Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday fashion tips

I came across this fashion trend today, it made me chuckle.. 

Essentially you shave your pubes and then super-glue hundreds of rhinestones to your crotch. Presumably you can choose which colour gems you want (apart from ginger of course, there are limits!); all sounds very hip and funky, also, dead handy should you forget to pack your reflective jacket and break down on the motorway at night!

I wonder if men can have this done too... disco balls anyone?

Lyndon, you're a pillock..

Everyone has heard the expression "there are no atheists in foxholes", well here is a Canadian Christian (who happens to be a winter Olympian) who reckons there are no atheists at the top (or bottom) of the bob-sleigh run either...

Lyndon rush (good name for a bob-sleigher!) in an interview with a Christian paper goes on to say that no one minds that he mumbles to his invisible deity before a run, "even the atheists in my team don't mind" he says, Lyndon concludes the interview by asserting that he "doesn't believe in atheists".

Hold on a second Lyndon, I thought you said there were no atheists in your sport? make your mind up man, you say there are no atheists in bob-sleigh, but there are some in your actual team? Even if there were an omniscient, omnipotent creator of the entire universe (and you had the luck to pick the right one), do you really think she'd be in any way concerned with the outcome of a particular race on a particular day where you throw yourself down an ice drainpipe at 90mph holding onto a tea tray, a lightening bolt to the head for being so stupid would be more appropriate!

I think the atheists on your team are way too polite!

You'll never get anywhere reading those comics...

This cartoon by Dwayne Godwin, a professor of neurobiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Jorge Cham, the former researcher and cartoonist who created PhD Comics, has won first place in the informational graphics category of the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

It's a nice way to convey a complex subject, click on the image to look at the detail, it's amazing what we know about brain development.

Cloud cuckoo land?

Watch out gnomes of Zurich and watchmakers of Geneva the mother of all Jihad is winging its way to you from Libya, the enigma that is Col. Gaddafi is urging Muslims around the world to wage war on Switzerland!

Apparently this little diplomatic spat started when Switzerland allegedly blacklisted 188 high-ranking Libyans, denying them entry into their country. This ban started after the arrest of Mr Gaddafi's son Hannibal and his wife, Aline Skaf, in Geneva in July 2008. They were accused of assaulting two servants while staying at a luxury hotel in the Swiss city, though these charges were later dropped.

To compound matters in a referendum last November, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a constitutional ban on the building of minarets, providing a nice little thread for the politics of "offences to Islam" to pull on; in a recent speech, Gaddafi said "Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against Muhammad, God and the Koran." demonstrating very well how dictators like this abuse religion (particularly Islam) to prop up their own petty and self serving squabbles.

No doubt you've heard the phrase "coals to Newcastle" before but is this a case of cuckoo's to Switzerland?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scientists stamp their authority

When it comes to industrial relations and adopting new technology, our historic postal service may show Luddite tendencies on occasion and individual postmen may well challenge our patience with their silly shorts and their propensity to leave little red elastic bands on our front lawns, but you have to give it to them, they know how to make nice stamps!

The latest series from the Royal Mail features famous scientists of the Royal society and celebrates the 350th anniversary of it's founding (1660) here they are in all their glory, see if you can recognise any of them.

Answers below:
Left to right: Robert Boyle, founder of modern chemistry; Sir Isaac Newton, physicist and optical pioneer; Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the lightning conductor; Edward Jenner, inventor of vaccination; Charles Babbage, developer of programmable computers; Alfred Russel Wallace, pioneer of evolution theory; Joseph Lister, inventor of antiseptic surgery; Ernest Rutherford, founding father of nuclear physics; Dorothy Hodgkin, inventor of x-ray crystallography; Sir Nicholas Shackleton, pioneer of climate research.

He won't make that mistake again...

Prosecutors in Baltimore USA have a nasty case to deal with this week, it involves the leader of a Christian cult who was so outraged that a 1 year old boy in his "flock" didn't say "amen" at the appropriate time he decided to apply some good old fashioned Leviticus style "teaching", he deprived the young lad of food and water... until he was dead.

Apparently followers of this particular cult believed that if they prayed hard enough they could "resurrect" the toddler from the dead (wonder where that idea came from?), of course, they were wrong. Incredibly the mother of the boy went along with it and watched him waste away, so desperate was she to be accepted into this evil outfit. Rational people everywhere will hope that everyone involved will have plenty of "yard-time" on their hands over the next decade or two to reflect on how and why their delusions led them to this abomination.

When it comes to cults based on invisible, supernatural entities which are supposed to be all powerful but strangely require human intermediaries to tell you what they want you to do; take the same approach that the Nancy Regan's famous 80s anti-drug campaign did, just say no.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

God's own shrink...

More trouble a't'mill for Iris Robinson, just when she thought things had quietened down her ex-advisor at Stormont  (in her capacity as Health Minister!) has just been reported to the GMC (General Medical Council). Dr Paul Miller a psychiatrist has been claiming to "cure" homosexuality via a bogus course of therapy. Robinson, who describes herself as a "born again Christian" resigned in disgrace from her Government post last year as the result of a sex scandal involving a 19 year old man and dubious financial dealings.

Whilst she was in office she gave an interview with radio Ulster when she said,

"I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals trying to turn away from what they are engaged in."

Dr Miller was caught with his metaphorical trousers down by Patrick Strudwick, an openly gay reporter posing as a patient, who was so shocked by the so called treatment that he reported Miller to the GMC. Apparently at one point Miller claimed that Strudwick had been "harmed" as a child and that was why he was gay.

I find it incredible that adult human beings can be so deluded that they think they are doing people a favour with this quackery; I wonder what the public reaction would be if a psychiatrist started openly offering a course of therapy aimed at "curing" people of their Christianity; electrodes and pictures of half naked men being tortured on crosses anyone?

On second thoughts, I'm sure some would pay good money for that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hell hasn't frozen over..

According to Pope Benedict XVI, Hell (that of fire and eternal damnation fame) is a "real" place, this recent article in the Times quotes him as saying specifically,

"Hell really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more”

A bold assertion in all four dimensions; clearly a skeptic like me would like to see a little evidence of this before prostrating myself at his feet but if I were a betting man I'd wager there is none. It seems fruitless attempting (impossibly) to prove a negative as us Atheists seemed eternally destined to do, no such statement from religious leaders such as this ever provides enough meat for serious research and debate, that's kind of the point of "faith", i.e. it inoculates itself from scrutiny, such is the Atheist burden of disproof.

But fear not, apparently Hell is not intended to scare anyone nor provide a convenient stick with which to make the carrot of subservience to the Church looks appetising. According to the people that "know" the medieval bully boys got it wrong (doh!) hell is only a metaphor for being without God. If that's true then I can assure everyone right now, hells looks a lot like planet earth, spinning aimlessly in space populated with evolved apes all trying  to make sense of their conciousness and scratch a decent living relatively free of suffering for their families; either that or being locked in a room full of Popes...

Who are you calling a drip?

I love this little sequence, it shows what happens when you look a little deeper at something which seems obvious and commonplace. This film captures a mundane event that happens a billion times a day, i.e. what happens to a drop of water splashing into a larger body of water, like a rain drop falling into a puddle. Our perspective is altered because the camera was whizzing along at 2000 frames per second, and captured the effects of surface tension and mechanical forces acting at the air-water boundary between the drop and the surface. The net result is water drops that bounce, get partially absorbed and form new drops that bounce again, getting ever smaller until they are completely absorbed.

I'll never look at my shower the same way now :)

Jesus, gay?

This little story tickled me yesterday, it's about some remarks made by that gay icon and tempestuous pop legend Elton John who apparently made a comment in an interview to celebrity news along the following lines,

"I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems. On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don't know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East -- you're as good as dead,"

The funny bit is not what he said but the reaction to it from a rag bag selection of religious fundies, the odious Bill Donohue of the Catholic league (in the USA) said that Jesus couldn't have been gay because that would mean he was a sexual deviant, our own Stephen (bird-shit) Green from the Christian voice said that "the bible says Jesus was without sin and that rules out homosexuality" There were other comments, mostly along the same lines.

A delicious shard of irony runs through the centre of this, the fact that none of these so called (devout) religious pundits have any more authority or evidence on this subject than a pompous old, cocaine addled pop icon (sorry Elton fans..) The historicity of Jesus is "scratchy" to say the least, we have a couple of comments penned by a couple of Roman historians decades after the event and even those are disputed, then we have the gospels themselves inconsistently written by many different people 2nd and 3rd hand many years AD by people with vested interests in perpetuating the stories, hardly watertight. Even if there were someone called Jesus alive then (wandering guru's were in vogue at the time) the Stephen Green's and Bill Donohue's of this world couldn't even tell you if he had a beard and owned a donkey let alone his sexual preferences. The literary evidence (such as it is) suggests that Jesus was unmarried into his 30s, this is very unusual for the society and might point to something along the lines that EJ is suggesting, the one thing that's for sure is that no religious person can prove otherwise, and (forgive the pun) they really don't like it up em...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't hold your breath...

I saw this rather amazing story today it's about a Swiss free-diver called Peter Colat who has broken, no smashed, the record for holding your breath under water, he went without breathing for a staggering 19 minutes and 21 seconds.

The previous record was a mere 17 minutes and 4 seconds held by that creepy TV magician David Blaine, so for me Colat has scored a double whammy here, firstly by smashing the record and secondly by displacing Blaine. All is not entirely rosy in the garden however, many commentators are dubious about the methods that these guys use to achieve these outrageous feats, they include hyperventilating, lowering heart rates, breathing pure oxygen and the triggering or suppression of primitive mammalian responses to things like water immersion and temperature. I can't help but be in awe at the supreme physical and mental control required to do this but at the same time I can't imagine that starving your body and brain of oxygen in this way isn't bad for you in the long run.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

God's check list

I really like the way this chap presents his argument, it makes a lot of sense and maintains integrity getting stronger as it goes. I suspect that a lot of Christians (that's the particular faith he targets his comments at) will not have thought about these things in this precise way, or at least not as a cohesive set of facts.

Its life Jim but not as we know it...

Interesting article in Scientific American on artificial life, its written by Lawrence Krauss but refers to the work being done by Craig Venter on DNA sequencing. Over the last few years the cost of DNA sequencing has fallen dramatically and the time it takes has correspondingly fallen; much like the equivalent Moore's Law in computing we have seen an almost exponential fall in the resources required to pick apart the precise structure of these molecules. Venter's genius was to realise that in important ways Biology is really a branch of computer and information science, and could be cracked by applying silicon processing brute force.

In 2003 we saw a team under Venter create one kind of bacteria from another simply by messing with the genome, pretty soon we will see life itself (albeit bacterial) being created from a kind of chemical Lego set; molecules which weren't alive before the scientists started but will be alive after they are finished.

All of this research has some important safety overtones. Clearly we don't want to create a vicious, antibiotic resistant bacteria that then ravages the population, Ebola probably wouldn't make a good template! so we need to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent it in the first place and deal with it if it does. However, the Frankenstein scenarios that I'm sure will be painted by the media are vanishingly remote, evolution deals up billions of genetic variations every day and our own immune systems have evolved (by mutation and selection) to cope with precisely this. We saw the same kind of paranoia over the LHC and supposed black holes that were going to consume the planet when it was switched on, the fact that equally high energy collisions happen all the time in our atmosphere seemed to pass most people by.

The other culturally interesting fall out from this research will be where it leaves religious people? Most of the mainstream religious categorically state that creating life is firmly in the supernatural omniscient entity department, that premise is almost certainly about to be shown to be incorrect. I wonder if this event will be handled in the same way as say, Galileo's discoveries regarding geocentricity, i.e. hostility and denial at first followed by begrudging acceptance and finally capitulation. I wonder how many years that process will take or whether in this highly connected world it will become insignificant in the light of the human benefits that such technology will give us. I do sense that the inevitable cycles of religious obstruction to scientific and ethical advances are shortening as the general population become more and more educated in matters of physical reality.

Another interesting but more trashy consideration is what the first artificial life form will be called, I wonder if Mr Venter's ego is sufficiently large that he names it after himself in the spirit of all those Linnean naturalists of yonder years who named plant and animal species after themselves and their copious offspring.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The geek will inherit the Earth..

Now this is what I'm talking about, Geek Barbie!

At this point you are probably either cringing and feeling slightly nauseous or punching your fist in the air triumphantly, we just need "call centre" Ken and the circle will be complete...

Atheists find purpose for existence...

Yes I know, if you don't believe in God then you must live in a perpetual state of depression and nihilism, after all if Jesus didn't die for us then what is the point of living at all? Well a bunch of compassionate Atheists in America have finally worked out God's plan for Atheists, our purpose for being.

We're obviously here to look after the pets of Christians who have been rapture'd up to heaven!

Check out their WEB site, but to save you time here's their mission statement...

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward.  Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

We are currently active in 22 states.  Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to  rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet's natural life.  

Now there's a turn up for the books, Atheists making money from gullible Christians, what a crazy world we live in... :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Theology of Masturbation

Here is an interesting little document, it's what you might call an Islamic instruction manual covering issues pertaining to young people, particularly masturbation and how "evil" it is. I'm not sure what it is about the Abrahamic religions that makes them so fearful of this human behavioural universal but the stuff they make up is utterly weird, scary weird. Here is a list of physical ailments that this activity will apparently trigger,

1. It weakens the sexual organs and creates partial looseness in it.
2. It weakens the nerves generally - a result of the exertion caused by this action.
3. It affects the growth of the limbs especially the outer part of the urethra (duct through which urine is discharged from the bladder and the testicles). Hence it does not reach the limit of it’s normal growth.
4. It creates seminal (spermatic) inflammation in the testicles which causes quick ejaculation of sperm.
5. It causes pain in the vertebra column, the spinal column from which semen is ejaculated. This pain creates crookedness and twisting in the back.
6. It causes some limbs like the legs to shake and shiver.
7. It creates weakness in the cerebral glands of the brain which, in turn, weakens the power of perception and reason. Similarly, it leads to the weakness of memory.
8. It weakens the eye-sight and reduces its normal limit of vision.
9. It causes a person to become old before time.
10. It weakens the very delicate and fine nerves and veins of the sexual organs resulting in sexual impotency.
11. It causes an excessive loss of sperm by way of nocturnal emission (wet dreams).
12. It decreases the natural resistance of the body.
13. It causes harm to the four principal organs in the body viz, the heart, brain, liver and stomach.
14. It decreases the natural animal heat in the body, heat which strengthens the soul and body.
15. It causes an excessive loss of blood. Remember it takes 80 drops of blood to produce one drop of sperm. (Tajjus Sihat, pg 11)
16. It weakens the bladder.

Wow, if this was even remotely true then I don't know a single male that would have made it through puberty alive, in addition to the made up medical stuff there are some just fantastical theological conclusions drawn, for example,

Atta (Rahmatullahi alaihi) says: "Some people will be resurrected in such a condition that their hands will be pregnant, I think they are those who masturbate." (Tafsir Mazhari, vol 12, pg 94)

"Pregnant hands", really?

So watch out, God really doesn't approve of this activity; from now on I will have to take a lot more care when I write articles about bashing bishops!

Beware the dark side..

I saw this image along with a caption competition in the Freethinker recently; like most (good) comedy it's ridiculous but with an underlying grain of truth or unspoken message.  I thought the captions people came up with were pretty reasonable too, they included...

"Mind Control, extortion, the pursuit of power – Vader felt like an amateur"
"He says he's on work experience"
"Fictional Empires enthusiasts congregate for their annual convention."
"Converting to a Jew or a muslim, even an atheist I could have dealt with, but no…..Frank had to become a bloody Jedi"

This stunt is clearly at the level of a student prank (it seems that way to me at least), but is it wrong? I can quite easily see some less enlightened believers getting fairly bent out of shape at this however in the cold light of day isn't it just an attempt to point out (perceived or real) injustice or falsehood associated with the establishment via humour? There is a very long tradition of (successfully) doing exactly this in our country through films, cartoons, plays and other art forms as well as more blatant protest, should religion and the religious be protected from this? In the interests of balance let's take a look at some comments made by Christians at the general Synod meeting in London and examine the boot on the other foot so to speak.

The CofE leadership didn't choose humour to get their perspective across, more of a proclamation, but in any case the underlying message is just as controversial and disputed as the one encapsulated above. The subject they were discussing was Science, more specifically can religious faith be compatible with science? Now clearly at a superficial level the answer to this is yes since many scientists quite happily compartmentalise the two things and lead normal and presumably as fulfilled lives as anyone else, but that's not quite what this motion was really about. Like the Jedi analogy in the prank above, there are underlying (more serious) ideas which this discussion is attempting to illuminate; the main message is that religion is equal to science as a way of "knowing" things about the reality of the universe, the claim is that theological thinking is sophisticated and actually answers important questions that science cannot, ergo. the caricature so called "militant atheists" present of religion as crude or delusional (like the Jedi example) is a false one.

Let's look at some of the claims made.

"religion can explain areas of existence that science cannot." - What exactly is an "area of existence"? are there any examples of "areas of existence" that have material impacts on people's lives other than the proposal of which puts money in the pocket of the proposers? Unfortunately, the discussion neglected to mention such examples which is a shame since being able to show that such areas actually exist outside of the minds of the believer would probably clinch the argument.

"Dr Capon said he rejected the idea that science can answer every question, insisting that some insights into questions of existence go beyond scientific explanation." - Scientists (or at least the ones I know) don't claim this, most are skeptical that we'll ever know everything. Mr Capon claims that he has insights into questions of existence which go beyond scientific explanations WITHOUT actually stating what these insights are. This seems to be avoiding the obvious question, i.e. what questions of existence does religion "answer" (i.e. not simply offer an opinion on) which science does not, opinion is cheap, answers require a little more effort.

"However close to the truth scientific and mathematical theory brings us, it remains an approximation.There are degrees of accuracy it cannot achieve. Somewhere in the remaining mystery is God." - Oh dear this is pure God of the gaps, I find it hard to believe that such supposedly "sophisticated" thinkers can trot out this kind of stuff so long debunked by philosophers down the ages.

"Belief in the invisible subatomic particles of quantum physics requires just as great a leap of faith as belief in God." - well no it doesn't, this is the kind of crude ignorance that "militant atheists" are pointing out, for subatomic particles we have a mountain of evidence, it's pretty impossible to design a working computer without a pretty good understanding of electrons for example, no faith required there.

I find it somewhat ironic that in attempting to refute the idea that Atheists attack a crude caricature of religion, religious leaders present a crude and caricatured defence of their position, rather like the one that "militant atheists" continue to point out, with or without the added dimension of humour.

Good old days?

My wife pointed this out to me today and in the spirit of St. Valentines day I thought I'd post it up, this is only from the 60s but sounds like it should be Victorian, its amazing how the zeitgeist changes (thank goodness!), mind you the cup of tea in bed sounds OK.. (ducks and runs for cover).

(click on  the image for a larger view)

Friday, February 12, 2010


OK, so I think get this, God (although they don't say which one) is a nasty, homicidal, smiting God who kills vast numbers of innocent babies in religiously inspired terrorist incidents and hurricanes because people aren't reading his autobiography, kinda tough love, however I see the link; but Bridges?

So we're passing over tornadoes, wars, atomic weapons, volcanoes, earthquakes, plagues, asteroids and black holes and going straight for "bridges", I wouldn't have thought the world-wide death toll in "bridge disasters" is all that large compared with these other things so is God an amateur civil engineer in his spare time?

might explain a lot...

Friday smirk

Thank God I'm a Man!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Grayling on Blair (Cherie)

Nice piece by AC Grayling on Cherie Blair's recent preferential treatment of a fellow supernaturalist in her court..

It is instructive to note that when Cherie Blair gave Mr Shamso Miah an expressly lenient sentence (suspending a six month jail term for two years) despite his having assaulted another man and broken his jaw, she stated not once but twice – thus, made a point of emphasizing – her reason: the fact that he is ‘a religious person.’ Here are the words she used: ‘I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before. You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.’

What is certainly not acceptable behaviour is a judge handing down sentences based on personal views about religion, whether positive or negative. Mrs. Blair’s are publicly positive; she is well-known to be a Roman Catholic, as her husband the former Prime Minister now is also, having converted from Anglicanism; their children were educated at the Roman Catholic Brompton Oratory School; and the newly Roman Catholic Mr Blair has founded a religious organisation dedicated to promoting the ecumenicalism among the faiths.

As a barrister Mrs. Blair should be able to see the inadmissible corollary of passing lenient sentences on believers because they are believers; namely, that non-believers should receive less lenient sentences. If she had said – and said twice – in passing judgment on a person she knew to be non-religions, ‘I am going to apply the full penalty of the law based on the fact that you are not a religious person,’ she would not have merited any less of an outcry than she has caused, for the very good reason that this is the logical obverse of what she in fact said, and would be as unacceptable.

It is appropriate for good character and lack of previous convictions to be taken into account in sentencing in criminal cases. Mrs. Blair gave as her ground for thinking that the guilty individual is of good character that he is a religious person. So, obviously, Mrs. Blair explicitly holds that ‘being a religious person’ and ‘being of good character’ are related. She must however know that they are not invariably related; she would have to have been living in a closed refrigerator for the last two decades if she went so far as to think they are the same thing, for as any number of examples show – not least among them the atrocities committed in the United States on 9/11 – being a religious person is fully consistent with, and sometimes is the cause of being, a thoroughly bad person. So she must be assuming – leaving all history and the contemporary world aside as providing too many troubling counter-examples – that there is a tendency for religious people to be of good character because they are religious (and not, say, that they have a tendency to be of good character because they are people).

Let me pick through the logic of Mrs. Blair’s view carefully here. She cannot consistently think that non-religious people have a tendency to be of good character because they are non-religious. If she did, she would think all people, whatever their beliefs or non-belief, have a tendency to be of good character. But this generous thought is precisely not what her statement says. On the contrary, her remarks to the jaw-breaking ‘devout Muslim’ (so the newspapers described him) Shamso Miah imply that she thinks that religious people have a greater tendency to be good than non-religious people. What justifies this assumption? Is it the fact that self-avowed non-religious people commit atrocities against other all other people, religious and non-religious alike, explicitly in the name of their non-religion, indeed driven to such actions in service of their non-religion? Of course not. So on what basis other than prejudice and religious sentiment can Mrs. Blair claim, in a judgment made in a British courtroom, that someone ought to be more leniently treated because he is religious?

The wrong done to non-religious people of good character by this judgment, and the perversity of the judgment in itself, make it right that the National Secular Society (NSS) has lodged a complaint against Mrs. Blair. Some of the media response has been predictable. Andrew Brown, who has a regular blog on the Guardian website in which to air his views on religious matters, quotes the NSS statement: 

"What would have happened if he had been an atheist? Would Mrs. Blair/Booth have refused to suspend the sentence on the grounds that non-believers have no guiding principles that tell them that smashing people in the face for no good reason is not the right thing to do? This is a very worrying case of discrimination that appears to show that religious people get different treatment in Cherie Blair's court."

And then Brown says that on the question ‘whether being a devout Muslim (or Christian) is in itself a sign of good character…Cherie Booth seems to be arguing that it is…. For [secularists] being a devout believer is quite the opposite. It's evidence of bad character.’ How does Brown, ignoring Mrs. Blair’s assumptions, get from this NSS remark to the claim that it, or any secularist, thinks ‘being a devout believer is evidence of bad character’? (It gets worse; Brown continues by saying that in NSS President Terry Sanderson’s ‘world’ judges should be saying, ‘Although you have no previous convictions, you are none the less a follower of Pope Benedict XVI and so unable to tell right from wrong. I therefore find myself compelled to impose a custodial sentence’. This travesty is par for the Brown course.) It is precisely because assumptions in either direction are empty – a central and foundational secularist tenet – that the NSS rightly challenges Mrs. Blair, a point Mr Brown seems unable to grasp.

In the Times a young philosophy graduate turned journalist, Mr Hugo Rifkind, although claiming to sympathise with the National Secular Society’s complaint against Mrs. Blair, further claims that his ‘philosophy degree’ tells him that Mrs. Blair and her Roman Catholic church are the ones who are right in claiming that religious belief ‘gives you a sort of super, better morality, which outweighs everything else’. His reason for saying this is, as he puts it, that ‘There’s no such thing as abstract morality. It doesn’t even make any sense. If God isn’t the ultimate answer, what is?”

This is an awful advertisement for wherever Mr Rifkind studied philosophy. Either that or he was not paying attention in ‘week one’ when it appears (from what he says) his ethics course took place. And he certainly seems to have stopped thinking since then. Let me direct his attention to Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Hume, Kant, and a few dozen others among the thinkers he ought to have come across in his studies, whose ethics are not premised on divine command or the existence of supernatural agencies, but proceed from consideration of what human beings, in this life in this world, owe each other in the way of respect, concern, trust, fairness and honesty. The rich deep tradition of humanistic ethics stemming from classical antiquity has a tendency to make much of what passes for morality in religion (‘give away all your possessions’, ‘take no thought for the morrow’, ‘women must cover their heads in church’) look merely silly or trivial – at least in regard to what is distinctive to the religion, and not part of wider ethics whether religious or non-religious. Indeed Mr Rifkind is somewhat overexposed in philosophical ignorance here, for he ought to know that what is of practical value in Christian ethics is an import from the late Hellenic and Roman schools, mainly Stoicism, in the fourth century CE and later, to supply the want of a livable ethics in a religion that, to begin with, imminently expected the end of the world and had no use for money, marriage, and other aspects of ordinary life. So as the centuries passed it had to look about for something more sensible, and of course found it in the classical pre-Christian tradition. And to put matters in summary terms: the Roman Stoic conception of good character knocks Mrs. Blair’s (and Mr Rifkind’s) into a cocked hat, where they belong.

The point that emerges from this unedifying matter is that Mrs. Blair has proved herself unfit for the bench, and a vigorous reassertion of judicial impartiality and inclusiveness is needed. It ought to come as a corollary to a disciplinary action against Mrs. Blair, her removal from the bench, and a commitment to having better reasons for keeping violent people out of prison than that they believe in ancient pre-scientific superstitions.

Reproduced in full from

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Please, no..

I bet this billboard sends a shudder down your spine..

Apparently its a real billboard and not a joke, no doubt aimed at stirring up anti-democrat, anti-Obama sentiment in some rural backwater of the United States and no doubt it will give some people reason to lean out of their pick-up trucks and shout yiha!

For the rest of the world it feels like a hot poker being thrust into a partially healed wound.

More TV vicar?

I tuned into this story on radio 4 this morning and listened to a couple of commentators speak on the subject, in summary some members of the general synod (the governing body of the Church of England) are claiming that the BBC is "marginalising" religion by not putting enough of it on the telly. The facts of the matter are that this year there will be a total of 164 hours of religious broadcasting and by law the BBC is required to show 110 i.e. they are showing roughly 50% more than they need to.

I don't have any particular problem with religious broadcasting, there are plenty of channels to choose from if I'm not interested in it, although usually I am (apart from songs of praise which is cringe-worthy) The historical and philosophy based programs aren't bad and I found the religious perspectives of Darwin and evolution that were aired last year (during the 150th anniversary) interesting even though I thought they were mostly exploring delusional points of view (angels on the head of a pin kinds of things). What I do object to however is the attitude of the Church, the presumption of entitlement when equally prevalent viewpoints on these matters are not given much airtime at all and certainly don't have any legal minimum. Both speakers this morning came at the discussion from the perspective of "this is a Christian country therefore..." certainly we have a culturally Christian history but if you think about it we also have a culturally racist history too but we aren't forced to sit through 110 hours of programs on racism, this is a classic appeal to authority and tradition, hardly reflective of the secular society we actually live in.

I suppose what I'm arguing for is the proper separation of Church and the apparatus of state, I see no justification for it in the current age although the speakers on the program when confronted with this point played the "ethics" card. It always amuses me when ethics are bundled in with religion, in fact the BBC department responsible for this programming is called "Religion and Ethics", as if religion has some kind of monopoly on morality. In reality religion goes with ethics like MP's go with expenses, the relationship is an exploitative one, it's hard if not impossible to think of a recent ethical advance that hasn't been fought for teeth and nail against dogmatic opposition from the religious establishment.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Water, water everywhere...

Love this awareness campaign, 400 skeptics around the country took part in a mass overdose of homoeopathic medicine, the video below shows the London crowd doing their bit.

Isn't this irresponsible I hear you cry, well, not really you see homoeopathic medicine has nothing in it, as this demonstration proves. Maybe for the next one we could get some Christians and some Lions to see if intercessory prayer works.. hold on I think someone already did that one.. :)

Don't waste hard earned money, buy proper medicine.

One Law for All

Here is AC Grayling talking about the history of freedom of conscience and campaigning for the "one law for all" movement. This campaign is particularly relevant with respect to the various religions currently jockeying in order to exclude themselves from a legal system that the rest of us share, specifically Muslims who apparently require their own justice system and Christians who require the right to discriminate against people based upon biological differences, oh and also those mad Sikhs who want kids to carry knives!

There are two parts to this video, here's the second part...

I particularly enjoyed his comments on the LHC

Old dogs and new tricks...

It's unusual for me to blog on work related stuff, usually there is so much stupidity going on in the faith based communities that I struggle to keep up with it all, however there is one topic that has bubbled up which kind of links the two things (loosely) and one which causes me irritation to the point where I feel I have to share it.

The topic is IE6 or to those not in the know, Microsoft's Internet Explorer version 6. This product was released back in 2001 (this is like the ice age in computing terms) and at the time was a reasonable WEB browser; like most Microsoft products the first few incarnations were buggy and at the time people didn't really appreciate the cunning and persistence of hackers and virus writers so it had lots of vulnerabilities into the bargain. Because of the strength of Microsoft's marketing machine and the various deals struck with hardware vendors the browser became very pervasive, most large corporates installed it and it became part of the "standard package" of stuff that ended up on all those millions of corporate grey boxes under office workers desks in the early years of the noughties.

The problem is not that this browser was buggy nor that it was full of holes that hackers could exploit but the problem, our problem, is that it's still there! Reluctant to switch to more modern alternatives because of inconvenience or perhaps cost or simple ignorance the majority of large corporates and Government departments in the UK still use this browser. At this point, if you're not in the IT game you may be asking "so what, why is this a problem?", but it really is, not only do we waste millions of hours and pounds every year dealing with the viruses and exploits that this browser misses, like some religion stuck in it's dogmatic tradition such inertia actually stultifies progress. In WEB terms 2001 was a long, long time ago, since then there have been all kinds of improvements and innovations that make people's use of cloud resources easier and more profitable, but those people cannot exploit these advances whilst their primary access vehicle to these resources (i.e. their browser) is based on technology that's 10 years old, consequently our European and American competitors are stealing a march on us. This story about Google dropping support for IE6 summarises some of the issues quite nicely.

Another harmful side effect of this resistance to change is that the development costs of software companies delivering cloud based applications and services to UK businesses are forced up by the need for more and more time needed for testing and supporting old technology; this is a drag on productivity and increases the overall cost of software innovation in the UK. If we are not careful we could find ourselves out on a limb in terms of the tools and applications that leading UK companies and Government are able to exploit. Many industry figures, companies and institutions have commented about this issue recently, there is even a Downing street petition that aims to convince HM Government departments to ditch this dinosaur of a product. If you are affected by this and/or have the same concerns as me then pop over there and sign up, who knows, miracles may happen :)

Suffering the daggers of stupidity

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I am only curmudgeonly regarding Abrahamic faiths, far from it, I aspire to seek out irrational  nonsense from any quarter. In support of this ideal I read this story yesterday in the BBC, it's about a Sikh judge called Sir Mota Singh. According to the report Mr Singh can't understand why children indoctrinated into his particular religion should be prevented from wearing ceremonial daggers... to school.

The weapons in question are called Kirpan's apparently Sikhs are required to wear one at all times (presumably not when they're in the shower?) and according to the dogma of Sikhism it is one of five symbolic items that should be worn at all times. From what I can gather this is one of those metaphysical deals where inanimate objects become part of your body, I suppose like the transubstantiation process imagined by Catholics or "magic" underwear imagined by Mormons; to me it all smacks of making stuff up to encourage compliance to herd mentality, but that's just me. Anyway, whatever people wish to do behind the curtains of their West London semi's is fine by me, but inflicting their superstitions on everyone else in the setting of a public school is unacceptable, particularly when it involves combining lethal weapons and children (call me crazy).

It's not clear to me why, if these things are purely ceremonial, they can't be made of plastic or made harmless in some way, apparently this is unacceptable which leaves me thinking that perhaps this is really just a nostalgic hankering for the good old days when theocratic retribution for someone dis'ing your pet superstitions was swift (and barbaric) and involved the business end of a steel blade; you could say religion's true tradition.

Monday, February 08, 2010

We've all been there... well, perhaps not.

I saw this article in the Daily Fail today, about a slightly unhinged US soldier. I'm always suspicious of this particular newspaper so I take a certain type of story there less seriously than perhaps I would in other papers, however on reflection I can see how this one could be true. I figured that one of the reasons you join the Army in the first place is to learn new skills that you can apply in "civi-street" after you leave, which is all this particular trooper is doing; you could say that he was just fulfilling the message in the recruitment poster, just in a rather unorthodox way.

The story is about a soldier called Joshua Tabor who upon learning that his 4 year old daughter couldn't recite her alphabet properly thought he would add a little incentive, he waterboarded her. Fortunately Mr Tabor is now under the watchful gaze of the Washington police department so hopefully his ideas about parental encouragement won't be re-enacted again too soon.

Although, on second thoughts I know a few kids whose "enthusiasm" might dampen down to normal human levels after a visit from "Josh the slosh"..

Friday, February 05, 2010


Here are some random snippets of news stories that caused my interest nerve to twitch today...

The story in  the Telegraph about a Turkish girl buried alive by her relatives, her crime, she talked to boys. Apparently there are estimated to be about 200 occurrences of this kind of thing every year accounting for half of all murders in Turkey, barbaric doesn't cover it, from the soil in her lungs it was clear that she'd been alive and concious when they buried her.

Then there is the news that our Government has capitulated under pressure from religious lobbying regarding equality laws, the Daily Telegraph quoted a Downing Street spokesman as saying: “We are clear that these parts of the Equality Bill should not go forward", these narrow minded religious institutions will remain able to discriminate against people for accidents of Biology, what a nice bunch of people. The Pope also got in on the act criticising the bill as an "attack" on freedom of religion (shouldn't that be freedom of discrimination?) The Pope is visiting us this summer and apparently it's going to cost the British tax payer £20M for the privilege, I wouldn't give you tuppence for the interfering old bigot.

On a lighter note, apparently you can go to Cambridge university now and study comics and computer games, boy was I born in the wrong age..

Catholics seem to be in the news a lot lately, I also read about Cherie Blair letting off some thug or other more lightly than she might of because he claimed to be "religious", she is quoted as passing judgement to a Mr Shamso Miah (devout Muslim) thus,

“I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before. You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”

So what's the moral of the story here, is a fractured jaw is less painful if inflicted by a Muslim than an equivalent blow by a Christian and perhaps less harmful than the same injury dished out by an Atheist. 

Is this a case of Cheria law we've heard so much about?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

You WILL be saved!

Ten evangelical American Christian have been apprehended and charged in Haiti with child abduction and criminal conspiracy; seems like they got caught with their metaphorical little hands in the till of moral one-upmanship. The Bible bashing swat team were apprehended on the boarder between Haiti and the Dominican Republic with 33 unaccounted for children! For those interested in the detail of this story here's the write-up from the BBC. I read one report that their leader was confident of "God" ensuring they were released and urged everyone to pray, as we can see, her confidence was misplaced. But then again, you have to hand it to them, such breathtaking arrogance, such blatant contempt for the law of the land and a complete disregard for its cultural sensibilities, then again when it comes to most flavours of Christianity, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say in those parts.

Nope to the Pope

It looks like this Summer's visit by the Pope to Britain is causing a few feathers to be ruffled, first there are his negative comments about the recently debated UK equality laws, obviously the leader of the Catholic church insists that his organisation remain able to discriminate against people on the basis of biological characteristics that they cannot change, that's nice. Then we have the fact that the visit will cost the tax payer some £20M, that's good news for poor old cash strapped Britain, I mean who needs new hospital wings when you can have a bigoted old man in a frock waving his ring at you. There is even a petition on the number10 website in order that people can register their objection to these things (among others), so, if you're that way inclined, drop by and sign up!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Abortion etc.

Apparently the Super-bowl (the world cup of American football which excludes the rest of the World) this year will feature an advertisement by the odious "Focus on the Family" a religious organisation that makes a lot of money (tax exempt) from believers and opposes abortion, evolution, homosexuality etc. (the usual evangelical Christian canards). The ad will feature a football player called Tim Tebow whose Mother Pam contracted a serious disease whilst pregnant and doing "missionary" work in the Philippines; anyway the doctors advised an abortion based on comparable case histories but being a Christian she declined and luckily  for both had a healthy baby who grew up to be the football player. You can imagine the nature of the storyboard behind this advertisement.

In an article in the Slate this story is summarised and the author (clearly a pro-choice advocate) rounds it off with a nice concluding statement, I liked it a lot and thought it worthwhile reproducing it here,

Pro-lifers have always struggled with the invisibility of unborn life: millions of babies aborted every year, concealed in wombs behind closed doors. How do you open the world's eyes to what it can't see? In Tim Tebow, they see the invisible made visible: a child who has lived to tell his story because an abortion didn't happen. "If his mother had followed her doctor's advice," notes LifeSiteNews, "he would be just another abortion statistic."

But what's true of abortion is also true of pregnancy complications. If Pam Tebow's abruption had taken a different turn, her son would be just another perinatal mortality statistic, and she might be just another maternal mortality statistic. And you would know nothing of her story, just as you know nothing of the women who have died carrying pregnancies like hers.

And what do you know of the women who chose to abort in similar circumstances? You never saw their tears for the life lost. You never heard their prayers for another chance. Maybe you've seen them rocking their babies or laughing with their toddlers. But did you make the connection? Do you know their stories? Is Pam Tebow's choice the only way to celebrate life and family?

Pam made a brave choice, and she has raised a fine son. Celebrate his life. But celebrate her luck, too—and say a prayer for all the women and babies who didn't make the cut.

Real life is never as simple as we would like it to be, but its always worth asking the question "will our actions reduce or increase suffering?" I believe it's only within the context of that question that the truly ethical position lies.