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Evolving

In which we remember Darwin


Happy birthday Darwin, two hundred today, and probably one of the most important scientists who ever lived. He may not have been the sole person responsible for evolutionary theory – certainly not for modern evolutionary theory – but, as well as being a great scientist, he was a writer, someone who could communicate scientific ideas. That’s more important, sometimes, than the idea itself.

If you’re near Bristol: to commemorate Darwin, Bristol Zoo is offering free entry to anyone who turns up this morning with a beard (real or fake). As I write, there’s about 2 1/2 hours left to claim, so you’ll have to rush.

As it happens, only the other day I was reading a book which reminded me how important it is to remember Mr Darwin, as important as it ever was. Counterknowledge, by Damien Thompson, a short book on a long long subject: how falsehoods such as creationism and pseudoarchaeology are presented as somehow equal to facts and truth. How they are presented by the media as a “debate”, when one side’s evidence greatly outweighs the other.* It’s easy to find people today who believe that evolution is wrong; that somehow, because they find life beautiful, there must be a purpose and a designer behind it. And from there it’s a slippery slope to believing first that species are immutable; and from there, that conservation is unimportant, that God must have given us everything we need, and that Genesis 1:28** gives humanity the right to use up any and all resources that there are.

* as much as the inactive contents of a homeopathic remedy outweigh the active contents, you could say.

** “God said unto [man and woman],*** be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

*** Not “Adam and Eve”, note. Adam and Eve aren’t in the “six days” story of Creation, which this verse is part of. They’re in the second Creation story, which starts at Genesis 2:4; where God creates Adam from the barren earth and then Eden for him to live in.

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Choices

In which we find a lot of religions to pick from


Another day, another form to fill in. And, with it, an Equal Opportunities form, to make sure my opportunities are being equalised. This one, I thought, had a particularly exhaustive list of religions to pick from:

  • ?satrú
  • Baha’i
  • Buddhism
  • Christian
  • Druidry
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Jainism
  • Judaism
  • Odinism
  • Paganism
  • Rastafarianism
  • Shamanism
  • Sikhism
  • Wicca
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Other

Never mind that ?satrú and Odinism are probably at least as similar as Catholics and Unitarians; or that both of those, Druidry, Shamanism and Wicca are all essentially subsets of paganism. My main gripe is: what if you’re not religious? Where’s the “None” option? Or Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, or anything else vaguely similar? All we’re left with is Other, the grand catch-all. So I proudly ticked “Other” and wrote in “None”,* whilst wondering why, if it’s so important to sort and categorise all the proud followers of Wicca, Druidry or the Æsir,** there isn’t a box for the considerable number of people who don’t believe in any of the above.

* well, actually, “NONE”, because of course all these sort of forms prefer to be filled in in capitals.

** No “Jedi” box either, I noted, despite the success of the census write-in campaigns in various countries.

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All Quiet On The Reading Front

In which we ask Mario Reading why he refuses to admit he was wrong


If you’ve been reading regularly, you might remember my post from last week about noted Nostradamus-interpreter Mario Reading, in which I idly wondered aloud if he plans to correct some of the predictions he published a few years ago which have, amazingly, failed to come true. I wrote him an open letter, asking if he’ll be issuing errata for his book Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future, in which Mr Reading – sorry, Nostradamus’s – predictions have turned out to be rather wrong.

Having had no response, though, I thought I’d drop him a line, to make sure he’d seen what I wrote. After all: if someone was writing about me, I’d want to know. He’d written a blog post about searching the web to see what people were writing about him; so this is what I wrote:

Funnily enough, I posted something on my own blog about one of your books the other day. I’d been planning to write to you directly, but given the lack of direct contact details on your website – entirely understandable, I’ve had email addresses become completely unusable due to junk mail – I decided to write it as an open letter to you instead. I wonder if you’ve come across it yet.

Which was all quite respectable and polite, I thought. He doesn’t get many comments, so I thought he’d appreciate one.**

It was held for moderation, which is normal. However: it never appeared. He’s had another comment since, which has passed moderation;*** mine has disappeared. I can only assume that Mario Reading doesn’t want his blog readers to see my post, for some reason. And that he doesn’t particularly feel like answering my letter to him.

Now, Mario Reading’s blog and mine are both driven by the same software, WordPress. And I know, from using it, that when you log in to a WordPress blog’s admin pages, you get taken to a page called the Dashboard. Which, among other things, gives you a little list of other blogs that have recently linked to your own site.*

I’m in the habit of checking my site logs regularly; so, when someone clicks on a link that takes them to me, I notice it. So I know that: someone who has access to Mario Reading’s blog admin pages saw that link on his Dashboard page, on the 17th. So presumably, he’s aware of what I wrote, but can’t be bothered to answer me.

Mr Reading, if you’re reading, which I assume you will do eventually: I’d appreciate an answer to my questions. Do you intend to keep Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future on sale even though many of the things predicted in it haven’t happened? Do you intend to issue errata for it? You could do that on your blog easily enough, after all.

Meanwhile: if I’m going to be so critical, I may as well have more to go on than a vague memory of Reading being interviewed on the telly a few years ago. So his book’s on order from the local library; so we can see exactly what Mario Reading – sorry, Nostradamus – predicted would happen in the world over the past couple of years, and whether he was right about it.

* It pulls the data from Google Blog Search, although older versions of WordPress used Technorati.

** Because he uses WordPress, you can tell how many comments he’s had submitted; it gives every comment a number, and the number gets put in the URL. My comment on his website was number 3.

*** The first one to appear on his blog, in fact! And the fourth to be submitted – the first after mine.

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I can see the future…

In which we confront Mario Reading, an author who got things wrong


No news on the Bristol guided busway (“Bus Rapid Transit”) scheme today, you’ll be relieved to hear.

Today, though, I thought it would be time to revisit something I wrote, back in the mists of time,* when this blog was (relatively) newly-minted. I spotted, on the telly, a chap called Mario Reading, who had just published a book claiming that according to Nostradamus, George W Bush would suffer an assassination attempt before the end of his presidency.

Lots of people have, of course, interpreted what Nostradamus wrote in different ways; and they have, consistently, been entirely and completely wrong when they produce predictions for events which haven’t happened yet. The recent US Election reminded me of Mr Reading: it reminded me that there’s not very long left for his prediction – sorry, Nostradamus’s prediction to come true – in any case, according to the table of contents of his book, it was due to have happened already by now.

I have a vague recollection at the time of Reading stating, on the telly, that he hoped that his book would be a warning to the US Secret Service, and that they would be able to use his book to foil any such assassination attempt. So maybe he’ll just say “ahh, well, clearly he would have been assassinated if it wasn’t for me.” Which begs an interesting question: what, then, for Nostradamus’s role in it all? If you publish a book that says “Nostradamus predicted that X will happen, but if you read this book you can stop it!” then does that mean Nostradamus was right or wrong? I dreamt the other night that I was going to bake myself a cheesecake for tea. I told my girlfriend – so she made us pasta instead. Clearly, this means I can see the future!

Reading’s book – Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future – is still available on Amazon. Indeed, at a discount, which seems reasonable enough considering that now a good three years of the book’s future is our past; so we can easily judge for ourselves how accurate Mr Reading’s – sorry, Nostradamus’s future-prophesying skill is. He also has another book: Nostradamus: The Good News – all the cheerful bits. Its first prediction of the future isn’t due to occur (or not) until 2021, sadly. It turns out, too, that Reading has recently started writing a blog. He’s got a thriller coming out next year, and a third Nostradamus book.** Unfortunately, his blog doesn’t seem to have private contact details on it, which is a shame, because I wanted to get in touch with him. Ah, well. I’ll have to put an open letter here instead:

Dear Mr Reading,
I notice your book Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future is still on sale, and apparently selling well according to your website. However, I note that it’s now 3 years since it was written; and that many of the events which it predicted to occur between its publication date and the present day have not, in fact, happened as you – sorry, Nostradamus predicted. Do you intend to keep the book on sale even though it contains information you now know to be wrong? Will your forthcoming Nostradamus book contain revised versions of these prophecies, and will you acknowledge the mistakes, or be issuing errata for, The Complete Prophecies For The Future?
Yours,
FP

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go into a trance to try to predict whether or not I’ll get a reply.

* insert wavy dissolve effect here

** I am trying very hard to resist the temptation to make any sort of joke about fiction and non-fiction.

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Overheard (again)

In which we overhear surprise


Walking down Clare Street yesterday. Behind me was a couple, late-twentysomething at a rough guess, the woman carrying a big, quite expensive clothes-store carrier bag.

Him: How are you enjoying our date?

Her, surprised: This is a date?

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Overheard

In which eyebrows are raised


Overheard in the street this afternoon: a woman’s voice.

“I’m fed up of you telling people I’m a druggie. I’m not a druggie. I didn’t have any methadone yesterday. That’s why I’m feeling sick today.”

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Sense of scale

In which we learn that a stable in the back garden could save one’s marriage


As usual, the radio was on this morning, on my way to work in the car. Which means: Thought For The Day, with its standard five minutes of anodyne and non-shocking religious platitudes. Today’s thought: isn’t it great that the Queen’s marriage has lasted so long? What can modern society learn from her? I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

One phrase, though, made me do a double-take. The speaker* said that in the face of the Duty which they were bound to carry out,** their marriage had been helped by: “the small things, like corgis and stables”

I’m sorry? Small things? A corgi might be able to get on your lap,*** but a stable? Not what your average couple would consider a little thing that would help a marriage along. I could just about fit a stable in my back garden, if I have to be honest, but there’s no way a horse would fit down the garden passage anyway. I’ve never really been sure who Thought For The Day is aimed at, but it clearly isn’t me, nor 90% of the people in this country. Coming soon, presumably: how contemplating the words of the 92nd psalm will help when disciplining your servants.

* the Right Reverend Dr Tom Butler, famous for breaking into a car and making a nuisance of himself whilst apparently drunk, shouting “I’m the Bishop of Southwark” and leaving behind paperwork proving he was indeed the said bishop, then later denying all knowledge and claiming he’d been mugged.

** You could almost hear the capital D

*** if it managed to jump up that high

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Something for nothing

In which our eyebrows are raised when we learn that Americans all have free healthcare just like us


The scene: the office conversation, a quick conversation with a new member of staff whilst the kettle boiled. He was telling me all about his past, his former history of self-employment.

“… but you can’t do anything in this country nowadays, it’s terrible for small businesses, this government, it really is, they want to get control of every little thing…”

I thought: I know exactly what’s coming here.

“…it makes it impossible to run your own life…”

… any second now …

“it’s this Nanny State…”

BINGO! As soon as someone, especially a certain type of person, starts along that line of argument, they’re going to mention the Nanny State, which rules every aspect of our lives and tells us exactly what we can and can’t do. These are the people who believe that Christmas is being banned, or that the government has banned blackboards for being racist, and that it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad. And I don’t understand them. Do they never look at the world around them? Do they believe anything they hear or read?

He rambled on about how much better everything was in America – how life is far better, the taxes are lower, everyone is better off and lives a wonderful life without government interference.

“Yes, until they fall ill and can’t afford to pay for treatment,” I said.

“No, no, medicine is free in the USA too,” he replied.

“Really?” I said, because that really doesn’t square with everything else I’ve been told about the USA over the years.

“Yes, it’s all free, just as it is here,” he said. I was tempted to ask if the land is also flowing with milk and honey, with dollar bills and chocolate coins growing on the trees, but I’m not sure if he’d have realised where the joke was.

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Gaul

In which we study the markup on an import


This was seen in the large Parisian department store Galaries Lafayette* the other day, in the “Epicerie Britannique” section of the gourmet foodhall:

British food at Paris prices

Click on the image for an enlargement – but if you can’t be bothered, that’s a bottle of salad cream that says “99p” on the label, on sale for €3.24** At today’s exchange rate – just under 68p to the euro – that’s a shop price of £2.20. Slightly less of a bargain than it says on the label, then. The shop was also selling tins of Heinz beans originally from multipacks, singly, for about £1 per tin. Ouch. How much does it cost to import a tin of beans, exactly?

* They do apparently have an official website, which I couldn’t get to work at all.

** That was meant to be a euro sign – let me know if it didn’t work.

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Juxtaposition

In which sometimes things can be too successful


News story of the week (as of Wednesday)

News story of the week (as of today), including the Cerne Abbas local area.

Does anyone else think: sometimes an idea can work too well?

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