Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The second and possibly final procrastination

The design argument:


This doesn't work either.  However, in order to make it "not work" you have to posit the existence of parallel universes but for the bit about Earth being rare you just need to think things through astronomically.

The real issue with all of these is rather different and is more to do with adopting arguments to support a position one already holds for different reasons.  I tend to believe that this is what we generally do.

Update from today:  the Cosmological Argument, because once again the Alpha Centauri video has failed to come together, so you get another talking head:



In fact, over a minute of the Alpha Centauri video already exists but the trouble is coming up with graphics interesting enough to finish it off, which is to do with Windows 8 of course.  I had a nice lava field, which is now gone.

On a different subject, after demands for a print version of the ebook i have finally succumbed, but in my view it would be a mistake for anyone to buy a copy, so please don't!  I'm not even telling you where it is.  I have, however, succeeded in making it as boring looking on the outside as i could to avoid embarrassment, although of course it is purple. The entire point of it being an ebook was so that there was no physical copy of the thing to be discovered or hidden, but apparently people don't even care.  I think that's very strange.  Still, de gustibus non est disputandum i suppose.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Procrastinating the Centauri System

Another elephant in the room is the recent news of the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B.  I keep meaning to make a video about it but am continually waylaid by various problems, such as losing my notes, being completely knackered or having my glorious offspring squatting the computer.  Or, in this case, installing Windows 8 and having to negotiate a slight learning gradient:


OK, so Windows 8 - why did i do it?  Why does someone who hates much proprietary software with a passion choose to install a new version of Microsoft Windows two days after its release?  You may well ask, and the main answer is that i like the fact, as i say in the video, that it doesn't use up system resources simply to look flash.  It hasn't got the glass feature that 7 had, it has a nice, low-maintenance Metro thing going on with two-colour icons and it doesn't do the glow thing when the cursor hovers over the buttons.  In other words, it isn't going to make as many people throw out their old devices so they can poison children in China and make them buy new ones which support the war in the Congo because of the tantalum just so they can run the new version of Windows, although of course they might do that anyway.  This is important to me because the main reason i dislike many software products is that they eat up resources and in doing so, exacerbate the current mass extinction.

The other reason is that the design has a visual appeal to it which is kind of classic and plain, which i like, though that's a superficial reason to like it in a way - pretty is not a top priority.  However, my son likes it for that reason and he's studying design, so i bow to his superior judgement.

There's another aspect to all this of course:  rationalisation.  I have in fact now got Windows 8, and having made that decision, my subconscious mind will now come up with all sorts of reasons why it might be a good idea.  This happens a lot, and the questions are:  how often does this kind of thing happen, how can it be avoided and is it even possible or desirable to do so?  I very often think that the mind works this way round:  one does something and later on comes up with reasons why one has done it.  The real reasons?  I don't know.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beachballs and the existence of God

Phew!  Glad i got that out of my system.

Anyway, here's today's video:



This is about the ontological argument, one of the most interestingly silly arguments for the existence of God.  Basically, the idea is that God is a perfect being, that an idea of a perfect being is possible, that existence is a quality of a perfect being which would be more perfect than the quality of not existing and therefore that God exists.  This was thought up by Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  This is Anselm:

And this is Canterbury:

(I actually wanted to find a picture of the Clocktower as this is too picturesque, but then so's the Clocktower).

Anyway, this bloke Gaunilo came along and wrote a dialogue about it where he pointed out, respectfully and carefully, that the argument was rubbish because it was possible to think of a perfect island without that island existing.  I would take that further, but not yet.

Later on, the question of whether existence was a property arose.  Here is a beachball:

(it's actually a Wikipedia beachball, not the one in the front room, because the camcorder's still plugged in and i can't take pictures with it at the moment).  This beachball has various predicates - it is round, made of plastic, inflated, multicoloured and similar to the one in the front room.  However, does it have the predicate of existence?  Is existence actually a predicate?  Does it add anything to the description of that beachball to say that it exists?

This is what's meant by "wrong for interesting reasons".  The ontological argument is wrong for much more interesting reasons than any other argument for the existence of God.  However, when they were younger the children used to express the concept of existence as a predicate.  Instead of saying that something existed, they used to say it "was real".  In other words, they used the predicate of having an instance, instantiation, instead of the concept of existence, but it seems to mean the same thing.

I have a completely different reason for throwing away the ontological argument.  Well, i have several in fact but they're not all interesting.  My main reason for rejecting it is that i see non-existence as more commonly associated with perfection than existence.  Perfectly spherical or flat objects, for example, do not and could not exist.  The very existence of an object makes it less perfect, on the whole, than its concept.  Therefore, far from being an argument for the existence of God, the ontological "proof" is more like one for God's non-existence.


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Jimmy Savile again

I've held back on this because i didn't want to stir up painful memories, but the fact is that it occupies my mind so much that whenever i make a video it's at the back of my mind that i have said nothing about this even though it needs to be said and is really affecting me emotionally.  How to adopt the right tone though?  Anyway, i've now decided that i need to get this off my chest and so i've put this out there.  Here it is:



Of course i've gone on and on about this until everyone's sick of it and i didn't just want this to be about the CRB, so i've talked about other stuff too and in fact not talked about many of the reasons the Bureau is such a bad thing.  However, i still think it's an excellent way of illustrating one reason why it just can't work, and for the sake of the vulnerable as well as civil liberties, that's worth mentioning too.

It's rather difficult to think about this kind of thing for too long without wanting to vomit, so i'll stop now.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A blog without a video

This is how today went and why there's no video apart from the one which says there's no video, which isn't worth linking to now i've said that:

There are in fact two other videos, one of which is Liz's regular Friday poetry, partly on Doctor Who as it happens.  That's here:


The other one is the ad for the ebook, which was finished and uploaded yesterday.  You don't have to be that clever to find it but you may wish you hadn't if you make the effort.  I stand by everything in it but would prefer you to read all the non-fiction bits first.  It's a bit of a mess right now.  Firstly, it's an EPUB, not the most accessible of formats, for instance i think it's incompatible with Kindle.  Secondly, since i did the front cover myself, it's not too wonderful although it does at least stand out.  A couple of things went wrong with it - the Table of Contents doesn't work at all so it's a great big monolithic block of text which i aim to resolve ASAP, which sadly probably won't be very soon, and the front cover is for some reason the wrong shape in spite of me meticulously following the instructions, meaning that the right hand side is lopped off.  I've announced it in the requisite places which get me traffic on the other channel though, such as the channel itself and deviantart.com, so maybe i'll get some sales.

Anyway, all that was quite time-consuming so to most people it's going to look as if i've done sweet Fanny Adams all day, but in fact it was really hectic.  I also managed to relieve our financial situation somewhat, sorted out a stupid pre-ordering problem with Amazon and posted some herbs.  So it's OK.

Now look.  Please don't try to find the ebook.  I'm prepared for any flack but i need to concentrate on 'Here Be Dragons' now.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

God is on your side, especially if you're atheist

Once again twiddling my thumbs waiting for the video to process and upload, but there's other stuff going on provided i get some privacy and computer time today.

Right, here's the vid:



Basically, i believe that if Jesus was around us today, he'd be on the side of the anti-religious new atheism to which we lazily refer as atheism.  Militant atheism and Jesus's mission have a lot in common and share many motivations.  Gandhi once said that he liked our Christ but didn't like our Christians.

Here's a bit of a rant list about what people professing to be Christian have to my knowledge done:


  • Plant people in a crowd to pretend to be converted by a street preacher.
  • Make posters deceiving people into thinking a meeting was organised by spiritualists when it was actually propaganda against spiritualism.
  • Suggest that God wouldn't want my wife to wear a black T-shirt but a nice long floral dress.
  • Accuse a friend of lying when he thanked God in a prayer that he was getting more freelance work because it was the "wrong" kind of work and they couldn't believe God would bless something which wasn't a "proper" job.
  • Gang up on a gay member of their congregation and chant "OUT, OUT, OUT!" like they were at a Nuremberg rally until he left the church.
Obviously there are many other examples, but these are close to me in the sense that i know the people involved or have experienced them personally.  I'm conscious of things like the embezzlement, active paedophilia, greed and materialism of people professing to be Christian, but these are not my personal experiences.  My own current experience of church is wonderfully positive, as it happens.  I should also mention that once again i've failed to express quite what i meant because i believe that in some circumstances, glossolalia is a valid emotional or spiritual activity.

But, how can you ever say it's Christian to exhort the poor to give all their money away to the church as a test of faith?  An individual might make that choice for themselves, but they can't impose that decision on anyone else, particularly when the person attempting to impose it happens to be a millionaire.

So it comes as no surprise, really, that actually looking at the sayings of Jesus, assuming him to be merely a fictional character, come out on the side of anti-religious atheism on the whole.  You can even go further than that and play with the idea that he was actually an atheist himself, although going by what it says in the gospels that would make him dishonest and a hypocrite.  However, if you wanted to get a powerful message across and the whole world, as far as you knew, was theistic and would probably kill you before you got anywhere, it wouldn't just be suicidal to assert that God didn't exist but also stupid, because it would defeat your aim by getting you murdered before you got anywhere.  Epicurus was very probably atheist but decided against saying that he was for similar reasons.  However, of course i believe that Jesus knew there was a God.  I also believe he was a historical character, and the idea of the Jesus myth is an example of the oddly old-fashioned views taken by the so-called "new" atheism, but that's a blog entry for another time




Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Brown gloop

Many people think of us as "brown bottle herbalists".  We interview people about their health problems, then proceed to hand them a brown bottle full of brown gloop.  This is a fair description of how we tend to proceed in some situations.  There are even stories of herbalists who hand clients a bottle of the same herb at the end of each consultation.  I don't do this.

One good description of the stuff herbalists give people is "liquid salad".  I think Hyde probably came up with that one, and i like it.  It makes me want to come up with a mixture consisting entirely of salad plants.  Apium graveolens and Lactuca virosa come to mind.  It really seems quite strange to me that taking salad as medicine is not seen as a good idea, although the description tends to call to mind weak, watery vegetables whereas the plants I am thinking of are the likes of capers, garlic, chicory and Cayenne pepper rather than forced celery or lettuce, whereof the above are not examples - wild lettuce looks more like ragwort and celery is of course related to hemlock, a plant not noted for its lack of action on the human body.

At some point, i will upload a video on how to make a tincture.  The barrier is the cost of vodka.  I am not in possession of an absolute alcohol licence, so to make an alcohol tincture, that's what i'd probably use.  Other options than alcohol exist but they alter the properties of the remedy or have drawbacks, and of course alcohol has its own drawbacks.  Vinegar is quite an easily available choice and can easily be made at home, so i will probably opt for that.

Right, here's the video:

(as of the time of writing it's not ready).

Just to go through the plants used in the clip:

Cimicifuga racemosa - black cohosh, largely a gynaecological remedy.  Like many other such remedies, it's native to North America although there is a European species too.
Eleutherococcus senticosus - adaptogen, Asian herb, more effective and safer than Panax ginsengs.
Prunus serotina - cherry.  Antitussive and not particularly useful, interestingly one of the many plants which relies partly for its action on cyanide.  Mainly used for whooping cough.
Aesculus hippocastanum - horse chestnut.  Yes, i know it's poisonous.  Often used topically in creams for varicose ulcers.
Salvia officinalis - not to be confused with Salvia divinorum although it happens to be mildly psychoactive for different reasons.  Another oestrogenic herb which is also good at reducing excess sweating.
Potentilla tormentilla -  tormentil.  The strongest widely used astringent herb, although many trees are far more astringent.  Useful for toothache and various other things, although it's illegal for a herbalist to treat dental complaints.
Apium graveolens - celery.  Used for arthritis among other things.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Christian for fifteen minutes

Today is the twenty-seventh anniversary of my conversion to Christianity, so it seemed like a good idea to commemorate it by posting yet another talking head video:



This follows on from yesterday's video about Christian atheism.  My conversion experience happened soon after leaving home.  I was in a hall of residence at a university and very much missing my friends, though not particularly my family.  I was feeling isolated and depressed, and was befriended by Christians.  I already believed in God, so it didn't seem like too big a jump to become Christian, but my misgivings were around the idea that questioning would become problematic.  I was assured that it would not be, so i took the leap of faith and committed myself to Christ.  This is in the entirely conventional evangelical sense of being a "born-again Christian".  That is in fact what i am, in spite of appearances to the contrary.

Almost immediately afterwards, i had huge problems.  I tried to ignore them, prayed about them, searched for answers in Scripture about them, all to no avail.  I hid them from other Christians, but wrote screeds and screeds of stuff about them.  Then i went home for Christmas.

When i came back, i decided to confront the issue head-on.  I raised the first issue with my friends - rejection of other religions.  Later on came the equally troublesome issue of Christian homophobia.  I continued to raise similar issues throughout the rest of the year.  Many of my friends were fine about it, but a few saw me as recalcitrant and uncooperative, and that my approach was as if the problems were uniquely mine.  I think they had a point with the last bit, which was quite insightful, but even now haven't managed to do anything with it.

After nearly a year, i completely gave up on the religion, having decided that St Paul was the worst thing to have happened to the planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and went on to live a largely secular life.  I could mention how God pursues people who have done this at this point, but it would probably annoy the secular readers, so i won't.  Suffice it to say that i was not impressed by religious approaches, although i still found them interesting.  Jainism was a particular interest of mine, as expressed on YouTube.

The years went by, i became anarchist and vegan, did postgrad, got married of all things, had children and then, after twelve years in the wilderness, came back to Church.  This time, i did it on my own terms, and also on God's, but then i would say that wouldn't i?  In the meantime i had learned of various things associated with Christianity which were more positive, such as the Student Christian Movement, and realised that the Christianity i had been "sold" was not the whole story.  This is an ongoing process.

Now, this may not be very Christian of me but i don't really care whether someone believes in God or not.  It doesn't seem to be the most important thing about them to me.  I would be more interested in their political and ethical beliefs than their religious beliefs.  I think people are increasingly polarised between a narrow version of Christianity and a narrow version of atheism, and those two narrow versions have a lot more in common with each other than people like to admit.  What we need to do is forget our differences and work together to make the world a better place.  This conflict is a waste of energy and does nothing to benefit the weakest, poorest and oppressed.  That's what we need to be doing:  building a Paradise on Earth.  That's an urgent priority and we have to stop squabbling and do what we all know we're meant to be doing with our lives.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Some Christians are telepathic

This is addressed to atheists who used to be Christian.  Have you ever had a conversation with a Christian which goes something like this?

You:  I used to be a Christian but I stopped believing in God.
Christian:  Ah, but the Bible says you can't lose your salvation, so if you stopped believing, you can never really have believed in the first place, can you now?

Well, this is my response to that:


Unlike some of the other claims certain Christians make, this is practically known to be false by ex-Christians.  For instance, the claim that homosexual acts are sinful might be backed up by an argument and the claim that the planet is only a few thousand years old at least has the merit that yes, the world could've been created last Thursday for that matter with a load of spurious evidence and false memories, although it very probably wasn't, particularly considering that God, being perfect, is not supposed to deceive us.  This, however, requires a much higher degree of scepticism on behalf of the Christian because unlike the other claims, it seems to be one of two things.  Either the Christian is accusing the ex-Christian of making a false statement, possibly of lying in fact, or they are claiming their memories of being a Christian are false.

This is an extremely silly thing to do because this means the atheist doesn't just believe confidently that the Christian is incorrect, but is so close to certainty that it would be laughable to quibble about the hair's breadth of difference between the two.  And yet they still do it.

In Christian theology, there is a concept known as the "perseverence of the saints".  This means you cannot give up your salvation.  It's a bit like being British.  Provided you have at some point in your life honestly believed in God, God's goodness and you have acted on that knowledge to repent of your sins and commit yourself to Christ as fully divine and fully human Lord and Saviour - basically, what it says in the creeds - then you are, in terms of evangelical Christianity, now permanently saved, i.e. a Christian. You can't lose it again.

Clearly there are a lot of people who no longer believe, and i was one of them for something like twelve years.  This was after i committed myself to Christ.  I genuinely, honestly believed and i really lost my faith and stopped believing.  That really happened.

I also suggest that atheists can use this fact to annoy Christians and defeat their claims, by claiming honestly still to be Christians in terms of that theology.  The trouble with this is of course that once again, a Christian is being presumptious - i am suggesting that this is what you do, which isn't really my place, is it?  However, i do think it might be amusing, on occasions, to be arsey and say "Yep, I'm Christian.  Of course, I don't believe all that rubbish about imaginary sky beings or God being his own father and turning into a zombie who went into space, but none of that matters.  All that matters is that I committed myself to Christ one weekend a quarter of a century ago when I was in an emotionally vulnerable position, then recanted when I came to my senses on Monday.  Praise the non-existent Lawerd!"

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A trip around our Solar System and a peek next door

The last Solar System video is up:


This covers the inner Solar System and then moves on to a few comments about Alpha Centauri and the newly discovered planet orbiting B, rather oddly named "Alpha Centauri Bb", at the end.  I plan to do a fuller video on Alpha Centauri later, but this is the final video about this Solar System.  It also forms part of a playlist constituting a tour of the Solar System, which is here:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGWy7AFv1dkJm05RueK29xdVcgZN4IZ0w&feature=mh_lolz

I hope that including these videos in a playlist will make them more useful.

In the meantime, i've found that posting videos about religion to reddit.com seems to get me a lot of views, but i'm pretty sure that's perceived as spamming, which reminds me of my own attitude to spam.  By contrast with what seems to be the majority of the population, i simply do not care about spam at all.  I don't hate it, although i don't read it either.  My main reaction to it is mystification about why anyone would bother responding to it, although presumably the one in a million who does makes it worthwhile for the spammer.  There is also an ecological issue to a limited extent as i imagine much space on servers is occupied by spam, leading to a waste of resources.

Spam, in fact, reminds me of the reproductive strategy followed by many organisms of bringing forth thousands or millions of offspring, nearly all of which die before maturity.  The few which survive perpetuate the species.  Were there an intelligent species with a culture which had this biology, it might even make sense for it to have schools as educational institutions.

Anyway, tomorrow's video will be yet another talking head about atheism.  I will return to herbalism and the rest after that.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The bringer of jollity

OK...the penultimate Solar System video is here:


What can i say?  Jupiter is bloody massive of course, being two and a half times as massive as the rest of the planets in this solar system put together, but is also quite a bit smaller than various planets in other solar system.  It's even possible, though unlikely, that way out in the depths of the cloud of embryonic comets which surrounds the centre of the system lurks a planet provisionally named Tyche which is a whole lot bigger, orbiting a quarter of a light year from the Sun.

The largest known planet, incidentally, is HAT-P-32b, which is about twice the diameter of Jupiter but less massive than it, and is a "hot Jupiter" - a large planet orbiting near its sun.

Anyway, what to say about Jupiter?  Astrologically and herbally, Jupiter is the liver of the Solar System because it eliminates comets which might otherwise constantly bombard Earth (and when i say constantly i probably mean every few centuries), so like the liver, it clears our system of toxins in a sense.  It may also have helped this planet form in the right place for life.  The Solar System is said to consist of the Sun, Jupiter and assorted debris.  Given Jupiter's powerful gravitational pull, before the other planets formed, it's likely to have organised the rocks and gas into zones like the asteroid belt but much denser.  This is because an object which orbited, say, exactly twelve times for each Jovian year would be yanked at each time it was at its nearest to the planet, pulling it outwards slightly until the orbit no longer had that direct ratio.  This applies on both sides of Jupiter, but more so further in because it would happen more often - shorter years.  That would cause rocks and gas to clump together just outside those resonances, leading to more collisions and a greater tendency for things to turn into planets.  Jupiter orbits the Sun once every 11.86 years, so Earth is probably largely made of stuff which took 361 days to do so.

Near Jupiter, this effect is strong enough to prevent any real clumping at all, so there is an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Jupiter takes 6.3 Martian years to circle the Sun, so this may mean early Martian history is turbulent, perhaps involving colliding with Earth to produce the Moon at some point.

Also, Jupiter and Mars, being near the asteroid belt, have managed to capture some.

Jupiter is turbulent and looks like it's boiling.  It's warm inside and cool outside, and has an unexplained long term storm, the Great Red Spot, which has been there for many centuries but sometimes disappears.

Right, these will form a playlist comprising a tour of the Solar System.  The next and last one will be on the inner planets.

Friday, 19 October 2012

"Are you a...gay Christian?"

Here's "today's" video:

Ah, didn't expect it to do that.  If you're seeing roughly what i'm seeing now, the preview is in a weird place.  Anyway...

In this video, i argue that believing both in a loving God and the idea that mutually consenting homosexual sex between two adults is sinful in circumstances where the same sexual acts between people of different genders is not is a logical contradiction.  In a sense, it almost doesn't matter what the Bible says and when there seem to be contradictions in Scripture, most Christians attempt to reconcile them or consider them insignificant.  Two examples are the idea that pi is three, which seems to be mentioned in 1 Kings 7:23, and the idea that all Cretans are always liars and that Epimenides, a Cretan said that so it must be true, mentioned by Paul in Titus 1:12,13.

It would of course be silly to get hung up on both of those in one way, although in another they are quite interesting.  The reason the Bible gives an integer value of pi is probably that irrational numbers could not be expressed or understood by the people of that time and place.  Christians generally take two approaches to this.  They either say it wasn't perfectly round or take the sensible route that i just took.  A similar approach can be taken to the liar paradox apparently expressed in the letter to Titus - Paul doesn't literally mean "always" and therefore there is no problem, and on the whole readers pass over this without a hiccough, and rightly so.  One part of my argument here is that the only difference between those easily explained away "contradictions" and the idea that a loving God condemns homosexual behaviour is that the proposition that God is love and the proposition that homosexual acts are sinful is that more text separates the two, and that they occur in different documents which happen to be bound together in the same codex.

Furthermore, and this is an important point, Biblical literalism leads one to a most repugnant conclusion in this case.  Paul is often seen as referring to pederasty, in other words a relationship where mature men have sex with adolescent boys.  In our culture, this is child sexual abuse.  Since he also uses the word "malakoi" - soft, "effeminate", as the KJV would have it - he is referring to what we would think of as the victims of child sexual abuse, not the perpetrators.  He is saying that, just as the law of the Old Testament barred certain people from the temple because of defilement, such as menstruating women and castrated men, because they are in a sense that horrible concept of "damaged goods", so are the victims of child sexual abuse be barred from the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is where a literal interpretation of these verses takes us.  Now, i feel absolutely confident that few or no Christians, fundamentalist or otherwise, would accept this conclusion, and that's to their credit, but it needs to be recognised that when they reject this conclusion, they are choosing to moderate their reading of Scripture in a way which is not literal.  If they're prepared to do that, there seems to be no ethical or hermeneutic reason not to reject homophobia too.

So, that's a grim, depressing paragraph.  On a lighter note, this blog entry owes its name to this Rowan Atkinson sketch from 'Not The Nine O'Clock News':


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Atheist religion

Normal service is resumed!

If i've got this right, today's video ought to be on atheist religion:

Yep!  After a bit of fiddling, that's done it.

Jainism is an ancient world religion though it hasn't spread far beyond Northwest India.  Here in Leicester, however, is the Jain Samaj Europe, the European centre of Jainism.  This isn't as impressive as it sounds when you realise how few Jains there are.  However, Jainism is very interesting because it is unlike many people's preconceptions on religion in several ways.

Firstly, it is strongly atheist.  It actively denies there is any such thing as a creator of the Universe, a sustainer of the Universe or an omnipotent being.  There is even a lengthy passage in one of its sacred texts which wouldn't look out of place in 'The God Delusion':

"Some foolish men declare that creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected.
If God created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now?
How could God have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression.
If you declare that this raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy, For the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and have arisen quite naturally.
If God created the world by an act of his own will, without any raw material, then it is just his will and nothing else — and who will believe this silly nonsense?
If he is ever perfect and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him? If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could.
If he is form-less, action-less and all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul, devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything.
If he is perfect, he does not strive for the three aims of man, so what advantage would he gain by creating the universe?
If you say that he created to no purpose because it was his nature to do so, then God is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble.
If he created because of the karma of embodied beings [acquired in a previous creation] He is not the Almighty Lord, but subordinate to something else
If out of love for living beings and need of them he made the world, why did he not make creation wholly blissful free from misfortune?
If he were transcendent he would not create, for he would be free: Nor if involved in transmigration, for then he would not be almighty. Thus the doctrine that the world was created by God makes no sense at all,
And God commits great sin in slaying the children whom he himself created. If you say that he slays only to destroy evil beings, why did he create such beings in the first place?
Good men should combat the believer in divine creation, maddened by an evil doctrine. Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning or end, and is based on the principles, life and rest. Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature."

This is from the tenth century CE text the Adipurana.  Note the date.  Jainism is considerably older than that.  It's an ancient religion, itself claiming to be the world's oldest religion, but then so i imagine do many others, so that particular feature doesn't make it special.  Note also that it does not respect the idea of worshipping any God that might hypothetically exist.

Jainism is also entirely physicalist and naturalist.  It sees the world as entirely physical. The physics is of course somewhat different from contemporary scientific physics, but this is to be expected in an environment where alleged hypotheticodeductivism or other scientific methods had yet to be used on a systematic basis by a community of intellectuals.  Nonetheless, it sees the soul as physical, karma as a form of matter and enlightenment as the process of ascension to the top of the Universe, which incidentally is seven hundred light years high.

Furthermore, Jainism seeks no converts and claims not to have a monopoly of truth.  Its doctrine of anekantavada involves the claim that humans cannot perceive the whole truth and that apparent incompatibilities can mask a deeper unity inaccessible to the human mind.  It also claims that it will die out - there is no real eschatology, no idea of the world ending (or beginning for that matter), no day of judgement.

OK, so what makes it differ from a philosophy of life?  Well, Epicureanism is substantially similar.  Nonetheless, that is not a religion.  Jainism has temples, images of its "heroes" such as Mahavira, which are of course to be emulated rather than worshipped, a total world view, rituals, priests, ethics (in spades!) and, well, everything on Ninian Smart's list.  Epicureanism had none of those.

So it's an atheist, physicalist, anti-proselytising organised religion.  It has deeply dodgy characteristics of course - people are admired for starving themselves to death, menstruating women are not allowed in temples and humans are seen as spiritually and physically the centre of the Universe and superior to all other beings - but one thing it does not do is share any of the major characteristics of the Western concept of religion.

Feeling ignored again

OK, different post this morning, devoid of videos, although I'll post another one in a bit - this is on the mini-tablet so i can't embed so far as i know (and it keeps autocorrecting my "i's", which is annoying.

This might be a bit stream-of-consciousnessy.

The situation is this:  i have now been posting YouTube videos daily for about a month, having abandoned my previous policy of deleting videos which get fewer than 144 views in the first week.  As it happens, a few of those would've gotten through that process.  The reason for this policy is that my awareness of stuff that's "out there" being ignored saps my energy and causes me to project all sorts of interpretations onto the silence.  I have no idea how good or bad the content is because i can't tell how people are reacting to it or even if they're seeing it.  I have found that if i share things on Facebook or Google Plus, they tend not to generate views unless there's a personal connection, or at least i think i have.

When i look at the advice given to generate views, i find i'm following it to no avail.  Moreover, and most tellingly, since i've been doing this, i haven't gained a single subscriber.  I had twenty-seven at the start, which dropped to twenty-six, then i picked up one who was a friend in "real life".

This is all the more baffling given the fact that the other channel is still going strong and has views for each video running into tens of thousands within weeks in spite of no effort to share, post links or follow any of the advice given about increasing subscribers, which have climbed steadily and are now at about a hundred and twenty.  But i just don't care about that channel.  It's there to make sure people do that thing safely after Wikipedia deleted the safety advice along with the entire article on the practice a couple of years ago.  There's no reason to add to it - it's an entirely closed subject and is restricted in purpose.  It does what it sets out to do well, but nothing more needs to be added.

So i'm now asking you, the readers of this blog (and i wonder if you even exist - maybe this is just a private diary) - what am i doing wrong?  I have a clear aim for the channel to post one educational video a day, with interesting stuff going on in it rather than just a talking head.  I have links on Facebook with a vibrant and relatively large educational community who do actually use YouTube for that purpose, and i'm prepared to accept that it might be a slow burner.  Part of my motivation for persisting with the channel is that both the children are now at college and i notice that people tend to link to others' content without creating their own, which always strikes me as odd but i presume it's lack of time.  Time is always something we have in spades.

Right, so please be brutal.  What's wrong with my YouTube channel?  Why am i not gaining subscribers?  How do i fix this?  Is the content just naff?  If so, how can i improve this?  Please don't hold back because you want to spare my feelings.  If you remember the wiki, you know what will happen if i continue to experience silence:  i will automatically project the worst and most self-destructive scenario onto that silence.  Yes i have a life other than this - the herbalism is, unfortunately, going really well right now, although of course not well enough, and the books are advancing towards completion, including the second edition of 'You Could've Thought Of That' - but if i don't get some kind of feedback on this, i will have no idea of how to improve the content and simply continue to spin my wheels in a silent, dark void.  I need traction.  Please provide it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

And the stars reach down and tell us there's always one escape

I am not a Spandau Ballet fan.  If you've read my previous entry, you may be aware of the fact that i imagine my own interpretations of cultural artifacts, and in keeping with that i can look at that line and see no connection with the Troubles or even that shouty singy bloke whose name i've forgotten.

You may also have noticed that i'm plonking a prodigious number of Celestia vids on YouTube, whereof the latest is this:


This is entitled 'Honeymoon on Enceladus' for reasons a select few will realise.  Certainly Enceladus does not constitute a particularly important part of this video and probably looks irrelevant to the uninitiated viewer.  Nonetheless it's there.

Again, i've made a bit of a mess of the middle of this video because i completely skipped Rhea.  This is Rhea:

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Rhea for missing her out.  I understand she is slightly triaxial, like this but less so:

Also, she might be heated by radioactivity, like many other large solid bodies in this solar system, in this case warmly enough to give her a liquid water ocean.  To be honest though, i find Tethys, Rhea and Dione all to be much of a muchness and pretty tedious.

The rest of what's going on in the Saturn system is quite interesting, but it's in the above video so i won't mention it here.

What i do want to mention is one of the emotional functions astronomy has for me, which might go some way towards explaining why i keep doing this kind of thing.  When i find personal problems or the human troubles of this planet get me down, i like to remind myself of our tininess and insignificance in this vast Cosmos, because it means that most or all of what the entire human species does, let alone myself as a wealthy human living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries since that bloke got nailed to a tree (you know the quote) really doesn't matter and isn't worth getting het up about. Of course, in a sense i am totally wrong and it really does matter, but the impassionate and neutral vastness of space, even of our own little Solar System in fact, helps put it in perspective and is immensely calming.  Everything will be all right in just a few loops around that yellow dwarf, and we needn't worry.

Of course, the reason why this is called 'Honeymoon on Enceladus' is a little in-joke which tells you that in fact, that particular moon does have some emotional significance to me while simultaneously failing to communicate with the rest of humanity, partly due to my passive-aggressive perception that the rest of humanity refuses to communicate with me.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Why i don't read proper books

Here's the vid:



As you may be aware, i don't read "proper" books, by which i mean the likes of Dickens, Lessing, Steinbeck, Hemingway, whomever.  Also, notoriously, i never read poetry, which considering that i'm married to a poet might seem to be a bit problematic.  The above video should serve as an illustration of why.  When i read a book with convincing, realistic-seeming plots, characters and settings, it makes absolutely no sense to me.  Or rather, it appears to make perfect sense but when i come to discuss it with anyone else i find that they have had insights that i haven't had or it's meant something to them which it hasn't to me, and furthermore, others tend to agree broadly on what it means or what insights they've gained.

There was a time when things were different.  Up until i was about seventeen, i was "normal" in my response to novels and poetry.  I wasn't intimidated or overcome by a sense of obscurity.  They just made sense, and the sense they made to me was shared with others.  When i had insights which others hadn't, they often came round to my opinion of them after discussion and seemed to be perceived as meaningful or in some way more advanced than others, or maybe refreshing, I have no idea.  I found the O-level Eng Lit syllabus easy but stimulating and i was happy to read whatever.  The literary canon held no terrors for me and i got one of the highest grades in O-level English at my school, although of course all of that may not be terribly significant because anyone can parrot stuff they're taught.

This even continued up until the point where i applied for university - my initial choice of course was English and Philosophy.  However, for some reason at about the age of seventeen, there was a sudden failure of nerve.  The A-level English Lit syllabus and approach made no sense at all to me, practical criticism seemed to assume there was some kind of common humanity or universality which was entirely alien to me, and of course if it was alien, it wasn't universal because i am human.  Therefore i ran away from literature, abandoned my attempts to pursue it at degree level and abandoned it completely forever.

Now, you might ask me why this matters.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if you don't "get" something it needn't destroy you.  It's also the case that i have no trouble following and appreciating drama even in the form of scripts, and also have considerable insight into other art forms such as music (which is however dangerously emotionally manipulative, but that's another melody) and painting.  Unfortunately, for literature this is not so, and here's why.

More than anything else, humans are language-users.  The fact that i reject Chomsky's views and think we've stumbled upon it is irrelevant - it still makes us what we are.  Without language, we are trapped in our own worlds, can't benefit from others' wisdom and can only help or communicate to a very limited extent.  Whereas emotion can go some way to transcend that, language is part of that emotional expression.  Look at feral children.  They're an example of what we'd be without language.

Now the highest expression of language is literature.  Poetry, novels and other works of art express and communicate humanity better and more appropriately than any other form of expression or art.  Whereas there are other expressions, they all depend on language to advance and be sustained.  Dance for example would not get very far without it.  Nor would technology.

Therefore, if one fails to appreciate literature, it really, genuinely does make one an inferior, inadequate human being to a much greater degree than any other failure.  I am about to  choose a hackneyed cliche of a metaphor because of this very failing:  i am a flightless bird in a world of birds which can fly, and a mute bird in a world of songbirds.  I am a fish which can't swim, a solitary termite (also known as a cockroach), a barren and blighted leafless tree.  I am literally less than human because of this deficiency, and there is no way back from this realisation.  Prowess in any other area is unimportant compared to this lack.  It makes me necessarily inferior, because humans are language-using primates and i cannot use language to the full.  It's a biological fact.

Nor can i blame this on my schooling, which is the reason for many such problems in others, as if there could be a failure to compare to this one.  In my mid-teens, this was not an issue.  I "got" things better than anyone i knew, including my teachers, although clearly i was hampered somewhat by lack of life experience.  However, something happened when i was seventeen which destroyed that and it's gone forever.  It's like being blinded.  It has nothing to do with confidence or boredom.  I can approach a piece of work without fear of failure and express my reaction to it, and i can guarantee that that reaction will have nothing in common with anyone else's.  When i read a story or a poem, i write my own and i can't see beyond it.  The only way i could express my appreciation of a work of literature would be to photocopy it.  I might as well go through it, cross out all the O's and count them.

I don't really know where i'm going with this.  If i could end this properly and neatly, i wouldn't have this problem.  I just wish i knew what had happened, why i died inside without even noticing and why every time i have to confront a "proper" piece of writing it feels like i'm slicing open my innards and rubbing bleach into them, but that is how it feels.  A total, devastating sense of inferiority from which there can be no recovery.

It's all very well being able to heal the sick and raise the dead, and you can be as compassionate and competent, and as intuitive as you like, but if you don't appreciate poetry you might as well never have been born.  That's how i feel about myself anyway.  I wouldn't impose that on anyone else, but face it:  that's the truth.

Monday, 15 October 2012

No chance without Uranus

In 1977, i wrote a story about a holiday on Uranus, set in 2177.  In it, apart from anything else i predicted the use of the controversial terahertz radiation body scanners now used for security purposes in airports, and it was one of the first sustained stories i wrote.

There is a serious lack of stories set on Uranus.  I can only think of one other and i've forgotten its name.  It appears in 'The Science Fictional Solar System', a collection of stories linked by their use of facts refuted by the time they were collected, in the case of Uranus the rings.

The reason i think people avoid writing about the planet is the name.  It's either pronounced "your anus" or "urinous", more often the former.  Neither are conducive for a sensible reaction.  Maybe it should just be renamed.  Oddly, it was going to be called Neptune at first, but it was decided that the motives were too nationalistic because it was in celebration of great British sea victories.  Presumably it would be called that in the "Forward and Backward" timeline.

Even so, Uranus has interesting possibilities as a setting.  It's the coldest planet in the Solar System because it has little internal heat compared to Neptune, so in spite of being closer to the Sun it's not as "warm".  It's also slightly denser as water on average, and has a surface gravity close to ours but slightly lower.  It is also remarkable in being visible to nocturnal animals but not humans, making it potentially the only planet to have been discovered by other animals before us in a sense, and maybe even "discovered" by our ancestors millions of years ago and then lost again as we became diurnal.  It was also observed many times through telescopes before it was actually realised that it was in fact a planet.  The idea of a new planet was itself new at the time.  William Herschel, who is credited as discovering it, lived almost exactly one Uranian year.  It orbits on its side with one pole facing the Sun for half a Uranian year, or forty-two of our own, as do its moons, but the Sun is so weak at that distance that it doesn't make too much difference, although there are seasonal winds blowing between the hemispheres.  Uranus is also the most featureless of all the planets, and the only aquamarine one due to methane haze.

One good, human, thing about Uranus is that uniquely among the satellite systems of this Solar System, the moons are named after British characters, mainly from Shakespeare.  The large, "classic" moons are named, from the outside in, Oberon, Titania, Umbriel, Ariel and Miranda.  I actually get this wrong in the video, as you will see:


(the last two are the wrong way round).

The rings were discovered on 10th March 1977 when astronomers observing the star SAO 158687 to see what would happen when Uranus passed in front of it out of interest in its atmospheric competition were surprised to find that it blinked on and off as it passed behind something else nearby on each side.  The rings are very dark and hard to see against the background of space, and in fact if you did want to see them nearby there would be no chance without Uranus being behind them.  However, the moon Mab orbits inside a lighter, bluer ring made of particles of water ice, which you probably could see.  The inner rings are made of an unknown material, possibly something organic darkened by radiation.  Uranus was the second planet to be found to have rings.

This video, incidentally, is part of a series i'm making which will eventually form a playlist taking the viewer on a tour of the Solar System.  Here's the first one:

I plan to work in from Neptune, although there will also be one on "Persephone", the non-existent Planet X and why it isn't called that or regarded as a planet.  More failure to let go of the past on my part of course.

There is a technical problem with both of these videos.  Namely, perhaps because of the codec, the orbits look awful.  I'm planning to resolve this before the next astronomical video.  Or, i could just avoid using orbits at all.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Dinosaurs ain't what they used to be

Mind-melting time!

In Victorian times, dinosaurs were thought to look like this:





This is a Crystal Palace dinosaur, more specifically an Iguanodon.  It's scaly, rather recumbent, has horns on its nose (which were later moved to its thumbs) and gives me the impression of being rather like a crocodile or a big lizard.  The model was manufactured in the early 1850s for Crystal Palace in London, before the publication of Darwin's 'Origin Of Species'.  There are several other such sculptures, notably Megalosaurus, thus:

Both of these species were seen as quadrupedal at the time but were later interpreted as bipedal.  I find these depictions redolent of my own reconstruction of the Victorian Era:  sedate, plodding, cold-blooded and lizardy.  Of course, it may be that my very understanding of the Victorians itself is as inaccurate as these reconstructions of dinosaurs seems to me.


Another reconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur of the time has splayed limbs like a modern lizard or tortoise, and it was once quipped that it must have lived its whole life in agony, with every joint dislocated.  In other words, opinions were changing as to what dinosaurs were "really" like.


Later on, dinosaurs started to accelerate a bit.  Many were stood up on their back legs, they started to bite chunks out of each other in pictures and it was decided that they were living in hot and often steamy conditions, meaning that they were able to move a lot faster than was previously assumed.  Unfortunately I can't show you pictures of any more dinosaurs because unlike the ones above, these dinosaurs are copyright owing to the fact that the people who drew them haven't been extinct for very long, if at all.  However, any future nerd who grew up in the '60s and '70s worth their salt will remember what dinosaurs were supposed to look like at the time, often because they'd read the 'Giant Golden Book Of Dinosaurs', probably the ultimate dinosaur book for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.  There's an excellent page on it here, with illustrations:

http://reptilis.net/2008/06/30/the-old-grey-sauropod-just-aint-what-she-used-to-be/

Later still, they started to find fossils which were clearly very speedy indeed, notably Deinonychus, and realised that the structure of their bones was more like that of an animal which generated its own heat from within than a reptile (whatever that is - don't get me started!).  It was also noticed that their footprints were not accompanied by traces of a dragging tail, and they lost another point of contact with the ground with raised tails.  These are the dinosaurs of 'Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs' (http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Blooded-Dinosaurs-Adrian-Desmond/dp/0385270631) and 'The Dinosaur Heresies' (http://www.amazon.com/Dinosaur-Heresies-Robert-Bakker-Ph-D/dp/0806522607/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350136306&sr=1-1&keywords=the+dinosaur+heresies), where all dinosaurs were seen as hot, in a parallel to the way "cool" became "hot" during that decade before returning to "cool" more recently.  Reality had changed again.

Time marched on.  It was decided that dinosaurs were not all warm-blooded and that it was more like the big ones being like giant compost heaps from which the heat generated by their metabolism was unable to escape due to their low surface area.  Their tails stayed up though, and some of the sauropods developed whip-like abilities, making them the first animals to break the sound barrier, over a hundred million years before humans invented the bullwhip and Concorde.  By the turn of this century, dinosaurs were like this:


Note the curly, whip-like tails.  Incidentally, watch the dinosaur at 2:30 - it lifts its forelimbs off the salt flat.  Even these dinosaurs are more bipedal than they used to be.

The Diplodocus in the Natural History Museum also had its tail raised by then.

Then it was decided that many of the dinosaurs were feathered.  At first, this was just those closely related to birds.  However, it turned out that the other dinosaurs also sometimes had feathers, so it seemed, and the image of dinosaurs changed again.

The upshot of all this is:  what makes today's dinosaurs any more real than yesterday's?  How do we know that our culture and history doesn't decide what dinosaurs are?  I'm not saying they never existed at all, but it seems that truth is genuinely a very slippery concept, and science in particular is not accurate.  This is not news, but it is disturbing and makes me feel like the rug is constantly being pulled out from under me.  Here's an older video of mine:

I make a reference in here to being a reed rather than a tree, by which i mean that if you allow yourself a little mental eccentricity, your mind will not break under pressure, unlike a rigidly rational mind, which i see as more susceptible to a breakdown.  As a result, i incubate little pet delusions, one of which is the belief that dinosaurs wiped themselves out in a nuclear war, although i have now modified that belief somewhat to the one that they were trying to steer an asteroid into Earth orbit, and this went wrong and they crashed it into the planet in a tragic accident.  However, all this is beside the point.

The second point i'm trying to make is this.  Dinosaurs are not these ancient, outmoded lizardy things which were superceded by mammals.  They dominated us for over 100 million years, except that that's not true either - there were some large mammals at the time and one of them probably even ate dinosaurs.  After the mammals started to diversify, i.e. after the dinosaurs' unfortunate tinkering with the asteroid which wiped them all out, dinosaurs came back as dirty great carnivorous birds which ate horses.  Even after these died out, there were giant reptiles which could easily have been mistaken for dinosaurs.  In Australia, one of these, Megalania, even survived until people got there, the biggest crocodile ever lived in the "Age of Mammals" and there were gigantic tortoises on islands into the Middle Ages.  Therefore, the image of the dinosaur as a pathetic antediluvian beast whose time has gone is false and unfair, and we would do well to remember that our time is fleeting and we're just lucky to be here, as well as being comparable to the dinosaurs ourselves.

Then there's the issue of the Neanderthals, but that's another story.

Here's the vid:

Not entirely happy with this one either, but there you go.

Interview with my godless offspring

My son, of course, is an atheist.  I too used to be one.  However, Liz and i are now long-since lost to atheism and have a cosmic imaginary friend instead.  Here's my interview with my son about his atheism:


Incidentally, this is the wrong upload.  There was a better version, subtitled all the way through, which was unaccountably smaller than this file and i naturally assumed it was the older version, wrongly as it turns out.  Anyway, there it is and there it stands.  The audio is also annoying, although comparing it to this:


reveals that it's at least partly due to my son not speaking more loudly.

Of course, it could be that this video is entirely staged and bears no relation to how my son and i really feel about the issue.  That's something you're just going to have to take on trust for now unless you find evidence in the video to the contrary.

An interesting comment, and also one some might find offensive, is that he describes the Gospel depiction of Jesus as "a hippy", which was certainly a cultural depiction of the figure popular in the late '60s and early '70s, and in fact one i would've agreed with at his age.  This is all, of course, socially constructed and the historical Jesus is very hard to reach and sketchy, as he noted, although interestingly he does in fact believe that there was such a historical figure.  This perception probably reflects what might be seen as our anachronistic lifestyle and values, although i would myself in no way regard myself as a "hippy" - i have long hair, but so do Rastafarians, for similar reasons.   However, hippies are a bete noire in my son's personal cosmos.

This video was primarily uploaded to demonstrate that we needn't be at loggerheads with each other just because one of us is theistic and the other atheist, or even, though this isn't illustrated here, theistic and anti-theistic.  I'm happy that there were several helpful responses underneath and plan to make more videos on this, for instance as interviews between myself and anti-theistic friends.  However, the main point of this is to indicate that there is no need for hostility between people whose beliefs differ, and that there's a stereotypical version of "Christianity" out there which both the New Atheists and a certain strand of people who call themselves Christian share.  They agree on what Christianity is.  However, in fact there are a whole load of people describing themselves as Christian who feel no sense of affinity with that belief system.

The technical difficulties with this video were considerable.  The sound is bad due to our positioning and distance from the camera and the subtitles disappear in the middle.  However, i'm keeping it up because it's got a response.  Could do better, i think.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to look at Blogger...

Hello.  I have not forgotten or vanished.  Sorry to disappoint you all.  By the way, skip to the end if you just want to read my comments on Jimmy Savile.  I haven't made them at the start because it's not the main topic of this blog.

Two deceptively dissimilar videos today.  The connection between them is that they are both ideas which appear in my book, 'You Could've Thought Of That', available from lulu.com .  Here's the first:


This is 'Womanned Mission To Venus', which posits that rather than men going to Mars to land, women should go to Venus to explore the upper atmosphere.  People have got Venus all wrong.  They think of it as a nasty place where you would be fried, poisoned and squashed, as Patrick Moore once put it.  In fact this is only true if you think of it as a solid planet with a dense atmosphere.  If you thought of the four largest worlds in the solar system in the same way...


...you would see them all as astoundingly hot, unimaginably high-pressure worlds which were far more hostile than Venus.  However, on the whole they're thought of as largely gaseous and the tops of the clouds are thought of as the surface.  Make the same distinction for Venus and it becomes quite a nice place.  Even Earth is largely very hostile over most of its surface - the bottom of the ocean and Antarctica for example - but we think of it as hospitable.  Something like 70% of this planet's surface would simultaneously crush you and force you to inhale fire.  Feel free to ask why in the comments.

Therefore, my point is really that we are hung up on penetration.  We want to penetrate Mars to the surface, which is not far off being doable, but trying to do the same to Venus will make us dead.  However, if we can detach ourselves from that, our sister planet becomes a hunky-dory place, albeit one fairly high in sulphur compounds.

Here's the other video:


At first, this seems to have little to do with the first one and in fact there is only a tenuous link, which is that it's in the book, although the ideas in the book are linked by being insufficiently thought through.  In this case this is less so than usual.  This idea is about making calcium citrate.  The advantage of this is that it means you are using the nutritional value of hen's eggs to the maximum.  When i say this is a living being, i am of course aware that a sterile egg will never yield a chick but an egg is still a complete living cell even when it's haploid, and what you are seeing in this video is still pretty close to murder, sadly.  In a while, i'll have accumulated enough wood ash to make a vegan version of this video.

I should probably also point out that because of the boiling process, most of the vitamin C would've been destroyed in the production of the calcium citrate solution.

Calcium citrate is interesting stuff.  As a nutritional supplement, it puts less stress on the stomach than calcium carbonate because it isn't alkaline, and since the oxyntic cells which secrete stomach acid also produce the intrinsic factor which enables one to absorb vitamin B12, this is quite important (there is slight absorption of the vitamin without them, but it's insignificant).  It's also allegedly more efficiently absorbed than calcium carbonate.  It also has other uses, and fits into a series of "related" compounds which i'll mention below.  It can be used as a preservative and a water softener, and also as a flavouring.

Finally on the subject of calcium citrate, it is one of a series of organic salts which can be made fairly easily at home and have a variety of uses.  These use the cations (positively charged ions) calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium, and the anions (negatively charged ions) derived from methanoid (formic), citric, ethanoic (acetic) and oxalic acids.  Some of them develop with an excess of the cations as well, so more than sixteen of these compounds can be easily made at home from widely available raw materials.  I will eventually make videos on all of these.  Hot ice is one of them, used for heat packs.

Jimmy Savile

The way the book stands at the moment (available here:  http://www.lulu.com/shop/mark-a-ure/you-couldve-thought-of-that-a-compendium-of-ideas-which-havent-been-thought-of-yet/paperback/product-20266026.html - however, it is about to be edited and re-uploaded), there is an idea based on the death of Jimmy Savile in it.  I have removed this idea and the second edition will not contain it.  In a way, this feels like censorship, but in the light of recent events it's in poor taste.  It doesn't refer to the allegations.  However, i also think i should say a few things about this situation.

First of all, although hindsight is notoriously reliable, my impression was that even among the general public there was considerable suspicion about him.  For instance, a friend of mine described him as "the most evil man in the world" over twenty years ago.  Someone has re-posted the Louis Theroux programme on him here:



In this video, there are at least two references to paedophilia, one where Savile says "I'm feared in every girls' school in Britain" 14 minutes and twenty-two seconds in, and another where Theroux specifically discusses the subject with him at forty-five minutes for quite some time.  Therefore, the accusations which are being made about employees of the BBC being culpable and covering up also apply to us to some extent - we knew about this too but didn't take it particularly seriously.  Also, among certain people who had no direct experience of him, he has long been considered persona non grata, and clearly among many of those with whom he did come into contact, it seems that he already had a very negative reputation.  My personal perspective on this right now is that his charity work may have been partly motivated by feelings of guilt.  However, it would be irresponsible to speculate too much on this.

Regarding paedophilia more widely, it can also be used by the media to distract from other issues.  This is not to make any excuses for paedophilia, but just as wars have been used as opportunities to get unpopular things done surreptitiously - "a good day to bury bad news" - so is the number of recent prominent events concerning paedophilia an opportunity certain people might exploit to do things which might otherwise be seen as suspicious while the general public is distracted by these concerns, however right it is that we should be focussed on them.  So what else is happening?

Another issue is that of the loss of nostalgia about that time.  Many people, myself included, look back on the post-war era leading up to the end of the 1970s, when Savile was in his heyday and you could say no wrong about him, as almost like a Garden of Eden from which we fell.  However, it is also the case that sexual harrassment and even paedophilia were more acceptable at the time than they are now.  Having said that, one thing which didn't happen, so far as i can remember, was that the horror of paedophilia was not exploited as a way of imposing oppressive legislation, justified on the grounds that "if it saves one child" and "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", such as the monitoring of home educating families in Wales and the recent attempts to impose similar monitoring of us here in England.  The idea here is that home education (a misnomer of course) can be used as a cover for child abuse.  So, in the time-honoured tradition of "school at home", which we apparently all do, here's a tired old arithmetic lesson for you.

Hardly any British family has more than fifteen children.  An adult who is a potential abuser has fifteen opportunities to perpetrate that evil in such a family.  However, a teacher, at a conservative estimate of a two decade career during which they come in contact with a single class of thirty children a year, will have six hundred opportunities to do the same.  Where would it make sense for the government and local authorities to look for children in danger?

These teachers will of course all have had an enhanced CRB check nowadays.  Now let's get back to Savile.  I am of course assuming this man is guilty.  Well, guess what?  He would have passed an enhanced CRB check with no trouble.  No charges were ever made against him, the police were on his side, nobody even tried to prove publically that he was anything other than a kindly man who did a lot of charity work.  In the meantime, worthy people are being turned away and taxed for doing good by being forced to undergo CRB checks.  Savile, if the allegations turned out to be true, is a superb example of why they're not even worthy of being used as toilet paper.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bilingualism

Shortly after our daughter was conceived, i decided to experiment with bilingualism.  Since at the time i was using both German and English every day, it made a lot of sense to me at the time to raise her speaking both.  At first, things went fine and in fact her first word was Tuer - "door".  However, it was soon to founder on the fact that so far as the offspring was concerned, German was just this weird noise her dad made and Castilian, English, French and so on were real languages which other people also spoke.  Consequently, her German-speaking abilities stayed embryonic, and to some extent the experiment was a failure.  Here's an interview between us on the issue:


However, in a sense no experiment is a failure - it's just that some of them yield negative results.  Some interesting positives to have come out of this for this formidable example of Homo sapiens before us here is that she is utterly unintimidated by the idea of acquiring a second language and is perfectly willing so to do when she perceives a need and is motivated. Moreover, she is fine with the more opaque vocabulary of the intellectual elite - to her, it is not an anti-language.  Finally, like myself, she talks German in her sleep!  I have no idea what significance, if any, this has, but find it intriguing.

Another interesting aspect of this is the fact that she really does seem to find the sound of German harsher and more intimidating than the Romance languages she prefers (though Arabic with its plethora of pharyngeal consonants is apparently OK with her).  This is from her position as a non-language user, since she was introduced to German, Castilian and English more or less simultaneously.  Therefore, that impression seems not to be pure prejudice and it seems probable that German really is a harsher-sounding language.  It's not to do with prejudice.

I'm not serious about saying nobody should try bilingualism as an experiment, but i do think it's only likely to succeed if you have access to a linguistic community in both languages.  Otherwise, there will be advantages, which our daughter clearly has, but you won't get to easy code-switching between the two languages.  That needn't matter, but if your aim is to ensure they are open to two cultures, you have to go the whole hog and involve yourself fully in both, which is not always possible.