Update to ‘Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Good’

09/03/2014

A commenter on my post “Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Great” has kindly pointed out that Hitch’s 2002 debate against Tariq Ali is missing from this anthology.  I have added it to “The Good” and have this to say of it:

Ali, “US Imperialism or A Just Response To Terror?”, Georgetown University, Washington DC, 17 April 2002 (Audio).  With the rubble of the Twin Towers barely cleared away, Hitchens goes head-to-head with a former comrade on the Left who published a book blaming America for visiting the attacks on itself.  I would like to have placed this one in the top category alongside the all time greats as Hitchens’ opening speech is a rip-snorting broadside against the hypocrisy and double-standards that was soon to lead to his departure from Liberalism in favour of Neo-Conservatism.  But alas, he doesn’t use his time for a rebuttal and the audio cuts out before the first audience question is answered.

International Women’s Day 2014

08/03/2014

International Womens Day Logo

According to Google’s doodle, today is International Women’s Day.

Liberation for women

That’s what I preach

Preacher maaaaaaaaaaaan!

The WORST Love Album In The World… EVER!!!

14/02/2014

BrokenHeart

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of us who are only too aware of the false promises of love and relationships.

Track / Artist / Album

1. The Everlasting / Manic Street Preachers / This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

2.  Love Will Tear Us Apart / Joy Division / Permanent: Joy Division 1995

3.  She’s A Star / James / Whiplash

4.  History / The Verve / A Northern Soul

5.  America / Razorlight / Razorlight

6.  Nothing Compares 2 U / Sinéad O’ Connor /  I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

7.   I’ll Take The Rain / R.E.M. / Reveal

8.  Life Becoming A Landslide / Manic Street Preachers / Gold Against The Soul

9.  With Or Without You / U2 / The Joshua Tree

10.  Can’t Stand Me Now / The Libertines / The Libertines

11.  Try / Nelly Furtado / Folklore

12.  The Scientist / Coldplay / A Rush Of Blood To The Head

13.  Every Breath You Take / The Police / Synchronicity

14.  Man Of The World / Fleetwood Mac / The Very Best Of

15.  I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself / The White Stripes / Elephant

16.  She Is Suffering / Manic Street Preachers / The Holy Bible

17.  You Oughta Know / Alanis Morissette / Jagged Little Pill

18.  Run / Snow Patrol / Final Straw

19.  Train In Vain / The Clash / London Calling

20.  Under My Thumb / The Rolling Stones / Aftermath

21.  Wish You Were Here / Pink Floyd / Wish You Were Here

22.  The Power Of Goodbye / Madonna / Ray Of Light

23.  How Soon Is Now? / The SmithsHatful Of Hollow

24.  Say Hello Wave Goodbye / David Gray / White Ladder

25.  Last Christmas (performed by James Dean Bradfield live on TFI Friday, 1996) / George Michael/Wham! / Lipstick Traces: A Secret History Of

Sam Harris responds to Daniel Dennett’s review of ‘Free Will’

14/02/2014

HarrisFreeWillCoverI recently blogged on New Atheist writer and philosopher Daniel Dennett’s lengthy review of fellow “Four Horseman” Sam Harris’ views on “free will” contained in his short book of the same name and additional articles and public speaking, which I reviewed and summarised last year.

Harris has now posted a response to Dennett’s review, which (mercifully) is far shorter than Dennett’s original review.  Rather than correcting Dennett point-by-point, Harris has limited himself to calling Dennett out on his condescending tone and misrepresentations of his work:

I want to begin by reminding our readers—and myself—that exchanges like this aren’t necessarily pointless.  Perhaps you need no encouragement on that front, but I’m afraid I do. In recent years, I have spent so much time debating scientists, philosophers, and other scholars that I’ve begun to doubt whether any smart person retains the ability to change his mind.  This is one of the great scandals of intellectual life: The virtues of rational discourse are everywhere espoused, and yet witnessing someone relinquish a cherished opinion in real time is about as common as seeing a supernova explode overhead.  The perpetual stalemate one encounters in public debates is annoying because it is so clearly the product of motivated reasoning, self-deception, and other failures of rationality—and yet we’ve grown to expect it on every topic, no matter how intelligent and well-intentioned the participants.  I hope you and I don’t give our readers further cause for cynicism on this front.

Unfortunately, your review of my book doesn’t offer many reasons for optimism. It is a strange document—avuncular in places, but more generally sneering.  I think it fair to say that one could watch an entire season of Downton Abbey on Ritalin and not detect a finer note of condescension than you manage for twenty pages running.

(…)

You do this again and again in your review. And when you are not misreading me, you construct bad analogies—to sunsets, color vision, automobiles—none of which accomplish their intended purpose.  Some are simply faulty (that is, they don’t run through); others make my point for me, demonstrating that you have missed my point (or, somehow, your own).

I’m going for another beer now.

FacePalmStarTrek

Video of William Lane Craig’s misrepresentation of Sam Harris during and after their debate on morality

03/02/2014

Further to my posts reviewing the debate on morality between atheist Sam Harris and Christian apologist William Lane Craig, together with Craig’s distortions of Harris’ written work, nooneleftalivekibo has cited my first post in the above video, for which I am grateful and flattered.

Having watched a few nooneleftalivekibo’s other videos, I recommend those that expose Craig’s misrepresentation and quote-mining of Stephen Law, Michael Ruse and Stephen Hawking.

Daniel Dennett reviews ‘Free Will’ by Sam Harris

03/02/2014

HarrisFreeWillCoverLast year, I reviewed and summarised the writing and public speaking of Sam Harris in relation to “free will”.  Fellow “Four Horseman” and New Atheist writer and philosopher Daniel Dennett has written a lengthy review of Harris’ work.  In his short book, Free Will, as well as this article, Harris replied directly to Dennett’s account of “free will” in the latter’s book, Freedom Evolves.  Harris has also promised to respond in detail to Dennett’s latest review.

I have not read Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, (it is on my rather-large-and-ever-growing “to read” pile) and to be perfectly honest, I find his review of Harris’ Free Will to be rather dense and far less compelling than its subject matter, which I cannot praise highly enough.  My overall opinion (which I am happy to change once I have obtained a better grasp of Dennett’s work on the matter) is that Dennett has an almost presuppositional commitment to the notion of “free will” and will interpret the evidence any which way he can in order for it confirm to his notion of “free will”.  I also side very much with Harris’ charges in this article that Dennett has redefined what most people think is “free will” and declared it by fiat to be “the only one worth having”.

Daniel Miessler provides a useful executive summary of Dennett’s article at the beginning of his article that is just as long:

It serves as the most elaborate, learned, and desperate hand-waving I’ve ever witnessed. It was such a weak argument that it looked more like an example that a brilliant philosophy professor, like Daniel Dennett, might use to highlight poor arguments to his students.  Sadly it wasn’t a strawman used for instruction—it was his real position.

Here’s what he basically said:

1.  It seems like we make choices, so we do.

2.  It’s useful to hold people responsible for their actions, so moral responsibility is real.

I just saved you ~30 minutes of exasperation.

Nevertheless, the closing paragraph of Dennett’s review dispenses with all the philo-neuro-psycho-babble that has gone before and is all the more persuasive for it:

If you think that the fact that incompatibilist free will is an illusion demonstrates that no punishment can ever be truly deserved, think again.  It may help to consider all these issues in the context of a simpler phenomenon: sports.  In basketball there is the distinction between ordinary fouls and flagrant fouls, and in soccer there is the distinction between yellow cards and red cards, to list just two examples.  Are these distinctions fair?  Justified?  Should Harris be encouraged to argue that there is no real difference between the dirty player and the rest (and besides, the dirty player isn’t responsible for being a dirty player; just look at his upbringing!)?  Everybody who plays games must recognize that games without strictly enforced rules are not worth playing, and the rules that work best do not make allowances for differences in heritage, training, or innate skill.  So it is in society generally: we are all considered equal under the law, presumed to be responsible until and unless we prove to have some definite defect or infirmity that robs us of our free will, as ordinarily understood.

While I accept the bulk of Harris’ account/demolition of “free will”, Dennett has encapsulated the one glimmer of an objection that I have to it.  While the range of human thought and action – from sexuality to psychopathy – may be determined by prior causes over which humans have no control, I still cannot abandon the notion that degrees of human behaviour can be freely controlled.

Dennett uses the example of fair play in sports.  I draw on my own experiences of manners and etiquette (or lack thereof) in a professional (allegedly) office environment.  I have had to deal with rudeness and bullying – both face-to-face and via that accursed medium known as “email” – by men and women who are well-educated, otherwise well-mannered and who clearly know the difference between treating someone well and treating them badly.

Leaving aside the findings of Channel 4’s Psychopath Night that bankers and lawyers are among the top professions populated by psychopaths (!),  I cannot escape my impression that they know full well what they are doing, they are acting in a deliberate, calculating and manipulative fashion, that they are aware of the potential consequences of their actions and that they ought to be held fully accountable for what they are doing.

“They” may well have chosen “A” de facto, but “They” sure as hell ought to have chosen “B” de jure and deep down “They” themselves (whoever “They” are) know this full well.

In this sense, the illusion of “free will” is so powerful that it is virtually indistinguishable from reality.

Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman

03/02/2014

One of my favourite actors of all time, Philip Seymour Hoffman has died aged 46 of a drug overdose, BBC News reports here, here, here, and here.  I have not seen all of Hoffman’s films, but in all those that I have, he lit up the screen with his unique persona and made an indelible impression, whether in a lead or a supporting role.

The above video is a quintessential Hoffman scene/performance from Todd Solondz’s indie black comedy, Happiness (think American Beauty a thousand times darker and more fucked up!), with Hoffman playing Allen; a sexually repressed, emotionally stunted pervert who (quite literally) gets off by calling women at random from his phone book and a man so boring that even his own shrink zones out on him.  As Empire magazine commented in their review of Red Dragon where Hoffman played doomed journalist Freddy Lounds “no-one plays snivelling and enfeebled like Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Hoffman’s greatest performance, and the one that deservedly earned him an Oscar for Best Actor was as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s 2005 film, Capote, documenting the eccentric New York writer’s researching of his masterpiece “non-fiction novel”, In Cold Blood: an account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter and his family by Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith in Holcomb, Kansas in the penultimate month of the 1950s.  Hoffman brilliantly portrayed both the good and the bad sides of Capote’s charismatic genius, presenting him as a sympathetic and compassionate man, while at the same time being manipulative and deceitful in his quest to obtain the truth from the two killers in a project that ultimately would leave the writer mentally scarred for the rest of his life.

Hoffman is the latest in a long line of truly great artists whose tragically early demise has secured their legendary status.

BBC News’ Obituary / In Pictures

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967 – 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman
1967 – 2014

Further proof (if any were necessary) that it’s all your parents’ fault

30/01/2014

ParentsArguingInFrontOfChild

My post last week presented peer-reviewed evidence that having children adversely affects their parents’ own relationship.  This week, the media has reported that parents can ruin their children’s early development – both mental and physical – if they expose them to their arguments:

Quarrelling parents who fail to resolve their arguments are leaving their children at risk of long-term mental health problems, new research has found.

Exposing children to constant feuding can also cause physical problems in youngsters such as headaches and stomach pains as well as affecting their growth rate, experts have claimed.

The study by relationship charity OnePlusOne examined the differences between “destructive” and “constructive” conflict within the family home and looked at how it affected children.

Destructive conflict, such as sulking, walking away, slamming doors or making children the focus of an argument, puts youngsters at greater risk of a range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, researchers said.

Children react better when parents can relate to each other more positively during arguments and when conflicts are resolved, they added.

Dr Catherine Houlston, co-author of the book, Parental Conflict: Outcomes And Interventions For Children And Families, said: “We know that conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life.

“It’s not whether you argue but how you argue which matters most to kids.

“Research suggests that over time, the impact of being exposed to arguing between their parents can put children’s physical health at risk.

“Evidence has shown that headaches, abdominal pains and even reduced growth can be brought on by the insecurity a child can feel by seeing their parents at war.

“However not all arguing has a negative outcome.  If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved and they feel more secure.

“Evidence suggests that working with couples at an early stage in their relationship, or during times of change, we can modify destructive patterns of conflict behaviour.”

University of Sussex Professor Gordon Harold, co-author of the book, said: “Today’s children are tomorrow’s parents.

“The psychological fallout from homes marked by high levels of inter-parental conflict can lead to negative behaviour and long-term mental health problems that repeat across generations.

“Effective intervention can help to break this cycle, improving outcomes in the short and long term.

As Mitch Albom wrote in The Five People You Meet In Heaven, “All parents damage their children.”

Or as Philip Larkin rather more bluntly phrased matters in his poem “This Be The Verse”:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Having children ruins your relationships

21/01/2014

FatherBabyUnhappy

Further to my two posts last year examining the unexpected and highly counterintuitive effects that parenthood has on parents’ personal happiness (as well as Bill Hicks’ wonderful take on matters!), my Confirmation Bias is satisfied yet further by a recently published study from the Open University on the effect that having children has on relationships:

Couples without children have happier marriages, according to one of the biggest studies ever of relationships in Britain.

Childless men and women are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner, the research project by the Open University found.

(…)

The study, involving interviews and surveys with more than 5,000 people of all ages, statuses and sexual orientations over a two-year period, will be presented at the British Library this week.

The ellipse in the above paragraph contains one slightly inconvenient truth to my stance:

But researchers also discovered that women without children were the least happy with life overall, whereas mothers were happier than any other group, even if their relationships faltered.

But I’m a bloke; none of that affects me.  So, hey ho!

Further reading over at The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail.

I’ll give the last word to The Onion’s “American Voices”:

“My parents did always tell me I was the source of their unhappiness.”

- Phyllis Ireland, Wax Pourer

Ukip Shipping Forecast

21/01/2014

SilvesterFloods

Further to my recent post challenging some of the country’s “top” theologians to say a word in public to denounce Ukip’s David Silvester’s decidedly Old Testament take on the recent storms and floods that have been battering the country, you can listen to a very amusing spoof edition by Nicholas Pegg of the Shipping Forecast here.


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