subject here (extensive bibliography), here and here (PDF - a philosopher sinks the slipper into Michael Behe). Here's a juicy bit from the last, to whet your appetite:

In addition to rejecting evolutionary explanations, Behe advances the positive thesis that the biochemical systems he describes in loving detail were designed by an intelligent agent (p. 204). However, for these details to favor intelligent design over mindless evolution, we must know how probable those details are under each hypothesis. This is the point of the Law of Likelihood. Behe asserts that these details are very improbable according to evolutionary theory, but how probable are they according to the hypothesis of intelligent design? It is here that we encounter a great silence. Behe and other ID theorists spend a great deal of time criticizing evolutionary theory, but they don t take even the first steps towards formulating an alternative theory of their own that confers probabilities on what we observe. If an intelligent designer built the vertebrate eye ,or the bacterial flagellum, or the biochemical cascade that causes blood to clot, what is the probability that these devices would have the features we observe? The answer is simple - we do not know. We lack knowledge of what this putative designer's intentions would be if he set his mind to constructing structures that perform these functions.

The sad fact about ID theory is that there is no such theory. Behe argues that evolutionary theory entails that adaptive complexity is very improbable, Johnson rails against the dogmatism of scientists who rule out a priori the possibility of supernatural explanation, and Dembski tries to construct an epistemology in which it is possible to gain evidence for the hypothesis of design without ever having to know what, if anything, that hypothesis predicts. A lot goes wrong in each of these efforts, but notice what is not even on the list.

As Advertised

Episode Two of The Enchanted Toasting Fork is now available at CattyRox. Episode Three will appear here next week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Slightly Overdue

Somewhere in the fug of depression that's hung over the recent past, the third bloggiversary of Tug Boat Potemkin slipped by unremarked. Three years of doing this stuff and what do I have to show for it? Apart from a few new friends and acquaintances to alienate, nothing really. Apart from the frustration that goes with picking up a truly inspiring idea and discovering there's actually sod all you can do with it:

The Kembliad

ARGUMENT: Somewhat orotundly, the poet invokes the muse to sing the praises of a famous Australian city. She ignores him.

Sing, O Muse, the splendours of Port Kembla,
Grimy jewel of the Illawarra!

Send in the Florists

The best line from last night's 24:

"When I shot that guy, I thought I was going to go all foetal position but I didn't feel anything. I hope I'm not some kind of psychopath."

[Chloe, sharing a moment of self revelation with Edgar]

With all the bizarre twists each episode serves up, it's impossible to predict where the plot goes from here. However, now that Audrey has declared undying hatred for Jack, I wouldn't be surprised if next week we see Jack trying desperately to get to Marwan before the nukular weapon goes off, with Audrey in hot pursuit, hell bent on revenging her dead ex-husband and a crack Interflora special delivery team in hot pursuit of Audrey, hell bent on giving her the two dozen long-stemmed red roses that Jack has ordered as a peace offering. At gunpoint if necessary.