May 30, 2010

Two kids die. Who cares?

No doubt you're aware of the 16 year old from (arguably) Auckland's most prestigious school (I'm an Anglican and that other, state, one is just a bit too weird imho, so maybe I'm biased) who became deceased a little while back after drinking a whole bottle of vodka. A ridiculous tragedy if ever there was one. And national news to boot and probably fair enough; people care about this kind of thing. There have been powerful calls to arms: after-balls must be banned! After all, such cases weren't about social outcasts/failures; it could be your beautiful successful kid (or the kid of the guy who owns the media company) next!

But did you hear about the 12 year old kid sleeping under a bridge in Henderson who also died a few weeks ago, of third degree burns inflicted by someone else i.e. who died in excruciating pain, crawling into a creek after being set on fire?

I'm stating the obvious here, but people are more concerned when attractive university students, sports starts, private school successes and the like die (whether through the actions of others or themselves) than when others do.

If you don't find this disturbing, I don't know what to do for you. If you don't know what to do about the pathetic state of New Zealand society, particularly evident if you step away slightly from the comfy centre and spend some time on the fringes, here's a hint; here's a name to consider: Jesus Christ. He knows about losers, he hung out with them; he loves the little people, he loves them today, even the one writing this blog.

May 29, 2010

The days

Are shooting past.
As long as they keep missing,
I’ll be ok, just:
left behind;
wondering where they’ve gone.

So yeah, if you’re liking the blog, read my old posts and pray for new ones.
Pray for better ones; please pray for true ones.
Hey, you can even go and pray for blue ones.

May 24, 2010

Fair Trade

Does buying Fair Trade help coffee producers in the developing world? It would seem to help some of them at least. Perhaps only a minority though?

Maxim Institute sent a link to this in their email a while back. Skimming it and Maxim Institute's summary of the issue, it is a little concerning. I was going to draw a fancy diagram showing an over-supply of coffee in the world market (as they claim is the case currently), but then I couldn't decide on what the market for Fair Trade coffee would look like, or if I could lump it all into one and just show a bigger over-supply (with the new high price which Fair Trade brands charge).


From the M.I. email:
The philosophy of fair trade stems from the argument that free market prices are often not high enough to cover production costs, forcing farmers and their families off their land and into poverty. We should therefore pay a higher price for our coffee so that these farmers can maintain their lifestyles with dignity. Using the common example of coffee, fair trade certified coffee farmers are paid a minimum price of US$1.26 per pound whereas the free market price for coffee is around US$0.70 per pound. The intention is great, but the sustainability of this approach is questionable. The price of coffee is low because there is an oversupply in the market. If we then artificially raise the price of coffee to $1.26 per pound, fair trade farmers will continue to oversupply the market with coffee because they know they will receive a good price regardless of demand. Those farmers who do not have fair trade certification will see the price of their coffee dropping even further on the back of an even bigger increase in global supply. This oversupply means human, land, energy and environmental resources are effectively being wasted on producing a product the world doesn't need any more of.There are many farmers who produce their coffee ethically, but they cannot gain fair trade certification for any number of reasonsóthey may be too big, or be situated in an area or country not covered by fair trade. Their produce, lacking a fair trade sticker, may end up being overlooked by many customers. The marketing of fair trade thus becomes misleading and problematic.

Genesis 1

I intended to write about this sometime, but this might suffice for now in getting the thinking juices doing whatever they do:

Written by Dr Matt Flannagan.

May 23, 2010

I have decided ..

♫ to follow Jesus ♫

I have also decided on a(nother) major life goal/task/thing!

I MUST get a photo of myself, with a book, in front of the University of Reading.
Pure class, no?

But seriously, if I ever was to teach there, or maybe even visit, I would make my 8year old self very proud. I don't think he knew what a university was, but he learnt quickly.

On another side note (hey, it's my blog; you don't like it, you don't read it - oh, oops; too late for you I guess), it's been implied that I'm a bit of a moralist (talking about abortion and .. gasp .. foetuses in almost-public) and not only that, but into apologetics; neither of which are apparently good things. These pastimes tend to drive people away from Jesus and/or distort the gospel, it has also been implied (I paraphrase, in order to, at least potentially, stir things up). Comments on this, or the price of sugar, are most welcome.

May 22, 2010


The first person he met was Rabbit. ‘Hallo, Rabbit,’ he said, ‘is that you?’
‘Let’s pretend it isn’t,’ said Rabbit, ‘and see what happens.’
-A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh, chapter 8 ... in which Christopher Robin leads an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole
(quoted in "Who made God?" - Edgar Andrews, chapter 6)

That is quality humour, friends. Quality. And it can even make you think!

Justice – a conversation

I heard this word

So, yeah; I’ve been thinking.
“What is this?”


Is it all about what I am owed
Or what the “I am” knows?
Either / both / neither / please try harder?
Is it social convention, untestable, or like the mist?
Personal creation, yet another western myth;
Or is it just something that somehow just is?


Slavery, plane crashes and genetic diseases
How relate these things to my friend Jesus?
Has He something to say about ‘fair trade’
Bioethics, statistics, where cotton is made;
About the way it pleases me to use my days?

In Justice?

And what about the epitomy of kitsch religious ugliness,
that plain wooden Roman cross on a Palestinian hill?
Is that how justice appeared; appeareth it still?

Isn’t it really, in rational, self-determined reality
All pretty much all about me; am I not entirely free?
What is this 'rock', this 'way', this 'light', this 'wine';
Just more metaphors to add to things which are ‘mine’?
How can I give up what I am owed by right; I’ve worked for it!

Actually, no.


Is, at the core, about the ones you have left out
And; as is most obvious, do not care at all about.
I speak of the lonely, the ugly, the poor, the homeless,
The unborn, the unfriendly, the traitors, the prostitutes.
The stuff you care about is beyond unimportant
And those far from your hearts are close to God’s


We’ve messed up, but are unduly confident
In the small things given us. And at such a cost.
Will you live freely? Will I? Will we?
Can you accept His blank cheque and spend it
To befriend those given less who nevertheless love more?

Live well, live to the full;

Walk humbly with God
Love faithfulness
Do justice.

Check out Micah 6 for more.

May 21, 2010

‘synthetic cell’, 'sell-out of science' or just another story to sell?

The controversial commercialising geneticist Craig Venter [I’d back Francis Collins any day, in a music contest or a genome-sequencing one] has, over the last ~10 years, funded (partly) a multi-million project researching the insertion of synthetically created DNA into bacterial cells from the proceeds of his genome sequencing company. It’s been revealed, to global media frenzy, that after a long process, they’ve achieved what they intended – making a massive strand of DNA and sticking it in a bacterium. It’s slightly more impressive than it sounds. And less impressive than many have made out. A living cell is a complex beast including various interacting 3D structures (including, but not limited to proteins) that we haven't fully characterised yet. The '2D' DNA sequence that codes for this is a little bit easier to create.

Journalists who understand science? Nah, jokes, just a pipe-dream.

Who knows what people will say /are saying this nice little experiment into the limits of human intelligent-design has proved. I can guess that materialists will be happy and take heart in their little wars against God, (though if they’re really sceptical and daring, perhaps they’d take off their rose-tinted glasses once in a while to take a good look at the real world – it’s better than anything they’ve offered. Perhaps I'm attacking a straw man, but is every single thing 'Science' does really a success for atheism?) I’ll be interested to see where the future research into the minimal genetic requirements for a living cell takes Venter’s team. The potential for the production of chemical compounds (including vaccines/drugs) is also interesting. There will be large financial incentives for research in this area I expect, so I hope that doesn’t distort the aims of the project too much, though I also don’t see how it’s much different from similar existent projects in genetic engineering of bacteria. As with GE, caution must be taken with these “new” organisms (the genome of this creature was in fact largely copied; as has been suggested here, it’s arguably a major case of plagiarism (God might be filing suit soon)) and potential differences between synthetic and ‘natural’ DNA (such as (lack of) post-translational modification [e.g. methylation of bases] and any differences/damage in the associated translating machinery) will have to be kept in mind. The processes of deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis used are not perfect, as the fairly high failure rate in this project will demonstrate; so while it’s all pretty cool in a way, let’s not all be overconfident about this step forward in molecular/cell biology.

Interviewed on Campbell Live on the potential ethical consequences of this decision was Prof. Gareth Jones, a structural biologist and ethicist at Otago (incidentally, he’s a self-confessed Christian, so probably ridiculously biased and generally anti-science). It’s worth a listen perhaps.

Ultimate Explanations

Recently, some reading has been done on my part, concerning naturalistic explanations of religious belief. Once I've digested the articles I've been sent on the topic and if I can convince myself to postpone other studies, I'll write up my thoughts. I'd like to have something published somewhere with a bit more exposure; maybe Craccum (quite notable for its level of exposure!) or maybe somewhere else.

But, as it was recommended that I start with Dawkins, I did. I was a little surprised at what I found. This is from Chapter 7 of "The God Delusion" (you're welcome to check the ref. if you doubt it; p.168 in my copy of the chapt.) He goes on to recommend Darwinian explanations as 'ultimate' (who would have guessed it?), but note the bolded terms [my emphasis].

"… Psychological explanations to the effect that people find some belief agreeable or disagreeable are proximate, not ultimate, explanations.
Darwinians make much of this distinction between proximate and ultimate. The proximate explanation for the explosion in the cylinder of an internal combustion engine invokes the sparking plug. The ultimate explanation concerns the purpose for which the explosion was designed: to impel a piston from the cylinder, thereby turning a crankshaft. …”
Are you thinking what I’m thinking, B1?

Just in case you're a bit slow on the uptake, or not as rabidly in to such things as myself, let's play that old game of "replacing words":

Christians [particularly, it seems, Catholics (Thomists?)] make much of this distinction between proximate and ultimate. The proximate explanation for the explosion which resulted in our universe invokes quantum vacuum fluctuations [or such]. The ultimate explanation concerns the purpose for which the explosion was designed: to produce a life-friendly universe, thereby allowing beings which could have a relationship with God to exist.

The idea that an immaterial purpose counts as an 'ultimate explanation' is something well worth considering. Thanks, mate! [Picture: St. Tom A, courtesy of: you guessed it; Wikipedia]

May 20, 2010

a lesson on equivocation

Equivocation is a word I'm quite fond of. Seems Our PM knows what it's about too:

Mark "Moustache" Sainsbury: "[but] the rich are going to be better off, aren't they"
John "Keynesian(?)" Key: ".. well, across the board, all New Zealanders are going to be better off"

I might have slightly paraphrased, but you get the point; spot the switcheroo!

I don't have any massive problems with dropping personal tax rates, though the only way it'll all affect me for a while is through an increase in GST (a.k.a. the price of food and clothing); I guess I better spend up big before they come into effect. Fortunately, my books come from overseas or 2nd-hand, so my shelves won't miss out too much as a result. Trademe should be rubbing their ring-encrusted hands together some more though - presumably more GST = more old stuff bought. Yay, old stuff!

"Ring encrusted"? What was I thinking? *Mutters incoherently to self*

May 18, 2010

"There was not a nerdy person among them"

The early church was clearly a 'happening' group of people, but my heart sank a little as I read this portion of the Scriptures.

I occasionally read the New Testament in the evening; clearly it was a little late when I read this passage.

May 16, 2010

Flight of fancy? The Evidence for Avian Ancestry

This is the abstract of an article I am preparing for the top science magazine Nature. I hope it is edifying. I have received positive reviews from some distinguished pigeon psychologists, which shall remain nameless and faceless for the moment. While I have never technically studied psychology or known anything about the discipline aside from what I’ve heard from those who don’t really like psychologists (largely for personal emotional reasons such as bad experiences in psych labs), I am planning to write a best-selling book closely related to the topic soon and hope (quietly) for some lucrative media spin-offs. ("The Root of All Evil" sounds sufficiently clichéd.) Amazon are said to be particularly interested, given the South American influences which I pick up on in a number of places in this article. Anyway, here you go:

It is widely believed that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. New evidence from behavioural psychology and difficulties with 'lateral gene transfer' and 'molecular analogy' throw this into severe doubt and re-establish the possibility of an avian ancestor of modern humans, as has been believed for millennia by the Crow people of Meso-America.
The ability of New Zealand tuis and other songbirds to imitate synthetically created “music” is legendary, but the evolutionary connection which these sounds have to actual human music has been seriously under-researched. This paper aims primarily to remedy this, with a foray into the effect of ghetto music on the motion patterns of birds living in an urban environment and also briefly investigates links between corvid tool-use and creativity and certain under-reported breeding practices of hominids inhabiting the Neandertal region of Germany circa 0.1 MYA. The final key piece of evidence explored takes advantage of recent 'phylogenetic-style' comparisons of separate research projects undertaken on pigeons and students at the University of Auckland and suggests as an additional area for study the possibility that the pigeons themselves are conducting research. This counter-intuitive hypothesis, which helps to explain a correlation between fluctuations in the pigeon and student populations, was developed only after the chemicoextralogical analysis of excrement patterns on post-graduate Arts student computer lab keyboards at the university.

May 10, 2010

amazing what you can find on the bus. I found 10c once. I think ..

Travelling in to uni on board a bus-like vehicle (yep, as well as being bus-like, it was actually a bus, but thought I'd spice it up with the bare possibility that it was a stretch-Hummer-thing), I was considering the decline of a Christian ethic in New Zealand, w.r.t. abortion and such things. As you do. And then, guess who I saw tootling along Symonds St in front of the bus in a little grey car? You might not believe me, but it was SATAN himself! The fallen angel, serpent, dragon, enemy of God's people; just there in front of me in a mini cooper or somesuch.

Well, according to the personalised plate anyway.

That's pretty straight-up, I thought. Perhaps it even explains the crappily predictable 'religion' issue of Craccum, 'kegs in the park', 'drinking horn' and general prevalence of public nudity, peer-pressure, apathy and alcohol in recent times. Or maybe it's just how students roll; idk.

New, like television

Hey guys, look what I've found - it's an exciting new social movement aiming to get rid of the final vestiges of dumb religion and imaginary gods and other silly stuff. They get called "The New Atheists." It's all run by this really cool handful of guys and their loyal followers... they're not even that old! One of them is only 61! No wonder they're so popular with a handful of university students; the fact they mock Christian sexual ethics has nothing to do with it, I'm sure!
Trust me, I'm a materialist.

I was being a bit unfair here. Sam Harris is in his 40s, so he's practically only been born. And of course, the top Christian thinkers are frequently quite old (or unfortunately, fairly recently dead (Alston)) too. The main problem with the new atheists, surprisingly enough, isn't that they aren't 'new', it's that they're atheists. Maybe you don't think that's a problem. I'd encourage you to think more carefully about it and get back to me if you think I'm being unfair. Maybe reading some Nietzsche/Camus, etc would help in developing your pessimism. Best of luck to you.

Picture: Wikipedia

May 9, 2010

cultural prisms

People look at events and evidence from rather different perspectives. Here is an example which I've skimmed (one day I'll increase the respectability of my sources. Perhaps.) and it does not give me great hope for humanity.

I am fairly pro-Israel due perhaps to my cultural milieu, in-so-far as I don't think the nation is one of evil Muslim-haters who should be wiped out at the earliest opportunity. There have been genuine wrongs committed against Muslims in western countries. Ignorant 'conservative' white people annoy me too. However, the majority of these pale to beyond Skandinavian shades in comparison to the frequent gross human rights abuses in Muslim-majority countries. Further, some situations (cf. Muhammed cartoons) are used as a convenient excuse to get hot and bothered and in less civilized places, riot. (Of course, if it wasn't for globalization, no one in Denmark would care about people rioting on the other side of the world. Ironic perhaps that economic dominance has contributed to the developed world's vulnerability from these kinds of sources.) This hypocrisy and hyper-sensitivity annoys me - maybe there is a trace of racism, religious hatred or xenophobia from my side, but when I see the kind of religious hatred perpetrated in supposed response to the abuses of the West, I don't feel too bad and am amazed at the staying power of modern liberal democracy. Long may it continue!

May 7, 2010

totes formal debate

this is meant I suppose to be a post about atheist-baiting, emotionalism, facebook, face-to-face conversations and reading books, but I haven't written it yet. It is quite possible I shall never write it.

Enjoy your day.

H/T: a linguistically sophisticated friend. Thanks for the title phrase, you have enviable insight.

May 5, 2010

In the darkness, ...

God's light shines. ♫ ♪ ♪ ♫ ♪

Picture: Wikipedia

H/T: the Gospel according to John, 1:4-5; 3:19-21.

I realised particularly clearly today that some people get a substitute for genuine joy or meaning in their life through whatever combination of drunkenness, peer-pressure and cheap pseudo-sexual thrills is going at the time. It seems a pity really; we were meant to live for so much more! Have we lost ourselves?

that's commitment

"In 2005 a baby boy in Manchester was born alive at 24 weeks after surviving three attempts to abort him. He is now a five-year-old schoolboy."

This dude must be a pretty tough nut.

Maybe it's not a very sophisticated response, but I imagine someone, somewhere, saying "nah, screw it; you can live!"

H/T: The Telegraph (via a friend)