Category Archives: Reblogs

Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos (1988)

Books & Boots

Our innate desire for meaning and pattern can lead us astray… (p.81)

Giving due weight to the fortuitous nature of the world is, I think, a mark of maturity and balance. (p.133)

John Allen Paulos is an American professor of mathematics who won fame beyond his academic milieu with the publication of this short (134-page) but devastating book thirty years ago, the first of a series of books popularising mathematics in a range of spheres from playing the stock market to jokes.

As Paulos explains in the introduction, the world is full of humanities graduates who blow a fuse if you misuse ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, or end a sentence with a dangling participle, but are quite happy to believe and repeat the most hair-raising errors in maths, statistics and probability.

The aim of this book was:

  • to lay out examples of classic maths howlers and correct them
  • to teach readers…

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New Zealand bans semiautomatic and “military style” weapons

Why Evolution Is True

On March 13, 1996, the Dunblane Massacre took place in Scotland. A man named Thomas Hamilton assaulted a school with four legally-owned handguns, killing 16 children and a teacher (and wounding another 16) before committing suicide. Reaction was swift, and within two years the government had passed two acts banning all handguns in England, Scotland and Wales; the exceptions are “historic and muzzle-loading guns” and a few other types of large “sporting” handguns that are large.

Following the two mosque shootings on March 15, New Zealand has acted even faster. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whom I much admire, just announced that New Zealand is banning not only the sale of semiautomatic weapons, but ownership of them, which will end via a government buyback scheme. (The weapons used in the mosque shootings had, as I recall, been bought legally but modified illegally.)

Tvnz reports (click on screenshot):

Ms Ardern had previously…

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Is the Pope Catholic?

Why Evolution Is True

Here’s a video from the British comedy game show QI (“Quite Interesting”) about the official title of the Pope Francis. It turns out that it’s not “Pope”. Further, you’ll learn that THE POPE IS NOT A CATHOLIC! In fact, the man who is officially the Pope is also NOT a Catholic. Listen and learn.

h/t: Michael

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New York Times changes headline to make Israel seem more culpable

Why Evolution Is True

On March 14, two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, Israel, from Gaza. Fortunately, although the missiles weren’t intercepted by the Iron Dome, nobody was hurt. It was the first rocket attack on Tel Aviv since 2014, and Israel retaliated with air attacks on terrorist military sites. Hamas denied responsibility, but it’s clear that some Palestinian militant group was responsible. It is of course a war crime to fire missiles at civilian targets.

What’s interesting—and I noticed this at the time—was that mainstream (or anti-Israel) Western media almost invariably began its stories with headlines like “Israel retaliates after rockets strike Tel Aviv”, switching the temporal order of events to make Israel seem more culpable. Here, for example, is what I just got when I Googled “rockets fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza”:

But in an even more telling media switch, Honest Reporting notes that the New York Times, which…

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Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway @ Dulwich Picture Gallery

Books & Boots

Harald Sohlberg (1869 to 1935) was one of Norway’s greatest painters. He is best known for works which evoke the wildness of the Nordic landscape, brooding scenery illuminated by midwinter light, and realistic depictions of the wood buildings of old Norwegian towns.

This is the first major UK exhibition of Sohlberg’s works, celebrating 150 years since the artist’s birth, and it reveals that there’s much more variety, in subject matter, treatment and quality, than a first glance suggests.

Self Portrait (1896) by Harald Sohlberg. Private collection Self Portrait (1896) by Harald Sohlberg. Private collection

The exhibition proceeds in sensible chronological order. Born the eighth of 12 children, Sohlberg early wanted to be a painter but his father insisted he learn a craft and apprenticed him to a master scene painter and decorator, Wilhelm Krogh. When he went on the National College of Art and Design, where he developed his printmaking skills, it was also to discover the great…

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Titania McGrath outed!

Why Evolution Is True

There’s nothing that can debunk stupidity or irrationality more strongly than satire. And that’s why, as “wokeness” floods across college campuses then spills into the workplace as members of the Offense Culture graduate, Titania McGrath, through her tweets and now in an upcoming book, has shown up the craziness of that culture. And she’s done it by pretending to be one of The Woke. She did it so effectively, even on Twitter, that she was accepted as one of them and demonized by the Right and those reasonable Leftists who didn’t get the joke.

But who was she/he/hir/it/zir? Everybody knew that Titania (and her “male” counterpart Godfrey Elfwick) were pseudonyms, but who had a sense of humor that good?

Well, as revealed in the two pieces below, one from Spiked and the other from the Torygraph, Titania is none other than Spiked columnist and humorist Andrew Doyle.

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

It’s Saturday, and time to gather the singletons, doubletons, and tripletons that I’ve been sent.  The first three are from reader Diana MacPherson. As usual, readers’ captions are indented.

The birds are wanting seeds lately – even the poor, nervous cardinal, worried about his redness, has been on my deck. Here are some pictures of the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the deck and a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on the fat.

From Gary Womble:

A Tri-Colored Heron (Egretta tricolor) dragging a wing tip through the water while holding the other wing above its head to influence the movements of underwater prey.  A Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) observes the technique.

And two photos from John Avise’s “Birds of the World” collection:

Snow goose (Chen caerulescens), California:

Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), Hawaii:

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From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting, by Judith Brett

Much to my astonishment, I was singing the praises of this book the other day, when it transpired that my friend did not know what a democracy sausage was.  So for the edification of those unfortunate citizens who do not enjoy the same privilege as we do here in Australia, an explanation is in order.

Because we are almost unique in the world in having compulsory voting, and because impecunious state schools are very often the place for polling booths all over the country, and because enterprising Parents and Friends associations can spot a good fundraiser when they see one, it has become routine practice for there to be a sausage sizzle so that voters can assuage their hunger pangs in a worthy cause.  Indeed on election day there is a dedicated website where you can even scout around for the best democracy sausage options.  They don’t all offer fried onions or chilli sauce, you know, and some of them have a cake stall as well!

See: https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/03/16/from-secret-ballot-to-democracy-sausage-how-australia-got-compulsory-voting-by-judith-brett/

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March 16, 2019 · 4:05 pm

NYT goes soft on astrology

Why Evolution Is True

“It is wrong, everywhere and for every one, to believe anything on insufficient evidence”.
—W.K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief

If a newspaper has an astrology column, write it off. Unsubscribe. It may be justified as a form of amusement, but many people accept astrology, and such a justification feeds into the acceptance of woo and faith. And a lot of people spend a lot of money on astrological advice, just as they do on psychics. The two phenomena are, after all, related.

The New York Times doesn’t have an astrology column, but it just published an article that could be seen as soft on astrology, for while it points out that many people don’t accept astrology, it doesn’t point out that scientific tests also debunk it. (For a very good test of astrology, see this pdf.) And the article (below) copiously quotes those who accept it. It’s like…

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Why is Pinker demonized?

Why Evolution Is True

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new and longish article by Tom Bartlett about the character, achievements, and demonization of Steve Pinker. Click on the screenshot below to read it.

Let me give my own take on Pinker first. It’s no secret that I consider him a friend and admire him hugely. Among all those in the atheist-sphere with whom I’ve interacted, he’s the most empathic, the most intellectually productive, and the most thoughtful. Dawkins is a marginally better writer, but not by much. I’ve never seen Steve commit a shoddy act nor engage in ad hominem arguments. I’ve read nearly all his books (save the linguistic ones except The Language Instinct), and can’t find much to quibble with.

But people still dislike him—even hate him. This is puzzling to me as he’s a nice guy and can’t be accused of Misogyny and Nazism Through Tweeting. As best…

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