Security Madness

We at WhyDontYou would never consider suggesting people had insecure computers when it comes to dealing with their work, or personal data, but there comes a point at which madness takes over.

For example, today I was give access to an IT system by my employer. Being very zealous at the thought of evil people from the internet getting access, they have instituted quite strong policies when it comes to people being able to access data. Amazingly, some IT guru has convinced them of the need for all users to have very strong passwords. This has translated into a policy which requires all passwords to be 14 characters long, have a mix of upper/lower case letters and numbers, not include your user name or common words (whatever that means) and not be the same (or a variation of) any of the last 36 passwords. Passwords must also be changed every 30 days.


At first I thought it was just me, but upon asking around my workplace there is no one who claims to be able to remember their random string of gibberish password. Almost every one eventually admits to writing the password down and either carrying it with them or leaving it by the terminal.

Now, it strikes me that this pretty much undermines the point of having the password in the first place… In the quest for Fort Knox style security, my employer (or at least the BOFH IT team) have largely undermined everything. Isn’t technology great?

[tags]Computers, Technology, Security, IT, Hacking, Corporate Culture, Culture, Logic[/tags]


Once again, I am trusting that something isn’t a spoof site. I am none too confident but conservapedia seems authentic. I mean it’s not THAT funny, if it’s a joke.

“A conservative encyclopedia you can trust. The truth shall set you free.”

Well, OK, that bit’s funny. It suggests legions of dodgy door-to-door salesmen trying to flog “untrustworthy” conservative encyclopaedias.

I have to share some of the gems, starting with its atheism entry:

Atheists often equivocate that they actually have a lack of belief in any God, as opposed to having the positive belief that there is no God. This equivocation stems from the fact that if they hold positive beliefs, then their worldview can be categorized as a religion.

(As I suspected, my standard Chambers dictionary defines equivocate as “to use doubtful words to avoid answering a question.” I am lost as to why they use the word here but I guess there is not yet a working conservictionary.)

See what I mean? It’s not really funny. But it can hardly be serious.

Don’t make me spell this out AGAIN….. (Bah, too late, I am wound up and impelled to do it.)

I am pretty positive that the coffee cup I am drinking from is not embedded in my PC’s hard drive (although the PC’s random behaviour might raise this as an acceptable explanation).
In fact, I could admit to being fully positive about this belief. But I am not going to build a religion round it.

I tried to find a topic to look. I was distracted by the debate over the front page Bible quote. It is indeed quite hard to understand why “Conservative” necessarily equals “Christian”. I guess Liberation Theology never made much headway in the MidWest.

It is interesting that the christian right seem able to hijack both Christianity and political conservatism to create a truly mind-numbing worldview. I would have to question my own bigotry if I found myself seeing all Christians as right-wing bigots and all political conservatives as fundamentalist nutters. But these people just seem to want to lie invitations to kneejerk bigotry on a plate. (Labelling theory in action, for any sociologists?)

When I say “mind-numbing worldview,” I am confessing my own inability to even focus on the rest of this stuff for more than a minute or two. Otherwise it brings on almost a panic attack relating to the future of the survival of the human race.

I can handle argument with people who disagree with me. That’s how we learn, surely, by questioning our assumptions. The Socratic dialogue, and so on. I would welcome reading arguments that were coherent and thought out and might make me reconsider my kneejerk “progressive” assumptions.

But there seems to be nothing there except repeating ideas that have handed down from one set of bigots to another, without any brain tissue being engaged at all, and with the folly getting concentrated over time.

There was supposed to be some sort of progression for our species, by the 21st century, surely? “Surely?”, she rages incoherently, shaking her fist at non-existent deity, in a Homer Simpsonesque way. Bah.

[tags]atheism, conservapedia, learning, logic, religion, religious-right, right-wing, society[/tags]

More atheist footstamping

For those who do not have the regular, erm, pleasure of reading through the Comment is Free blogs on the Guardian websites, there is an interesting one there from yesterday by AC Grayling titled “A force for evil.”

The post makes interesting reading, but as you can imagine the most humour can be found in the comments. Most are pretty unoriginal and just what you expect when ever someone says religion is bad. You can largely group the comments into categories: (with kudos to jackoba who did this before me!)

  1. The ones that say religion is not all bad, look at all the good things it has done.
  2. The ones that say Atheism is worse than religion and point to Hitler (a catholic), Stalin, Pol Pot et al. as examples of evil atheists. (Prime example is the comment by powerday with an ironic twist by longsword later on where he seems to be saying Hitler was an Atheist because he seems to have believed in a Teutonic god rather than the current mainstream Christian god…)
  3. The atheists who complain about atheists criticising theists and suggest we all go back to hiding under the table. (waltzingmatilda1 provides an example of this – and without wishing to be rude, I find this sort of argument very weak and almost cowardly, basically this comment says that because “outspoken” atheists draw negative comments from theists, they should shut up and behave themselves… Blimey…)
  4. People who have no idea what they are talking about, but need to talk (often conflating atheism with a religion or making massive logical fallacy leaps – sadly there are lots of examples of this, but for now I will leave it with mckgus)
  5. People who like to post about how repetitive the argument is. ( 🙂 )

I am teetering towards the last group at the moment. Sadly, even though there are some intelligent, educated, people writing articles about atheism now, there is a strong sense of repetition there. It is a good sign of the times that so many news portals carry atheist posts now, and this probably reflects the greater divide between theists and atheists. In the UK at least, a generation ago most people were apathetic enough towards religion as to make the distinction meaningless – even the faithful over here were not rabid enough to get worked up about. Now, though, things are quite different. It is interesting that an apparent British person writes this at the end of their comment:

Also, since humanism tends towards strict individualism, autonomy of the self, reason, independent thought etc, on its own grounds, it features a very spurious supernatural being (in the way he can escape from nature), the human of humanism, the self. Not only this, but the underlying liberalistic logic of evolutionary psychology and humanism (competing individuals where co-operation is a secondary and indeed undergirded by self-interest) is doubtless an easy way at an ideological level inwhich to further shure up capitalism, and I cannot help but think that this logic (though not humanism solely, but capitalism) will ulitimately kill more than ‘religion’ ever has, once the seas begin to boil and the world begins to throw out its selfish stewards.

Heavy on the big, long words but light on the sense and logic. (He began his comment with “Where to to begin with the stupidity of what AC Grayling is saying here?” so you got a sign it was going to be good!)

The problem is, as is often the case where something is either right or wrong, the argument eventually gets bogged down. It has been some time since I read a properly “new” article on the topic. Theists as normal, are often the worst spewing out the same tired, boring, reasons why people should believe in god. Graylings article in the Comment is Free, while interesting and well written does not really open any new ground and is unlikely to convert any theists.

With this in mind, I will endeavour to find some examples of mainstream media which has “new” arguments on the pro-/anti- invisible people debate. Personally, I cant think of any new arguments so finding them will be exciting and interesting (and therefore they will get looked at here!).

Looking for a silver lining on the Comment is Free, there are very good comments from olching. F101voodoo and especially jonwaring, but my personal favourite came from sidc:

The only interesting thing about these religion/atheism threads is that the atheists can spell better than the religious nutters.

Well said! 🙂

(footnote: the title comes from a comment, not something I thought up myself! )

[tags]Atheism, Theism, Religion, AC Grayling, Belief, Religious Nutters, Beliefs, Belief, Nutcases, Fundamentalist, Society, Culture, Logic, Understanding, Guardian, Nazi, God Delusion[/tags]


I had the continued pleasure of listening to Radio 2 quite a bit today – including the Jeremy Vine show. Hidden amongst a dreary line up, there was a hidden gem of philosophical brilliance – the “Violence against expats” bit.

Basically, it being an apparently slow news day, this was a discussion about a British family who were forced out of their house in Brittany, France as the result of what may be hostile locals. This was obviously such a high profile incident, I can’t find any links to it elsewhere on the BBC site. For all I know, the Jeremy Vine show made it up (it wouldn’t be the first time the BBC faked something…).

Anyway, the debate was pretty much as you would expect – lots of people saying there was no hostility, all the French people love the British etc. Until one Scottish woman phoned in. Now, given the BBC’s track record on faking phone ins, she may have been a plant to stir things up (she failed) but she actually seemed to reflect a common opinion I have heard elsewhere. The call came (around the 48min point if you are listening online) soon after a French journalist went to great lengths to say how the French people, especially in Brittany, are welcoming and friendly – even going as far as to specify how the French love the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Cornish. Hmm. This was followed by the Scottish woman, who phoned in to say how wonderful and friendly the French people she meets every year are. She built on this by saying how all the English people were loud, obnoxious, drunken etc., and how she can understand why the French hate them. Continue reading

If in doubt, appeal to ridicule

Reading through the comment is free part of the Guardian is enlightening, entertaining and a bit saddening. It is enlightening because it shows how confused people become when they want to find a target to attack, it is entertaining because the commenters are, basically, crazy and saddening because once upon a time you would have thought people who read the Guardian were reasonably educated. Obviously in the internet age, this is no longer the case…

Anyway, a rant against the HSE by Simon Jenkins, titled “The zombie health inspectors should be replaced with a risk commission” drew my attention today. As I have mentioned in the past, I am often drawn into the murky world of health and safety much more than I would normally like, so this intrigued me.

The title of the article seems to draw on this part of Mr Jenkins long, repetitive, rant:
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Agnosticism – rational or not?

I was reading an interesting post on the excellent “The Mary Blog,” titled “Agnostic Atheism.” In this post, Mary puts forward the argument that Atheism is not the most rational choice to make and requires an element of belief very similar to theism – in that the Atheist has to believe the non-existence of God without any evidence to support the idea.

Unusually, Mary also explains that Agnosticism is not entirely rational either and concludes that the rational position is about half way between Agnostic and Atheist. The whole post puts forward a reasonable argument for people seeking a middle ground between what is increasingly seen as “Militant” atheism and the “reasonable” agnosticism.

Sadly, while I consider myself a rational person, I have to disagree and, personally, I find the arguments for Agnosticism a bit “wet” (for want of a politer word). Before I go on, there is always the risk that this could simply be a case of semantics, so I think some definitions are required. To me, Atheist is not a religion and it certainly is not a dogmatic belief structure. My view of the term “Atheist” does not preclude the fact that if, tomorrow, Thor knocked on my door and introduced himself, I would believe he existed. In common parlance, Atheist is used to mean “doesn’t believe in the Christian God” but, personally, this is inaccurate.

Right, that said, I can explain why I feel Agnosticism is not rational and, often, seems to be a way people avoid any stigma associated with being called an “Atheist.” (Sorry if this seems to rehash some ground from a previous debate with Parabiodox over the terms 😀 ).

Often blogs claiming Atheism is irrational will use the argument that the Atheist believes God does not exist, while the Agnostic says “we don’t know if God exists or not.” In this form, the Agnostic view point does appear more rational but closer examination may change this.

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Believing in Unbelievers

The latest entry from the Department of Missing the Point Completely is by Fr. Robert J. Carr and titled “Making Fool’s For Satan.” (Big hat tip to the Friendly Atheist)

In a nutshell, Father Carr has decided to rant against the Blasphemy Challenge but obviously has not been guided by his invisible friend as he does so. As a result, he not only misses the point about the challenge, but seems to get a bit confused over the whole issue of belief and what the Christian church teaches (or at least did when I went to school). Friendly Atheist has done an excellent job of fisking the (ahem) article so I wont do that here, but there are a couple of points I want to pick up on. Continue reading

Evolution Falsified By Genetic Algorithims?

For the interests of people who read this blog sans comments (shame on you), I have “promoted” a short debate taking place in the comments of Heather’s post titled “ID Advocates Never Sleep.” I have done this, largely, because I think it is interesting and one side of the debate shows how a misconception about the applicability of a theory over different domains can lead to all manner of, what I think is, illogical reasoning.

Please feel free to add any comments of your own, either here or on the original post. This is quite long, and it broadly just repeats posts from previously so it is under the fold for those viewing on the blog.

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Capricious Pedantry

I know I should have learned my lesson long ago and I promise to stop responding to Parabiodox’s baiting after this post… (At least I will try).

Previously, I made a post about Christian humour in which I commented that the expected answer to a ranting comment would be “Atheists (agnostics etc)” rather than the Abrahamic religions I previously claimed. Now, I never meant this to imply Atheists were the same as agnostics, and if anyone did take away that impression from my (lengthy) post than I apologise wholeheartedly.

I am fully aware Atheism is not Agnosticism, and personally I do not find “agnosticism” a reasonable viewpoint which can be counted as an opinion. Agnosticism is (remember this is my personal viewpoint!) a good point of view for something about which you have no opinion. I am agnostic as to the existence of life on a planet orbiting Beta Canis Major for example. I am not agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns, Pixies, Elves, Orcs, Gobilins, Demons, pink Unicorns or all manner of imaginary nonsense. What on Earth gives a particular religion special privileges about it’s claims to the existence of one (or more) deities? I will return to this.

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Do Christians have a sense of humour?

It is never easy writing blog posts on a Friday, too much to do in the run up to the weekend, so please forgive the “easy” targets today. Yesterday I took a cheap shot at a post on the unique Parabiodox blog. I knew it was a bait post but I was bored and couldn’t pass up the chance to poke fun at what came across as a very self-important Theist post.

Parabiodox has responded to my comment and seems to damn me with faint praise (more of that later), but oddly seems to continue the “self important” tone I thought the original post had. Do Christians have a sense of humour or was he just all cut up over the death of Jerry Fallwell…(*) Anyway, trying to claw my way back to seriousness, in a nutshell, Parabiodox (paraphrasing the luminary Ayn Rand…) asked a question about which faith/belief system spends it’s time attacking others to hide the fact it has nothing to offer. It was fairly obvious this was a poor attempt to attack Atheism (agnosticism etc) and that is the answer the Theist wants to get.

The reality is far from the truth (for example, Atheism is not a faith nor is it a belief system) so, I pointed out that if you are not a follower of the Abrahamic myths, then they seem to spend a lot of time attacking others in an effort to mask the fact they offer nothing of value. The irony of the very question did not go unnoticed here… How does Parabiodox respond?

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The Commenters Delusion

I was toying with the Blind Commenter as a title, but decided it would be too obvious 🙂 . I have been reading some of the opinion blogs on the Times today, which is always enjoyable. The main three have been two by Ruth Gledhill (On Dawkins and on Scientology), and thanks to Nullifidian’s blog, I read one by William Rees-Mog, again on Dawkins. As is often the case the columns, being written by sensible journalists, are well presented (with the exception of Rees-Mog but he is different kettle of fish) and the arguments are structured.

Fortunately, for me, the same most certainly can not be said about the people who leave comments. Yes, some are sane and balanced, but others range from mildly confused to massively off the deep end. In this post, I will look at some of the more pertinent comments and explain why I think they are at least a little, ahem, confused.

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Questionable Science

In recent weeks, any science content in New Scientist seems to be purely coincidental, with more and more pages being given over to woo and thinly veiled mysticism. This weeks issue is a minor deviation from this pattern, although most of the “solid science” is to be found in the letters pages…

There is one article, in the Comment and Analysis, which I am unsure about. Reading it, triggers a “bad science” response in me, but I am aware this may be a bit hasty. In an article titled “The media make a killing,” Michael Bond looks at some of the issues around the coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. This is a well written article, which carries a lot of the “self evident truths” which the print media seem to like. As I was reading it, though, a few alarm bells were triggered — but this is not a subject in which I am well versed so before I scream Bad Science, I would like second opinions.

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Who did design the designer?

I have been reading through some theist (predominantly Christian) blogs which have discussed the televised debate. Oddly, most theists went well for them, so I can only assume I am now living in an alternate dimension and no longer interact with the real world.

One recurring theme (and I am not going to link to the sites as there are a lot and I don’t want any of them to get hits from this blog!) I have found is the argument from design and it’s counter argument of “who designed the designer.” A majority of the theist blogs seem to think the argument from design is a solid bit of logic which supports the existence of God. Yeah, I was surprised as well. Oddly, when they discuss the counter argument ( “who designed God?” ) in every one of the instances it is dismissed without an answer. An example of the dismissal read “This told me I was watching a debate broadcast for people who have never studied these arguments before.”

Now, while I am sure it is good to have a cutting remark or two like that saved for future reference, it fails to answer the question. I have studied the arguments and yet to see anything, other than special pleading, which explains the need to have a designer who was not designed.

Does anyone know the answer to the question? (Without special pleading, of course).

On a slightly related topic, if you haven’t already done so, I strongly suggest you visit a website called “Proof that God Exists.” It is so funny it must be a joke.

[tags]Theism, Religion, Belief, Atheism, Philosophy, Logic, Logical Fallacy, Special Pleading, Nutters, God, Culture, Madness[/tags]

Ray Comfort – Did I miss something?

Amazingly, it seems not everyone thinks Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron made fools of themselves during the debate with the “Rational Response Squad.” It has been mentioned on this blog, Nullfidian’s Blog and Pharyngula if you want to read more / watch the footage.

I should point out, the footage is painful. Comfort / Cameron are broadly clueless and debate in the style of 10 year olds (as do the RRS, but at least they are young and enthusiastic). Comfort claims to be able to prove the existence of God without using the bible, but opens the book pretty much every time. The whole crux of the theist argument is an appeal to fear. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Oddly, despite this, some theists think Comfort did well. Seriously. And more than one theist crackpot thinks this… On the Shepherds Scrapbook site, the post begins:

Ray Comfort’s “debate” happened this afternoon (watch here). I’m at least very thankful for his presentation of the gospel message, although he said he would not open his Bible.

Amazing really. Theists are wonderful creatures, I just don’t think I can eat one whole.

[tags]Atheism, Belief, Theism, God, Religion, Debate, Rational Response Squad, Christians, Bible, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Logic, Arguments, Logical Fallacy, Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort, Stupidity, Woo[/tags]

More on Expressions of Belief

Sorry for returning to the same topic so soon after my previous post, but as often happens, I posted in haste previously and further reading has brought out some more enlightenment. First off, a bit in the main post I neglected to comment upon before. Mr Illeborg wrote:

The veil, I was told by Karen Armstrong, when I interviewed her this winter, has for some Muslim women become a way of expressing anger over the war in Iraq and disquiet with western aggressors. There is not just one meaning to wearing a veil and Abdol-Hamid has herself chosen to wear it. This is something we must accept, even if we don’t like it.

Now this, to me, pretty much undermines the main premise that the hijab is an expression of religious belief and therefore wearing it is a “right” people have. Here it seems wearing it is nothing more than a statement of outrage over actions carried out by an unrelated nation. It seems to me the Special Pleading is going strong in this instance. If I decided that walking the streets naked, with blood splattered all over my face, was an expression of anger over the French Elections (as an example), would that be “something we must accept?” It certainly would not be a pleasant sight. (Reductio Ad Absurdum is a wonderful tool…)

In addition to this, as is always the case, the comments left by the “public” (yes, they are sneer quotes) is even more entertaining than the original article. It goes some what towards reassuring me I am not being seduced by the RightWing (the claims that the left are in bed with Islam shows how truly ludicrous right wingers can get, not to mention this bit of nonsense). It is nice that a lot of people realise the hijab is not mandated by Islamic doctrine and is a fairly modern implementation (which further undermines the argument it is an inviolable “expression of belief”).

As one comments points out, if your beliefs demanded you refused to shake hands with coloured people, would that be a defended “right” in the same manner? Or (different commenter) if your belief led to you wearing a white sheet and a pointy white hat with the eye holes cut out, would that be just as “right?”

Rights are special, important, things. Creating ones where no right exists just to be seen as reasonable and helping the “minorities” helps no one and does little more than dilute the status of rights.