Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Want "hope", choose Blair

A chill went down my spine when I read this article today, it's a short account of some conference for Christian and Muslim "scholars" in Georgetown (USA), that fact alone wasn't particularly chilling it was the comments by one of the guest speakers, one Anthony Blair. Blair suggests that religion is under an "aggressive secular attack", I suppose that means us "new atheists", but he isn't specific, then he goes on to say that there was "no hope" from Atheists who scorn God and that the best way to fight back was for religions to unite against them; good old Tony, that must have been a crowd pleaser. For some Atheists this may seem like a threat, perhaps that is how it is intended to be read but to most rational people I know it will be viewed as positive encouragement, i.e. we're obviously hitting the right buttons.

None of these comments are particularly new or unique to Blair, they are standard religious tropes used to deflect attention from the internal inadequacies of their own intellectually weak positions and let's be honest, persecution paranoia runs deep in religious brains. It will be interesting to see how these people intend to counter this "secular attack", will they blind us with the brilliance of their logical argument, or insist we reduce rationality and increase revelation in our legal and medical institutions, maybe they'll just murmur an incantation or two and cast a magic spell over us, one thing is for sure, whilst we still have the followers of God flying planes into buildings and accepting complicity in the raping of children I can't see free thinkers rushing out to buy prayer mats or rosaries any-time soon.

We are left in bewilderment about the idea that religions like Islam or Catholicism can provide "hope" whereas science, intellectual development and societal progress cannot, hope for what?, that one or other sets of Bronze age dogma may become dominant and all powerful such that they finally reach their goal of subjugating the whole of human kind? Hasn't humanity already got that tee-shirt, isn't that a failed experiment that should be consigned to the past, wasn't it called the "dark ages"? Or perhaps Tony is talking about the selfish hope that when he dies he will be rewarded for ever in paradise, infinite speaking engagements on an endless lecture tour, a permanent tan and luminescent teeth; for the rest of us that sounds just like our worst vision of hades.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My favourite porn star

As I always suspected, some of the people who make a living from having good buns have good brains as well!

Here's an article by a well known lady of the "adult" entertainment business called Nina Hartley, Nina is in conversation with The Humanist magazine talking about her upbringing and her fondness of science and her Atheist leanings, I must say it all sounds perfectly reasonable and rational, the "intellectual KY" of religion clearly not needed by Nina.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday joke

What's the worst part of yo-yo dieting?

Pulling the string out of your arse.....

More planets than you can shake a stick at...

It seems like every major astronomy story recently has been about exoplanets, exoplanets seem to be the equivalent of cosmic x-factor contestants. For those not up with the latest astronomy terminology "exoplanets" are planets circling around a star other than our own sun, i.e. planets outside of our own solar system (Murcury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus etc.).

It's pretty tricky to see an exoplanet as even our nearest (non-sun) star (Proxima Centauri) is around 4 light years away. I know this doesn't sound like much but it translates to 24,000,000,000,000 miles or about the same as the length of the queue for the new iPhone at the Apple store. It's also hard to see such tiny objects since they are (relatively) right next to giant thermonuclear balls of burning gas, which tend to be a bit on the bright-side, anyway those clever boffin's have figured out that you don't actually need to see them directly, you can work out they're there by measuring the "wobble" effect that their gravity has on the star they're orbiting.

Recently a whole system of at least 5 planets was discovered flying around a star 127 light years away, and another two Saturn sized planets were seen by the Kepler space telescope roughly 2,000 light years away. All this exoplanet action would seem to suggest that planets are quite common things, if that turns out to be true then since there are trillions of stars in our universe and potentially many planets circling each of them then the probability that there are many other planets out there just like our own is almost certain, or at least a pretty safe bet. This raises the possibility that life has evolved all over the universe, how exciting, imagine studying one of these exoplanets and finding life creating organic molecules in it's atmosphere, I wonder how the theologians would rationalise that?

Bla, bla, bla

I unfortunately caught an interview with the Bishop of Durham this morning on the radio; Dr Wright (62) is leaving his job soon and so radio 4 gave him free reign to blab on about stuff for a couple of minutes. Like most conversations with people of his ilk most of it made no sense to me. At one point he said that when Jesus was asked a question sometimes he gave an answer and sometimes he refused, as if this statement is somehow supposed to be profound? Clearly sometimes Jesus knew the answer (or made it up) and sometimes he didn't, in any case, not particularly impressive for the omniscient creator of the universe. I'd have thought that no question or answer would be a challenge for such a super being, that's kind of the point of omniscience isn't it? But then, as we all know, common sense and logic has little to do with Jedi mind tricks or "theology" as they like to call it.

What did tickle me was the list of things that the good old Bishop reeled off which he implied didn't worry him, like a small child, it was plainly obvious to me that this list represented precisely the issues he *is* worried about; here are the things I distilled from the conversation,

Apparently secularism isn't a problem since religiosity is increasing, however the Bishop admits that less people are going to his church; what he failed to mention is that most new followers of religion being born into this world are indoctrinated into the Muslim faith and not the Anglican one, I wonder if he thinks that's a good thing? - he didn't say.

Richard Dawkins
Old Wrighty couldn't resist an Ad Hom pop at Dawkins, calling him "shrill", apparently there is a new definition of this word in the Oxford English dictionary, it now means "anyone that disagrees with you"; I'd think a lot more of the good Bishop if he offered to debate RD to address the actual arguments rather than just calling his opponents names behind their backs?

The relevance of the Church
When challenged about the relevance of the church we had some more (bla bla) Jesus stuff, but then he said that people really appreciate religion when religion gets out into the community and does stuff, like charity, well no shit Sherlock, give starving people food or blankets when they're cold and guess what, they think it's great! What that has to do with Jesus I'm not entirely sure.

The Enlightenment 
Apparently the enlightenment "project" has failed, clearly the Bishop thinks that things in the middle ages were much better, shame people only had half the time they have now to, you know, actually live. The root of his assertion was that there are now more opportunities for "sin", well "sin" is a hypothetical concept that only really exists in the brains of religious people like him, so that's a pointless and circular argument if ever I heard one, what's more interesting is crime but that wasn't mentioned.

From now on I'm going to start calling all Christians like this who disagree with me "shrill".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A dire warning for my religious friends...

Never get stuck behind the devil in a post office queue, for the devil can take many forms. :)

Recycling confusion

Fancy putting a cat in a green wheelie bin, didn't she know there are specially labelled grey ones for that?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In my day...

I heard this little story on the radio on the way to work this morning, it's about an A-level ICT teacher who is encouraging his pupils (with much moaning) to learn how to program using an antiquated  BBC Micro. I applaud him, computers these days are black boxes, in my experience, even professional programmers seldom really understand how they work. Like car engines and washing machines the every-day tools we use are mostly beyond comprehension to most people, this is a bad thing, it means simple faults and problem diagnosis are out of reach, the limits of the machines are not understood and expectations are either too high or too low and most importantly of all black boxes stifle innovation.

Fundamentally computers haven't changed in 40 years, you have a processor, on-line storage, off-line storage and a way of putting stuff in and getting it back out again (i.e. a keyboard and a screen). Sure there is a lot more to think about now, particularly since the internet came along this has meant that the number of ways of getting stuff in and out has increased hugely and the volume and location of data has changed beyond recognition but the basic block diagram of the main components and their roles are still essentially the same.

When I started programming machines like the BBC micro had memory capacities of 32K (or 32,768 bytes) or much less, my first ever computer (see picture above) had 16,384 bytes of memory or 16K, no disk and a single processor that could handle about 3 million instructions per second. Simplistically you had to fit all your programs and data into that small space and that forced us to be ultra-frugal with resources, efficient, in other words. These days, a simple document containing the sentence "the cat sat on the mat" takes up 11,000 bytes and this balloons to over 14,000,000 bytes when you include the Microsoft Word program that you need to edit it.

Luckily memory is dirt cheap now and most PC's have at least 1 or 2Gb as standard, that's 1,000,000,000 bytes. To illustrate our progress, the machine I'm editing this on has 8Gb of memory another 2,000Gb of disk space and a processor with 4 cores, meaning it really has 4 processors running at roughly 3,000 million instructions per second each. Then it's connected to the internet via a high speed fibre optic cable that can shunt data around at the rate of 10,000,000 bytes per second and people estimate that the internet contains roughly 500 billion gigabytes (that's 5 with 15 zeros after it) of data, the bottom line is, these kids don't know they're born! :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fringe jokes

After the last two depressing posts here is something that made me chuckle, apparently someone has voted the following list of gags the top 10 jokes from the Edinburgh fringe festival, I find it hard to believe better jokes than these can't be found at such a huge comedy event (top 10 puns might be more accurate) anyway, some are quite amusing.

1) Tim Vine: "I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again."

2) David Gibson: "I'm currently dating a couple of anorexics. Two birds, one stone."

3) Emo Philips: "I picked up a hitch hiker. You've got to when you hit them."

4) Jack Whitehall: "I bought one of those anti-bullying wristbands when they first came out. I say 'bought', I actually stole it off a short, fat ginger kid."

5) Gary Delaney: "As a kid I was made to walk the plank. We couldn't afford a dog."

6) John Bishop: "Being an England supporter is like being the over-optimistic parents of the fat kid on sports day."

7) Bo Burnham: "What do you call a kid with no arms and an eyepatch? Names."

8) Gary Delaney: "Dave drowned. So at the funeral we got him a wreath in the shape of a lifebelt. Well, it's what he would have wanted."

9) Robert White: "For Vanessa Feltz, life is like a box of chocolates: Empty."

10) Gareth Richards: "Wooden spoons are great. You can either use them to prepare food. Or, if you can't be bothered with that, just write a number on one and walk into a pub…"

What is even funnier is that someone has provided helpful explanations for Americans*, here...

*Actually it doesn't say the explanations are for Americans specifically, I added that part for a cheap laugh... :)

Swept under the prayer mat..

In another blow to Catholic PR today the result of a police enquiry in Northern Ireland has found that the  Government, the Catholic church and the Royal Ulster Constabulary colluded to allow a Catholic priest (Fr. James Chesney) known to be a high ranking member of the IRA to re-locate to the Irish republic and continue "priest'ing" whilst it was suspected that he participated in the brutal murder of 9 innocent people in the Claudy bombing in 1972. The dead included men, women and children of both religious flavours (Catholic & Protestant) slaughtered by three car bombs planted without warning in a small village in County Londonderry at the height of the troubles.

I must admit this outcome doesn't surprise me that much, however it does surprise me that it has taken so long and so much hand wringing to expose the simple truth. Let's face it, priests are people and like all people the world over good people do good things and bad people do bad things, this fact is universal. My only request is now can we stop pretending that religion and religious people hold any kind of "special" position compared to the rest of us, they are not superior, more moral or more insightful in any way. In addition to religious people being exactly the same as the rest of us it's clear that their (religious) training doesn't prepare them for the realities of life any more than those who have not had it, any rational analysis of this case, among many, would have to conclude that it appears worthless, in fact some probably go further and conclude worse than worthless.

Selling a soul for progress

It looks like US government funding for stem cell research has been hijacked again following a decision and temporary injunction by a district court that work involving embryonic stem cells violates a law passed in 1995 regarding the destruction of human embryos. The wording of this bill is strange it essentially bans research in which "a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero". There are two wrinkles here, firstly stem cells are mostly taken from embryos from early term abortions and would be discarded anyway and secondly where that isn't the case cells can be taken from a blastocyst, this is a clump of cells about 3 days old and contains about 150 cells (for comparison the brain of a fly contains about 100,000 cells). The point is that there is no "embryo", it's just a clump of cells.

I find it strange that the mainly religious "pro-life" lobby in the USA can take an ethical position with no apparent justification other than some woolly unsubstantiated notion that particular cells are endowed with special properties, namely a "soul", when all other cells (containing exactly the same molecules) are not. I am all for debate and rationalisation when deciding what is ethical but it has to be even handed, you can't expect one side of the argument to be held accountable to and responsible for producing scientific evidence that a clump of cells cannot suffer whereas the other side just states an opinion based on bronze age mythology and apparently that's enough?

Where is the scientific evidence for souls?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Well hard bugs..

I found this little science story today, its about some Bacteria taken from a cliff in Devon placed on the international space station (on the outside) and left floating around in space just to see how long it could survive.

Amazingly these little bacteria managed to survive for 553 days before being brought back to Earth to see how in the heck they managed it! If it can be shown that structures incorporating DNA or other self replicating molecules can survive appreciable space journeys on things like rocks and tin-cans, then the number of possibilities for how life originated on our own planet just increased demonstrably.

For those interested in where such hardy creatures could possibly live, they originated from cliffs around a small village on the coast in East Devon called "Beer", clearly all that real ale and clotted cream has produced something quite extraordinary!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eastern mysticism?

Often you see debates between non-believers and believers centred around superstition and believing in magical super human entities who dish out favours or threats and essentially how daft that sounds. Atheists are often criticized for tarring all religions with that same brush. It's usually at that point some bright spark makes the claim that Eastern cultures have religions that are more about "spiritual" ways of life than (angry) deities, fluffy all accommodating types of beliefs that are supposedly inward looking rather than trying to scare the bejesus out of you so that you pay up. I don't buy it for a second, some may look good on paper but I bet if you look hard enough it always turns into an episode of scooby-doo, there is never anything mystical or "spiritual", when you drill in it's always just "old man Obadiah" again trying to get rich at the expense of others...

Take this story for example, it comes from the Uttar Pradesh region of India where a "tantrik" (aka a local woo-woo merchant) convinced a couple to sacrifice their own 4 year old child (by burning alive) in order to become rich. Now I'm not saying that this incident is in anyway a reflection of majority Indian customs or practices, something like this always requires large doses of fear, poverty, greed combined with stunning ignorance. It happens the world over and can be linked to many different religions and cults; my point is a more general one, without "magic" it couldn't happen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Groan of the day...

A couple of mildly humorous one-liners flowed through my conciousness today,

- A Christian finds an image of Jesus in a tub of margarine and shows it to his Tibetan friend, he exclaims "I can't believe it's not Buddha!"

- Why are software licence agreements like religion? - because most people go straight to the bottom and click "accept".

"Faith school menace?"

I watched the Dawkins program about faith schools last night, do I think they are a menace? Kind of, I would prefer to conclude that on balance we would be better off without them.

The program was reasonably made, mainly consisting of RD wandering around various schools and geo-political hot-spots talking to teachers, priests, politicians and children about issues surrounding faith schools and then back-filling this conversation with a voice over that articulated his own view. The format was a predictable one, and slightly "choppy", I would have liked to have let the debates run longer and presented the religious contributors with more awkward and difficult questions, Dawkins was too polite and respectful IMO.

There were two quite cringe-worthy parts to the program, the first came when RD was talking to a group of Muslim girls (why not boys?) about evolution, which none of them believed was true. The head-man (Governor?) of the school Dr Mohammed Mukadam (mentioned in the previous post) had introduced the segment by asserting that his school promoted critical thought and that every child was free to come to their own conclusions about any aspect of what is taught there; this sounds great, but unfortunately was blown out of the water when the science teacher revealed that of her 60 students none of them, zero, believed evolution was factual, even though it is part of the national curriculum (that's indoctrination plain and simple!) Later in the segment the science teacher was asked a simple evolution question, "if we evolved from apes why are there still apes?", she couldn't answer it. I felt sorry for those children, they are being groomed for a life of ignorance and servitude. The second awkward scene was Dawkins sitting in front of a group of 4 year old's explaining the importance of rational thinking and evidence, you could tell that they were far too young to appreciate what he was saying and what he was saying came across as woolly and idealistic (albeit true).

My take away from the program was that faith based education is a odious steaming pile of toadyism and indoctrination, it's an evil mash up of parental insecurity and religious megalomania, but I probably already thought that. On a more positive note however, we need to find better ways to captivate young children about how science and rational thought is capable of revealing the true wonders of our universe (and far greater wonders they are than the primitive barbarity of arks and Roman torture).

Religion latches onto natural developmental instincts of children in an insidious and parasitic manner. As our brains develop we cannot help but anthropomorphise nature and seek purpose and design where there is none, this is why all religions aspire to control the educational process so rabidly (the younger the better). In addition to distracting kids with their own brand of dogma and superstition they also divide and segregate children when there is no practical or rational reason to do so. Such divisions have proven to be problematic time and time again in many countries all over the world, bottom line, it's corrosive and we don't need it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The faith school delusion

I see on the RD.Net site that Richard Dawkins is doing another Ch4 program with a religious theme, this time he's having a look at faith schools. In the pre-amble it says that the film features "robust" exchanges with former Secretary of State for Education Charles Clarke, Head of the Church of England Education Service Reverend Janina Ainsworth, and the Chair of the Association of Muslim Schools, Dr Mohammed Mukadam. The last one should be interesting as Dawkins has had a run-in with Mukadam on TV before (also regarding faith schools) On that occasion Dawkins questioned Mukadam regarding the somewhat medieval assertion that Muslim children are taught if they leave Islam the penalty is death. Embarrassing it was too for the good Doctor, at first he avoided the question but later was forced to admit this is in fact true.

You can see the exchange in the following clip..

Sounds like the program might offer some robust argument, more4 on Wednesday at 9pm!

Ban one, ban all?

There is a big stink going on in New York and the American press generally around plans to build a mosque at the "ground zero" site in down-town Manhattan. As a non-religious person I don't really care either way, it seems pointless to me to build a place of worship anywhere and I'm sure any small child can think of better uses for such valuable land, anyway, if no laws are being broken then why not? Surely if buildings for Islamic purposes aren't allowed then buildings for Christian, Jewish or any "woo-woo" purposes shouldn't be allowed either?

It strikes me that there probably isn't a square yard of the UK that isn't "near" the site of some atrocity or other at some point in our rich and blood fuelled history, most of which are linked in some way to religious dogma or some divine right of kings power struggle. So what exactly would a "safe" distance for a religious building be (either in time or in distance)? The question is a pointless one for an Atheist of course since any religiously inspired atrocity is in fact just another Human atrocity among the countless Human atrocities past, present and future; its just the religious ones have a poorer reason than most.

This cartoon sums it up nicely...

Visiting Hanks' bottom :)

This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well-groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first.

John: “Hi! I’m John, and this is Mary.”

Mary: “Hi! We’re here to invite you to come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

Me: “Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who’s Hank, and why would I want to kiss his ass?”

John: “If you kiss Hank’s ass, he’ll give you a million dollars; and if you don’t, he’ll kick the shit out of you.”

Me: “What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?”

John: “Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do what ever he wants, and what he wants is to give you a million dollars, but he can’t until you kiss his ass.”

Me: “That doesn’t make any sense. Why…”

Mary: “Who are you to question Hank’s gift? Don’t you want a million dollars? Isn’t it worth a little kiss on the ass?”

Me: “Well maybe, if it’s legit, but…”

John: “Then come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

Me: “Do you kiss Hank’s ass often?”

Mary: “Oh, yes, all the time…”

Me: “And has he given you a million dollars?”

John: “Well, no, you don’t actually get the money until you leave town.”

Me: “So why don’t you just leave town now?”

Mary: “You can’t leave until Hank tells you to, or you don’t get the money, and he kicks the shit out of you.”

Me: “Do you know anyone who kissed Hank’s ass, left town, and got the million dollars?”

John: “My mother kissed Hank’s ass for years. She left town last year, and I’m sure she got the money.”

Me: “Haven’t you talked to her since then?”

John: “Of course not, Hank doesn’t allow it.”

Me: “So what makes you think he’ll actually give you the money if you’ve never talked to anyone who got the money?”

Mary: “Well, he gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you’ll get a raise, maybe you’ll win a small lotto, maybe you’ll just find a twenty dollar bill on the street.”

Me: “What’s that got to do with Hank?

John: “Hank has certain ‘connections.’”

Me: “I’m sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game.”

John: “But it’s a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don’t kiss Hank’s ass he’ll kick the shit of you.”

Me: “Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to him, get the details straight from him…”

Mary: “No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank.”

Me: “Then how do you kiss his ass?”

John: “Sometimes we just blow him a kiss, and think of his ass. Other times we kiss Karl’s ass, and he passes it on.”

Me: “Who’s Karl?”

Mary: “A friend of ours. He’s the one who taught us all about kissing Hank’s ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times.”

Me: “And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss his ass, and that Hank would reward you?”

John: “Oh no! Karl’s got a letter Hank sent him years ago explaining the whole thing. Here’s a copy; see for yourself.”

John handed me a photocopy of a handwritten memo on “From the desk of Karl” letterhead. There were eleven items listed:

1. Kiss Hank’s ass and he’ll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
2. Use alcohol in moderation.
3. Kick the shit out of people who aren’t like you.
4. Eat right.
5. Hank dictated this list himself.
6. The moon is made of green cheese.
7. Everything Hank says is right.
8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
9. Don’t drink.
10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
11. Kiss Hank’s ass or he’ll kick the shit out of you.

Me: “This would appear to be written on Karl’s letterhead.”

Mary: “Hank didn’t have any paper.”

Me: “I have a hunch that if we checked we’d find this is Karl’s handwriting.”

John: “Of course, Hank dictated it.”

Me: “I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?”

Mary: “Not now, but years ago he would talk to some people.”

Me: “I thought you said he was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the shit out of people just because they’re different?”

Mary: “It’s what Hank wants, and Hank’s always right.”

Me: “How do you figure that?”

Mary: “Item 7 says, ‘Everything Hanks says is right.’ That’s good enough for me!”

Me: “Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up.”

John: “No way! Item 5 says, ‘Hank dictated this list himself.’ Besides, item 2 says, ‘Use alcohol in moderation,’ item 4 says, ‘Eat right,’ and item 8 says, ‘wash your hands after going to the bathroom.’ Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too.”

Me: “But 9 says, ‘Don’t Drink,’ which doesn’t quite go with item 2, and 6 says, ‘The moon is made of green cheese,’ which is just plain wrong.”

John: “There’s no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you’ve never been to the moon, so you can’t say for sure.”

Me: “Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock…”

Mary: “But they don’t know if the rock came from the Earth, or from outer space, so it could just as easily be green cheese.”

Me: “I’m not really an expert, but I think the theory that the moon came from the Earth has been discounted. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn’t make it cheese.”

John: “Aha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!”

Me: “We do?”

Mary: “Of course we do, Item 5 says so.”

Me: “You’re saying Hank’s always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That’s circular logic, no different than saying, ‘Hank’s right because he says he’s right.’”

John: “Now you’re getting it! It’s so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank’s way of thinking.”

Me: “But…oh, never mind. What’s the deal with wieners?”

Mary blushes.

John says: “Wieners, in buns, no condiments. It’s Hank’s way. Anything else is wrong.”

Me: “What if I don’t have a bun?”

John: “No bun, no wiener. A wiener without a bun is wrong.”

Me: “No relish? No Mustard?”

Mary looks positively stricken.

John shouts: “There’s no need for such language! Condiments of any kind are wrong!”

Me: “So a big pile of sauerkraut with some wieners chopped up in it would be out of the question?”

Mary sticks her fingers in her ears:

Mary: “I am not listening to this. La la la, la la, la la la.”

John: “That’s disgusting. Only some sort of evil deviant would eat that…”

Me: “It’s good! I eat it all the time.”

Mary faints. John catches her.

John: “Well, if I’d known you were one of those I wouldn’t have wasted my time. When Hank kicks the shit out of you I’ll be there, counting my money and laughing. I’ll kiss Hank’s ass for you, you bunless cut-wienered kraut-eater.”

With this, John dragged Mary to their waiting car, and sped off.

Reproduced from Project Reason and suspiciously similar to some other story I heard once, no don't tell me, it'll come back in a minute....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Political or Religious?

Many people around the Blogsphere are re-posting this fine article by Johann Hari he talks about how British Christianity is suffering a slow whiny death and that it's about time we had a proper secular constitution in our green and pleasant land.

I must say I agree with him. It's about time the official "Church" of England decides if it's an extension of the Conservative party or an actual religion. If the latter then I think it needs to work a lot more on it's reason d'etre or the trends suggest that what Hari is saying will more than likely come true (as much as David Cameron is desperate to reverse it). If however it's the political path it craves then it needs to stop pretending to be a religion, drop the charity status, publish an anti-gay, anti-abortion, unequal-rights manifesto (if that's what it really stands for), let go of the schools and say goodbye to the unelected privileges given to its Bishops in the house of Lords.

Here is a quick excerpt from the article so you can get a flavour,

And now congregation, put your hands together and give thanks, for I come bearing Good News. Britain is now the most irreligious country on earth. This island has shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else. Some 63 percent of us are non-believers, according to an ICM study, while 82 percent say religion is a cause of harmful division. Now, let us stand and sing our new national hymn: Jerusalem was dismantled here/ in England's green and pleasant land.

How did it happen? For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned. But once there was a free marketplace of ideas, once people could finally hear both the religious arguments and the rationalist criticisms of them, the religious lost the British people. Their case was too weak, their opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people too cruel, their evidence for their claims non-existent. Once they had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Here is a little story I noticed today that bought a question into my mind; its about a Christian housing officer in Wandsworth who advised (apparently via a 30 minute "barrage") an applicant for one of his housing cases that since she had a serious illness she should not bother with doctors and put her faith in God. Duke Amachree, the officer in question has since lost his job and a subsequent appeal, I think this decision is right. Someone in a public role like this should keep their own superstitions to themselves, unless asked, and certainly not use them to pin someone down like this and subject them to an unwelcome and irrelevant lecture. However my question is not really about this specific case but the more general point that if someone is advised to take a course of action that is harmful to them or others on the basis of superstition or unsubstantiated woo woo (like this case) then should the advisor be culpable in some way?

To put it more directly, if someone in a position of authority i.e. a pastor or Bishop advises someone not to seek medical advice when they should on the basis that "God" will look after them and that person then dies, should the pastor be prosecuted or not? Should religion get a free ride when it comes to making unsubstantiated claims about reality that lead to harm?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tell em straight..

I read this little piece in the Atlantic recently, it's about Christopher Hitchens and his current medical condition; there is a link to a video in the piece and I must say that although he sounds good he looks pretty bad, obviously the chemotherapy is having an affect. Anyway, the point of posting this was to draw attention to the forthright response that the author of the piece has for those people who say they are praying for Hitch to die; I fully agree with his conclusion and would add that its lucky mumbling to invisible men in the sky has absolutely no effect whatsoever on reality or we'd all have been f**ked a long time ago!

Double your fun...

Here's another Christian poster for you to decipher; I presume it's aimed at American "yoof" but the message is rather dubious if you look at it literally (like a child would)... so like, some adult bearded dude, who is a ghost, wants to follow me around everywhere, hold my hand and have fun with me?

Or perhaps I'm not seeing the real message, i.e. Jesus shreds with NO SHOES ON, WTF, hardcore!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Are you on the list?

Apparently this Christian poster is real, I can't imagine that it would allow or even encourage many people to attend the church or sect that it's for?

I see Atheists on the list sandwiched between wife beaters and new ager's, sounds about right, but I can't find "know-it-all scientist's" (note the special use of the apostrophe here). I particularly like "Loud mouth women" but am baffled by "P.K's" and "High Fullutent", must be an American thing, Elizabeth you need to help me out with those... :)

Feel the buzz

My son was stung by a wasp last week, he was out and about with some friends in Virginia water at the time so my wife called me at work to ask what to do. In the absence of any antihistamine I couldn't remember if it was bee or wasp stings that you can supposedly put vinegar onto. Luckily the internet came to my rescue, wasp stings are alkaline and bee stings acid, so in theory vinegar would be preferable for wasp stings; they retired to a nearby tea shop where (I imagine) a kind lady deprived some poor fish and chip consumer of their rightful portion of Sarsons.

On further reading though it would seem that vinegar or bicarbonate (in the case of bee stings) probably does very little to actually mitigate the effects of the sting, the chemicals involved in insect venom are many and complex and the relative PH may not even contribute toward the pain or the reaction anyway (those pesky scientists again spoiling a perfectly good folk-remedy!) What is probably more relevant is that the attention offered to a small child in seeking out and applying what seems to be a specific remedy by an authority figure probably has a placebo effect which helps much more than immersing the child in a pickled onion jar. Fortunately there were no allergic reactions to the sting and it was all forgotten about an hour later, when he was ready to face the hordes of wasp-kind once again.

Whilst we're on the topic of wasps I came across this story the other day, the largest wasp nest in Britain was discovered in a Hampshire pub chimney (see picture above) recently, they reckon there were half a million of the little blighter's in there, not something you'd want to accidentally discover on your regular Friday night lock in!

Calm down dear

I came across this little story this morning, its about some research done in Canada on the subject of thinking about God; it seems that if you believe in God and think about it it reduces your stress levels, more specifically it reduces the anxiety associated with making mistakes. I can see how that might work, children exhibit similar traits when their parents are on hand to provide a safety net, i.e. increased confidence and more willingness to try things etc. Often when you remove the parental backup from situations that confidence is much reduced and stress increases.

Apparently atheists can achieve something similar, although I'm not sure thinking about a lack of something is as satisfying as a stress reliever as conjuring up a superhuman action figure in the sky; I'll probably just stick to reading a good book.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday joke

What would you call a TV program where the Pope was placed in a house with 10 porn actresses?

... I'm a celibate get me out of here...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Never buy shoes on the WEB

This should be added to the pantheon of common sense rules of thumb that from time to time I completely ignore in the naive belief that standard units of measure actually mean something.

I bought a pair of New Balance running shoes on the WEB the other day, now, I already own a pair of running shoes but they are many years old and have been designated by the united nations a safe haven for cheese manufacturing bacteria; so I thought I would treat myself to a shiny new pair to accompany me in the woods on these fine summer evenings. My normal shoe size is 45 (UK 11) but I know from experience that when it comes to running shoes a little extra room is advisable so every running shoe I've ever owned has been size 46 (UK 12); That's what I ordered, feeling smug that I saved myself a few quid by ordering from a discount store on the WEB.

The box arrived last week and I excitedly opened it and slipped the new shoes on (don't you just love the smell of new running shoes!), anyway I was shocked to find that my toes touched the end of the shoe! They must have sent the wrong size I thought, but no, the size on the label was correct, 46. So back they went for a pair of 47's eroding any saving made in postage, the 47's arrived today, I tried them on, guess what my toes still touch the end!

This pediferous conundrum caused me to do some research, I found that as far as New Balance is concerned size UK 11 means 45.5, this is odd so I looked at what my existing shoe manufacturer Saucony uses, they say that UK 11 means 46.5, the plot thickens! Adidas say 45.3, Asics say 46.5, Brooks say 46 and Reebok say 45.5. With all of this seemingly random variation between numbers that are supposed to mean the SAME THING! how anyone is expected to order the right size shoe from the WEB is clearly down to pot luck..!

Next time I need shoes, I'm going to a shop!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Agnostic superiority complex..

Love this cartoon from xkcd, it captures the faux superiority of people who stretch a whole philosophy out of the simple inability or unwillingness to look at the evidence and make their minds up.

God hates...apparently

Most people will know about the odious Phelps family in the USA who make the ridiculous claim that not only do they know absolutely that God exists they also know what he's thinking too.. These sad, small minded people squat outside funerals and other public events waving their little "God hates fags" banners coveting publicity and feeding on the grief of others, calling them parasitic losers would be too kind.

According to them God hates homosexual people and much like Stephen (bird shit) Green they claim that God is punishing or will punish society for tolerating them, rational people ask the simple question, if God hates fags then why did he create them? Obviously people so deeply under the spell of faith are impervious to any form of common sense unless it agrees with their vicious paranoid superstitions.

Here we see one of the Phelps mob (I refuse to call them a church) waving his little signs like a precocious child craving attention and another bystander dealing with him using admirable brevity.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Spectacular hot spot

Scientists using NASA's Solar Dynamics observatory saw that last Sunday our Sun ejected a massive spurt of super-hot plasma directly toward Earth; normally such a large ejaculation of radiation like this would wipe life on Earth out entirely however luckily for us (and our ancestors) we are protected by the magnetosphere which is a magnetic field generated by our planet's iron core.

So instead of a mass extinction we should expect one almighty magnetic storm in the upper atmosphere and if we're lucky we may even see that radiation smashing into molecules of Nitrogen and Oxygen creating a light show as far South as the UK and Northern USA; normally this show (called the "Northern Lights") is reserved for lucky viewers in the extreme North or extreme South (where I suppose it must be called the "Southern lights"?)

What do we bet that it's cloudy here in the UK :(

Demented Christians

Whenever decent atheists in the UK need a poster boy for demented Christianity then Stephen "Bird Shit" Green steps up to the plate and delivers admirably. 4Thought.tv is a series being run by channel 4 that explores diverse religious and ethical views, SbsG had 2 minutes of fame and was on last night ranting and frothing about homosexuality, take a look at the insanity he claims to believe.

We are seeing a homosexualisation of society, but not reproducing ourselves except in the Muslim population. It’s not Muslim mums’ fault that they are having five or six children, they are doing what the Lord God designed their bodies to do, but in 30 years our dying civilisation is going to be taken over by a stronger one and the obvious candidate is Islam and the gays aren’t going to like it much living under that system.

How much paranoia can you fit in one sentence.

We investigate population growth using a measure called TFR or total fertility rate, a TFR of 2 means that every "couple" simply reproduces themselves, i.e. has two children, theoretically this means stasis however you need slightly more than that because in poorer countries some kids die before they mature so a TFR of roughly 2.1 or 2.2 is required to eventually keep the population steady (its more complicated than this but the general principal is illustrative) In 1991 the TFR was 3.4, even a small difference leads to huge numbers when projected a few decades out, for example even if the TFR reduced to 2.1 the projected population for 2150 would be 12 billion (i.e. double what it is now) small changes make big differences, i.e. 2.2 gives us 20 billion.

If SbsG had his way then we'd almost certainly have a population way in excess of 100 billion by the turn of the century, by any measure this would be utterly disastrous and probably catastrophic for our ecosystem and the future of our species. At those levels societies and cultures would break down through lack of resources, war, disease and child mortality rates not seen since the middle ages and the forces of natural selection would reassert their grip on Human populations with a vengeance. I doubt very much it would be ignorant middle-class Christians like Mr Green who would win a survival race like that; my money would be on bacteria and sewer rats outliving Christianity any day.