Irish Atheists Publish 25 Well-Known Blasphemous Quotes To Test Ridiculous New Blasphemy Law

January 1st, a brand new blasphemy law takes into effect in Ireland, in which it’s now criminal with fines up to 25.000 euros for:

publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted

In response to this Orwellian feat, a group of Irish atheists have gathered 25 blasphemous quotes to challenge the law, including:

Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.

— Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979.

Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003) Mini-Review

I spent the better part of Sunday watching all three Matrix movies

projected in high definition on my cousins wall. Here’s what I think of them, and please note that this review does contain spoilers, if not for the fact that the movies have been out for a while now.

The Matrix (1999)

Freelance hacker “Neo” discovers that the world is not what it seems but, in fact, an illusion; a virtual reality that keeps people in the real world asleep while they’re generating energy for their robot overlords.

This is definitely the best of the bunch and not only for its original story and mindblowing effects, but also for the fact that it’s well acted and not overly long. Quite simply, everything works.

On a philosophical level, the dilemmas presented translate well across the gulf of screen, and are elegantly woven into the story; is ignorance bliss? Or would you take the red pill?

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

After having discovered that he is “The One”, Neo helps free thousands of minds from The Matrix. The machines have noticed and are preparing a counter-attack against Zion, the last human city. As Neo encounters Agent Smith—now a reborn “rogue program”—Neo must confront other rogue programs such as The Oracle and The Merovingian in order to find out how he can stop the machines from destroying Zion.

Where the first one was a “deep” action-romp, this one is just an action-romp. Fortunately it does deliver on the action. Story-wise, it feels like there’s a lot going on, yet we still have no clue why the protagonists are doing what they’re doing.

On a philosophical level, it seems like the Wachowskis have actually upped the ante even if it doesn’t communicate. “Reloaded” refers to the fact that The Matrix is not the only level of control the machines use to subdue the humans, but to the fact that Zion has already been destroyed five times before. Each time by Neos choice; he gets to choose whether Zion is reloaded or humanity is destroyed. Then, he gets to pick a number of people who gets to re-build Zion, thus repeating the cycle that is man vs. machine. This fact deepens the whole “are you really awake” metaphor from the first one, and adds to it the balances of power: we need the machines to survive and the machines need us. Unfortunately, the balance of action and talk is oddly skewed, only really delivering on the former.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

The machines are digging towards Zion and preparations for war are underway. Meanwhile, Neo is caught in a place in between The Matrix and the real world; a waking dream-state induced by discovering previously hidden powers that range beyond the virtual world. As the war between man and machine nears, Neo struggles to end the war, acknowledging that the rogue program, Agent Smith has grown out of even machine control.

Perhaps the deepest of the three, Revolutions is also the weakest in communicating any of that depth. It wasn’t until I saw it the third time, with philosopher commentary, that I got an idea of what the Wachowskis were trying to say. As it turns out, they’re trying to boldly state that man vs. machine is not always a victory to one or the other. We need the machines, just as they need us. Furthermore, I read into the over-arching Reloaded/Revolutions story arch, the most iconoclastic statement that religion is a product of human misery and that all religious symbolism and stories stem from very real human weaknesses; weaknesses that are bound to repeat themselves forever and ever. Start over, revolution, start over, revolution. And so on.

I’ve thought long and hard about why 2 and 3 are so much worse than the first one. Certainly good philosophy is there, then again perhaps that’s the problem. For a while I thought, if you removed all Zion scenes and cut both movies down to a single 90 minute feature, the result would be better for it. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps they should have taken a page from the book of Lucas and added a single, fatal weakness to the Machines; a weakness which if assaulted by a torpedo at just the right angle, would destroy all robots and end the movie. Sometimes the clichés work better than the bold alternatives. In this case, I think they might have.

The Ethics of Human Teleportation

Sure, Star Trek-style teleportation seems like the next big thing. Sure we could go on vacation in July just by stepping on to a transporter pad and be instantly moved from A to B; B probably being Acapulco or somewhere really nice. Off the bat we would love it, but have you ever pondered the moral and ethical implications of teleportation?

The basic form of teleportation involves you being disintegrated, your particle pattern stored in a buffer, transmitted and then reassembled elsewhere. Does that come with your soul? As the godforsaken semi-determinist I happen to be, sure, I can believe that the—for lack of a better word—the soul is simply a momentary configuration of molecules. What you are, right now, your hopes, your hurting shoulder, your innermost secrets and your latest monument to human achievement; all of that is simply a pattern of particles. So when you teleport, Trek-style, all that veltschmerz is teleported right along with your flesh.

Except, for the briefest of moments, you reside in a pattern buffer; a computer so powerful that it can not only hold your entire chemical configuration, but it can even run Photoshop CS3. Given that, what’s there to stop you (or the prop-like teleporter chief) from making a copy of you?

Therein lies the ethical considerations. The duplication that happens in teleportation is way beyond that of human cloning. Dolly can hop and dance happily unknowing that she is a a clone of what her mom was when she was born. At least she’s not a replica so exact that even memory, history and everything is carbon copied.

Could it be done any differently? Could your actual particles be transferred instead of duplicated? Probably, but it would still mean moving matter across distances. Duplication style teleportation, on the other hand, would only transmit matter-less information, and as we all know: Einsteinian law dictates that as the speed approaches that of light, weight approaches infinity. So in order to travel at the speed of love, that which travels must have no weight. It’s a conundrum. Either we teleport comfortably, implicitly trusting our transporter chief, or we don’t teleport at all. Maybe now Acapulco doesn’t sound so interesting after all.

On a closing note, there is a subtext to the above. It says: I’m going on vacation and I’ll see you again in July. Or August. Whichever comes first.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Reading up on discussions on atheism (the lack of belief in god), I stumbled upon this interesting question, called the Euthyphro dilemma:

Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

Wikipedia “translates” this into something more readable:

Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?

As a self-confessed atheist, always willing to discuss my lack of belief, I’m often asked “what about moral values?”, a question I think is utterly ridiculous. The idea that killing is only wrong because god says it is, is just—dangerous. Even so, I think citing the essence of the euthyphro dilemma to the inquiring mind might be a good way to deal with things.

Bloggers Code of Conduct: Should We Censor Ourselves?

When Tim O’Reilly drafted a Bloggers Code of Conduct, it sent waves through the so-called blogosphere. While O’Reilly encourages open discussion on this draft, it begs the question: do we even need a code of conduct at all?

The concept of blogging has enjoyed a comet-like rise to stardom in the mainstream media. Suddenly it was easy to guage the opinions of thousands of “normal people” worldwide. I didn’t think I’d ever hear a journalist on CNN say “What do bloggers think about this?”, but last year: there it was.

This very same mainstream spotlight makes it profitable to write about blogging. So that’s what O’Reilly did. The code itself is pretty much what you’d expect: Be nice and be politically correct:

[..] frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

We are committed to the “Civility Enforced” standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we’ll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that: – is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others – is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person, – infringes upon a copyright or trademark – violates an obligation of confidentiality – violates the privacy of others

My frank and civil opinion on this is that it can only come from someone who has absolutely no connection to the community he’s writing about.

But wait, this is my own blog, so I can also write this: Fuck your code of conduct O’Reilly. If you want to badge your site so it’s soccer-mom-safe go right ahead, but a draft of rules won’t make a vibrant community less scary for you. In fact, I predict zero effect.

Blogs come in as many sizes and shapes as LEGOs, cookies or faux impotence pills. Some blogs are like the weeds that break through the sidewalk; not quite as society intended, but tiny oases anyway. There are subcultures. Plural. It is useless to even ponder a code of conduct. Either there are already unwritten rules and secret handshakes, or actual laws that govern each country of blogger origin.

The utter futility of this draft is quite expressed. Of course we are responsible for what we say: if I threaten someone, I can be brought to justice. If I infringe on copyright, I either know I’m doing it and do it anyway, or it’s techinally a copyright infringement but no-one cares.

Blogging is an easy and accessible way to utter actual opinions. Trying to box it up and label it is not only moot and moronic but also a blow to free speech and an impossible task. Good luck with Myspace. Not that anyone cares if you succeed.

Ted Haggard: Christian Conservative, Hypocrite [Update]

This last year, it’s become increasingly clear to just how much religion permeates the fabric of society. In my experience, for the worse. Ethical issues that require us to rise above our animal instincts of vendetta and fear have become religious and political questions of “moral values”. In the words of Karl Marx:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Well, more so in 2006 than ever before. Abortion, gay marriage, even education has become woven into questions of faith, when church and state should be separate.

Enter Ted Haggard, Christian conservative pastor and founder of the New Life Church of Colorado. The church takes the bible literally and interprets it to condemn homosexuality as a sin and preach young earth and creationism. Haggard is a strong supporter of George W. Bush and apparently wields quite the political power ((Time has named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals)). In the news:

The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There?s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring with it all of my adult life.

Source

One guess is that he is homosexual and was brought up being taught homosexuality was “repulsive and dark”. So what could’ve been a fine young man became a shell of himself, trying to suppress his nature, preaching his own self-hatred to others. One has to wonder how much damage could be undone, had he just embraced who he was, decades ago. Instead, things got ugly.

What are your thoughts on this? What will happen to the New Life Church? Will this affect tomorrows mid-term elections? If so, which way?

[Update]: James Dobson wants to “cure” Ted Haggard of being gay. Sigh, where to begin…