Friday, October 29, 2010

Push back

This phone video was shot by a guy outside an abortion clinic, the poor man had to take his wife to have an abortion, because the child inside her had a rare condition called Sirenomelia. If that experience wasn't bad enough for the couple, he had to cope with some Christian wankers standing across the street holding up pictures of aborted foetuses and shouting biblical bollocks at them.

Unlike most (emotionally shattered) people in this situation he cracked and went over and told them what he thought of them, actually I think he was pretty polite, I would have used many more expletives. The response of the two cretins standing there was telling, first they tried to weasel their way out of it saying "sorry" and ended up threatening to fetch the police, at no point did they attempt to understand, what ignorant and evil hypocrites they truly are.

And they say Atheists are supposed to be the mean-spirited ones.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One of our robots is missing

Wow, I'm not quite sure what the point of this robot is but its just spooky, I wonder if the geeks fight over who's going to be "working from home" with it, oh come on, you were thinking that too..

Monday, October 25, 2010

Act of God?

Trouble over at the Richard Dawkins site, apparently a lot of money has gone AWOL and the finger of suspicion is pointing at the ex-Web Master Josh Timonen. Dawkins and Timonen have been friends for several years, in fact he dedicated his last book to him and although quite young and inexperienced RD had contracted him to build his Web site and film several bits and pieces for various science oriented projects. It looks like things went wrong when RD allowed Timonen to run the on-line store associated with the site, unbelievably not insisting on proper accounts or audits the result being that around £300,000 has gone missing, RD is now bringing legal proceedings against him and its all getting predictably nasty. Accusations are flying around like there's no tomorrow, Timonen's girlfriend who is much older than him is cited as a beneficiary of the stolen money as are several members of her family, hopefully they can settle the case between themselves without unnecessary public vitriol.

What makes me despair more than fraudulent use of money belonging to a charity is the response from the religious chatteratti, bile, hate and spite would be a fair summary. I suppose it's to be expected but the classic playground retort of nah, nah, na na nah, told you atheists have no morals isn't what you'd call a thoughtful analysis. Take a look at some of the exhibits over at the comments in this newspaper for example. Most of these dimwits seem to forget that there is a religious scandal in pretty much every newspaper on every day of the week in most countries of the world, and most of them a lot nastier than just a case of embezzling. What is it about these people are they so thickly befuddled by their fantasies that they are totally unable to look at themselves and realise that human beings are all the same, regardless of their beliefs and delusions, some bad, some good and some totally f**ked up, get over your sanctimonious selves for heavens sake!

Friday, October 22, 2010

1st century philosophy meets 21st century media

It's not a great time to be gay in Uganda at the moment, not only are you likely to be harassed, threatened and possibly even physically harmed because of an attribute of your biology, you may also find your picture plastered all over the media encouraging people to "hang them"!

Thanks to externally supplied bronze age (Christian) literature and religious literalism that society seems hell bent on convincing the rest of us that they are a bunch of ignorant, frothing and superstitious vigilantes. All I can say is that I'm sincerely glad I have no reason to visit such a fear based and discriminatory culture, or have anything to do with them at all, save pointing out how retarded their ideas about human morality are of course.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stuff that works

Another superb bit of diagramming from my favourite comic strip xkcd. This time we look at things that actually work and what our capitalist world tends to do with such things, i.e. for the most part companies are good barometers for things that work even though it sometimes takes time for them to find them.

This raises a question in my mind, why isn't religion on this list?

On reflection, perhaps it's got something to do with the fact that organised religion devours people's resources (time and money) independently of efficacy because you only find out if it's really true or not when you're dead! In this important respect for a surprising proportion of our population therefore, religion works.


No underlying reason to post this picture today other than this beautiful creature being true to her spots caught my eye.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Electrons cost more than paper?

I was looking at a book for my new Kindle today and noticed that the electronic version is MORE expensive than the paper back, huh? Why would someone pay more for electrons than a hard copy? If Amazon really want this format to take off and possibly even save a few trees into the bargain then they seriously need to sort their download pricing out.

The book in question is the new Booker prize winner "The Finkler Question", which is £5.99 in paperback but £6.64 for the Kindle edition! Are Amazon really suggesting that it costs them 10% more for me to download a little text file than pulp, manufacture, print, distribute, warehouse, pick and then ship a physical book?

Is this a case of the electronic revolution stifled by greedy retailers or greedy publishers I wonder which? In any case I probably won't buy either now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Excellent use of flow charting here from Crispian Jago quickly and efficiently deals with the most common "alternative" medical treatments. I particularly like the way he deals with prayer, "can you be arsed to actually do anything?", no, then prayer is definitely for you!

Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bigger than you think

I hadn't appreciated how big Africa actually was, but look at it with all these other countries crammed into it for comparison, topography envy?

Atheist theology

A common criticism levelled at Atheists is that they aren't qualified theologians therefore cannot competently comment on theological questions, like the existence of God for example. It's a complaint that has cropped up on this blog several times, arguments fall off the empirical path into a fog of semantic pedantry about definitions and meaning. Most Atheists I know dismiss theology, sometimes kindly by saying something like "theology is study of the unknowable" or perhaps in the forthright language of Thomas Paine (who thought this about it 200 years ago)

"The study of theology as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principals; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits no conclusions."

Personally I think theology is an interesting thing to study if viewed through an historical or anthropological lens, all the major civilizations we know have had religions or supernatural belief systems, it is undoubtedly a part of our evolutionary heritage albeit perhaps more cultural evolution than evolution by natural selection and so worthy of investigation and deeper understanding even if not of obvious utility in itself.

I wonder though if the non-theologian argument is a valid one? Most Atheists I know think more about theological questions than most Christians I know, by a big margin, and so if it's valid to hold a belief without consideration for theology why is it not equally valid to not believe it without consideration for theology?

There is an interesting debate going on currently around the question "could evidence exist that would convince an atheist of the existence of God?" - superficially it seems that the answer to this should be yes, of course, but using  the power of "theology" (albeit Atheist theology) it is surprisingly easy to hide the question behind a shield of semantics and meaning all of which are logically sound and perhaps illustrate the true purpose of theology. The argument goes something like this (T=Theologian, A=Atheist),

T) Could there be evidence for God?
A) The question is undefined because "God" is a plastic concept that is twisted to evade evaluation.

T) What if a 900m Jesus appeared in Time Square
A) No religion even proposes such a thing, so such a being would not prove the existence of any prior concept of God.

T) What about the forces of nature we don't understand, like Higgs Bosons?
A) There are many things we don't understand, none are evidence for a God and anyway, once we do understand them they become natural and hence disqualified from Godhood.

T) What if something happened that was so intricately improbable that you'd have to agree it could only be the work of God
A) Human individuals are ridiculously improbable, the events that had to happen and the random recombinations of complex strands of DNA make us all utterly improbable, but we are not Gods. Also, no such impossible event has ever happened, even after millenia of observation, if such an event (like a healed amputee or flocks of angels) were the criteria for proof then all existing religions are therefore disproven.

T) What about Bible miracles, visions, revelations and unexplained phenomena?
A) There are always better explanations than God, our brains are clumsy, sputtering and inefficient, they are also easily fooled. Failures of our sensory perception are not evidence for an alternate reality.

Of course if you disagree with any of this then clearly the arguments are too subtle and sophisticated for someone with no Atheist theology training like you! ;)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small but not simple

Check out the top 20 pictures from the 2010 Nikon "small world" photographic competition, amazing, the picture below was the winner..

If you're wondering what the heck this is then your mind will be suitably boggled to know it's the heart of an "Anopheles gambiae", or blood sucking mosquito to you and I, yes even those pesky little critters have one!

New York angers Thor

It's official, New York has done something really bad and upset that most theatrical of Gods Thor; Christian religious authorities are speculating on why this is the case, some say its because of gays or perhaps abortion, others blame aggressive secularism, some even say it's the lack of fresh herring available but in any case New Yorkers should be more respectful towards Thor or they can expect a lot more electricity oriented punishment to come their way!

Breaking News: Apparently senior religious officials from the Asian subcontinent are claiming that it isn't Thor after all who's angry, a delegation from India are attempting to clarify the position pointing out that the only true God of lightening is "Indra", during a news conference a small group of Greeks heckled the Indians chanting "Zeus", "Zeus" and outside the building several Italians waved banners proclaiming the wrath of Jupiter. In the New York times this morning a Cherokee Indian chief has written an article stating that the whole thing is nonsense since everyone knows that God "Ani Hyuntikwalaski" causes lightening, whilst a team of Mexican specialists have dismissed this theory warning that unless everyone starts paying proper respect to "Huracan" then for every bolt that the upstart Thor sends he will send three!

If you're interested in what this is really about then here's the real caption associated with this photograph:

"This is the moment a lightning bolt struck the Statue of Liberty in New York. New York photographer Jay Fine had spent the night braving the storm in Battery Park City, Manhattan, in a bid to get the perfect picture. Jay spent nearly two hours poised with his camera and took more than 80 shots before striking lucky with this particular bolt of lightning at 8.45pm on 22 September. He said he had been waiting 40 years to get the picture."

40 Years! wow, reality is so much more interesting (and much harder work!) than all the other stuff!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's a miracle!

I've been following the plight of the Chilean miners stuck 700m underground with great interest, it's an utterly perfect "media event", you have disaster, technology, human interest, jeopardy and a compelling event. Of course it's not only the media that feeds on events like this, let's not forget our religious brothers and sisters who aren't backwards in coming forwards when it comes to feel-good feeding frenzies. The three Christian denominations have each claimed credit for what they say is divine intervention in the survival - and expected imminent rescue - of the 33 men who have spent 67 days beneath the earth. Local Christian flavoured representatives are keen to get in on the act.

Carlos Parra Diaz, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor at the San Jose mine said,

"God has spoken to me clearly and guided my hand each step of the rescue, he wanted the miners to be rescued and I am His instrument."

Yards from where he spoke Caspar Quintana, the Catholic bishop of Copiapo, prepared an altar to celebrate an outdoor mass for a small congregation of miners' relatives and phalanx of TV cameras, he offered his verdict...

"God has heard our prayers, I have received comments of encouragement from all over the world. Let us give thanks."

A litte bit further up the hill of Camp Hope, the improvised settlement of miners' families, rescuers, government officials and media, an evangelical preacher, Javier Soto , wandered from family to family with a guitar and songs of praise. "He listens to the music," said the pastor, gesturing to the azure sky.

Of course rational people know that the success of this rescue will depend on geology and mining engineering, executed by people grounded in technology and science, however the devil in me (because clearly there is one) would just love to remove all the equipment and (real) expertise and let these three jokers finish the mission using only their "spirituality", it would be amusing at least; although on second thoughts I wouldn't want to burden those miners any more, they've probably had enough groping around in the dark for anyone's lifetime.

I can't help wondering, if the Christian God is happy to take credit for the rescue of these miners, can we assume that he takes full credit for all the miners that have ever died too?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let there be light

It was my birthday recently, it's not important how old I was but let's say I'm almost certainly more than half way through the game! But to compensate for feelings of being past it, I got a couple of really nice presents. My long suffering Wife got me one of those new Amazon Kindle e-book readers which I love, her hidden agenda of course was to remove the unruly pile of books by my side of our bed, this can now be reduced to something the size of half an A4 sheet of paper and about the thickness of a pencil. I also got a leather cover for it that has a sneaky pull-out light in one corner; this means that if I want to read after lights-out then I can without disturbing her, although I must admit that I feel a little like a naughty schoolboy with a torch under the covers!

For those struggling to visualise this, above is a picture of one fully extended, Oo-er missus!

Talking of light, I also got the latest Linkin Park album, "A Thousand Suns". I like it, gone (mostly) are the screaming teenage angst ridden tracks of "nobody's listening" to much more important subjects like nuclear war, I guess we all have to grow up some time. One small point of scientific interest was that one track features the voice of Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds", very poignant.

Dawkins must be stopped..

This made me chuckle..

"Dawkins must be stopped from calling us 'primitive', get me a wax doll and some pins..."


I read today that Sir Philip Green has concluded that the Government is failing to make full use of its buying power when dealing with suppliers. Resisting the urge simply to say duh! and close the file, I did read on a bit, he says that centralisation is the key so that departments avoid buying the same things for different amounts of money, I can almost hear the groans pulsating up and down Victoria street as I write this.

This all sounds reasonable but if you've ever had to sell things to Governments you will know that its normally a horrific process with many layers of redundant and repeated "hoop-jumping", authorisation and approval; selling things to Governments is typically much more expensive than to anyone else. The only buying entities that come close to this are large faceless corporations like Mr Green's, then you usually face another equally expensive problem, delusional over-simplification.

I wonder how many billions have been wasted over the years flip-flopping between centralised and de-centralised models and I wonder how many more control-freak business moguls will conclude that if only the Government were run like *their* company was then everything would be fine. Mind you I bet the myriad terrorist organisations around the world will love rummaging through our armed forces "bargain basement bins" at the end of the season, buy one stinger missile, get one free anyone?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

If it ain't broke...

I watched a medal ceremony at the Commonwealth games yesterday, it was a nice moment, England had won gold beating Australia by a whisker (always extra nice moments!) but as the flag rose up the pole the hymn "Jerusalem" belted out across the stadium, nice tune, but what an anticlimax, it felt entirely wrong.

A bit of quick research threw up the fact that for this games apparently there was a vote to see which tune should be played at medal giving ceremonies involving the English team and the winner was the aforementioned Blake inspired ditty. Not wanting to be labelled a traditionalist I have a dilemma here, it sounded wrong to use this hymn because its the stirring words that make it, and clearly there are no words at a medal ceremony, however both this and our national anthem are full of delusional deity inspired nonsense that any self respecting Atheist would avoid given a choice. My conclusion was that we need a new anthem, something that actually reflects our country as it is now rather than as it was in 1890, but what modern work could hope to stand shoulder to shoulder with a classic like Jerusalem, perhaps we should get Simon Cowell on the case, on second thoughts..

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Standing up for superstition

I see today that the Catholic church continues its crusade in favour of dogmatic, pre-scientific superstition over human well-being. In a statement released yesterday a spokesman criticised the recent Nobel prize for medicine awarded to Robert Edwards (who pioneered work into in vitro fertilisation) In it a top Vatican "bio-ethics" official Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula said that "his (Edwards) research didn't treat the underlying problem of infertility but rather skirted it", an interesting perspective, the rest of us would look at the situation and see parents without children having treatment and afterwards, er, actually having children, seemingly hitting the problem of infertility squarely on the head?

Perhaps all those years of theological training have imparted some deeper knowledge of reality (unavailable to the rest of us) to Mr de Paula, a reality in which embryos conceived in vitro are somehow inferior to those conceived through sexual intercourse between two (married) people? As is typical for "experts" of Mr de Paula's ilk he does not explain how he knows this, conveniently (and unlike the scientists) avoiding any proper scrutiny of his position. The Vatican spokesman goes on to point out the fate of unwanted or excess embryos, i.e. they are destroyed or used in stem cell research, he objects to this, using the age-old playground bully's defence of "because I say so". Every other rational person realises that although any kind of waste is regrettable, this is exactly what happens in nature where un-fertilised embryos are traditionally flushed down the toilet rather than being used to further our attempts to reduce the suffering of millions.

In case you are wondering, the picture shows professor Edwards with the first ever test-tube baby, Louise Brown who is a Mother herself now. I wonder if she's Catholic?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Scientology, officially stupid?

Councillor John Dixon of Cardiff is a keen twitter user, unfortunately for him he made a tweet about the "Church" of Scientology in which he said,

"I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

Now to the rest of the world this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to say, in fact when you think about it, this should probably be compulsory advice freely available on the NHS! But those ever litigious Scientologists were keen to prove that this comment represented some kind of criminal act, according to a spokesman for the organisation one of their brethren decided to sue Mr Dixon claiming he was "personally insulted". Clearly the impulse to silence critics using the legal system runs deep through their membership and their intolerance to free speech is as legendary as ever.

Fortunately though, common sense has prevailed and a standards and ethics committee has dropped the charges, I'm not sure where this leaves the people that bought this case, officially stupid I guess?

Commonwealth games 2010

We watched the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth games last night, it looked wonderful, the colours and the costumes were amazing and after all the controversy about the Indian authorities not being ready it was good to see them pulling it off without any apparent hitch (although I did spot one unfortunate dancer falling over in the middle of her set)

The strangest thing I found about the whole thing was trying to explain to my 9 year old son what the "point" of these games were and why this eclectic collection of nations gets together at all. A relic of our imperial past certainly but then it's hard to be precise about the rules of this club, firstly not all ex-colonies joined; notable exceptions include USA, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, secondly, there are even countries that weren't colonies at all but who would like to join, for example Algeria and apparently even France considered it back in the 50s. In the end we concluded that like so many Human endeavours it's conceptually a good idea but in practice a little hazy in its implementation.

Perfect hijab job

I think I've inadvertently stumbled on the perfect job for Women who insist on covering themselves from head to toe in drab cloth in order to preserve their modesty (or buckle to misogynistic threats, depending on your point of view).

A few weeks ago I took my kids to Slimbridge wildfowl & wetlands trust for a nice day out, we had great fun feeding the birds and and one of the things we did was to listen to a lecture by a member of the staff there, she was talking about their on-going programme to re-introduce cranes to the UK. I didn't realise this but Cranes used to be a native UK species, sadly they were hunted to extinction back in the middle ages (for food!) However they remained fairly common on the European continent and the WWT are running a breeding program to reintroduce them here. My kids loved it especially the part where the people looking after the baby cranes have to dress up like a "mummy" crane so that the chicks don't become tame, retaining a fear of humans (for obvious reasons!)

When I received their newsletter recently and looked at the picture this thought suddenly struck me, a non-controversial role for traditional Islamic female attire, a job where there would actually be a reality based point to wearing an outfit like this, sounds ideal :)