Author Archive: Hank
Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.
Robots. Whilst not yet able to disguise themselves as innocent-looking assault vehicles which drive themselves, make ghastly jokes and lay waste to entire cities & provide fodder for truly reprehensible motion pictures, robots will one day be our oppressors. To attempt in some small way to understand our eventual machine overlords (and perhaps locate a weakness that can be exploited) before the inevitable enslavement of humanity, I recently went to this website: http://www.titane.ca/concordia/dfar251/igod/main.html and had a chat with a rudimentary AI which has been named God. I decided to treat it as the all-knowing all-seeing creator of the universe, whom you may have encountered as a central character in a series of very popular books.
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Yesterday I wrote a cool sentence. Well, not actually a sentence – more of a statement. Well, not even a statement – more of a descriptive title to what I thought could be a chapter in a science fiction novel. Look, whatever it was, I was very proud of it. It was so conducive to creative thought that I actually began to write the introduction to a science fiction novel (it was here that the author decided that the makers of Word for Windows were the most annoying bastards in the entire world. Every time he began to write the word “novel”, he’d get to the first ‘e’ and a little box would pop up next to the with “November” in it, implying that he didn’t have the intelligence or presence of mind to put a capital letter at the start of a proper name. Naturally, being an educated person, he would have put a capital “N” if he was going to write “November”. But he wasn’t going to.
He was about to write “novel”, because that’s what he started to talk about and he wasn’t planning on writing “November” until the bloody programme starting annoying him by suggesting it every time he started to write a word with N, O, V, and E as the first four letters. Damn programmer geeks think they’re being so bloody helpful, popping up little squares every time you type something, thinking they’re helping you get things done quicker…it’d be a lot quicker if they didn’t keep implying that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing all the time. And if they’re so smart and so helpful, why couldn’t their programme have figured out that it would’ve been completely out of context to write “November” in that position: “…a chapter in a science fiction November…”?
Now, because of those well-meaning, over-cautious but more likely bloody-minded programmer bastards, not only has most of the introductory paragraph been taken up by a bracketed and completely unplanned rant about an annoying little “help” function, the author has ended up writing “November” six times when he didn’t intend to mention it at all unless it was relevant to the story, which it was never going to be [stardates don't use Earth months, as any decent science fiction writer should know]).
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In the USA today, there is a small but highly vocal (some would even say “strident”) movement dedicated to enshrining certain of their religious values in the laws and Constitution of their nation. Many of this movement proclaim that the Constitution and the laws of the United States are already this way; that the law of the land is based on Judeo-Christian principles and that separation of church and state is an illusion, never happened and even if it did happen was never intended by the founders of the nation and is some kind of liberal invention designed to make the US more vulnerable to suitcase bombs, atheist summer camps and movies about Charles Darwin which don’t paint him as the eugenicist spiritual father of Hitler.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to the reality of the situation: the Constitution makes no mention of God, Jesus or the Bible (except for a nameless “Creator”); the Constitution itself proclaims that “no religious test” shall ever be required for a citizen to hold public office and that Congress shall “make no law” either establishing a religion or restricting the right of a citizen to worship as they please (as atheists hadn’t been invented yet, noone thought to include “the right to not be religious”, but it’s assumed, probably safely, that freedom of religion means, or should mean, freedom from it as well). It is also well-recognised that the Founders were framing the establishment of the new nation to be a shiny, free, glorious example of the humanist, rational values of the Enlightenment, the new Age of Reason which was making its presence felt across Europe in the 18th century. Some scholars speculate (compellingly) that Constitution chief architect Thomas Jefferson and many of his ilk, far from being Christians of any flavour, were even deists – but I must point out that their religious beliefs are irrelevant to their democratic intent and rationalist stance, which I suspect was meant to be the whole point.
Many dominionists in the US have argued against this alleged separation, pointing to the “One Nation under God” line in the Pledge of Obedience Allegiance. Leaving aside the odd ritual of swearing fealty to a flag, that little line used to read “One nation, indivisible,” until religious pressure forced the addition of the “under God” bit. How about “In God We Trust”, which appears on US currency? That was added in the 1950s during McCarthyist hysteria as a counter to alleged “godless” communism (a political hysteria peculiar to the US which persists no less strongly today, as evidenced by the bizarre behaviour of the tea-baggers, birthers, deathers and other assorted pithy signwriters who, in textbook Pavlovian manner, protest anything President Obama does, be it being black or making a harmlessly dull “kids, do your homework” speech on TV and who refuse to nail down exactly which particular political evil – fascism, socialism, communism, anarcho–syndicalism – Barry O allegedly wishes to impose on them by trying to make sure they can see a doctor without selling a kidney first, the heartless bastard).
Today I share a few pearls from philosopher AC Grayling, writing for The Guardian.
A human lifespan is less than a thousand months long. You need to make some time to think how to live it.
The democracy of blogging and tweeting is absolutely terrific in one way. It is also the most effective producer of rubbish and insult and falsehood we have yet invented.
When I was 14 a chaplain at school gave me a reading list. I read everything and I went back to him with a question: how can you really believe in this stuff?
Christian churches and Muslim groups have no more right to have their say than women’s institutes or trades unions. The government has actively encouraged faith-based education, and therefore given a megaphone to religious voices and fundamentalists.
Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends.
I’m not sure it is possible to think too much. You don’t refresh your mind by partying in Ibiza.
That single sentence: “science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty…” says more about my own views than an entire caffeine-fueled screed ever could. It’s said that brevity is the soul of wit; those nine words illustrate that it can also be the soul of wisdom.
Certainty seems to be the single most important thing that separates the devout believer from the atheist, the agnostic, the deist & the doubter. It’s fine to say “my god, and my way of worshipping my god, will see me rewarded in the afterlife.” I have no issue with that claim on the surface. But you can’t be certain of it – certainly not certain enough to damn or pity people who disagree with you or dare to shine lights on the holes in your story. I can’t be certain my direct ancestors had opposable big toes and could manufacture their own vitamin C or that our universe is thirteen billion years old, but that’s the direction in which the evidence points – convincingly, with a giant pointy finger. No, I’m not certain at all, but that’s where I’m putting my money. The holes in those converging storylines are not nearly as glaring as those present in the many, certain alternatives – and they’re getting smaller all the time. All those from the “certainist” camp can do is rationalise (ironically enough) the size, shape and positioning of their holes – or look at their stories from such an angle that the holes aren’t visible. Well, I prefer a story that makes sense no matter how you look at it.
Yes, it’s true. Sarah Palin resigned today. Although the collective political IQ in America just went up about fifty points, the Alaskan moose just became a little bit more endangered.
Here’s PZ‘s take (presumably with apologies to Monty Python & The Holy Grail):
Brave Dame Sarah ran away.
Bravely ran away away.
When danger reared it’s ugly shead,
She bravely turned her tail and fled.
Yes, brave Dame Sarah turned about
And gallantly she chickened out.
Bravely taking (“I never did!”) to her feet,
She beat a very brave retreat.
Bravest of the braaaave, Dame Sarah!
Yeah, I LOL’d.
We’ll miss ya Sair … you betcha.
That’s why you’re on the internet, cruising the interblargosphere. You’re looking for things to read that you might not necessarily agree with but which spark your interest because you’re always on the lookout for a new take or new point of view on something. It might even be something you already have a definite opinion on, but you read on because you like reading things that make you think regardless of whether you agree with them. You’re all about soaking up as many differing viewpoints as you can, but you’ve no interest in entering a comment-battle so if you do object, you do so in silence (possible but unlikely). You may be looking for things to read that you already know you agree with and very little else (more likely). You may even be looking for things to read that not only contradict you but flat-out piss you off in order to inspire you to write a post for the blog you’ve been neglecting (if you have a blog, that’s almost a given).
I’ll admit I’m one who trawls for material to inspire my personal outrage, vicious condemnation and inordinately long & verbose sentences, but it’s not a new addition to my activity budget. Long before the internet I was fond of writing essays, treatises, critiques, manifestos, poems (gah!) or comic strips about things which annoyed or intrigued me, or into which I’d put an inordinate amount of idle thought. They were many & varied: a convoluted comparison between the dangers of running red lights at a pedestrian crossing on my BMX with doing the same in a car; a detailed essay on the specific mechanisms of “clown evil” and the macro-karmic reasons for their hideousness; my pseudo-Freudian theories on why some men spend inordinate lengths of time reading in the toilet, delaying every other resident not currently using a colostomy bag and glorying in their own pungent stench; a series of unnecessarily graphic limericks featuring my best friend, a busty wench and zombies. Before 1994 and my first experience with electronic mail I’d fax (yes, fax), post or hand these missives to my friends and see what reactions I’d get. They ranged from “meh” to humouring me, the occasional laugh, occasional indignant defensiveness and – more often than not – sideways looks and quiet voicings of concern for my mental stability (especially when my letters were illustrated). I didn’t know it then, but with my unsolicited opinionated ranting, arguments for or against things noone was actually discussing in the real world and blatant & ridiculous attention-seeking behaviour, I was in Gilbert & Sullivan’s parlance the very model of a modern major pain the arse. In today’s terms: a blogger.
So, no, it’s not a new thing for me and certainly not a new phenomenon for humanity either, this public sharing of opinion with people who don’t care. Celebrated Protestant Original Gangster, Martin Luther, is famous for publicly posting his disagreements . . .
It’s time for some Gratuitous Self-Promotion! Yes, in lieu of having anything interesting to say about anything interesting, I shall talk about myself.
Apart from being an interweb crank and having been described, just the once, as an “in-your-face modern atheist” (whatever that’s meant to mean – I’ll take it as a compliment though, because people say that kind of thing about Richard Dawkins and I think he’s a top bloke), I’m also a musician. Specifically a singer and lyricist.
Since the age of 15 I’ve been in numerous bands, starting off playing metal & hard rock covers in a high school band named Mothdust in 1992 and joining my first original act, Roger The Band, in 1996. In 2000 Mothdust reformed and we started writing our own stuff. Having those two bands on the go was awesome if a little challenging, especially considering I was doing some acting with a small Adelaide theatre company at the time. In 2001 both bands released six-track EPs within a month of each other and it was a tiny thrill seeing both records in the local Adelaide charts! Both bands managed to attract a small but loyal following and many, many great times were had.
Eventually though, Roger The Band gradually started falling apart, as bands sometimes simply do after six years. I decided to move to Melbourne with the members of Mothdust in 2003, to see if we could make a go of it in Australia’s rock city. This also was not to be though, with one member going back to Adelaide after nine months and another getting married and buggering off to Manchester with his new bride six months later. After the final member and his wife returned to Adelaide to spawn, my lady Jo and I were left alone. I thought I’d be happy just strumming my guitar and writing electronic music on my computer for my own amusement, but I really missed collaborating with other musicians and playing really loud music, so I started looking online for Melbourne musos who were at a similarly loose end. Long story short: after many woeful demos I found a highly motivated and creative guitarist (Jiz) and drummer (Mike) who had been writing and performing together for a couple of years. We hit it off instantly, shared many of the same musical inspirations and attitudes and starting writing straight away. Eventually we found a bass player (Lachie) to round out the quartet (no mean feat – good bassists who aren’t in bands are hard to find in Melbourne) and Jiz named the band From The Ashes. This was 2005.
Last month From The Ashes released our debut independent album entitled Incendiary. We’re launching the record officially on July 31 at Melbourne’s famous Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda. DI’s own Mike Pulcinella is featuring one of our tracks, Said & Done, on his latest documentary, Raising The Bar 3 (which I’m looking forward to seeing and no, not just because our song’s on it – Mike makes a mean doco).
What do we sound like? I never know how to answer that question. We’re a rock band with diverse influences – everything from Elvis Costello, Paul Simon & The Police to The Mars Volta, Faith No More & Smashing Pumpkins. That doesn’t mean we sound anything like any of those artists, it just means we like musicians who put a lot of thought into their music, especially into constructing interesting melody & mood, and who aren’t afraid to be a little bit self-indulgent. Sometimes. That being said, we also just love bands that rock the f* out like Queens Of The Stone Age and Foo Fighters.
Now, I’ll do what I always do when asked what we sound like: invite the questioner to have a listen to the gear, decide for themselves what we we sound like and maybe leave some feedback. Here are some links containing preview tracks and other assorted rubbish:
Thanks for your attention & I hope you like the material.
Mike, Lachie, Jiz & Hank
Earlier today I stumbled onto a One News Now article by R Albert Mohler, Jr with the title: “Should Christians ‘respect’ other religions?”
Unusually, I read the whole thing instead of reading the first couple of paragraphs, saying something uncomplimentary and then selecting something light-hearted from my bookmarks menu. Equally unusual for me in response to a ONN article, I found myself agreeing with the author. A bit. First, on the Pope’s visit to Jordan, he states:
… we have the spectacle of a Pope being received as a head of state. This is wrong on so many counts.
I agree entirely. I’ve long been opposed to the Vatican’s pseudonational status, its seat at the UN, the undeserved deference shown to its capos wherever they go and whatever they say. The fact that this institution has been around for centuries, used to hold Europe’s kings in its gnarled talons and materially enriched itself through various nefarious means while claiming absolute moral authority and a hotline to God should give it no automatic authority of any kind in the current century. Longevity, especially in combination with massive wealth (much of it ill-gotten) does not and should not entitle anything or anyone to undeserved, unearned power & influence.
Leaving that aside, the thrust of Mohler’s column was to question this statement of Ratzinger’s:
My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.
Mohler points out that it’s the Papacy’s official position from Vatican II that “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” Fair enough, include all ‘people of the Book’, to borrow the Islamic term – if there’s anything the Papacy likes it’s bums on seats, however they’re acquired. However, Mohler seems to think no such respect should be accorded to Islam. As an Evangelist he believes he and his brethren should be out, well, evangelising. Spreading the word of Jesus. There is but one way to be saved and that is, as you might guess, through acceptance of Jesus Christ as mankind’s saviour. No surprise there, we’re all familiar with that basic tenet of Christianity. He states:
… we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and His Gospel.
In this light, any belief system that pulls persons away from the Gospel of Christ, denies and subverts Christian truth, and blinds sinners from seeing Christ as the only hope of salvation is, by biblical definition, a way that leads to destruction. Islam, like every other rival to the Christian gospel, takes persons captive and is devoid of genuine hope for salvation.
Again, no surprises. What caught my attention was the following paragraph:
Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves.