Friday, 9 December 2011


Just knew my luck was going to hold out, and somehow I would coax some lovely person to hand to me a Darwin £2 coin. And here it is:

Turns out that Professor Michael Mendl, biologist and leading light at Bristol University Vetinary School, takes an interest in coins, as does Jerry Coyne, biologist and author of "Why Evolution is True." Prof. Mendl very kindly verified that this is a coin of the realm, and told me that his whole family are keen numismatists. His elder daughter is collecting Olympic themed 50p pieces, whilst his youngest daughter is the proud owner of a very rare Girl Guiding 50p coin, which celebrates 101 years of Girl Guiding in the UK.

I also understand that Mike's eldest child and son, has a Totnes pound note. I understand this may indeed be very rare, but it is way beyond my own field (inland piracy) and so I take little interest in the subject.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Warning: Sockpuppets are known to be operating in your area

How can anyone even think of writing this sort of nonsense day in, day out? It is just taking serious blogging down the drain.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Spot the Thinker

In a new feature for Pogsurf, we are holding a Spot the Thinker competition. Leave you answers below and you could win a cash prize, in the denomination of your choice.

It costs just 5p (five pence, UK) to enter this competition, but PayPal have refused to take money from an unlicensed, not for profit, no hope of profit, you can't even give it away blog, where the blog owner probably has a criminal record or harbours insane thoughts with malicious intent and no hope of redemption (their words, not mine), so we will just have to work something out. You could send it to your local donkey sanctuary or worse. These are the breaks that life brings, but in the end you just have roll with it, and live with your choices.

The compo~

_______________________ .
Clue:: it works just like the old newspaper 'Spot the Ball' comps. Go and ask your grandfather, he loves to talk about the olden days. I'm sure he'll show you how to mark the correct location with a Biro or sharp pencil, and then send it in with a SAE. That's if he can still remember how to do stuff or he's not dead, poor soul.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The un-Dynamic Duo

After a lot of meddling by Richard Bartholomew, Tim Ireland was forced to issue the following statement:

I normally ignore ‘Pogsurf’, aka Martin Wiesner, who uses multiple/false identities to attack his political enemies, and now attacks me because I caught him doing it, but I will happily kick his straw man to bits before going back to ignoring his petty distortions:
To go on and pretend that medication belongs to someone else while including text saying people should be careful of me because they allege I take it (or have sometimes neglected to): THAT is what is damaging and dangerous.

I have to warn silly little Timmy, who is the newly appointed Akela for the 187th Guildford North cub pack, that if he even comes near any of my straw men, I will personally chop his bollocks off. I have never prentended that anyone's medication belongs to anyone else, and if you ever track down Bartholomew's arcane and obscure blog you will find that I actually offer the advice of taking the labels off of medication boxes after they have been used, in order to foil the activities of the despised junk mailers.

Enough of this nonsense, let's get back to some mainstream, proper British blogging.

Note to visitors: 'bollocks' is a slang term for testes or testicles

The Eagle Has Landed!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Pogsurf has the very great pleasure to announce that we have now created a single point of verifiable data, and it is our strong contention that the Eagle has landed. Pogsurf is thereby claiming to be the first blog on Earth, which has proved that their is life in outer-space.

We should like to welcome the Eagle, and all the creatures that live upon it, to planet Earth. For many years people on Earth have been studying the planet which the eagle explorers are believed to have come from. Well done to all the team, we have assembled an image which we believe our new guests might enjoy,, and to make them feel welcome. Please remember to be very polite to our new guests, otherwise we will simply find that they will eat us all! Not a pleasant thought, I think.

PZ's Big Slimy Coming Out Party

The news today is that everyone's favourite sexist pig PZ Myers, has finally organised his very own coming out party, especially to celebrate his online misogyny. Watch out girls, as PZ elegantly applies the muzzle, he says:

"This is the WRONG BATTLE."

According to his view, Girls need to be seen, and not heard. As long as you are decorating the blogosphere, that's fine with ole squid-face, but if you start getting uppity, and want your own voice, You WILL BE SHOUTED AT!

Head over to Pharyngula if you enjoy being bossed around by a bully with a beard. Don't stay too long though because slimy squid mucus really does not come off your clothes.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

You've Gotta Have Faith ...

The real lesson I got from reading Richard Dawkins' God Delusion is that agnosticism is not a valid position. Whatever you do in life, you have got to make choices. Just as it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all, it is better to take wrong choices and to be prepared to fess up your wrong choice when it is found out, than to never make any choice at all.

I found a simple example, which on the face of it seems to be a very low risk choice for me. A shop keeper in the USA displayed a sign in his window offending atheists. He later apologised (twice). Should I accept the apology?

Blaghag says yes: an-apology-to-skepticon-from-gelato-mio
Pharyngula says no: fair-weather-atheists-and-sunshine-skeptics

Come on, no agnostic type crap, it's all too far away, I never saw the sign, I'm an atheist but not really. Make a choice.

At some point in life you will have to take things on faith. To live a good life, you have to assume what other people say is being made in good faith, unless you have strong reasons for believing otherwise. I have no particular reason to believe of disbelieve what Gelato guy says is true. Live well, make that leap of faith, and trust him. I may live to proved to be wrong. Well just face up to that challemge when it comes.

I chose yes, and indicated as such on each blog. Now it's your turn to make a choice!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Real-time experiment on the nature of Truth

There are two different versions of "the truth" running here and here.

Nadine Dorries is the MP for Mid Bedfordshire. Tim Ireland is a SEO consultant from Guildford. Tim and Nadine have a long-term disagreement, which they both occasionally discuss on their respective blogs.

On Facts

Jerry Coyne is a biologist and author of the best selling book "Why Evolution is True". He runs a blog by the same name. He got into a discussion about the nature of facts, with a theologian Keith Ward, following a Guardian Comment is Free article of Ward's.

Jerry's blog is lively, with a well informed readership who share Jerry's passions for science, atheism and skepticism. It has an informal style, so readers can feel happy discussing the topic at hand, discussing side issues or taking part in witty banter, just along as things don't get too heated.

I have a bachelor of science degree in Maths and Philosophy. Don't ask me what the mark was, I only just survived to the end of the course after resitting my final exams. I would describe myself as an atheist, take a broadly scientific view of the world and enjoy thinking games, so when Jerry offered a specific challenge, I was interested.

He challenged:

"... I invite readers again to give me just one reasonably well established fact about the world that comes from “general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment” without any verifiable empirical input.  By all means, ask your friends in philosophy and theology!"
From some dim and distant memory of my time at university, I knew there is a philosophical problem called the Other Minds problem. Put in a simple form it amounts to the claim is that any one individual can know they have a mind, but proving that anyone else, or other sentient beings like animals have minds, is somewhere on the scale of extremely difficult to impossible.

Before Jerry's challenge came along, I had done some preliminary thinking on this issue, which is recoded in a post I called: I think therefore I question. René Descartes had been a hero of mine when I was at school, for the following three reasons. He made a huge contribution to mathematics. Similarly, he made a huge contribution to philosophy. Whilst all the time, he knew the importance of practical tasks too. When I read:

"I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth traveling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it." (Descartes, Discourse on the Method).
I couldn't help but think he was a giant of a man, who really understood what it was to live well.

People who hold theistic beliefs sometimes claim that they should not be criticised for holding strong beliefs based on faith, because atheists hold similar beliefs, but they never acknowledge them. I used to think that was a nonsense claim, then I came to realise that I could only dismiss it if I had actually examined my own beliefs to see if that were the case. I was reminded of Descarte's "I think therefore I am", and I realised that my own formulation of an ultimate truth would come out differently.

Mine is:

"Something exists."
This of course is an utterly bald assertion, but I think it must have the property that it is true. It also lead me to the understanding that I did indeed hold a belief which I only hold through faith, and that is:

"I am not alone."
So now I do understand that I hold at least one belief through faith alone, and that I cannot criticise a theist who asserts this as a proposition. However, I strongly believe that my position is somewhat more credible than the person who says "I believe in God through faith". My leap of faith is extremely difficult for the theist to disprove, because it seems a necessary condition of being part of a social dialogue, so that they must believe that an almost identical claim is true for themselves (it differs in only the fact that they are the subject, clearly).

Having reached these conclusions, I hit upon a widely believed proposition that could meet Coyne's challenge, which cannot be proved as true. Because it is basically one of the building blocks of what it means to be a social animal, it at first seems very unpromising.

It reads:

"The “fact” is that there is more than one human in the world. I think that most of us establish this fact through personal experience and judgement at around age 3. Those of us who do not grasp this “fact”, to whatever degree, are given the label autistic."
Following further discussions at Ophelia Benson's FreeThoughts blog Butterflies and Wheels, I now realise that my understanding of what a "fact" was, was not complete at the time. This was the reason that I needed to place the word in quote marks in the above paragraph, to identify I was talking about a fact like thing, rather than a fact itself.A rather ratty conversation at Talking Philosophy, where I challenged the use of the term "fact" by another author, and along the way his understanding of what manners and morality were, did also help me to eventually concentrate on the precision of my argument, and not the relative merits of one or other's reputation or standing.

The conversation at Ophelia's blog is proving to be quite extended. This appears to be because Ophelia and a couple of others are interested in what I have to say, but have a growing list of questions as to whether my claims are consistent. I will blog further about this discussion on a later occasion.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Directing Anger

Tom MacMaster has been a very naughty boy. He wrote a blog, created a fictional character, and some people believed that character was real. When people discovered that they had be deceived, they were cross. They were cross with MacMaster, claiming his fictional character had drowned out real voices, and that he had made it harder for some people to get an audience for their views, because people would be more sceptical of those who used pseudo-anonymous blogs as a vehicle for their campaigns.

Neither of these objections make any sense. In the age of 24-hour news coverage, and the internet, there is absolutely no lack of space to raise a campaign voice. There is no crowding out, because the space is effectively limitless. Ten, a hundred, or a hundred thousand fake blogs do precisely nothing to obscure the message of a lone blog from the wilderness. Similarly, because one unauthenticated blog was taken as real by such respected news sources as CNN and The Guardian, this does not make it any harder to authenticate blogs. It just shows that the authentication in this case was lower than it should be. It remains as hard or as easy to authenticate any particular voice as it always has done.

In the light of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, lots of people have said how angry they are. Aren't they really saying how angry they are that they were fooled? In which case, MacMaster has done them a service. He has shown them that they should not invest their emotional energy into people who may or may not be real. There are plenty of real people to get emotional about. Anger about being fooled, is anger that should properly be directed back at oneself. You have fooled yourself, MacMaster just nudged you along the way.

No one is interested anymore in what MacMaster may have to say about lesbianism, or even Damascus. But the interesting story he has to tell is how you can make a character believable. The internet offers up a new and unique opportunity to write fictional characters who interact in real-time with real people. Post hoc claims that MacMaster's fiction had inaccuracies in it are not worth listening to, except to validate that you can get away with an awful lot if your character is in some way credible.

MacMaster did do something which was clearly wrong, when he used Jelena Lečić's photographs to adorn his blog. Flirting with people, whilst posing as another, is morally dubious behaviour, but is also probably ubiquitous. Lying to journalists might be considered wrong in some quarters, but journalistic training should ensure that journalists are ever vigilant, and should always be on their guard against propagating other people's lies. So MacMaster did do some things that were clearly wrong, but creating a piece of fiction is not a crime, and passing that fiction off as the truth is possibly within the bounds of artistic licence. The legend of Father Christmas would take a turn for the worse if we all had to regard it henceforth as an evil lie. It is not quite clear just yet what gifts MacMaster had to offer the world, in return for believing his fiction, but no doubt after a period of reflection that will become clearer. In the meantime, please enjoy my cartoon, which posits the limits of blogging fiction may not have been reached just yet. Enjoy!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Thought for the day

Theologians: comedians who get upset when people laugh.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Iconic Art

Via Pharyngula I learn that today is Draw Mohammed Day II. Some parts of the Islamic world believe there should be a prohibition on the display of images of the Prophet. If you are devout, and you wish to refrain from doing something, then that's fine by me. But I am not, and so I don't feel I should be bound by your proscription.

In fact I'd go further than that. I think there is a tendency within some areas of the Islamic faith to promote the idea that it is right to spread Islamic ideas of devotion and purity using threats and violence. This includes the death sentence for apostasy, sexual transgressions and blasphemy. These are anathema to me.

However, as explained in my comment to Pharyngula, I don't believe I am quite ready to draw a picture of Mohammed. I am planning to do so this time next year. It did remind me, however, that I once did have a go at a piece of Christian iconography, and the reason I tried to paint it.

I have a friend from Bulgaria who gave to me a small icon painted by his father.

Up until then, I had always thought of icons as something from a very distant past. Of course all icons are painted by contemporary artists, no matter how far back in time you go, it is just the style which makes them feel old to our modern eyes. Thinking upon this made me wonder if I too could contribute to iconic art. My work appears below.

I've called it The Blue Maddona with Child (acrylic on roofing slate). The greatest compliment I received about it was that it reminded someone of a cartoon out of Monty Python. So here's to everyone who is considering contributing to the end of Islamic intolerance, to art, and to iconography!