Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Blog Polls

Well, the votes are in and the verdict is unambiguous - the people who responded to my blog poll are the kind of people that respond to blog polls - even the ones that don't.

Of course, I don't have any statistics on people who did not vote on the blog poll because they don't vote on blog polls, so we'll just have to go with what we have.

This incredibly scientific process (66% of people who respond to blog polls respond to blog polls) has convinced me to keep the polls going and I'll be trying to put a new poll up each week.



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 5 Movies of the year

Everyone loves 'Top 5' lists, don't they?

Oh. Well I do, so I'm doing one. First off though, I have to say that I didn't get 'round to seeing the following films; The Hurt Locker, (500) Days of Summer, Public Enemies, Where the Wild Things Are or Fantastic Mr. Fox. From what I've seen, all of these stand a chance of breaking into the top 5 but I didn't see them so I can't rate them.

Notable mentions have to go to The Hangover, Star Trek and Coraline, all of which were enjoyable films that I'll definitely watch again. Here's the top 5;

#5 Avatar
I saw this in 3D and, if you're going to go see it, I urge you to see the 3D version as well. In the past (including Coraline and, to a lesser extent, Up) the 3D aspect of a film was a gimmick to make a given object come 'out' of the screen - usually to the surprise of the audience - it was a parlour trick. No more. In Avatar, James Cameron has managed to integrate 3D technology into the very fabric of the film and the results are spectacular. Everything has depth and texture, everything feels real. While this technology is going to be a lot of fun for action/adventure films, what I really want to see is someone do a single-camera Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity style film in this manner. The feeling of 'looking through a window' rather than at a screen really draws you in and, I think, documentary-style horror films are going to reap some major scares out of this stuff.

While the plot has come in for some serious criticism (it's Ferngully!) for its lack of originality, I don't necessarily see this as a fault. James Cameron is taking you on a ride and the visuals are a big part of that - there isn't that much else you can do once the protagonists are set up; the furrows of history are fairly well worn in these situations. So don't expect the story to blow you out of the water, it's merely the vehicle that takes you through the world that Jim built.

I really enjoyed this film. There are little treats scattered all the way through it, from noticing that they've finally got CG eyes 'right' to realizing that it took you an hour to figure this out because they look so damn real!

#4 Watchmen
Yes, the graphic novel is better. Let us get that out of the way right off the bat. Zack Snyder deserves some credit for the best attempt at faithfully rendering a graphic novel into a movie, but the drawback of this is that you really can directly compare the two because the film offers you nothing you haven't read in the book (except, perhaps, a better ending - there, I said it!).

If it hadn't been a comic first, Watchmen would have been hailed - quite rightly - as a groundbreaking work of cinematic genius, but it will never get that recognition because all it really is is a photocopy of the original.

That being said, it's an incredibly well made film and almost all the casting is note-perfect. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorsharch is one of my favourite performances of the year. I'm still not entirely sold on Leanard Cohen's Hallelujah being used during the mid-air Archie sex-scene, but I guess Watchmen is supposed to be idiosyncratic and, well, cheesy. That's why it works as superhero satire, after all!

#3 Inglourious Basterds
You just can't keep Quentin down, can you? Man I love this film!

The most notable thing about IB is how it's not about Brad Pitt's character. The trailer led us all to believe that it was going to be all about Brad and his Jewish buddies cutting a bloody swathe through the ranks of the Nazis in France - almost like the Bride in Kill Bill as she takes down the Crazy 88s (and everyone else in her path). But that's not how it works.

It's actually Christopher Waltz' who owns this film. As Hans Landa, the 'Jew-Hunter', Waltz manages to do what, to my mind, no other Tarantino villain has done. He is frightening. Most of QT's bad-guys are sadistic yes, but they're also normally pretty cool too (think of Bill, Marsellus Wallace, Stuntman Mike). Landa is more like Hannibal Lecter; cold, calculating, supremely intelligent and utterly ruthless.

The rest of the film's pretty bad-ass as well!

#2 Up
Total change of tone here! Up made me cry. For the first time in my adult life, I cried in the cinema (the only other time was when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie back in the late 80s) and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The emotional kick in the guts that comes in the first 10 minutes rivals any tear-jerker in cinematic history and it grounds the whole film, even when everything else is airborne.

I have no idea how Pixar keep making these gems but I hope they keep it up for many more years to come because they just keep on getting better and better. I may be slightly biased towards this film because it has a Rottweiler in it that reminds me of my dog, but leaving that aside it still has everything a good movie should have; thrills, spills, chase-scenes, comedy, great characters and, at it's heart, a lot of love.

#1 District 9
No contest. This was, not only my favourite, but the best film of the year. Everything about it shows endless ingenuity, creativity, innovation and courage I don't think I blinked more than fifty times during the entire screening.

Sharlto Copley puts in the only performance of the year to rival Christopher Waltz with his portayal of MNU employee Wikus van de Merwe, a performance which was totally improvised. I have never been taken on a journey like I was with Wikus. His casual racism (or xenocism, if you like) and likable demeanor at the start of the film makes for an interesting character and if they'd have left it there, I would have been satisfied. But throughout the film, Wikus transforms (in many ways) and you're never left feeling sold short at any stage - you're always with him, even when you don't like him.

Neill Blomkamp has done something thoroughly remarkable with District 9 that will see this film talked about alongside Alien, Blade Runner, 2001, Terminator and others as one of the seminal works of Science-fiction.

Well, there's my Top 5. I've tried to avoid doing the usual 'review' of the film that inevitably leads to spoilers and, at the very least, plants pre-conceived notions about the film in the readers mind. Instead, I've just tried to tell you how the movie made me feel and, if nothing else, encouraged you to seek out any of these films that you might not have seen yet. Trust me; they're all worth seeing.

Let me know if you agree/disagree!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

End of the Decade

So, how were the noughties for you?

Coming to the end of this year and having a look back through this blog has made me decide to be a little more active in the future. I'm hoping to churn out at least 1 post/week from now on and some of them might even be of interest (this one isn't).

I'm also going to diversify a bit and talk about some of my other passions that aren't science or religiously connected; movies, music, politics, life, the universe and - you know - the like... we'll see how that goes.

For now, I'd just like to say that I hope everyone had a very, Merry Christmas and I wish you all the very best for the new year - roll on 2010!



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Hello, my name is Kent Hovind..."

As you may have seen, Kent Hovind's 'dissertation' has been released online. The 101 page scribblings of the good 'Doctor' were made available from Wikileaks and you can read the masterpiece itself here.

Some highlights include;

  • "Another man that is very important as we trace the history of evolution is Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. He was born in 1731 and died in 1802. He was an extremely fat person."

  • "Darwin's book was just what the world needed to justify the cruel ruthless tactics of the industrial revolution. Darwin had a theology degree."

  • "It was Shintoism, based on evolution, that was responsible for Japan's actions in World War II"

  • "Evolution is not a scientific fact. It actually is not even a good theory. It is just a hypothesis Actually, evolution fits into the realm of religion. Webster's definition of religion says "belief in a divine or super-human power to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator and ruler of the universe."
  • "Those canaries will never, given all the time you want, will never change into elephants, or dinosaurs, or trees, or tomatoes. If they did, that would be macro-evolution."
  • "In Japan, the same thing was going on with the Shintu [sic] religion... Japan and Germany got together and we had an awful time in World War II."
  • "The cosmic dust layer [on the Moon] was only six or seven thousand years old."

It goes on.

This guy still refers to himself as 'Dr.' Hovind, as do his fans. He has been one of the major contributors on the YEC side of the Evo-Creo debate for years and his 'ideas' are often quoted near-verbatum by those who think research is a dirty word.

It would be depressing, if it weren't so funny.

Let me know if there are any other quotes that should be included in the highlights reel.



Thanks to BeamStalk for the TalkOrigins link that debunks every single thing that Hovind says (as if it were needed!). Nice.

Book Share

After some back-and-forth with Da Bomb over at his excellent Pilgrimage blog, it looks like we're going to be entering into a book-exchange in time for Christmas.

He'll be sending me a John Lennox book, and I'll return the favour by sending either The Greatest Show on Earth or Why Evolution is True (by Dawkins and Coyne, respectively).

It is my hope that I'll be able to do a chapter-by-chapter review of the Lennox book as I go and I welcome any input.

This is what the internet is all about, two people from different, countries (heck, continents...hemispheres!) from different backgrounds having a chat and sharing information - you've got to love it!

It's perfect timing too, I just finished being disappointed by Dune: Messiah (not as good as the original book) and I don't have another book lined up.

So, thank you to Da Bomb; I look forward to finalizing the details with you soon.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Disturbing video


If you haven't already, you should be subscribed to Personal Failure's excellent blog; Forever in Hell - it's seriously badass.

However, I'm going to link to it specifically today because the story that she talks about gave me a knot in my stomach and I feel like I have to do something or I'll punch the next person I see.

In Which I Interrupt the Previous Post for Human Rights

Do not follow this link unless you have a strong stomach. The embedded video shows a savage assault on a gay man being beaten half to death outside his own home by two thugs.

What you can do...

Hate Crime Bill - if you are able, please support this bill. This is where prejudice, ignorance and bigotry lead to and it needs to stop. Right now.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Evolution: Stealing examples from Dawkins

I've been reading Richard Dawkins' new book 'The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution' and, I have to say, it is an excellent piece of popular science writing.

Evolution is both simple and complex at the same time - when you understand its complexity, the elegant simplicity shines through, When you misunderstand the simplicity, the complexity seems absurd. A tricky concept to get across.

What Dawkins does so well is to lead the reader through the thought-processes that are necessary to view evolution in the right context and you can tell that he's being very careful to minimize the quote-mine opportunities throughout the book.

A particular example, that I'd like to borrow and adapt, from the book is in dealing with 'transitional forms' in the fossil record; a creationist favourite!

Imagine a country where the voting age, drinking age, driving age and age at which you are tried as an adult in court are all 18. That will be our assumption.

So under-18s are kids and over-18s are adults. That's the best way we have for drawing a distinction between the two, and we have to draw a line somewhere because otherwise you'd have 4-year-olds behind the wheel and 40-year-olds being charged as a minor for crimes.

Now, does this mean that we actually think that kids magically turn into grownups at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday? No, of course not. We appreciate that they go through an adolescent phase that can run from 14 - 24, or 17-19 or, in some cases, from 21- 91! But we have to make that distinction for categorical purposes.

So, when creationists demand to see a transitional form in the fossil record, what they are asking for is our 'adolescent'. However, because of our need to categorize, any fossil we find will always fit into one category or another (unless it is distinct enough to form a new category of its own and then we just have two new 'adolescent' positions in the fossil record).

What creationists don't realize (or do realize, but lie about it) is that what they are actually demanding is that we provide them with the 'stroke of midnight' fossil as child-->adult. Of course, this fossil cannot exist; all we can provide is forms that straddle the line.

. . . . . . . l . . . . . . .

Let's say the dots to the far left is Species A and the far right is Species B. Scientists have drawn an imaginary line between the two which is, for all intents and purposes, arbitrary.

Now, a creationist comes along and says; 'where's the transitional form?' Scientists go looking and find the three specimens shown in purple, below;

. . . . . . . l . . . . . . .

The one to the left of the line has more in common with Species A and the two to the right of the line have more in common with Species B. These are transitional forms between Species A and Species B and we have these, in droves, for multiple lines of evolution covering almost every group of organisms know to have existed.

We could, if we looked long and hard enough, find all the 'missing' dots for this particular sequence...

Now here's the kicker.

These dots do not represent individuals, they represent populations of organisms, existing for tens of thousands of years, that can be said to be distinct enough from their neighbouring dots to be recognized as different. Each can just about inter-breed with the one next to it for a relatively short period of time (indeed, they must as that is the period where the one group diverges from the parent group) until speciation occurs and the two populations can no longer interbreed.

Even representing it like this is false because we have arbitrarily separated the populations into dots when, really, it should be a continuous line that gradually changes colour. Like the years of our child-->adult's life, we put an imaginary break at their birthday and say 'now you are 12' but they are almost no different to how they were yesterday and they will be almost no different tomorrow to how they are today. Yet, at some point, they stop being 'child' and become 'adult'. Can you point to the transitional age for a given person going from child-->adult?

The creationist's insistence on 'transitional forms' is founded in a misunderstanding of what the term means and how the process works. It is dishonest either way; to demand evidence for something you don't understand is ignorant, to demand evidence for something you willfully don't understand and have no intention of understanding is a flat-out lie.

I highly recommend Dawkins' book - he puts this stuff far more eloquently than I can.

Any questions, comments or clarifications are welcome.