Friday, October 30, 2009

Camels through the eyes of needles

I love the attitude that this video portrays, perhaps I'm being naive but the desire to collaborate and learn seems to radiate from the scientists in this little clip, and the subject is pretty cool too. They are trying to invent a molecular device that is able to sequence human DNA in a couple of hours. Currently this is an expensive process (the first human genome sequenced cost $3Bn and took many years to do!), these guys want to get the cost down to a 1000 bucks per sequencing.

The scales at which they are working are just mind boggling, never mind passing a camel through the eye of a needle this device will need to control a single thread of DNA passing through a hole which is measured on the nanometre scale, that's 1 billionth of a metre, to put this into perspective an HIV virus is about 400nm long, even smaller than MP's pay rises this year!

I picked a bad week to give up crackpot religions

Scientology got a good "kicking" this week, first there was the announcement that the French authorities consider it to be a fraudulent organisation (no s**t Sherlock!) as they handed out a 600,000 euro fine and a 2 year suspended sentence to its leader. France have a pretty rational approach to organisations like this, they refuse to acknowledge that Scientology is a religion at all, preferring to call it a commercial "sect", which of course is exactly what it is.

Following up on the heals of this blow Scientology in the USA received a slap down from one of it's high profile Hollywood members who left because of accusations of homophobia and persecution. Oscar winning director Paul Haggis published a detailed statement outlining his reasons for quitting the cult, which included "gay bashing" and the harassment of his wife who was instructed to "disconnect" from her own parents because they offended the cult 25 years ago.

Mainstream religion has some pretty odd medieval beliefs, the previous story about the homophobic granny is an example of that but Scientology takes the biscuit, combining wacky beliefs with a foundation in pseudo-science, it's even got aliens.

Some people clearly have more money than sense.

Granny bashing?

Pauline Howe (67) looks like any other granny and if she's anything like the grannies in my family I'm sure she spoils her grandchildren rotten and probably detests a "fuss"; unfortunately for this granny her mind has been infected with a meme that causes her to believe hateful nonsense which has no basis in reality, this brain infection is called "Christianity".

Like many of her ilk Pauline has a big problem with Homosexuality, recently, in objecting to a gay pride event in Norwich, she referred to gays as “sodomites” and blamed their “perverted sexual practice” for sexually transmitting diseases as well as the “downfall of every Empire”. Rather than keeping these medieval views to herself Pauline chose to express them in a letter to her council, the council decided to treat them as hate speech and duly sent the rozzers round. In a statement Ms Howe said,

"I’ve never been in any kind of trouble before so I was stunned to have two police officers knocking at my door. Their presence in my home made me feel threatened. It was a very unpleasant experience."

On reflection I'm quite glad that this old lady had an unpleasant experience, perhaps she will be better able in future to appreciate the unecessary offence that her own mumbo-jumbo words cause innocent gay people. However, this case illustrates perfectly why censorial legislation such as blanket "hate speech" laws are inherently stupid and unenforceable. Ms Howe is perfectly entitled to her warped views, she is wrong and stupid but those things are not a crime. Now if she was standing on the pavement as this gay pride march was passing throwing bottles and shouting this nonsense then sure, throw her in the cells for a night but otherwise my own preference is simply to expose her and this way of thinking, mock her and criticise her in ways that are proportional to the humiliation she inflicts onto the targets of her verbal abuse, raise awareness that such superstitious medieval crap is alive and well and residing in the brains of Abrahamic religions followers the world over (not just grannies).

This case has stimulated a predictable response from several Christian groups, who, showing their usual penchant for irony are claiming victimisation and persecution. Here is a statement from the Christian Institute,

"Whether people agree or disagree with Mrs Howe’s views, everyone who cares about freedom should be alarmed at the police action. For democracy to survive people must be free to express their beliefs – yes, even unpopular beliefs – to government bodies without fear of a knock at the door from the police. It’s not a crime to be a Christian, but it increasingly feels like it."

Funny how that "freedom of speech" thing works in some Christian minds isn't it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wacky Muslims

In the interests of balance I thought I would post a couple of stories prompted by Muslims recently that have tickled my humour bone, the first one concerns the "miraculous" writing that appears on the body of a young baby in Southern Russia, a truly appalling  hoax obviously. I would really love it if a sane Arabic scholar somewhere would take a look at this and find a spelling mistake or something, these people clearly need locking up.

Next up some wacky Muslims closer to home, the "Islam for the UK" group whose WEB site you can see here have just discovered Adobe Photoshop. This hateful little organisation long for Islamic domination of the UK (and presumably the world), their WEB site is full of puerile commentary about the day when the British become subservient to their Islamic overlords. Here is a little sample of it, just so you can get the picture into focus (yes they really are that brainwashed) the following manipulated photograph and caption discuss what Buckingham palace would look like under Islamic rule.

“with the dawn of a new era very close, Britain’s future under the Shariah appears to be very bright” we invite Muslims to suggest other changes they would like to see when the UK falls under Islamic rule.

Lizzy would have a nightmare matching curtains with that lot!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky

I just got around to listening to a CD that I got for my birthday this year; it's called "Get Lucky" by Mark Knopfler; Knopfler of course is famous for his involvement with Dire Straights in the 80s which disbanded in 1995; he is renowned for his "finger" style of guitar playing and was voted #27 in rolling stones list of 100 all time best guitar players. I can confirm he still knows how to pick a decent tune out of his Fender although this album isn't anything like Dire Straights, think more Celtic folk, pipes and flutes etc. with a couple of soft acoustic ballads  its good but quite soporific (not one for work).

Scientists click here for a free belly laugh..

Take a look at this, it's a classic example of someone who is using scientific "language" in order to gain credibility with an audience, she is either a fraudster or deluded. Being charitable and assuming the latter, I find it incredible that she thinks the mash-ups she invents in her head constitute knowledge that is worth communicating, she even calls herself "doctor". I can only fantasise about what she studied to come up with this crud. Anyone who finds this convincing is probably one of those people who voted for creationism to be taught in science lessons.

If, like me, you now feel dirty having watched this nonsense and need a refreshing antidote, here is a real scientist, Lawrence Krauss explaining how something can come from nothing (a popular religious objection to the big bang theory), the cutting edge of physics and cosmology is so much more interesting than the made up homoeopathic crap. Compare and contrast, notice how the homoeopath rigorously avoids any mention of the concept of "testing"; perhaps someone should suggest smashing homoeopaths together in the LHC, see if we can find the particle responsible for all that bull-shit.

Which religion should I choose?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dawkins defending the Church of England... huh?

Richard Dawkins, or has he's more affectionately known "Darwin's rottweiler" has written a surprising article in the Washington Post today. In it he attacks the Roman Catholic Church (not unusual) but in an unusual twist defends the decency of the Anglican Church regarding the recent attempts to coax disaffected Anglican clergy into the "fold" of the Bishop of Rome. As an outsider to religion, Dawkins can perhaps go further than any Anglican clergy would like to go in his condemnation of the Catholics and frankly it's refreshing to see such a story get into the mainstream press; here is a small quote from the article which illustrates what I mean.

"For some, the motive will be homophobic bigotry, and a consequent dislike of the efforts of decent church leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury to accept those whose sexual orientation happens to deviate from majority taste. Never mind that they will be joining an institution where buggering altar boys pervades the culture."

Unfortunately this morally corrupt and insidious organisation seems to be immune from condemnation, I guess they have had many centuries of practice at it. As Dawkins concludes, if there are Anglican clergy who are happy to defend the indefensible then it seems like a win-win to an Atheist like me.

War, huh, what is it good for?

We took advantage of a lovely Autumn day here in London yesterday and took our children up to town to visit the Imperial War museum (I hadn't been since I was a schoolboy and my kids had never been).

It turned out to be a really good day; there is a particularly child friendly exhibit on there at the moment which illustrates the second world war through the eyes of children. It details the mass evacuation of children to the country, how children lived and has exquisite little exhibits of drawings and letters authored by children themselves. I'd never seen my two so enthralled by any public presentations like this before, they clearly connected with the things on display it was delightful. My Daughter loved the example "toys" of the day, in fact didn't even seem to realise the separation in time between her toys today and the WWII samples. My son was fascinated by the drawings of spitfires and tanks in the school books of young 1940s boys, he was particularly struck by the stories written along side them too, it was difficult to drag him away. On the way home I wondered what they thought the most memorable thing they had seen was; I was expecting spitfires, V2 rockets, tanks, or something perhaps visually memorable however I was in for a surprise, it turned out to be none of these things. They both said, almost in unison, that the thing they found most memorable was the photograph of "the little girl crying", for a while we didn't click what they were talking about but eventually we figured it out; they were referring to the famous Pulitzer prize photo taken by Nick Ut of a burnt Vietnamese girl running down a road after a napalm attack surrounded by American soldiers (see below)

This was slightly odd since the vast majority of the museum is focused on WWI & WWII and Vietnam has a tiny single case display and this picture is only a tiny part of that. However they had obviously both noticed it and taken it in. I'm not really sure what to make of that, on the one hand it's a complex scene requiring a lot of background knowledge to really understand, and yet on the other it's an incredibly simple human picture. Since neither of them know anything about the background to this conflict or incident it must have been the pure "human solidarity" element of the photograph that they both picked up on; after a somewhat sombre afternoon I found that thought quite uplifting.

I don't like Mondays

What a depressing story to find in my in-box on Monday morning; apparently according to a number of sources including the BBC a recent poll in several countries has shown that 54% of people in this country (UK) reckon it would be a good idea to teach so called "alternatives" to the theory of evolution by natural selection in science classes such as creationism and intelligent design. What I find most baffling about this is what do these people think is actually going to be "taught". I have this vision of a freshman turning up to medical school on the first day of a new year and proclaiming, "oh yeah I opted to take Genesisology rather than Biology so if you could just show me where you keep the talking snakes then I'll crack on with some dust transmogrification and rib extraction research".

I do hope they take the stork theory of reproduction and the cheese theory of the moon into account when these deluded "ignoranti" fantasise about their children's science syllabuses. This result has been universally criticised by our leading Biology scientists, Steve Jones, professor of genetics at UCL and leading evolutionary science author summed it up for me when he said:

"This shows the danger of religions being allowed to buy schools, hijack lessons and pretend that they have anything useful to say about science – which, by definition, they do not. The figure seems much too high, although no doubt there is a substantial minority that does think this."

No one is saying that these creation myths shouldn't be taught in school, but they should be taught under the banner of RE or philosophy they are not and never will be scientific nor are they in any sense "alternatives" to evidence based learning, something us "boffin's" like to refer to as "REALITY!"

Religion, destroying the enlightenment day by day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Religious exemption?

I came across this appalling story today about a Vancouver man who decided that he would take up amateur circumcision because of his religious beliefs. Unfortunately for his four year old son that meant a complete bloody botch job of pain, suffering and infection, and a criminal charge for negligence for his troubles.

I have always been completely baffled why this primitive act of mutilation is so popular with the Abrahamic religions.We are constantly being told by apologists of these flavours that life should be protected from the moment of conception, that we are made in God's image and that the birth of a child is a miracle from God to be cherished and celebrated. At what point did someone look at a beautiful newborn baby and think, I know how we can improve on this, let's hack away at junior's genitals because that's clearly what the creator of the universe would want us to do..

In this particular case it seems that "religion" has gotten this criminal off the hook once again, if he had chopped a finger off he would be looking at criminal assault or assault with a deadly weapon, i.e. a much more serious offence; "negligence" doesn't seem to cover it in my view, unless of course you are talking about him forgetting to engage his brain.

Utterly baffling...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Death from above

My son will feel vindicated and probably somewhat smug when he watches this BBC wildlife video, He was arguing in the car on the way to school the other day that a big bird of prey could easily pick up and carry off his little sister (as all eight year old brothers secretly wish); anyway I rejected his argument and assured them both that was not possible, as even an eagle wouldn't be big enough to do that. Lo and behold we have video evidence here of a Golden Eagle hunting and killing a young reindeer, easily as big and heavy as him and his sister put together!

Apparently the technique is to swoop low and jab the little critter in the lungs with its talons, the poor Bambi then slowly suffocates to death and can be devoured later by the raptor. I wonder if this kind of hunting behaviour led our taxonomic (mammal) cousins back in the mists of time to ingrain fear and reverence for magical creatures handing out judgement from the sky?

We are not alone...

I hadn't come across this organisation before today, the "United Coalition of Reason" seem to be a fairly new bunch of people committed to raising the profile of atheist and free thinking in the USA. So far this has mainly consisted of placing billboard and bus/transport ads around major cities, but I like the tone so far. Here is an example of one of their ads,

Hopefully they can raise awareness that a state of godlessness is a noble one and perfectly natural, in fact the one we're all born into before we are told what to believe. Indeed there are plenty of people out there who live perfectly fulfilled lives in that state, and it can even be fun to meet up with fellow heathens and eat a few babies now and again. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Manly Sports

Back in September a good friend of mine celebrated his 40th birthday; as a treat a group of us went clay pigeon shooting, it was an all day affair simulating a proper game shoot (without the actual killing of anything). The weather was brilliant, although when this picture was taken it was late on in the day and the clouds were rolling in, the Berkshire country-side around Newbury was magnificent and a perfect setting for the sport. In the end we shot over 400 cartridges each and boy were my arms and shoulders tired afterwards, anyway, I was sent some photographs of the event today so I thought I would remind myself of a nice late summer day as I look out at the gloom and drizzle of an Autumn day.

PS I'm the one shooting the gun in this picture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mouth wateringly good...

Oh how I wish I could have been at this debate, hopefully there will be a video stream of it at some point. Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry against Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan, the motion was "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world".

The numbers paint a picture of a complete rout; before the debate, for the motion: 678. Against: 1102. Don’t know: 346. After the debate: For: 268. Against: 1,876. Don’t know: 34. In other words, after hearing the speakers, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774.

This debate was run by an organisation called Intelligence Squared, I have tickets to see Richard Dawkins debate against the ex-Bishop of Oxford at the end of November which is run by the same people, I'm looking forward to it even more now.

Do you feel "divided" ?

Apparently there is a bitter rift dividing Atheists according to Barbara Hagerty author of a recent NPR article. Ms Hagerty, she concludes that "new atheists" are fighting with (presumably) "old atheists" about whether or not to be nice to theists, she even goes so far as to suggest (in classic religious language) its a "schism".

She's right in a way, there is a debate going on about this but I think it's less of a schism and more of an awakening. A realisation, in the light of the "Bush" era and the rise of a politically motivated Christian-right in the USA, that in order to get anything done you need a lobby. Atheists seem to be acquiring a more prominent voice and an assertiveness through literature, music, art, comedy and more generally in society, which religious people are simply not accustomed to. The other important dynamic seems to be the rise of seemingly ever more intolerant and aggressive strains of Islam that increase tension and division within both secular and non-Islamic communities, in short, a lot of Atheists have had enough of "in your face" religion.

The debate within Atheism is about how far "new atheists" should go in promoting a more secular society, its about strategy. Should strategy include "insulting" religious people for example, is it ok to ridicule particular ideas that they hold?. These are good questions, and they doesn't have a clear cut answers. The problem centres around the definition of "insult", to some people simply disagreeing with them is deemed insulting, to others any idea they hold may be debated to the point of ridicule and beyond without them feeling any offence. Clearly this is not a one size fits all debate there is a spectrum of opinion on both sides, for example, a lot of Atheists build upon a position of rationalism and scientific thinking and this bleeds across into the approach they take to reasoning about these things; to a lot of religious people this comes across as dismissive because it represents the antithesis of the way in which they believe spiritual knowledge is acquired through revelation, a kind of knowledge that many Atheists simply reject because that's what you do in science when there is no evidence for something.

For years secular non-religious people have tended to work around religion, giving it respect and simply stating their position without direct criticism or attack directed at the other side, the disagreements have always been there under the surface of course but they have tended to be reserved for private conversations rather than presented with any conviction in the public square. Then came 9/11 and Dawkins, he (and a few others) started to make public the otherwise private views on religion, he published the God Delusion and this seemed to become some kind of tipping point, many people who perhaps hadn't previously thought about the subject picked up that book up or at least contemplated the debate seriously for the first time, the Atheist head was tentatively raised above the parapet for the first time since the 60s.

Dawkins is a great populariser, his Biology books in the 70s were pivotal in changing the mind set of Biologists and interested lay people regarding the role of genes in evolution; however he is not an innovator, his ideas are not original but he has two important attributes, he presents the case with clarity and conviction and he has the courage to take those ideas into the lions den of places like the Bible belt of the USA. In many ways Dawkins says the things that we are all thinking but lack the courage or incentive to actually say ourselves. Hardly any of these arguments are new of course, many of them originate from great free thinkers of the past, Spinoza through Hume, Paine, Russell and so on, what is new is the context of modern scientific thinking and the ever increasing body of scientific knowledge which continues to reduce the gaps into which God may be inserted.

So what of this supposed schism, should Atheists be vocal and outspoken or timid and respectful? Clearly the vested interests of religion would prefer the latter and apparently the so called "new atheists" the former, there still exists of course a collection of "old atheists" (for want of a better term) who end up somewhere in the middle but err towards the timid and respectful end of this spectrum. Personally I'm with the new Atheists on this. I think it's possible to be confident in your position without being overtly aggressive also that it's perfectly reasonable to attack an idea and yet not insult the person who holds it, and although I think is is important to engage with people and to listen to them respectfully I also believe that honesty is equally as important as politeness; thinking one thing whilst pitching another is a dangerous path to follow for all but the most politically devious among us.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Get ready everybody..

A while ago I reproduced a story about a rapture enthusiast who confidently predicted on his WEB site that the world would end and Jesus would drop in to say hi to mankind again on the 21st September (or at least that date would mark the beginning of the end), well apparently the calculations were slightly wrong, a revised date has now been posted on the site, hold onto your hats folks it's NEXT WEDNESDAY! clearly time to sink that bottle of 61 Châteaux Cheval Blanc I've been saving for a special occasion, I do hope Burger King will still be open :)

Oh crumbs!

Now if Bibles had been illustrated like the latest incarnation of the book of Genesis by Robert Crumb then even I  may be tempted to take a peek now and again. The book which is released this month carries a warning about graphic illustrations depicting naked men and women as well as sexual intercourse and gratuitous acts of violence (sounds like the right book at least!). Crumb is famous for Fritz the cat, an underground comic strip that he conceived in the sixties and was later turned into a cartoon movie (the first to be given an X rating)

No doubt this rendition of the Genesis stories will cause outrage in certain quarters, I think the reaction is probably more interesting than the book itself; clearly the stories are about people doing what people do so disapproving would seem like shooting the messenger somewhat? Who knows, some illustrations might even improve comprehension, they would certainly make it more memorable!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freedom of speech?

I learn today that the challenge against a Government ban on Geert Wilders the Dutch MP and infamous anti-Islamic trouble maker has been overturned, Mr Wilders is now free to enter the UK.

I am happy about this decision, not because I agree with Mr Wilders on anything in particular but because I believe in free speech. As far as I can see the only thing Mr Wilders has done (in the context of his entry ban to the UK) is speak out against Islam, he has criticised it in a film called Fitna which was the subject of his initial attempt to enter the UK for which this ban was originally put in place. I have watched this film and found it quite unremarkable, it's what I would characterise as nothing more than a sensationalist YouTube clip, in that it simply intersperses images of terrorist atrocities and verses from the Koran. Both are real, in the sense that these horrors did occur and the Koran does actually say the immoral things he claims it does about killing infidels etc. so I don't see why it should be considered so inflammatory. Wilders of course wants to imply that the words incite the deeds, Islamic apologists would claim that it's all in the interpretation, ten grand in legal fees later, nothing new and the world turns.

Some, if not most theocratic regimes (and pseudo-theocratic regimes like North Korea etc.) hate freedom of speech of course, Islamic ones are not alone in this, recent attempts in the UN and elsewhere to introduce so called "hate speech" laws are thinly veiled attempts to censor opposition to religion. If we allow the censoring of opinion for fear that someone "may" be offended then my view is that a huge slippery slope opens before us, inviting a slide into the darkness of past injustices.

I say, let Mr Wilders speak, if he is an attention grabbing idiot (which I suspect he is) then we can all see that and take the appropriate action (i.e. ignore him and stop giving him all this free publicity)

PS, a delicious piece of irony – Wilders was represented by a MUSLIM barrister, Arfan Khan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Persecution complex?

I'm beginning to think that religious people have an abnormally low tolerance for criticism, several comments and conversations recently seem to suggest to me that the distance between debate and attack in religious minds is much shorter than in non-religious minds. Of course everything is relative and there is very little to suppose that there is even such a thing as a "religious mind" although some recent brain studies seem to suggest this might be the case.

Here is an extract from a recent BHA article, outlining some topical examples of this phenomenon (in italics), my comments are inserted under each paragraph.

Baroness Warsi, Shadow Social Action Minister, announced at the conservative party conference last week that there has been “a growing intolerance and illiberal attitude towards those who believe in God,” blaming BHA Vice President Dr Evan Harris MP for “driving this secular agenda” into the public sector. 

Being secular says nothing about belief or otherwise in God, Baroness Warsi is exhibiting a surprising level of ignorance in these comments; secularism simply requires the separation of church and state, not an intolerance to religion. In actual fact secular societies are more likely to have freedom of religion than non-secular ones and certainly more than theocratic ones, this sounds like a irrational persecution complex to me.

Similarly, Tony Blair took it upon himself to declare that “we face an aggressive secular attack from without” when speaking to an American Muslim ‘interfaith’ organisation. He went on to describe how, “those who scorn God and those who do violence in God's name, both represent views of religion. But both offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century.”

Why on earth should a disbelief in God offer hope for faith, this is simply nonsense; I am alarmed and dismayed that someone like Blair would attempt to throw Atheists into the same bucket as the 9/11 terrorists, that is outrageous and reveals deep misconceptions and insecurities in the man, such ideas are fundamentally biased and flawed (no change there then!)

Most people in the USA and Europe would I'm sure agree that a secular system is a fair and legitimate system of government, yet there are still those who equate the levelling of the playing field by removing religious privileges as an attack on the faithful, I can't help but see hypocrisy in this entire line of thinking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Its a dogs life...

For all those religious people out there who claim that you can't be moral without God and try to argue that morality, altruism and empathy are unique markers of a divine hand in our (Human) origin, take a look at this little clip. It shows a dog rescuing another dog which had been hit by traffic, at great risk to it's own life, it's a touching scene.

I wonder which Church he goes to? (I need a canine-church pun to go here, you know who I'm looking at!)

The first cut is the deepest...

I came across this little story today, it's the usual tale of a religious person valuing their emotional "lucky rabbits foot" over a decent education. This time we have a 14 year old Sikh who thought that it was perfectly fine to carry a 5 inch ceremonial dagger into school, now clearly there are some inner city schools in this country where they throw you out if you aren't tooled up, but please, Sikhs grow up, lets not make things worse!

To cap it all we then get the torrent of "religious freedom" nonsense, apparently Sikh community leaders claim that this is a weapon of "non-violence", it sounds to me like these people should have spent more time listening in class than playing with their weapons. Apparently these trinkets represents the power of truth to cut through untruth and their religion insists that they are worn at all times, if I were them, I'd ask for my money back.

Witness the evil..

According to Jehovah Witnesses young people are often exposed to "temptation" (drum roll); here is a copy of one of their bizarre little Watchtower rags, pay particular attention to the second bullet point. That's right, we don't need no education, we don't need no thought control; what our religion wants is dumb people, the dumber the better, then they don't feel like annoying freaks as people slam the front door in their faces on Saturday mornings.

Religion clearly sees reason as it's enemy in this case, I suppose educated people tend to question questionable things, like their religion, or perhaps they just have something to hide?

PS. I see that the obligatory Bible quote is one from Proverbs asking "can a man can walk upon the coals and his feet not be scorched" - well yes actually, it's all about conduction, thermal gradients and surface areas, oh yes, you won't be learning about that will you little witness.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Knock, Knock, who's there...

Apparently not everyone in Ireland is sane! I know this may come as a shock to those of us who thought that Ireland was full of enlightened Celtic tigers these days but according to this story in the Irish Times today there are at least a few thousand Celtic lemmings who believe that standing around in graveyards staring at the sun on a clairvoyant's promise of a vision of "our lady" is a good use of their leisure time.

Several of the crowd reported they could see the sun "shimmering" (gosh!); I can't help thinking that staring directly at the sun for even a few minutes would tend to have a rather dramatic effect on your eyes; evidently what passes for a miracle in Ireland these days isn't quite up to the standards set by Marian apparitions of old, no mysterious glowing figures, angels, blood, tears or even a shabby old sheep, I'd definitely demand a refund...

Faith in faith schools

I've just been looking at a major report which focused on how faith schools operate. The researchers examined religious schools in their full historical, cultural, political and educational context and consulted with over 1000 stakeholders (teachers, parents, students, educationalists, governors etc). It makes interesting reading, most people you speak to on this subject agree that faith schools seem to do better than non-faith schools academically, but few look at the downsides. This report focuses on some of the disadvantages from societies point of view, including things like divisiveness, unfair selection and elitism etc.

I have reproduced the (summary) findings below:

1. End selection on the basis of faith

Faith schools should be for the benefit of all in society rather than just some. If faith schools are convinced of their relevance for society, then that should apply equally for all children. With state funding comes an  obligation to be relevant and open to all citizens.

2. Children should have a greater say in how they are educated

Children’s rights are as important as parents’ rights. While the debate about faith schools is characterized by discussions of parental choice of education, there is little discussion about children’s voice.

3. RE should be part of the core national curriculum

Provision for learning about religion is too often poor in schools without a religious character. Provision for learning about religions beyond that of the sponsoring faith in faith schools is also inadequate.

4. Faith schools should also serve the most disadvantaged

Despite histories based on challenging poverty and inequality, and high-level pronouncements that suggest a mission to serve the most disadvantaged in society, faith schools educate a disproportionately small number of young people at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale.

5. Faith schools must value all young people

People cherish facets of their identities beyond their faith, and these also need to be the focus of learning in faith schools – and valued within them. Similarly, religious identities should be more highly valued within schools that don’t have a religious character.

By all means children should be free to believe whatever they like outside of the classroom, but ultimately I  would much prefer an American style of education system, i.e. that schools should be secular organisations focused on teaching universal subjects rather than favouring any particular cult or religious dogma, anything else just looks like censorship and indoctrination to me.

Friday, October 09, 2009

It's a miracle!

Darwinists in a small Tennessee town flock to a mysterious image of their Lord and master that appeared overnight on a wall behind Burger King.

New series of postman pat?

I see dead (ignorant) people...

I heard about the Neumann's earlier this year when their story hit the news. In 2008 this couple (from the USA) killed their child through neglect and stupidity. Rather than taking their child to a doctor for a treatable form of diabetes they decided to pray instead and as we all know (or should) praying has been proven many times to have absolutely no effect. The child died what must have been a confused and very painful death, completely unnecessarily.

Yesterday I read about their sentence, it sickened me; six months spread over six years!! (the maximum sentence for this crime is 25 years). What sickened me even more were the comments of the judge, clearly human sacrifice is alive and well in Wisconsin.

Firstly he said,

Think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this.

So clearly the Judge is as deluded as they are and wants them to know he belongs to the same club, he goes on,

God probably works through other people, some of them doctors.

What a leech, why do Christians see good things as "God given" and bad things like killing your child as something unconnected, why the hell wasn't the original crime the workings of this mysterious invisible "mind" too, where was their "God" when this innocent child was writhing in agony in front of these morons?

Then to cap it all we have a quote from the defence lawyer when asked if he thought his clients had gotten off too lightly, it's so puerile and offensive that I am reluctant to reproduce it here however it completes the circle of stupidity so perfectly that I feel obliged for the sake of feng shui.

My client sees spiritual treatment as the proper medicine and I suspect the people who want harsher punishment see Western medicine as the proper medicine, I guess therein lies the difference. My clients just happen to have a belief that is very outside of our social norm.

He is right about one thing, these people are outside of our social norm, in fact, as evidenced by their mental delusions I think they are outside of our entire species and have clearly devolved into new sub-species, I'm going to call it "homo dildorious rexsis".

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sometimes we do the right thing...

I was really glad to read today that Benny Hinn, a supposedly Christian evangelist has been refused entry to the UK. Benny runs a little firm in Texas that claims to preach the gospel and heal people of things that modern medicine has been unable to do, tricky little things like AIDS, blindness and cancer among others.

Conservative estimates put his yearly income at roughly $120-200 million, he lives in an $8 million beach front house and flies around in a personal Gulfstream jet, he famously once predicted that the world would end in 1995 and he also foretold that Fidel Castro would die during the 1990s. Hinn has also taught that Adam (the Biblical one) flew to the moon. He has said that the Christian Trinity is actually God in nine persons, not three, because the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each comprised of trinities, er OK Benny?

Mr Hinn has visited us before without any problem but the Home Office has changed the rules for ministers of religion. He fell foul of tier five of the new points-based system for all visitors to Britain, which came into effect last November. One of the aims of the new rules was to combat extremism and prevent teachers of religious hate entering the country.

So, hurrah for UK Border control, the system appears to work; it just leaves us with one question, why do people still fall for this crap?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Does Alpha want real answers?

You may have seen these posters around, they are for the Alpha Course. This is an evangelical course run here in the UK (and maybe elsewhere?) and according to the blurb is "an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions"

Superficially (by design I expect) the advertising makes it look like a course that promotes an open arena for skeptical inquiry but a quick look at the materials on their WEB site seem to suggest to me that this is not quite the case. (the following picture is a poster for the Alpha course at a train station, in this case the poll has been correctly filled in by a passer by :)

Here are some of the questions tackled during the course (according to their site):

Week 1 Who is Jesus?
Week 2 Why did Jesus Die?
Week 3 How can we have Faith?
Week 4 Why and how do I Pray?
Week 5 Why and how should I read the Bible?
Week 6 How does God Guide us?
Week 7 How can I Resist Evil?
Week 8 Why and how should I tell Others?
Week 9 Does God Heal Today?
Week 10 What about the Church?

These are clearly questions that expect certain kinds of answers, if you answer no to this poll then there seems little point in going on to assume all kinds of things about the divinity of Jesus or the characteristics of mystical ghostly forces? If the answer is yes then presumably you don't need this course but what does "probably" mean, i.e. "probably yes" or "probably no". Most atheists I know would answer this question by saying "almost certainly no" since logically you can't really disprove anything with 100% certainty (not even unicorns), however there is no option for 99.999999999% unlikely.

There are a few sceptical reviews of this material on the WEB, here is a good example which is well worth a read and there have been TV documentaries about it this year; however I thought what might be fun is if I were to re-draft the questions into something that an atheist would like to ask,

Week 1 Why is Christianity true and every other religion false?
Week 2 Why do bad things happen to good people?
Week 3 Why do Christians pray when prayer has been proven to be utterly ineffective?
Week 4 Why do Christians cherry pick the parts of the Bible that suit them to believe in?
Week 5 If the Christian God is so great why is he so vague and elusive?
Week 6 If the universe was built just for humans, why is it so fecking huge and inhospitable?
Week 7 If good things are gifts from God, why aren't bad things also gifts?
Week 8 If the Christian God is perfect and we are made in his image why are we so poorly designed?
Week 9 Why does the Christian God hate amputees?
Week 10 Why does the Christian religion require "faith" at all, why isn't it self evident?

PS. Some of these questions are deep and unanswerable (and tongue-in-cheek).


We have a TV in our office, most of the time it's tuned into Sky news or the BBC, the sound is normally off and surprisingly it blends into the background and I don't notice it much. Every now and again though a particular image comes onto the screen that grabs everyone's attention, that just happened.

Picture the scene, a typical British city street, its night-time probably Friday or Saturday, a jerky CCTV image reveals lots young looking people wandering between pubs and clubs; spiky haired boys in trainers, girls in short skirts and high heals. Sadly and unsurprisingly, a fight breaks out, two "likely" looking lads start to pick on and square up to a couple of girls (yes you read that correctly), the fight lasts 2 seconds, bang and both lads are spark out on the pavement, the girls adjust their dresses, pick up their hand bags and nonchalantly walk away.


A quick Google provided the full answer, it turns out that unbeknownst to the yobs, the two girls in question turned out to be professional cage fighters in drag, on their way to a stag party..

You can see the whole ugly, and yet strangely satisfying episode here on youtube, this must be what "justice" feels like :)

I love the smell of fresh consumer electronics in the morning :)

I guess that since you are reading this you are probably interesting in reading stuff, and more importantly stuff that's presented electronically?

I learnt today that Amazon Kindles are becoming available in the UK on October 19th. For those not in the know on this, the Kindle is an electronic book reader or e-reader for short, it allows you to download books, magazines and newspapers to it's on-board memory and then read them on the go via a small black and white non-reflective screen (like e-paper) the whole thing is light, thin and highly portable. Amazon have had the Kindle a couple of years now but the latest DX version has the features I've been waiting for, wireless networking, built in 3G (so you can download books on the hoof from anywhere) and support for the ubiquitous PDF and MP3 formats.

I love to flit between books and at any one time I probably have up to 10 of them on the go, of course it's totally  impractical to carry all these books around so this device offers me a potential solution. I reckon it'll be dead handy for holidays too; it's expensive though and of course you still have to buy the books, but I might just have to treat myself.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Memorable Tim Minchin lines

As I mentioned in my birthday post I went to see Tim Minchin on Sunday; several of the people in my office also  went to see him and we were just recalling some of his one-liners, here are my favourites,

  • We're just Monkeys... in shoes
  • So God takes the afternoon off from his normal day job of systematically killing African children to help American basketball players.
  • I'd rather watch boobs all day than own a pub
  • Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? .... medicine.
  • If you really loved me... you'd let me video you while you wee
  • If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out
  • Your love is one in a million, if I didn't have you.... I'd have someone else..
  • Try as I might, a small crack appears in my diplomacy dyke..
  • Communist kids really don't make much noise, and they're so good at sharing their toys!

You have to imagine these lines in songs or poems along with piano backing, if you can't then check him out on youtube; you'll be tickled.

Simple really...

More Catholic fall-out

I noticed this story today, it's a run of the mill one about a former Catholic Bishop getting caught with child pornography on his computer and it made me think, are we are becoming de-sensitised to this narrative now, is it just background noise?

If the Catholic Church was a political party or an energy company it would have been broken up and dissolved years ago. After such institutionalised abuse of children in its care and the subsequent systemic cover up spanning many decades, no organisation should be able to survive; and yet it does. How is it that this organisation even continues to lecture the wider world on morality, how can it assume the ethical high ground and why do so many people suck up its propaganda without question, is this what is meant by blind faith?

We now have the spectre of Tony Blair, that great Catholic convert and promoter of "faith" running for the presidency of the European Union. A man who popularised the idea of "spin" in the pocket of an organisation that only thrives because of blind faith...

What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Birthday weekend

It was my birthday at the weekend (yes I am over 21!), we all had a really nice time thanks to my wife's organisational prowess. We kicked proceedings off with an organised wine tasting/meal etc. on Friday night at my kid's school (they have one every year to squeeze a little more money out of us); they are usually fairly dry but this one ended up being quite a raucous affair as the wines flowed freely.

Then, breakfast in bed on Saturday (slight headache), followed by lunch "en-famille". In an on-going effort to encourage my children to enjoy a wide range of foods we went for a slap up Chinese banquet at lunchtime, it was lovely watching them try different things for the first time. My Daughters face was a picture when she took her first mouthful of seaweed, a "Dad, quick, get these hedge clippings out of my mouth" kind of look... In the evening a few friends came over for some drinks and nibbles, lots of local gossip, putting the world to rights and blatant wine snobbery. Late up on Sunday (slight headache) followed by a lazy day of watching old films and playing games together. Then in the evening I went to see Tim Minchin at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading; he was excellent a really funny and talented guy. Tim's material is famously atheistic and secular, he also has a pop at pseudo-science, my kind of comedian. He specialises in pointing out the silliness of things in an observational humour kind of way but occasionally catches you off guard with something quite profound and insightful; most of his stuff is set to music either as poems or songs, he can certainly bash out a good tune on the piano too.

A sampling of my presents this year would include:

-150th Anniversary edition of "Origin of species" (lovely binding)
-Guitar Hero - Beatles Edition
-New Richard Dawkins book (The greatest show on Earth)
-Some rather nice bottles of vino to try

Should keep me amused for a while :)

Latest un-PC video from PC.

Here is the latest instalment from Pat Condell; as direct and unapologetic as ever.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don't forget to gasp..

Girls, should you ever wish to fake virginity you will be relieved to know that a kit is now available for $15 from Syria! Apparently this is a big deal in the Middle East since not being a virgin on your wedding night carries a huge stigma and possibly even physical jeopardy. The device releases a liquid which imitates blood presumably at the "appropriate moment" although I'm not clear how the mechanism knows when that is? perhaps it's a case of perfecting those pelvic floor routines.. you knew they'd come in handy one day :)

As you can probably guess the Islamic Mafia aren't at all happy about this, predictably leading figures are advocating the death penalty for anyone caught importing these devices, apparently it undermines the moral fabric of society bla, bla, bla, Sharia law, bla bla.. you get the picture. Anyway for those enlightened women who are smart enough to figure out Ebay and need such a device, don't forget a little gasp and a smile at the right moment will go a long way to ensuring none will be the wiser.

Surreal corner...

Police were called to a hypothetical dinner party last night, after Charles Darwin and Nelson Mandela resumed hostilities as tensions continue to run high between the two top guests on the ideal dinner party guest circuit. ‘It was the usual story,’ said Oscar Wilde. ‘Everyone was exchanging profound, witty and entertaining insights around the dinner table in a three-bed Barratt Home in Caversham, when it became obvious that Charlie had sunk one Merlot too many. He starts winding Nelson right up for voting for Richard Dunwoody on Strictly last week, next thing the racial slurs and insinuations about their mothers’ sexual promiscuity are flying around.

‘Elvis tried to hold Nelson back, but he smacks Darwin right on the slaphead. Shakespeare and Dawn French  tried to diffuse the situation with a game of Spin the Bottle, but it was too late. Let’s hope another night in the cells straightens them out before tomorrow’s fondue in Dundee and Nelson spares us all the usual histrionics when he’s released on bail.’

Courtesy of News Biscuit