Friday, March 27, 2009

The UN and Religion

Apparently, yesterday the United Nations passed a resolution in the General Assembly that included an amendment to combat the "defamation of religion". Such a title already seems more broad than should be desired by any nation with freedom of speech. When it comes to discrimination of people because of religion, this should easily be called unjust, and the UN already passed such a resolution some time ago.

Okay, first to put this in perspective. The UN has no real teeth. Money and troops come under UN control if other nations are willing to give such things. Much of the money comes from the United States and troops are many from the US and Europe, but hardly exclusively (perhaps not even in the majority?). This resolution was also passed in the General Assembly, not the Security Council which producing much more binding statements. The GA can only produce "symbolic" statements for other nations to take heart, but such resolutions certainly cannot change member-state constitutions. The US can ignore this resolution as it can most things the UN throws out, or as did Iraq according to the run-up statements before the war began in 2003. However, the existence of such a resolution passed by the majority of nations in the United Nations does send out a diplomatic shield to those it would protect. The question is, does the resolution protect those unfairly maligned by the prejudices of kooks and bigots, or does this give cover to nations and organizations with religious zealotry which do harm to citizens of the world?

So, what does the statement even say? Is it going to hinder free speech? I thought that perhaps some had over-hyped the nature of this resolution, making seem worse than it is. I first learned of it through sources such as Christopher Hitchens, a well known opponent of religion, an "anti-theist" by his own admission, so perhaps he was biased in his report for But is he right? Does the resolution want to limit free speech and criticism of religion? Well, yes.

For example, Paragraph 100, Section 5 says that states should
take serious steps to address the contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and in this context to take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols.
So, I'm not supposed to defame religious personalities, holy books, and so on. Of course, I can defame politicians all I want. Why can't I say bad things about the Pope or certain Ayatollahs? Does this mean biblical criticism is off now? Bye-bye Documentary Hypothesis.

The resolution also points the blame at right-wingers against Islam who try to use xenophobia to rack up political points. That ignores liberals that attack this religion, such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc. (I would probably add myself, since I'm no right-winger, but I'm not a hippy as well.) The Dutch MP Geert Wilders seems to be in view of the UN resolution, whose documentary "Fitna" created a large stir on the Internet. I agree with critics of the film that it is more anti-immigrant than a proper critic of Islam, but we don't need to look far to find a Dutch MP producing a documentary critical of Islam.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali created a documentary years ago with a decendent of Van Goeth, and the director was killed! Ali has been under protection of years from a similar fate in the US. Ali is also part of a liberal party in the Netherlands, the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD); Geert used to be a member of this same part, but changed in 2006 to a right-wing group called the "Party of Freedom". Geert left the VVD because it was favorable to Turkey's inclusion into the EU, so he was much more against Islamic nations than the VVD in general. Ali can also give more valid criticism of Islam having been Muslim for much of her life and even chanted death threats to Salmon Rushdie.

Apparently now, if Ali, who was abused under Islam, dares criticize, she can be called a xenophobe because of this resolution. How different from the case of the murdering and raping monster in Austria. Should he be given protections if he declared that his actions were part of his religious tradition? Would criticism of his actions be "backward" and "elitist"? If not, then why not the forced circumsizion of women, the stoning of rape victims, the beheading of homosexuals, the death of apostates? Why does religion get a pass?

Obviously, this resolution is truly backward from what any sensible enlightened institution should produce. Imagine if this was passed in the days of Hume; his discourses on natural religion and human reason would have to be outlawed according to this nonsense. Bertrand Russel would have been sent to jail. The intellectual tradition of Western thought would be against the law, the tradition of free inquiry and the ability of all ideas coming to the free market to see what wins out. Apparently, religion has to be protected. Perhaps because it cannot stand up?

Fortunately, I live in the USA, and my country voted against this resolution, along with Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and even Israel, along with many other European nations. It's odd that nations such as Japan did not vote, and Russia voted in favor. I'm betting any nation I end up living in will most likely be against this piece of tripe. Well, as a citizen of the Red, White, and Blue, I must say, God bless . . . er, good goin', the USA.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Going to the Movies--Science and the Big Screen

Looks likes this is going to be another fun year of cinema with movies about Wolverine, Star Trek, and Transformers. The film "Knowing" also looks interesting, but Nicholas Cage movies can be very hit or miss with me. He also seems to be doing a fair bit of cinema on the occult, such as cryptic symbols in hiding secrets of America and now the hidden dimensionality of causation in the universe found in a time capsule.

Recently, I went to see the highly-anticipated "Watchmen". When it comes to graphic gore, it seems like "300" was a warm-up for this attraction. So much happened that it's hard to keep it all in my head--it was also nearly three hours long, but that didn't bother me since it was all necessary. I also like what this story, as well as "The Dark Knight" have done with the concept of the Hero. These ideas have developed so much from the early days of comics: hero comes, beats up bad guys, all is great, but maybe there is a cliff hanger such as there was at the end of every Batman episode back in the '60s. And for a movie with lots of blood and some sex, there didn't seem to be that much cursing, unlike "Casino" which had a rate of F-bombs per minute. I will now need to read the graphic novel to see what changed, considering the creator of the book was not pleased by the film version.

Also coming up soon is "Angels & Demons", again with Tom Hanks (great actor) and director Ron Howard (director of movies such as "Apollo 13" and "Frost/Nixon"). This one is a must-see for me not because of the novel, but because of CERN. The book wasn't that great to me, and the ending had so many twists Dan Brown made me feel like a ragged doll being whipped about. But the movie crew actually took a trip to CERN to look at the detectors and center, and it looks like they were inspired (taken from this trailer clip).

It looks like the rendered the ATLAS detector pretty well, but this glassed-in section at the bottom? Definetely not there in reality. It had to be there for a part of the book where the scientists and Langdon watch a matter-antimatter collision. Of course, when CERN is running there will be a huge amount of bremsstrahlung radiation. Also, this image only was sensible when the detector was being put together. This is no space to see anything, and all the activity is happening inside pipes and the core of this detector, leaving nothing to see. Besides, the collisions can only be detected with the use of advanced electronics; the eye isn't the best for viewing kaons.

Also, note the fashion of the scientists there. White coats? Total stereotype. These guys are chemists at the lab. When I was at CERN, most everyone was wearing much more casual clothing: blue jeans, tee shirts, etc. But it seems that crazy white hair and a lab coat and a crazy personality it just what Hollywood portrays the scientist as. For example see Doc from "Back to the Future". I don't necessarily mind. Bill Nye plays on the stereotype as well, comically and educationally, so I don't have a problem. But it should be pointed out that the dress of these guys on the set is quite reality.

The antimatter is also comical from a scientific standpoint.

That glowing mystery substance? Antimatter? In reality, antimatter is no different from normal matter except that the particles have their opposite charge. Electrons are positive (so called positrons), protons are negatively charged. In a universe dominated by antimatter, I would look the same. The only problem happens when matter and antimatter meet, and when that happens they annihilate and produce pure energy. If this matter was glowing, it would be because the vacuum is not perfect and the stuff is giving off photons, probably some gamma rays. In other words, you can think of the substance as decaying. By the end of the movie, there is no antimatter to "explode", and whoever carried this thing around will suffer a bad radiation dose.

Still, the trailer looks great, even more action-packed than the book it felt. The editors knew what they were doing. I'm also interested to see how much Vatican history the movie will talk about; from what I can gather, it won't be much better than the "history" found in "The Da Vinci Code". I bet the Catholic League will be all up-in-arms again when this movie comes out. Isn't that reason to see the film?