Friday, March 26, 2010


Just happened to notice this article in the Times, it happens to be about a hot topic i.e. child abuse and the Catholic church, however that's not why I'm pointing it out (depressing though that topic is!); just take a look at the name of the author of the article, now tell me this isn't a wind up.... :)

On a side-bar issue the times on-line is going to start charging people to read their content soon; I think this is a flawed strategy, unless all the papers gang up together on-line readers will simply go elsewhere for their news, actually I don't know anyone who doesn't consume news through some kind of aggregation site anyway so they simply won't see the Times articles any more. A far better strategy IMO would be for News Corporation to offer value added services on top of their content and make it more useful for businesses (who will happily pay to get competitive advantage) - that way the free content simply becomes a way to seed the market for more valuable services.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Finally a biblical solution to a modern issue..

Ever since full body scanner technology was unveiled at Heathrow airport I have been expecting some kind of tabloid scandal surrounding them; well my wait wasn't a long one as a 25 year old male has been questioned by police after apparently "staring" at the image of a female colleague in the scanner. Clearly BAA are making a terrible mistake, they shouldn't be employing 25 year old males whose bodies are full of hormones and urges to check people for concealed weapons; what they want are some proper Biblical eunuch's!

Ah, life was so easy in the Bronze age.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's official, science is exciting!

Delightful typo in the Daily Telegraph last Friday.

Someone's last day surely?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Explain the concept of "respect" to me again father...


1975 Two young victims in Ireland sign oaths cementing their silence over allegations they were abused by Father Brendan Smyth. It later emerged that (now Cardinal) Sean Brady was present at the meeting.

1986 In Germany, Father Peter Hullerman is convicted of the sexual abuse of minors and receives an 18-month suspended sentence, but continues to work in the church. It is alleged that he had previously been suspected of abuse, but had avoided detection by being transferred to another diocese. Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich and Freising, was allegedly responsible for the transfer.

1997 Following his arrest in 1991, Smyth admits to 74 cases of sexual abuse over 35 years. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison, but dies shortly after sentencing.

2000 The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is set up by the Irish government to establish the extent of sexual abuse of children in Roman Catholic institutions since 1936.

2001 Pope John Paul II orders bishops to report all cases of abuse directly to the Vatican and to prevent those accused from having further access to children.

2002 Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, resigns amid allegations he failed to act on cases of abuse within his diocese. Following his resignation he moved to work within the Vatican.

2004 The Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order associated with boys' schools in Ireland, successfully sues the commission to keep the identity of all of its members, dead or alive, anonymous.

2009 The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse publishes its investigation. Known as the Ryan report, it details the findings gathered from 2,000 victims and the extent to which the institutions had covered up these cases.

20 March 2010 Pope Benedict XVI responds to revelations in a letter to Irish Catholics, as new cases of abuse emerge in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Mexico and Brazil.

All this and we are cautioned by these scum bags to "respect" their beliefs.

No room at the inn (for gays)...

Here's a little story of good old religious morality, the owner of a B&B in my own home county of Berkshire (Cookham) refused a gay couple when they turned up to occupy a room that they had booked. The person in question (Susanne Wilkinson) claimed that it was against her "beliefs" that two men should share a bed, and she didn't see why she should change her beliefs in order to honour a contract she had made with her guests.

Hypocritically the first line of the WEB site of this establishment reads...

"A warm & friendly welcome awaits all guests at Susanne Wilkinson's Swiss Bed & Breakfast in the idyllic village of Cookham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire."

I suppose this is what happens when people live in a society that reinforces the idea that their random superstitions are deserving of respect from everyone else. If the charge is proven to be true then not only is Ms Wilkinson wrong in her beliefs (which no one is asking her to change BTW) she is acting against the law of the land by discriminating against these people.

Let's hope she doesn't get a Christian judge like Cherie Blair, otherwise no doubt she'll just get a (metaphorical) slap on the wrist and told to smile and pray harder next time she feels like discriminating against people because of their biology.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The good old days ...

Here's an album for all you married men out there; put it on your Amazon favourites list, go on, I dare you :)

(only kidding dear)

Is the Pope Catholic?

If you're following the news then you'll have noticed that the Catholic hierarchy seem to be in moral free fall currently, new child abuse and sex scandals are bubbling up every day. As usual the NewsBiscuit has it's finger on the pulse and perfectly illustrates the truism that there's many a true word spoken in jest.

There was widespread shock today after it was revealed that the Catholic Church, an organisation whose authority is derived entirely from a work of fiction, had misled its followers and the general public.

The Church, which states that all 1.4 million known species of animal could fit inside a small wooden ship twice over, was today shown to have covered up widespread child abuse amongst its clergy. Speaking outside the Vatican, the Pope  eschewed proclaiming condoms help the spread of AIDS and instead adopted a more conciliatory tone ‘Those among you who believe us when we tell you about talking snakes, the dead rising and a giant invisible man in the sky, will have felt badly let down when you heard that we may have been less than truthful on this one issue. For that we can only say that we are sorry, never again shall the Catholic Church take advantage of the unquestioning credulity of its followers.’

Just prior to retiring to his vast palace containing priceless works of art, the Pope added ‘And please put more in the collection fund, we’re really short of cash’

You can see this and lot's of other humorous stuff here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

i can haz mousburger?

Love this picture, it shows a leopard in a zoo who is having his lunch interrupted by a cheeky mouse that has decided his hunger is so great that any risk is worth taking for a tasty morsel of meat. Apparently even though the mouse was nudged away a few times by the leopard he refused to quit, eventually taking his fill and retiring full having literally eaten the great cat's lunch!


If you thought is was cold in your front room without the fire on then take a look at this dramatic picture of a region of space 500 light years from Earth taken by the new orbiting Planck telescope.

The image shows an unimaginably large cloud of super-cooled dust which on average is hovering at a balmy 12K or -261C, the amazing thing is that spying phenomena like this is not Plank's main mission, the only reason it captures images like this is so that it's computer software can "cancel" out the light produced by relatively close objects such as this cloud and attempt to resolve radiation from much further afield, in fact as far back as the beginning of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.

This majestic cloud is vast, entire stars may be born from and within it as gravity acts on the particles pulling them together until the energy levels become so high that fusion starts to occur. The scale that this picture captures is mind boggling, however is puny compared to the entire universe as it represents just a thin sliver of the visible sky.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bipedal monkey business...

Here's an interesting little movie, it shows a monkey at a Zoo in Israel that has suddenly started walking upright like humans, apparently the poor little creature had a stomach illness that nearly killed it and ever since has been walking around on two legs rather than four.

Apparently its not the first time that this kind of behaviour has been observed, however it does look odd seeing a monkey walking around like this. The devil in me thinks, wouldn't it be fun to taunt fundamentalist creation believers with this, you could claim that here is scientific evidence of a monkey evolving into a man, bet that would prompt a few baffled baptists :). Thinking about it though, I suppose the monkey is lucky that he really is a monkey, if these monkeys behaved like most fundamentalists then chances are that the rest of them would stone him to death for disobeying the wishes of the great invisible gorilla in the sky :)

Happy Saint Paddy's day...

Today is the day when millions of Irish people and Americans who are Irish when it suits them celebrate St. Patrick the patron saint of Ireland. In Chicago they even dye the river green in homage to the "old country" (see picture below!)

When I used to work in the USA I came across quite a few people who felt the need to rub my nose in their Irishness, usually via sneering references to the historical domination and abuse of the Irish by the English, a fair point I suppose, but little to do with me as my most recent ancestors came from either Ireland or Scotland, a fact which I seldom bothered to enlighten them with. It's amazing how emigration seems to concentrate and focus an inflated sense of self-righteousness in some people, a rose tinted view of history perhaps.

I never had such issues in Ireland itself of course, I worked over there for some years too without the subject ever arising, I fondly remember one particular March 17th working in Belfast, all I can say is that after a liquid lunch of epic proportions things became somewhat of a blur; those guys were always keen to be as inclusive to foreigners as they could be. The day became somewhat legendary as one member of our team (a colourful character whose name was also Patrick) disappeared on his way home back home to Dublin for the weekend, we didn't see or hear from him for 4 months, then to all our amazement he just turned up one Monday morning at the office asking for his old job back. He was always slightly tight lipped about what happened that day but after a few "Black Russians" one evening in the pub he did let it slip that on the train he got talking to a rather attractive woman and in his words "one thing led to another" and that was all he ever said! ... ah the Irish.

Talking of legends, I should really get to the point of this post, as you will know Saint Patrick is famous for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, a feat he supposedly accomplished with a wave of his staff from the top of a hill at which point all the squamates upped and left via the Irish sea. Clearly this story has more to do with the symbolic banishment of pagan religions from Ireland than actual fact but then again when has religion let the facts get in the way of a good story! :) The actual reason for there being no snakes in Ireland is simply a tale of evolution and geography, assisted by the recency of the last ice age. Snakes never made it across the open sea and are still absent to this day; however, the more keen eyed observers among you will notice that the above picture is not in fact a snake but a slow worm which is a species of legless lizard and quite at home in the Emerald Isle, I guess the moral of the story is that not all the snakes in Ireland are what they first seem.

More powerful than God?

I am following with some interest the storm brewing in Ireland regarding Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic church there. It is becoming clear that Mr Brady in his position as a key part of the organisational hierarchy back in the 70s neglected to inform proper authorities (i.e. the police) about a notorious paedophile priest (Brendan Smyth) he was even involved in some of the victims signing secrecy oaths regarding the matter.

As time goes on and more and more Catholic abuse scandals hit our newspapers and TV screens it has become clear to some that we are dealing with an organisation that certainly was (even if not any more) rotten to the core in many countries; putting the interests of the organisation above the interests of the vulnerable people in it's care. Much like scandals in companies such as Enron, the disregard for the law was systemic and occurred over a long period of time in many different places (i.e. it was not an isolated incidence), backed up by an infrastructure that covered up and lied about that abuse; the key difference between the Catholic church and Enron though is that the leadership of Enron was brought to book (eventually).

This whole thing got me thinking about a more general point, what will it take to break the back of organised religion in society, what force would convince people to say enough is enough?

Famously in the Bible story about Abraham and Isaac God instructs Abraham to kill his own son, like the Catholic priests in the child abuse scandal Abraham is willing to put dogma before morality and lifts his blade. In the story an angel stops the infanticide before it happens and Abraham puts a luckless ram under his knife instead, phew that's OK then!, but would people today be happy to blindly follow orders like this?

Martin McGuinness (no stranger to putting dogma before morality) said in a recent comment regarding the case of Mr Brady,

"I am someone who passionately believes in the protection of children. Under no circumstances can we ever see again a circumstance where people have the opportunity to abuse our children."

McGuinness (a Catholic) clearly makes the point that he believes there are "no circumstances" where "our children" should be exposed to potential abusers, presumably he would have to include abuse by people who believe that God is telling them what to do (or what not to report to the police)?

Reproduction is one of our most basic instincts, it drives us and provides huge meaning in life for the majority of people, our selfish genes demand nothing less. I wonder how many people would place the the dogma of a religion above the well-being of their children, when all is said and done, is biology a more powerful force than God?

Friday, March 12, 2010

My vote is in a brown paper bag...

Would you vote for someone who used to make porn films for a living?

This is the choice facing voters in a Kent constituency, Anna Arrowsmith is standing for the Liberal Democrats (clearly with a big "L") in Gravesham. Personally I wouldn't mind much, I'd prefer to look at it from an evidential point of view, i.e. is she any good? Obviously the porn industry, like many others, can be a problem at the fringes, issues like exploitation of minors and the portrayal of violence etc. often surface; clearly regulation and protection are essential, but not having any religious baggage I don't have any moral issue with it per se. It's interesting that most of the objections to Ms Arrowsmith that I've read in the various comment threads so far have been from God fearing folk playing the "morality" card. I can sympathise to some extent but tarring someone with the failings of any particular industry isn't a particularly good argument, it would be trivial to find plenty of MP's who have been involved with industries that have been tarnished with scandal or wrong-doing at some point, it doesn't follow that the individuals are that way inclined.

Anna (who operated under the pseudo-name of "Anna Span") also has strong feminist credentials (surprisingly for that industry) her film company is credited with making films that appeal more to women than men. This is an interesting twist, does this make the moral concern any less? I don't know, but intuitively I would regard this flavour of porn perhaps less exploitative than the regular kind (but I'm not sure why?).

I find it interesting that the popularity of pornography is built upon a misfiring of behaviours and responses hard-wired into every human being by evolution. Clearly, becoming aroused by looking at pictures or films of people having sex is pretty pointless from an evolutionary point of view (i.e. if reproduction is the ultimate goal of our genes) however we cannot avoid the same response as if it were real. You could argue that our religious urges are somewhat like this too. In our evolutionary past it was advantageous for us to seek agency in everything we experienced, behavioural rules of thumb in areas such as hunting and future planning developed this way; even now when we know what causes things like earthquakes and tsunami's people still seek that invisible agency and ask "why me".

Slow blog day

Is it really Friday already?

Time flies when you're having fun (or so they say) for me it just seems to fly regardless. Signing into my blog this morning I notice that I haven't posted since Tuesday, normally I find something odd-ball or interesting to throw out every day, but this week I can honestly say work has been so hectic that the time has flown by, hopefully that means the economy is picking up or perhaps that I'm just not well organised...

Anyway, here is something odd to ponder, take a look at this photo, it's of a Woman in China who has apparently grown a horn on the front left hand side of her head and from the looks of her is in the process of growing another one to match on the other side.

Now I look at this picture and immediately think, wow aren't genes slippery little critters and our genome probably contains all kinds of ancestral garbage that it only takes one mutation in a switch somewhere to unleash on a poor unsuspecting phenotype. The next thought was, I wonder what a superstitious person would think about this, particularly an ill-educated Christian or Muslim who believes in devils and angels etc. You can imagine how completely inexplicable this phenomenon would be to such people and how these myths probably all have their origins in random natural events that only recently are properly understood.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Have some johnnies, foreigners

Here's a rather odd story, it's about the UK Government donating £1,000,000 to South Africa in order to buy condoms for the World cup finals (being held there this summer). Now I know certain English footballers of late have had problem keeping things in their shorts, but that's a lot of johnnies!

Could it be that our Government has had a sudden fit of altruism or are they simply totting up the potential NHS bill resulting from thousands of inebriated England fans roaming around a country with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world? Either way it sounds like an entirely rational thing to do, although when the whistle is blown I'm predicting that a certain "Roman referee" will show the plan a red card* :)

*and if I can get another football pun in here it will be a miracle.

Stone, paper, scissors, hurricane?

According to the Governor of Florida the reason why his state hasn't been hit by any serious storms since he has taken office is that he sends a "prayer" written out on a piece of paper and has it inserted into the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Apparently Charlie Crist (a Methodist) has such a personal relationship with God that he can direct the weather patterns in the Gulf of Mexico. I wonder if the majority of people in Florida feel that it's "normal" for elected representatives to claim such supernatural authority? Presumably they are since they voted for him, I also wonder what image he has in his mind when he thinks about his all powerful God, something like the one below perhaps?

I visited Florida with my family last year and I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Crist for the lack of Atlantic depressions in proximity to my hotel. I can't help feeling a little guilty though as there were over 1000 people killed and more than 40,000 rendered homeless by various hurricanes and tropical storms in that region in 2008/2009; does this mean that these people paid the ultimate price at the hand of Charlie's personal "God" just so I could ride the Pirates of the Caribbean?

Christian "education"..

Education seems to be a popular theme at the moment, here is another story bubbling around various Humanist sites it's about ACE (not of the spades variety) it stands for "Accelerated Christian Education" however various reports of its curriculum seem to suggest that the only thing that's "accelerated" about it is the rate at which students miss out on a proper education.

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted the popularity of this scheme with evangelical Christian "home schooling" fans in the USA and pointed out the blatant aggression the materials show toward the Biological sciences. Another interesting snippet was that the home schooling market is worth a billion dollars a year and the "special" text books that these so called Christian organisation are pushing are hideously expensive when compared to regular state supplied materials. This fact is surprising when reviews of these materials suggest that their contents are lacking in accuracy and integrity, for example here is a passage in one of the science books.

"Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all."

Clearly the author of this material is unaware of the plethora of intermediate fossils showing the transition from fish to amphibians and amphibians to reptiles, to name but a few, Tiktaalik, Ventastega, Pederpes, Proterogyrinus, Tseajaia, Paleothyris, Osteolepis et al.

Initially I thought this would be an isolated American issue, the proportion of religious wing-nuts over there seems to be much higher than in this country (UK), we'd never stand for this kind of indoctrination here... right?

Wrong, the New Life Academy in Hull which is a private Christian fundamentalist school oop North is actually using the ACE curriculum. I wonder if those parents in Hull paying for their kids to be educated in this way actually know about this, I wonder if they care more about their dogma than their children?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lucky escape for child in Colorado

I noticed this little story earlier, it's about a kid in Boulder, Colorado (USA) that has been kicked out of a Catholic school because he or she has two female parents. It's hardly worth pointing out the hypocrisy and ignorance of that organisation yet again so let me ask a slightly more interesting question. Why would any self respecting gay or lesbian parent send their child to a discriminatory Catholic school in the first place, do they not read the papers and realise that there is an unnaturally high incidence of sexual deviance and child abuse in such places?


It's not often that I watch something on TV these days and walk away inspired to do something or to learn more, last night was an exception however. I studiously managed to avoid any hint of anything to do with the Oscars and instead watched the first episode of a new science series on BBC2/BBC HD called "The wonder of the solar system".

I must congratulate Professor Brian Cox on a great job, I thought he handled a complex subject in an easily consumable and engaging way, and the photography was stunning. I particularly liked the shots of the Iguazu falls and the interplanetary CGI integrated nicely into the real shots from the Hubble etc. It was also nice to hear about Voyager I again, this little spaceship has been hurtling through the darkness now for over 30 years, and is almost at the Heliopause, the boundary where the Solar wind ceases to have an effect. If it makes it, Voyager will be the first man-made object to actually leave our Solar system and venture into the unknown of interstellar space completely outside the influence of the Sun.

One of the aspects of the program that really came across well I thought was the fact of the enormity of our Galaxy. Voyager has been travelling since 1977 at speeds in excess of 10 miles per second, even so, to reach our next nearest star (Proxima Centauri) at that speed will take another 75,000 years, at which point the radio signal from it (travelling at 186,000 miles per second) will take over 4 years to reach us, and I thought it was a long way to the newsagents!

Remission admission

Now I don't want people to think that all I do these days is bash Catholics, a lot of my best friends are Catholics! but come on guys your organisation continually offers up such low hanging fruit!

Today we have the story of a 49 year old Polish nun working in France, who had Alzheimers disease, apparently she was on the verge of quitting her position because of the severity of the illness when she prayed to ex-Pope John Paul II and wrote his name on a piece of paper, hey presto her movement difficulties vanished and she seemed cured. Since then her case has been instrumental in the Catholic church commencing the process to beatify John Paul. This is the first stage involved in making someone a "saint", something which supposedly cannot happen unless a "miracle" relating to the candidate has been proven (I use the word "proven" in the religious sense and not the scientific one).

Now, according to recent reports, there is new doubt about the nature of her condition, it may not be Alzheimers after all and unfortunately for Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre her obvious remission from whatever condition she does suffer from has come to an end.

One wonders how many other "miracles" fall into this category? Modern mechanisms for recording and diagnosing medical conditions must be a complete pain in the butt for those engaged in the "miracle" business.

It seems baffling to me that a group of people feel unable to adequately honour the life of a person they revere without the need for all this superstitious hocus-pocus and wish thinking, in the end it adds nothing but dishonour.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Student Union or big brother?

Geert Wilders is in town again following his recent banning (he appealed against it and won); Mr Wilders is showing his film "Fitna" to a select audience at the House of Lords as he originally intended,  I now have this image of a bunch of old buffers in a smoky darkened room snoring their way through it. (I just hope they didn't pay much for the tickets!)

Anyway, Mr Wilders itinerary is not the subject of my post; I'm more intrigued that the Student Union at Leeds University have banned their Atheist society from showing the film, in an utterly contradictory statement they claim that to show the film would breach their "freedom of expression policy", huh? stifle free speech because it... er.. stifles free speech?

What the heck are they teaching our kids these days?

Finger on the moral pulse?

Amazingly there's a story in the paper today about yet another sex scandal in the Catholic church, I'm beginning to think that masochism is an official Catholic dogma? According to the Guardian  a chorister in Pope Benedict's household was sacked for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. Angelo Balducci, "a Gentleman of His Holiness" seems to be somewhat of a problem child, aside from being a senior advisor and having wide ranging responsibilities for directing public works (corruptly if accusations are true) he was caught on a police wire tap negotiating with chorister Thomas Chinedu Ehiem regarding the physical attributes of a man to be procured for an encounter of a sexual nature.

Watching the Catholic church is like watching a car crash in slow motion, things wouldn't be so bad if they relinquished the hold they claim to have over the moral leadership of man-kind, its too obvious that it simply ain't so.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Imagine" that...

It's official, double standards and state sponsored inequality are alive and well and still thriving in the UK. Even though secularists in this country successfully removed the arcane blasphemy laws recently we still have offences on the statute books like "religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress" or in other words whatever religious people deem irreverent or offensive (unspecified) they can throw you in jail for up to seven years (about the same as most rapists serve!)... don't believe me? well read on..

Harry Taylor, philosophy tutor, and quite possibly a can or two short of a six pack, left a bunch of cartoons, yes that's right jokes in pictorial form; not threats, not sarin gas, not IED's nor face to face confrontation but jokes on pieces of paper in the chapel at Liverpool's John Lennon airport. Apparently the cartoons were found by the chaplain there a lady called Nicky Lees and she was so "offended and distressed" that the police were called a prosecution followed and Mr Taylor lost the case in court this week. I find this simply incredible how can someone be so offended (and distressed?) by a bunch of cartoons that they call the rozzers, it amazes me that some Christians can even muster the courage to step outside their front door. I have offensive garbage coming through my letter box practically every day and I just throw it in the bin!

Much more disturbing to me than Ms Lees claims of "distress" is the fact that in England in 2010 you can be thrown in jail for leaving a bunch of cartoons in a "chapel" (aka windowless waiting room - see picture above) in an airport dedicated to one of the most famous Atheists in the world. Clearly its quite OK to offend Atheists in England, but offend a "chaplain" and you may be thrown in jail for a tenth of your life. Some of the cartoons he left there are quite well known and like most atheists (and unlike most religious people) he was not biased in his provocation, there were cartoons aimed at Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam most of which were apparently clipped from private eye! Presumably the "chaplain" was only offended at the "Christian" cartoons and not the Islamic ones which would have parodied claims which she (by definition) finds "unbelievable" and therefore of no provocative value.

Religious people can stand in our streets calling for our heads to be chopped off, thrust leaflets through our doors asserting that we will burn in hell for eternity for not believing their claptrap, discriminate against people's basic biology, mutilate the genitalia of babies, deny women fundamental equal opportunity rights and exempt themselves from teaching children the truth about reality whilst all the while indoctrinating them with hatred and superstition and all this is not offensive? Not only do we have insane libel laws here in Britain clearly we also provide special privileges to shamans too.

Hopefully we will get to see these cartoons (someone publish them please!), if so I will be reproducing them in full on this blog; hopefully everyone who values free-speech will do the same.

Michael Foot

It's with sadness that I read yesterday, Michael Foot died aged 96. For those of us who started voting in the 80s he was a larger than life figure and regardless of whether you agreed with him or not you have to agree that he was a superb speaker and transparently passionate and clear about his views (current politicians take note!).

Foot was an ardent defender of free speech, he was also famously anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons as well as being famously scruffy as proper intellectuals often are. I think he was also ahead of his time in terms of recognising religion as a big problem with regard to free speech, particularly Islam; he was very outspoken regarding the Salman Rushdie affair labelling Islam as "the great persisting threat to the world", I can think of quite a few "persisting threats" to our world but I'd certainly agree with him that Islam (in fact all religions) would be on my list as well. I also learn from reading the various obituaries that Foot was an Atheist, I never realised that, but it makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Welcome to Reading city limits.

It's official, my local metropolis, Reading, has hit the big time, Gordon Brown has indicated his support for the town to be re-designated a city during the Queen's jubilee year (2012). Now, depending on how you perceive our Prime Minister's standing in the country this could be either very good news or an indication that this goal now stands a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding.

Anyway, regardless of this endorsement I think making Reading a proper city would be a great idea, although I must be honest, I'm not sure what extra stuff you get if you're a city verses a being a large town? I suppose "prestige" is the main deliverable from such a switch, although I'm not entirely sure how I can leverage that as a regular "citizen"? It will be interesting to see what happens.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What's love got to do with it?

I read of this interesting ethical dilemma in Slate today it's a complex tale of a man and a woman. In summary, she is Jewish he is Catholic, they married and had a child, they fell out and got divorced, the mother got custody of the child intent on raising him Jewish, and the man reverted to Catholicism intent on raising the child a Catholic, he secretly got the child baptised she got upset, she sues him to get a restraining order and... the court looks like it's running a mile.

What these religious adversaries have failed to grasp is that there is no such thing as a "Jewish child" or a "Catholic child", any more than there is a "Communist child" or a "Republican child"; only a child of parents who believe those things. A child who has it's own conciousness and developing mind, a canvas that is not the property of either parent upon which to scrawl their hate filled graffiti.

The question in this case is whether religion is a zero-sum proposition or a cultural buffet table. Is it harmful to raise a child in two different faiths? Does exposing a child to two religions differ from exposing her to two languages or teaching her to play two instruments? 

My advice to these people is split the difference, educate the child in comparative religion, when it is capable of understanding the choices it can decide for itself.

Oh Canada

If like me you've been glued to your TV over the last couple of weeks watching the Winter Olympics then it won't have passed you by that Canada have done rather well!. Being the contrarian that I am, I particularly liked the Women's ice hockey final and the way in which the stiff central European crowd at the IOC were shocked at the behaviour of the Canadian girls celebrating their win with champagne and cigars (because no one ever celebrates with champagne and cigars?) oh come on, what's the point of being young, talented, super fit and the best in the entire world at something if you can't let your hair down now and then, good on them I say. The men's final last night was thrilling too, USA vs. Canada, the game almost didn't go according to the script, a late goal (24 seconds left on the clock) by the USA forced things into extra time but fortunately for crowd control the Canadians scored a golden goal clinching their last gold medal and a record haul for any previous hosting nation.

It was the closing ceremony last night and spectacular it was too, our only Gold medallist Amy Williams carried the union jack and we saw the Olympic flag handed over to the city that's next hosting the games, which is London in 2012 gulp!, let's hope our contribution exhibits the same balance of passion, skill and good humour that theirs has, I'm sure it will (no pressure folks).

Yippee 400 posts!