The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
“I recently stumbled upon an example of secular intransigence that may give readers a sense of how religious people feel when their beliefs are criticized. It’s not a perfect analogy, as you will see, but the rigorous research I’ve conducted at dinner parties suggests that it is worth thinking about. We can call the phenomenon “the fireplace delusion.””
(tags: sam-harris wood health psychology fireplace samharris religion)
The Art of Controversy – Schopenhauer
Machiavelli for arguments, illustrated here by someone with a keen knowledge of internet memes.
(tags: trolling controversy schopenhauer philosophy argument logic fallacy)
BBC News – Swiftkey, a scientific start-up
Interesting article about the best predictive keyboard for Android: it’s the product of some Cambridge PhDs who studied natural language proccessing, apparently.
(tags: cambridge university compsci language swiftkey keyboard text SMS android)

Oh my. The feminist bloggers have taken on the Internet Hate Machine known as Anonymous. Encyclopedia Dramatica (very NSFW and extremely offensive, don’t blame me if you get fired) has the scoop on the post which might have been from Biting Beaver that started it all, as well as the on-going aftermath.

Some of the commenters on the feminist blogs get it, and actually tell them what’s going on and how to weather the raids (ilyka, or Holly in this thread). Luckily for Anonymous, the rest of the commenters either ignore them or jump on them and accuse them of misogyny, while beginning the countdown which will end in them reaching Defcon 1 and launching the e-lawyers against the Patriarchy. Hint: the only winning move is not to play.

It’s like the Internet perfect storm. Who brought popcorn?

I guess most people on LiveJournal saw their proposal to turn LJ into MySpace (lj_dirtycache is particularly good fun for anyone who’s ever looked at bands’ sites on MySpace). What’s funny about LJ’s effort is that LJ clearly understand what is going to provoke their users to apoplectic rage until they realise they’ve been had. By comparison, Facebook was a bit lame, merely offering to send someone round to physically poke the people you “poked” on Facebook. They should have announced some variant on the Facebook feed to get all the “OMG UR HELPING STALKERS” people up in arms again.

Google announced TISP, their IP-round-the-U-bend service, as well as Gmail Paper, for those who prefer their email on paper. Slashdot had a collection of unconvincing stories. Poor show.

Disappointingly, the IETF don’t seem to have done anything very exciting lately, at least nothing to match the seminal Standard for the transmission of IP datagrams on Avian Carriers.

Finally, robhu announced he’d reconverted to Christianity. It initially seemed he’d converted to a fluffy sort of Christianity in which God is a metaphor for the good which, in a very real sense, is in us all. However, in the discussion thread which followed, it soon became clear he’d reverted to his old evangelical habits, informing me that I was blinded by the devil and was “just as much of a fundamentalist as Richard Hawkings“. His later post contains the de-brief, in which it is revealed that I was in on it from shortly after he’d posted the entry. robhu used some excellent observational humour to convincingly impersonate evangelical responses to my ultra-atheist straight man.

In summary, burr86 and robhu jointly win the Internet. Tonight, we dine in Hell.

Bruce Schneier rightly points out that defending against what happened last time isn’t a good way to make yourself secure against an enemy that can easily switch tactics. That said, I think I’ve got the answer. iPods, liquids and shoes don’t blow up airliners; theists do. Rather than attempting to second-guess what tactic they might try next, theists themselves should either face an outright ban on flying or more stringent searches and restrictions, depending on the current threat level. You might argue that this discriminates against the majority of theists who don’t want to blow up airplanes. However, we must remember that all this means is that they don’t want to blow up airplanes at the moment. Once a person begins to believe that they have an infallible invisible friend who tells them what to do, they might do anything. As Winston Churchill said, “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are. Now, we are merely haggling about the price”. Anyway, inspired by this, I give you: <lj-cut text=”Theists On A Plane”>

Edited to add: for the benefit of the huge influx of new readers I expect to get real soon now, I’d better point out that this is a wind-up, or “troll” as we say on the internets. My real feelings are more like these, although I’ll probably mutter something about theists to myself the next time I’m parched on some budget airline flight.

Mindful of the recent LJ drama about breastfeeding icons, I propose we take LiveJournal’s codebase (which is open source) and start a site where it is compulsory to display breasts in your default icon. That’ll show the Patriarchy! Start using those tools to back up your livejournal now, because will be live soon.

Another controversial LJ Abuse policy which people are complaining about is that LJ don’t care about comments made in journals which are actually RSS feeds of blogs off-site, because no-one owns the journal. There’s one LJ user whose life’s purpose appears to be to post the word “BOOBIES!!” as a comment to every single entry on popular feeds. apod, a feed of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, also has the_duke, who always posts “I’ve been there” in response to all the pretty pictures of galaxies and suchlike. The other day, he got the best reply evar.

It would be possible to adapt the web 2.0 technologyTM used by my LJ New Comments script so that you could killfile comments from particular users, I suppose, but I think there’s little motivation to do so while the trolls’ immaturity is less objectionable than the complainants’ huge sense of entitlement.

Ruth Gledhill writes for The Times about Making Sense of Generation Y, a report issued by the Church of England, based on a survey of 120 people aged between 15 and 25. (If you’re a little older, like me, you’re on the Gen X-Gen Y cusp, in the MTV Generation, despite which I don’t think I’ve ever watched more than a minute or so of MTV).

The report does away with the popular conception among Christians that the youf have spiritual urges which are currently misdirected towards Harry Potter or throwing shapes in the church of dance, but which the Christianity can tap into and divert for its own purposes. Gledhill quotes the report as saying that “the data indicated that they found meaning and significance in the reality of everyday life, which the popular arts helped them to understand and imbibe.” She says that the Gen Y creed could be stated as “There is no need to posit ultimate significance elsewhere beyond the immediate experience of everyday life” and that “the goal in life of young people was happiness achieved primarily through the family”. The report also reported a lack of feelings of the fear of death or guilt about sex, those pillars upon which Christianity, or at least the sort of Christianity which is best at making copies of itself, must rest.

Amusingly, the report tells the Church not to panic (Gledhill does not record whether it does so in large friendly letters), and by way of consolation, points out that mental health problems in the youth are on the rise (it’s not clear why this is a good thing for Christianity, or rather, I can only think of one, slightly, uncharitable reason why it might be). ETA: OK, so I’m trolling here, as gjm11 points out.

I think this newfound sensibleness in the youth is to be encouraged, and that the church has heard the sound of inevitability. Whether it will yet vault off the railway tracks remains to be seen, but I am, of course, cheering for the oncoming subway train.


The cartoons were part of a debate on artistic self-censorship in the face of fears of violence from Muslims. They were designed to provoke a reaction. Imagining it from a Muslim point of view, we might say they were trolling Muslims. A troll wants you to respond. Some Muslims have done so in spades, proving exactly the point that the original Danish newspaper article was making.

Just as with the Jerry Springer the Opera uproar, the test of the tolerance practised by a group of believers is how they respond to someone attempting to troll them. The right way to deal with trolls is to ignore them: they hate that. The wrong thing to do is respond with cries of “help! help! I’m being oppressed!”, or with threats of violence. I’m glad to see some British Muslims have realised that such threats are counter-productive, and that a moderate Muslim group has formed in Denmark to try to calm things down.

As for the rest, we must not have a society where people (or at least, people above the age of 5) who think they have an invisible friend are able to stop certain kinds of speech merely by saying that they’re offended on that friend’s behalf. We do not extend such protection to any other opinion a person might hold. We should not extend it to religion, whether the religion is Christianity or Islam or anything else. Jack Straw’s weasel words are frankly vile (although perhaps not surprising from the government which attempted to quash freedom of speech itself with the Religious Hatred bill).

A few links: The Times has a sensible editorial on the whole business. jnala, commenting on ladysiyphus‘s LJ, writes against self-censorship. Wikipedia has an excellent article on the controversy.