Monday, February 26, 2007

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

It reminded me of the logic I held in phases as a teenager. The book practically holds up placards to crystallize feelings that many would harbour in varying nebulous forms. Its easy to bare conventional religions to ridicule. Also, the Darwinian arguments have always made perfect sense to me.

The trouble is that we think too highly today of our current intellectual and scientific abilities. We are still minions in our knowledge of what the heck is going on. A small example in this book related to Dawkins' sneer on the Sun appearing to come down from the sky as witnessed by thousands of people at Fatima. He took the classical irrefutable line that no matter what they all witnessed - the Sun clearly did not come down from the sky - the whole planet would have been destroyed otherwise. Good smart-arsed teenager Physics logic. He doesn't bother trying to analyse it any further - not worthy. That's the trouble with conventional scientists. Anything unknown which doesn't fit into currently understood measurement tools is completely dismissed.

We all know that there are many things unexplained. Scientists try to analyse everything with conventional detection systems for energies in the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays and for subatomic particles etc. It's poetry in motion when everything can be explained, controlled, repeated. We use it to ultimately build the predictable solutions we enjoy in our 21st century lives. But the weird stuff doesn't play ball. Try repeating the same experiment in the so called paranormal and it's different every time. Ghosts would be great if you could control them - very handy to be able to exploit something which goes through walls. Today's scientists don't seem to know where to begin in this area. It's much easier to rubbish everything. But many open minded scientists have called for a newer super-science. Face up to everything unexplained. Keep open minded and push the boundaries.

I agree with Dawkins in so many things. I agree it is reasonable to expect more answers from science. But science needs to discover more and more of the dynamics which drive the universe and life. We are only scratching the surface.

I want to know why people dying in operating theatres can describe in uncanny detail what is happening in other parts of the hospital. I want to know how my 2 year old daughter suddenly made detailed claims of contacts with her Grandad who died when she was a small baby before she could know him (see here). I want to know how truly bizarre things line up when loved ones pass away.

Scientists like Dawkins reckon that we are deluded. But if we are patient and continue our work, science will eventually provide answers and may even fuse with philosophy. However, here in 2007 Richard Dawkins does not have the answers, he instead offers ridicule at the obvious soft targets.

Monday, February 19, 2007

It was dangerous to walk on the grass!

I read recently that its 25 years since slapping was abolished in Ireland's schools. So anyone now under about 30 years old never experienced it. Here's one vivid memory...

In our Dublin Primary school in the mid 1960s there was a tough deputy headmaster. His commanding authority was absolute and philosophically he was slightly to the right of Attila the Hun. His class was the quietest and most disciplined in the school. I'll just refer to him as Mr. C (in case he is alive and still dangerous!).

Some of Mr. C's star pupils were trained to supervise the schoolyard at lunchtime. In particular they stood at the edge of the yard to watch with laser beam accuracy if any kid put a foot off the concrete yard on to the nice green school lawn. Such an offence was serious in the eyes of Mr. C.

When the bell sounded to end lunchtime each class formed their own line at the front of the school yard. An additional line - suitably segregated to one side - was for all the pupils who had stepped on the grass during the break. Mr. C stood at the top of the steps and made a short but powerful speech to the entire school assembly on how those in the special line were bad and had no respect for the school lawn. He then blew his whistle and beckoned this special line of kids to march up the steps into the school and into his classroom in full view of the rest of the school.

I had the misfortune once to be in the special line and found myself with the other suspects lined up for a kangaroo court session in Mr. C's class. The prisoners stood at the top of the classroom facing all Mr.C's silently seated pupils. Mr. C paced up and down the courtroom giving a general introduction to proceedings and then asked each person in turn to give an explanation as to why they stepped on the grass. The excuses were variable but the typical ones were...."I only put one toe on the grass"....."Yer man pushed me".... "I just slipped"..."I didn't do it" etc.

Each excuse was repeated in a cruel burlesque fashion by Mr. C and was seasoned by satirical remarks to amuse the courtroom. His class was allowed a gentle laugh to support Mr. C's witty performance but if it went even slightly too loud to suit his taste he would hiss "SILENCE!"

The court case facade was all a part of the humiliation and for Mr. C's unmistakable enjoyment - as nobody ever escaped unpunished anyway. When Mr. C was finished verbal proceedings he went and sat behind his desk and there followed a deliberate solemn silence - a bit like private prayer before ending a funeral mass. This was more psychological punishment of course.

The silence was eventually broken by Mr. C standing up with military formality and slowly saying a single word...."Murphy".

This was a signal for Mr. C's star pupil to get up from his desk and walk across the front of the class past the now convicted criminals to a locked press. There, following jingling keys echoing prison-like in the otherwise icy silence, Murphy retrieved a long nasty wooden cane. He brought the cane across the room past the criminal line - whose transfixed eyes and heads followed the cane like synchronised swimmers - and presented it to Mr. C. The teacher then walked up to face the first criminal in line and asked him to step forward. In the cold sombre atmosphere it left like all that was missing was one of those dull church funeral gongs sounding every 2 seconds.

The next few minutes was a spectacle of slaughter with cries of agony as each boy received six vicious cane flogs on each of their hands. Often the child found it hard to put his hand out to take the second and subsequent blows. Mr. C then had to wrestle their hands out straight and hold them as he administered more swishing heavy blows. It was a terrifying orgy of violence and heart wrenching pain.

When the dust all settled Mr. C observed the scarred battlefield of shaking and tearful pupils. Panting from his exertions but with the faint smile of a triumphant gladiator, he took a handkerchief out to wipe sweat from his brow before combing his ruffled hair into place. When suitably composed he then made a final speech about the precious lawn and everyone was dismissed to their classes.

Ah, school days!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Irish Blog Awards

Mmmh! A few of my articles have made it to nominations in the 2007 Irish Blog Awards.

Best Blog Post Category...not one but two nominations (Yippie!)...

The Day I quit as an Altar Boy

The Legend of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

Most Humorous Post Category...

The Legend of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

When I saw the two category nominations for the Bubble Car post I was so glad for dear old Uncle Tom. He and his wife died in recent years aged in their eighties and without offspring - it's so easy and fast for someone like that to have their memory disappear. It's nice to think that some folk today enjoy his incident from 1963.

Anyway, well done to Damien for all his hard work in the Irish Blog Awards and to the various helpers and sponsors. If you want to find out more and vote go to...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ireland 2 San Marino 1

Everyone is being tough on our poor manager Steve Staunton and the FAI.

Let's get real in many ways...

1. We won. It wasn't a great performance but we were clearly a much better side and San Marino's strategy was all about avoiding being scored against - they worked hard and successfully on defense.

2. We are a slightly better than average international side, but nothing exceptional. We are still in a mental state since the exceptional performance in Italia 90. In a sense it's like England feeling for 40 years that they are World Cup winning class since 1966.

3. We've driven out Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr and now we want rid of Steve Staunton. Were they all so very bad?

Let's stop looking for heads and support and build on what we have.

PS...On radio yesterday I loved one Dublin woman when asked on the street if she knew where San Marino was...."I'm not sure, but I know it's not the place near Fairview!"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mystical Orion

Lastnight there were low translucent light clouds passing over the sky. This photo aimed at the constellation Orion was taken on a 30 second exposure. The cloud movement created this wispy effect and the suburban street lights illuminated the clouds. I increased the contrast slightly for more impact but that was the only PC edit.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Miss World and Miss Universe

Recently on his TV show Ryan Tubridy interviewed the current Miss Ireland and two former Miss Irelands. At one point Ryan made a brief passing remark on Miss Universe and Miss Galaxy contests. He was gently chided by Andrea Roche that there was no Miss Galaxy contest. Indeed. Silly boy.

But Ryan had touched on something which had long lurked unspoken in my mind. I've always been interested in Astronomy and hence as a kid I'd been confused by the concept of a Miss World and a Miss Universe contest. I used to wonder that if you won Miss World.....well who are you competing against if you then entered the Miss Universe contest? Aliens? Trust the Yanks to have the arrogance to come up with such a title. So far in the 50 year history of the Miss Universe contest there have been no howls of protest from stunning females on planets orbiting stars such as Sirius, Vega and Betelgeuse - not to mention from planets orbiting the trillions and trillions of other stars. But you could picture a top class American Lawyer fighting a lawsuit with a wealthy eccentric to prove the Miss Universe contest to be a complete scam and totally flaunting the rights of other intelligent females in our massive Universe.

Ryan's mention of a Miss Galaxy might be more sensible. A Miss Solar System would be even better. It's a reasonable bet that there are no beautiful females on our neighbouring planets. Any lower animal life forms won't qualify of course - although come to think of it stick insects might count. Intelligence is a must, but cynics might argue not too much of the stuff to rule out American contestants.

Lastly, can you imagine the hissy fits if Miss Universe and Miss World had to compete for the last 1st Class seat on a plane...

Miss Universe: "Me of course. Clearly my title is better than hers!"

Miss World: "As if! How come I beat you in the Miss World contest?"

Stewardess: "Forget it! Neither of you are getting that seat - my boyfriend is the Air Marshal on this flight and he wants to enjoy his book."