Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday wines

For a change here's a post about wine, not that we drink much these days, work and kids kind of curtailed this hobby several years ago but once a year the Christmas holiday (+lack of early mornings) present a great opportunity to crack open a few bottles and remember why appreciating wine is such an ethereal, diverse and social pastime.

On Christmas day I opened something from the Southern Rhone, red, rich, warm and flavoursome, a bit like the climate there. It was a 2007 Coudoulet de Beaucastel, the less famous sibling of the world renown Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel but about a quarter of the price (£10-15). Unfortunately the wine was corked, not too badly but the tell tail odours of green vegetables and cardboard were obvious. Some people reckon that if you stuff a plastic bag into the wine for a few minutes that this removes the taint (not sure about the Chemistry of this?) I tried it and it did seem to make a difference, it made the wine drinkable but not as nice as a good bottle would have been.


Boxing day we had a treat over at my parents house, a 1999 Sassicaia from Italy, this is a famous wine often referred to as a "Super Tuscan" belongs to a group of wines made from atypical grape varieties in Tuscany, where usually wines are made from the Sangiovese grape. Super Tuscan wines tend to use grapes more common to Bordeaux in France like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, they caused a stir when they first appeared in the 70s but are part of the landscape now, often commanding very high prices. This example was really fine, inky red, smelling of tobacco, vanilla and dark fruits it took a while to come round but was a delight to drink with lunch, a memorable wine at it's peak.

Last night I opened a bottle  (2002 Domain Courbis, La Sabarotte) from the Northern Rhone (France) and a small region called Cornas; grapes have been grown here since Roman times and it's the spiritual home of the Syrah grape (red), the same grape that found it's way to the new world (Australia) where it's known as Shiraz. The expression of Syrah in the Rhone is very different from the ozzy versions, more subtle, often more complex and perhaps less "obvious", lighter fruits, raspberries & redcurrants and a fabulous liquorice finish very enjoyable with a midnight supper of cheese and crackers.

Tonight I'm thinking we might switch to white since a traditional turkey curry is on the menu something flavoursome from South Africa or New Zealand perhaps, more to follow.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas day!

So here we are, Christmas day, the high point of our  calorie calendars. As I write this my sprouts and tatters are still digesting, my guests have just left and a pleasant quiet has descended over the house, ahhh...


Of course these days it's not just food and material things we should concern ourselves with, I read that the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded everyone (although I'm not sure who asked for his opinion?) that our society could be in trouble "bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost." ; what with rioters in the Summer and financial greed in the City we're probably all doomed, as we usually are unless we believe some Bronze age mythology or other. Of course a bit of social tribulation is always good for the Church, it means that clergy get to state the bleeding obvious and make it sound like wisdom, is his inference that he *should* be trusted?. Of course, the Catholic church has blown the "trust" scam, and bent politicians trump bent financiers any day of the week. Williams chose not to mention these two other groups who have abused trust and screwed people over in recent times, but then how can we trust Bishops not to have their own political agendas, scepticism sounds like a pretty sensible course to me.

Well, how was your Christmas day? I must say mine was quite hectic but everything worked out OK, the lunch wasn't burnt, the presents well received and everyone is still talking to each other, a success by any measure.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday joke

For Christmas a dad buys a lie detector robot that slaps people when they lie and decides to test it at dinner.

"Son, where were you today?"
The son says "at school Dad."
Robot slaps the son!
"Ok, I watched a DVD at my friends house!" the son says.
"What DVD?" asks the father.
"Toy story." Robot slaps the son again!
"Ok, it was a porno" cries the son.
"What!? When I was your age I didn't know what porn was" says the dad.
Robot slaps the dad!
Mum laughs: "Ha Ha Ha! He's certainly your son."
Robot slaps the mum!




Awkward Silence.........

Dear leader


I couldn't let the "passing" of Kim Jung Il pass without commenting on how personality cults mirror religious infatuations in so many ways that even the most sceptical observer cannot but draw parallels.

Now that the old codger is dead there have been many strange natural phenomenon noticed in North Korea, apparently a strange "glow" was seen around a particularly revered mountain and the ice on a famous lake cracked (wow cracking ice, who'd have thought it!) I can imagine it's only a matter of time before someone sees him ascending into the sky on a white horse or wondering around the streets of Pyongyang in a white robe. Whilst he was alive he managed to maintain a web of mythology around himself that seemed hard for any outsiders to penetrate, to the extent that he was reported to have supernatural powers that enabled him to control the weather, whilst his birth (in a secret log cabin) was accompanied by a double rainbow. No virgins involved in this instance, although he was rumoured never to defecate which is equally biologically unlikely, although he was by all accounts certainly full of it.

Somewhat predictably he seemed to have a very needy personality, I guess being brought up in the environment he was with the role models he had this isn't exactly a surprise; having injured himself once falling off a horse he became so paranoid about becoming addicted to pain killers that he forced several of his aides to take them as well so that he wouldn't become addicted alone. On a more amusing note the vainglorious official titles he gave himself were just a hoot, "Glorious General who descended from heaven" and "Dear leader who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have" are just two examples from over 50. How could he possibly fail to impress with handles like that, although signing into his email must have taken a while.

Of course all this could be lies and rumour spread by the CIA, he might really have been a nice bloke who wore a cardigan and smoked a pipe, although judging by the media coverage coming out of that country that would seem a stretch. Still, the end of his era has arrived, all we can hope is that the good people of North Korea find their own voices in the coming months and years, I'm sure they have lots to say.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Watch it before its banned..

Tim Minchin doing what he does best, singing silly (but serious) songs that poke fun at religion adding a little rational balance to a largely superstitious world. Apparently the brass at ITV are jumping up and down trying desperately to suppress this, even more reason to spread it around then!!

Symbolic of the season


Its ironic that one of the pagan icons of this season is also parasitic.

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Hitch


Christopher Hitchens reached his exit junction on the highway of life yesterday, with infuriating inevitability cancer finally extinguished his conciousness and in his own words he "had to leave the party". He died aged 62 in hospital in Texas, hopefully comfortably but far to early for his time. I will feel sad today, even though I never knew him I will miss him. I always found his articles and books superbly written and coherent, as a speaker he could be inspirational and even if I didn't agree on every detail or understand every subtlety I always found him intelligent, funny and provocative, never boring, never wishy washy.

Hitch was a man who contributed a brick or two to my own crumbling edifice of self, donated via his thoughts and through his words and until my own turn-off arrives, I'll always be grateful for that.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cardinal Sin


This image caught my eye today, it's a sculpture called "Cardinal Sin" by that almost mythical urban/street artist Banksy; it depicts some kind of Catholic clergyman with his face sawn off and replaced by bathroom tiles which gives the impression of one of those pixelated images of suspected criminals that you see on the news.

The message of the work is a response to the ongoing child abuse scandal within the Catholic church, a topic which should never be far from the news, Christmas or not. I've no idea what side of the religion debate Banksy bats for but I reckon he isn't a big fan of them, in a comment made when the statue was presented he said,

"The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it's easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity - the lies, the corruption, the abuse."

Yo ho ho..

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cosmic irony?


It was my birthday back in October and my family, knowing what a sucker for a good scientific/factual read I am decided that a good present would be a subscription to the National Geographic magazine, a completely splendid idea it was too, and I was thrilled and grateful to receive it.

The first of my subscription plopped onto our doormat a week or so ago, I opened it with great anticipation only to discover that the leading "front cover" story, in my first edition was titled "The King James Bible". Cosmic irony? Actually it was an article about the making of the 1611 book, it's origins and some of its history. Quite interesting as it turned out, a work of undeniable beauty in its use of the English language, typography and phraseology but used throughout much of it's life to terrify the weak and still revered today in places where a sense of continuity with the past seems important, a legacy of ambivalence you could say.

Now you see it...


Interesting news from the LHC this week, it seems like there may have been a "glimpse" of the Higgs boson, aka "the God particle" in the popular press. The team there is saying that there isn't enough data yet to be sure but it looks promising, more experiments are scheduled to be run in the new year which will help to confirm the results thus far.

If confirmed this would be a breathtaking discovery, it means the universe is simple at it's heart and the fact that we can actually understand it is a great testament to the method and to the scientific giants of the past upon whose broad shoulders we all stand.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Healthy supplements



The Christmas issue of the New Statesman will be guest edited by Richard Dawkins this year. He's assembled an impressive list of contributors from the corridors of science, business, literature, political commentary and medicine, people like Bill Gates, Alan Ryan, Philip Pullman, Tim Minchin and Christopher Hitchens. Hopefully there will also be room in the 100 page special issue for contributions from gnu atheist regulars like Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett too.

Let's hope that there's lots of stuff about Nazi's, atheists eating babies and burning vicars at the stake and compulsory genetic modification of post modernists, all of which any spiritual person knows Dawkins supports; the last thing we want is to read something that challenges what we believe or (perish the thought) learn something new about our world.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Stuff people believe


If you must to have faith, then have faith in evidence and reason.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Steady as she goes

Interesting result in the latest survey into British social attitudes, it found that 50% of the respondents identified with the "no religion" category.


In addition to the overall groupings it also found that only 14% of people regularly (weekly) attend a religious service. It's all evidence that helps when debating with screechy religious types (like here and here) who feign offence at any suggestion of reducing state funded religious privilege or that the laws of the land should apply to them as well, and who bleat out the line that "Britain is a Christian country", well, not so much it would seem.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

In-group, out-group, same old, same old..


Here is an interesting study done by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, it looked at trust between people of different stripes over the course of six studies using 350 adults and 470 students. The investigation concluded that religious people distrust Atheists more than people of other (competing) religions and the only group they distrusted more was rapists.

This bears out something I think atheists  have realised for a long time, i.e. that religion is mostly about group solidarity and very little to do with common sense. I would go as far to suggest that it's very sad reflection on the morality of some people that they more readily adhere to abstract groupings based on flimsy and variable imaginings and ancient literature, whereas they completely disregard the more obvious and real collective, i.e. basic human solidarity here and now!

The other side effect of this in-group/out-group phenomenon as indicated by this study is that religious people actually believe those of us who are more likely to cheat, steal or harm can be better identified by virtue of their opinions of a couple of specific Bronze age myths. Anyone with half a brain of course knows this is complete bunk, good people do good things and bad people do bad things and every fibre of our experience should tell us that's what we really see happening around us.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Wrong sort of people..


There is some kind of strange cosmic symmetry going on here..

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Driven to distraction


I couldn't help notice this loony tunes story on the BBC news wire today, it's from the superstitious heart of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia. Some cleric is warning that letting Women drive will be the end of virginity, in a report produced on the subject there are graphic warnings that letting women drive would increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Now he may have a point about the divorce thing, especially when it comes to asking directions, but how lesbianism and driving are linked is baffling (must be something about leather seats?)

There are many Women in that country who are willing to openly flout rules on driving and other more substantive equality issues, hopefully totally bonkers responses by the religious leaders like this will help to crystallise their naked misogyny and bronze age thinking, causing more people there to move away from that religion or at least reform it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eminently quotable


I notice on Google today that it's Mark Twain's 176th birthday; coincidentally I'm reading his autobiography at the moment and interesting it is too. Twain is famous for books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn but also his satirical quotes, many poking fun at religion, I don't know if he was an Atheist but one of my favourites is "Faith is believing what you know ain't so", from what I have read so far he was certainly a free thinker.

Here are a few more quotes that caught my eye.

  • A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
  • All generalizations are false, including this one.
  • But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?
  • In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.
  • Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
  • The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
  • Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.
  • I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people.
  • The history of our race, and each individual's experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.
  • The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession, what there is of it.
  • Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven....The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.
  • Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
  • So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbour's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.

Educational bits and bytes


I read with pleasure today that the Government seems to be finally waking up to the realisation that you can't actually operate a modern country inhabited only by people who studied politics, classics or media studies. You need a few people that can create stuff! The skills shortage in this country for talented computer scientists and programmers is chronic. I run my own software business and I'm looking for people all the time, I might realistically see 2 or 3 really good CV's per year and whilst the rest aren't necessarily bad they often need a lot of investment before becoming fully productive and even then, most aren't tuned into what you need to be an "innovator".

Education in information technology these days seems to be limited to something called "ICT" which to me looks confined to learning how to operate computer software (mostly MS Office) that other people create rather than learning to create it for yourself. For those not au fait with all this stuff the closest analogy I can think of is that it's like teaching English by instructing children in reading but not writing. Of course no one would seriously create their own word processing software on a whim just because they need to compose an email, just as it's true that not everyone is a William Shakespeare, but I believe the real challenge for us is not so much an operational one, it's about innovation.

Software is at the heart of most things these days, most of it invisible and unseen, but over the last 20 years it has gradually crept in unnoticed. Everyday items like cars, washing machines, phones, TV's all contains tons of it and more and more we live big parts of our private and working lives in the virtual world of the internet using tools like email, business systems, social networking applications and consuming  music, books, films etc.. If we lose the skills required to author original software then we lose the ability to fully compete in the market for most new products and services because most things have software in them! Sure, we can "outsource" but since software is so fundamental to most things (it's not like a paint-job) then over time we simply become a workforce of managers and accountants shuffling foreign resources around in applications written by Indians and Bulgarians. I have a couple of concerns with this approach, firstly it's no fun! where is the job satisfaction? and secondly what happens when the people who control the means of production decide that they'd prefer to manage themselves or want to take a bigger slice of the action, what leverage will we have?

I think it's a great idea that we teach kids how to write software, not just software of course, we need to teach them to build models, write stories, paint pictures and tinker with engines, this is the essence of innovation, not just in the field of computer science but in every field! Whilst consumption can be very satisfying, I for one certainly don't want to just "consume" and whilst obviously innovation and invention isn't for everyone, unless we allow kids to try it they'll never know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pictures painting words


I like this, it sums up what I think most of us "new atheists" (for want of a better label) feel about why we talk about religion in our society, it's first and foremost a reaction to what we see and what we're fed up with.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Think about the trees

I read with utter dismay today that the Prime Minister is planning to send a King James Bible to every school in the country, complete with a foreword by Michael Gove, the Education Minister. According to Mr Gove the King James Bible was the most important book written in the English language. “It‘s a thing of beauty, and it‘s also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture" Gove says.

Firstly the key word here is "was", secondly I do believe that in years gone by this "Bronze age middle eastern culture" was mostly rammed down the throats of people at the point of something lethal or under threat of torture or death, "beauty" in this case most certainly only applies to the syntax. I would be the first to acknowledge that this book is absolutely part of our shared English heritage but no more so than Chaucer, Shakespeare, Locke, Bacon, Bronte, Dickens, Orwell, Pratchett and Adams et al, the list is very large, you could say we are fortunate to have an embarrassment of renowned works to choose from here in England. It seems strange to me that this particular book was chosen above all that could have been selected. I'm surprised because it strikes me that schools these days (or at least the ones I visit) are awash with Bibles, put there by people so obviously eager to exploit the malleability of young children and these books are cherry picked and "interpreted" ruthlessly by those with investments in them. This couldn't possibly be a Tory scam to scrape up a few extra votes from "middle England" could it? Lets hope that Mr Gove proves me wrong by spending a few (more) quid of our money on something of broader relevance to a modern, multicultural and general education, a few text books perhaps.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting the message


I'm liking this story on the BBC today accusing the Mail on Sunday of hacking people's mobile phone messaging systems. I have a personal axe to grind regarding the corrupt nepotism that passes for journalism at that particular news paper group. As we have seen with the Dowler case it's shocking that ordinary people as well as film stars can suffer extreme levels of distress and expense purely to further line the pockets of newspaper companies. My only concern is that Hugh Grant probably isn't the best material witness in the world, after all the revelations about his "colourful" lifestyle choices I suspect that a lot of people will view his testimony with some scepticism.

Hopefully our gutter "free" press will now consume itself in a feeding frenzy of disclosure about what they really get up to, I'm not holding my breath though.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One for geeks


Here's a little something for the geeks in the audience, anyone that's had to serve penance for unspeakable abominations committed in another life by developing software to run in lots of different browsers will know what I'm on about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On the lash (well it is Friday!)

A couple of stories caught my attention today some of our Muslim cousins have been causing a stir again over some cartoons published in a French magazine. The cartoon (see below) apparently shows Mohammed saying "100 lashes if you don’t die laughing" although how you can tell its actually him is a mystery to me, its a cartoon after all not a caricature. Predictably the usual "you aren't allowed to criticise religion" brigade have been ranting about the inappropriateness of the drawing but also predictably have been less vocal about the retaliatory fire bombing of the offices of the publication. If you ever wondered why certain religions spread more widely than others then look no further, it's got nothing to do with the veracity of the mythology of course, but everything to do with the last man standing.


In the interests of balance, I also read that the Islamic government in Iran are planning to give actual lashes to two football players because one of them pinched the other's butt in a goal celebration which happened to be caught on national TV (see below). In Iran this apparently is a crime against chastity, clearly they completely missed the crime of impeding the goal keeper perpetrated by the blue number 5, a much more serious crime around these parts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Coldplay leaves me a bit chilly..


I bought the latest Coldplay CD (Mylo Xyloto) the other day, no doubt it will sell a gazillion copies and to be honest it's not bad but what's my overriding feeling after a dozen or so listens?

PREDICTABLE!

The songs seem to follow a consistent pattern,

1. quiet intro
2. twiddly bit sound effect (mandolin, digital sample etc.)
3. verse featuring religious reference (probably adds gravitas for some, sounds lame to me)
4. re-peat, re-peat, re-peat a catchy word
5. la la la wo wo wo (full orchestra sing-along bit)
6. goto 3, 3 times
7. fade

Don't get me wrong it's a good pop music and I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it, but maybe a little experimentation might lead to something a little more compelling, a collaboration with Metallica perhaps?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Confusion among clergy

Here's one of those caption competition games that you see at the end of quiz shows, in this example the caption is, "Catholic clergy remain confused about proper condom usage" - well, I thought it was funny...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Birds eye view

Now here's a cool video, its about a paraglider hitting two vultures in flight over the Himalayas (watch closely at around 0.32)  Paragliding is a sport which I used to do lots BCE (before children era), it's great when everything goes OK (which is most of the time) but I think an incident like this would certainly put me off for a bit!

Thank goodness for reserve parachutes!



(No vultures or pilots were harmed during the making of this film, only shaken up a significantly!)

Them's fighting words

On October the 18th 2011 at a Republican Presidential debate in Las Vegas, USA Newt Gingrich let his kimono slip open ever so slightly for everyone to see the ugly reality lurking beneath. He directly attacked the integrity and honesty 50 or 60 million Americans simply because they don't believe in ancient myths, here's what he said,

“Does faith matter? Absolutely,” Gingrich said. “How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” He continued, “the notion that you are endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary of what we mean by America.”

Gingrich also said that Americans should value religion first, above morality and knowledge; I can't think of a more vile and totalitarian philosophy. Being kind about it, this is delusional nonsense, being rational though, this is pure evil and coming from a man with less than ideal moral attributes. For example he has been married 3 times, is a serial womaniser and has had documented affairs whilst his wife at the time lay seriously ill. He has the dubious honour of being the only speaker of the House who has been disciplined for ethics violations and unsurprisingly makes a living by scamming people into handing over money for "fake" entrepreneur awards. (see video below)



It sounds to me like American secularists have a fight on their hands.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Damned if you do...


I see in the news today that the Dean of St. Paul's is to resign his position after the row over the last couple of weeks about the removal (or otherwise) of protesters outside the Cathedral. I'm not really qualified to talk about the politics of employees of that particular organisation or the individuals concerned, but it did strike me as an interesting situation with respect to the idea that Britain is a secular country (or not). Clearly the Church, or at least some members of it are in a position where their ethics may well be at odds with their organisation's legal standing; essentially the Church needs to decide whether it's inside or outside the establishment.

Of course any religion in a properly secular and tolerant country would not have this problem; the members of that organisation would be free to support any legal position and truly follow their conscience, to me the Church of England in this case seems to be suffering from a case of wanting their cake and eating it. Their political privilege and proximity to power is clearly intoxicating (and useful) for them but by accepting the "King's shilling", members shouldn't really feel surprised when their independence is compromised.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday smirk


Incisive from xkcd as usual, anyone who has filled in a WEB form will understand this...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More of this please..


This is Sally Morgan, psychic superstar, TV star and confidante to Princess Diana (apparently!) - at this point you may be wondering why the title of this post asks for more, more psychic'ness? No, I want more of this!

A group of sceptics including Simon Singh and James Randy have challenged Sally to prove her psychic abilities beyond doubt in a specially organised test in Liverpool on Halloween. The test was arranged after one particular show Sally did in Dublin last month where audience members apparently heard someone at the back of the stage passing information to her via a radio link (this is an old trick).

I wonder if she will rise to the challenge? as TV magician Derren Brown points out,

"It's a great way of anyone making amazing claims to show that they hold up and are not just a result of trickery or self-deception. The test should be both scientifically rigorous and yet fair to the psychic: it would show, if the psychic is successful, that what he or she does is real"

Somehow I doubt she'll show, but if she does my own psychic powers predict a sudden and unexplained non-appearance of her psychic powers, we shall see.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

New rapture?


So, Harold Camping has predicted (again) that today is the day when the Christian faithful will be swept up to join Christ in his eternal dominion, leaving the heathen hordes (that's you, and me) to do battle with Satan and his host, condemned to become food for the crows that will scour a godless and forsaken land?

So, does this mean that God will also take all the fuel, food and ammo? will all those right wing Christians in America demand the right to pack automatic weaponry in Heaven? Seems unlikely so I'm not sure why the forsaken people left behind can't just re-organise society without that particular God and just carry on as normal, shooting the crows (or indeed any Corvidae) that dares to take Alfred Hitchcock too seriously. I suppose that for some of us infidels Camping's prediction will be uncomfortably literal, Col. Gaddaffi for example seems to have timed his demise to fit in with Yahweh's plan quite nicely!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another one bites the dust


We hear today that the last dictator (with God on his side) of the 60s has been killed. From the video I watched of his last moments it would appear that it was not a dignified death, that's a shame, it denies all those families who suffered under him a chance for their story to be told in a court of law and to participate in a justice process, however it was an understandable conclusion to 40 years of tyranny. As for the other bloke in this photo, he has God on his side too, I can't help but think it means as just much in his case as it did in Gaddaffi's.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How low can you go?


So, I read that the Catholic Church is in trouble again for making judgements about people's character and morality without their consent and essentially if they didn't pass then lie to them and steal their new born babies to sell. The latest scandal centres on baby-trafficking by Church, government officials and clinics in Spain over several decades. As many as 300,000 babies may have been the victims of a practise that saw infants taken from “morally or economically deficit” parents and sold to couples deemed more acceptable.

Come on folks, what does it take to reach the point where it's clear to everyone that this is a morally bankrupt and fundamentally flawed organisation that has no privileged position with regard to morality and certainly no special place legally in any society especially the ones where it has a majority following. Seriously, does the Pope have to set up a snipers rifle in St. Peter's square and shoot disabled kids and kittens in the head before some government somewhere takes appropriate and just action against these parasites.

Friday, October 14, 2011

rm -r /usr/dennis/richie


It is with sadness that I learnt today of the death of one of Computer Sciences iconic figures. Dennis Richie (seen in the photo wearing the stripy sweater) was pivotal in the development of two important elements of the modern computing landscape back in the 70s, the C programming language and the UNIX operating system.

Back in 1980, I remember endlessly studying the famous "white book", Kernighan & Richie's "The C programming language" in my first programming job, learning about curly brackets, null terminated strings, stacks, heaps and pointers (concepts programmers these days typically don't have to worry about!) Published in 1978, that book introduced something that is now part of our lingua-franca the idea of the "hello world" program, copied in pretty much every book and article about programming written ever since. The core of the UNIX operating system, that quintessential hackers paradise, was written in the C language and a lot of the utilities and shell environments also used C-like conventions. Not many people program in C these days it was largely superseded by it's object oriented descendent C++ however the legacy of Richie's work remains strong in millions of servers used by billions of people throughout the world and of course, in the memories of old hacks like me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Binge thinking..



Here is Christopher Hitchens at a recent free-thought conference in Texas receiving an award in recognition of his sterling contributions to the various causes of his non-believing "comrades". His acceptance speech is touching because it's obvious from the images that his cancer is advancing and he is dying, well I suppose technically we're all dying, but in his case he's leaving the party before he really should (and before the rest of us want him to!)

As many more serious thinkers than me have already said, we hope the best is yet to come.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Where were you..

I heard Steve Jobs died this morning, he was an interesting individual, focused and driven; someone who always knew what they wanted and had the intelligence and skill to make it happen; one of the wealthiest men at the head of the wealthiest company of our era. I listened to him live in California once in conversation with some other industry people at a little venue in Palo Alto. When we got an occasional glimpse through the usual opaque layers of corporate happy talk, he did seem to have something about him.

I'm not really into deifying people (as you probably know) and I'm sure Jobs had his share of good and bad attributes just like any other person. I think he was an Atheist (rumoured) so he probably wouldn't appreciate it anyway, however I think it is worth reflecting that tens of millions of people will learn of his death on some device that he significantly helped to create and which has impacted their lives in tangible ways, that's quite an achievement.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday chuckle


Found on b3ta.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The magic of interaction

Richard Dawkins has a new book out at the moment, it's called the "Magic of reality" and deals with scientific explanations for some of the "big" questions, like "what are we made of" and "how did we get here". The book is aimed at younger children (ideally I reckon about 10-14) but is actually easy for anyone to read and get something from (I did). The format of the book is consistent throughout, each question has it's own section and each section consists of one or more attempted explanations from mythology followed by the actual scientific explanation. So for example for the question "what is the Sun" we have myths about golden chariots flying across the sky and aboriginal fire gods culminating in the real explanation, i.e. that the Sun is a very hot ball of gas like all other stars of its kind in the universe, it works really well. As well as the book there is a more interactive iPad version which is the full text of the book plus some interactive games, movies and audio content; throughout both there are many colourful cartoon illustrations by Dave McKean.

In the interests of true scientific exploration I thought I would try the iPad application out on my own lab rat 10 year old, we sat and read through some of it in place of a bed time story last night, the reaction was really positive in fact we got into it so much that in no time it was 9pm (way past bed time!) A couple of things really grabbed our attention, firstly the humour, lots of laugh out loud moments, particularly around the fabulous illustrations (the porcupine wrestling with the beaver seemed to tickle a funny bone) and secondly the interactive features, it's one thing explaining about the wavelengths of light in words and pictures, but then to be given a virtual light bench that allows you to play with lenses, slits and prisms right there and then really solidifies the learning experience and helps capture imagination.

All in all a thoroughly recommended little educational app; suitable from about 10 upwards I'd say; some of the words used are what I would call "advanced" and perhaps not sufficiently familiar to children for them to comprehend fully on their own but with an adult assisting it's probably fine for even younger people.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday chuckle


Stolen from xkcd.com and genetically modified for my own nefarious purposes wahhahaha

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2000 years in one chart


The Economist recently published a chart that claims to show "When history was made", their blurb goes on to explain that since people make history then the more people you have then the more history you make, so now that our population is 7 billion we're making more history now than we ever have before, I'm not sure its this simple but I'll run with it. On the chart they're showing economic output and years lived (which are %'s of the total), the scales are a little hazy and for example, they don't explain how they could possibly arrive at a figure for economic output for the 5th century, so it's not data that I would necessarily bank on, but I get the overall point.

So here's an interesting thought, since modern humans have been around for at least a couple of hundred thousand years how come it took us so long to master agriculture on the left hand side of this chart and yet once we invented flying it took us less than 100 years to reach the Moon on the right hand side. The rate of acquisition of knowledge is increasing dramatically; over 20% of the products and services made in the last 2 millennia were made in the last 10 years. Clearly the systems of government and cumulative nature of science have all contributed to this change in pace, for most of this period people were dogged by superstition, ruled by theocratic kings (some still are) and died young, but as we know, over time the old ways have evolved into more enlightened systems allowing some fortunate populations to truly thrive.

It's also clear that those populations left behind at the beginning of the industrial revolution are catching up fast, India, China, South America are all powering up the greasy pole to attain 1st world status, but with another few billion people living at this accelerated pace how long can it last? It's certainly a question that is beyond our ability to compute at the moment. I would like to be an optimist and believe that we'll just figure it out as we have in the past, but with side effects like over population, climate change and shortages of basic resources it would seem like something somewhere has to give.

RIP REM


I'm a bit too old to properly remember the genesis of REM although I do distinctly remember sitting in my sisters student digs waiting for her to get ready prior to taking her out for dinner (she was glad of some free food as students always are) REM was blasting out of a boom box providing an audible canvas to the cacophony of hair driers and shrieks of pain as various brushes and pointy things probed places they shouldn't have. It was the first time I'd heard the group and it sounded really cool, I bought their then current album (Monster) the next day and I've followed them ever since.

Now they are breaking up, probably wise, quitting while you are ahead or in rock circles whilst you still have good liver function is always a good idea, lets face it they've probably made a fair bob or two. In celebration of the group and their music I think I might download some guitar tab and try to learn one of their tracks, the atheist anthem "losing my religion" seems appropriate, thanks REM!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let there be light

Here's something really awesome, the Southern lights as seen from space, kinda reminds me of all those sci-fi movies that featured green forcefields that pop up around the aliens to prevent us shooting at them, and I suppose that's exactly what our Earth's gravitational field and atmosphere is for us.



The light is produced when sub-atomic particles hurtling at us in the Solar wind actually penetrate our magnetic field and collide with molecules of Oxygen and Nitrogen in the upper atmosphere causing them to emit photons. The photons are essentially a release of packets of energy as the molecules (or parts of them) move up and down  between different states of excitement.

Just to follow on my train of thought from the previous post, i.e. that some people seem to require mystery or "faith" in order to appreciate the universe. My own feeling is that the fact that we know all this about something as fleeting as an aurora doesn't make this natural phenomenon any less beautiful or luminous, it makes me appreciate it more.

Nail in the coffin of Atheism?

OK, now I'm worried, could this be the beginning of the end for the new atheists?


Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury was in public conversation with famous comedian (and Catholic) Frank Skinner last week and accepted that Atheism is "cool", and his organisation was finding it hard to compete with the "coolness" of science and rational thought. At which point a horrible realisation struck me, can anything that the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks is cool actually be cool?

On a more serious note, it was a good conversation, very telling in many ways, here are my take-away thoughts,
  • Rowan Williams is decently witty (if it was scripted then I withdraw that complement!)
  • Frank Skinner seems to have a simplistic view of religion, for example he earnestly used Pascal's wager as a reason that believers needed to convince non-believers.
  • Williams seemed to have a somewhat strange view of how publicity works, he said that because atheism was cool it meant that atheist books were cool and therefore there was an amplification effect. Whilst this is true, what he didn't acknowledge was that there has to be a catalyst for anything to become popular to begin with; for new atheists that is usually things like 9/11, the Catholic child-rape scandal and creationism/fundamentalism, plus the fact that as we learn more about the universe the religious stories become less and less compelling and therefore disbelieved.
  • The conversation was basically an affirmation of faith, faith seemed to be the most important thing, whether or not the argument for the basis of it was good or not. This of course goes to the core of the difference between believers and non-believers, lack of evidence defines faith, the flakier the story the more faith you need to believe it so if you admire "faith" then you will naturally seek out the most unlikely things to believe in (or not!)

Social workers


I see that Google+ has opened it's doors to the great unwashed recently; for those who haven't heard of it Google+ is essentially Google's answer to Facebook, a social networking application aimed at providing social object* sharing capabilities to people.

The conceptual model underpinning Google+ is superior to that of Facebook IMO, its' more obvious what's going on and much easier to use; Google's engineers have clearly incorporated a lot of learning from existing products and their own failed first attempt "Orkut" (although oddly that's still popular in Brasil?). It will be interesting to see if the features of this new offering will be sufficiently better to entice people away from Facebook where millions already have established networks and repositories of content in place. Whatever the software does I suspect it won't get very far unless the boys from Mountain View make it as simple as pie to suck all your Facebook junk into Google+.

*Social objects are things that people want to interact with each other around, for example photographs or film clips etc.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Only science in science classes please.


I fully support the recent initiative by various secular organisations and leading scientists to go on the offensive regarding various religious groups trying to slip creationism into science classes in our publicly funded schools. For anyone who values education and frankly, honesty, a robust response is clearly needed; the people that advocate the teaching of creationism or intelligent design as science seem determined to use every means at their disposal including deception to meet their anti-science goals.

A campaign to oppose such moves aimed at lobbying the Government now has a web-site and many leading scientists are already signed up. Their positioning statement reads as follows:

"Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.

But this is not enough. An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools."


I also agree that evolution should be taught much earlier within the academic careers of children, it is incredible that such a foundational scientific concept, one that pretty much explains the rest of Biology is not even broached until secondary school.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Going, going....

Here's a scary picture...


It shows the amount of ice present in the Arctic at it's minimum position (i.e. at the height of the Summer melt), which occurred more or less yesterday September 15th. The orange line shows the average position of the ice at exactly the same point between 1979 and 2000, clearly there is a lot less ice now than there was in the past, in fact you can see that the whole UK would fit comfortably into the gaps several times over.

I hope this won't all end in tears, but fear it will.

Software industry legend


I was up in town yesterday and talking to various people about my company and what we are doing; one of the people I met was a chap called Bernard Liautaud, for those readers not in the software business you can probably stop reading now; but those who are will probably know of Bernard as he is somewhat of a celebrity in our industry. 27 year old Frenchman Liautaud started a company called Business Objects back in the halcyon days of the early 90s when relational databases were first becoming main stream, the tyrannosaurs of Oracle, Sybase, Ingres and Rdb roamed the surface of the planet and Facebook wasn't even a glimmer in 6 year old Mark Zuckerberg's eye.

Business Objects was always going to be one of those disruptive products, it aimed to wrestle the job of creating management reports out of the quagmire of the IT backlog and squarely into the hands of business people, it never fully succeeded in doing that but it was good enough to spawn a multi-billion dollar company and helped to create a brand new software industry segment, one that still thrives today. In addition to technical innovation Business Objects became the first French company to list on the NASDAQ, successfully making the transition to the USA that so many European companies find so difficult. During those years I worked for the main competitor of Business Objects, a Canadian company called Cognos, we were bitter commercial rivals but we all had a deep respect for the company Bernard was building, they kicked our butts on many occasions.

In 2007 software giant SAP acquired Business Objects for $7 Billion, and later IBM acquired Cognos for $5 Billion an era had ended, the raw human energy and individuality of  those early years was dissipated into the amorphous mass of the mega-corporations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Searching for meaning...

The technology space is littered with big ideas that never made it into the real world, especially ideas involving the internet and what people might want to use it for. Semantic search is one such "big idea" but I can't help thinking that the jury is still out on a) if it's really feasible and b) can it make money.


Semantic search companies aim to provide people with a mechanism to ask "real-world" questions and get sensible answers (ideally correct ones!) This is different from keyword based search (like Google) where words are typed in and the search engine returns a list of WEB pages that contain those words. A good illustration of the difference would be if you typed in the question "is pink married" into Google you'd get a selection of pages back regarding the colour pink, the pop-star pink and the subject of marriage but probably not a straightforward answer to your question. If you typed the same thing into a semantic search engine you (should) get the answer "yes" because the software has "understood" the context (meaning) of your question and has an underlying database of facts from which it can answer the question correctly.

One company that is trying to achieve this is a Cambridge based firm company called "True Knowledge", there are others, for example "wolfram alpha" and the mainstream players, like Google and Microsoft are also experimenting with semantic concepts in their search engines.

Out of interest I typed the following question into the true knowledge engine, "is Richard Dawkins religious", a resounding "yes" was the answer! 100% wrong but I can see how they might think that. Religion is probably a highly frequent term within documents that also mention "Richard Dawkins" but obviously the answer is completely wrong (in any meaningful sense, even though some apologists would like to bend the meaning of these words)

You can see the problem, in order to answer random questions phrased using human language requires so much more than facts, more often than not it requires actual life experience. This is a really vexing computer science problem, i.e. how do we get software to really understand us without us having to learn alien languages that computers can understand. The True Knowledge engine gets the question about pink being married correct (but then that is one of their stock examples), Wolfram Alpha doesn't clearly not recognising the fact that in the context of this particular question pink means the pop-star pink.

The second issue facing companies trying to solve this problem is how can it be monetised? Whilst it's easy to see how someone wanting to win a pub quiz could potentially use such technology what value is it outside of academic interest, or put another way who would pay for it? Google famously solved this problem with advertising and I suppose these new search engine companies could try the same thing, but that would seem difficult to me since there is such a momentum around keyword search; so how about businesses? Let's say I'm a sales person wanting to find out if the company True Knowledge is a suitable prospect for my product or service, that's intelligence I might consider paying for so a typical question would be "how many people work for true knowledge". I tried this in the true knowledge system, it couldn't answer the question, then I tried the same question in Wolfram Alpha and got the answer 3 million (it clearly misunderstood what I meant).

On both fronts of practicality and commercial value there is clearly still much work to be done.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's a fair cop?

Human rights lawyers and victims are to file a complaint to the International Court of Justice in the Hague recommending that the Pope be investigated for covering up the large-scale rape and sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.


Whilst I can sympathise greatly with the desire for justice underpinning this move I can only conclude that it is doomed to failure. The simple fact of the matter is that the Catholic church have 2000 years of experience of putting things "outside" of the realm of worldly investigation, including themselves. It's highly unlikely that the ICC will have jurisdiction over the Vatican since they aren't one of the 117 countries around the world that signed up to the Rome statute (interestingly neither have the USA).

Even if unsuccessful, let's hope this action serves to keep this important topic fresh in people's minds, unlike Catholics I don't believe that crimes against humanity will be punished in the next life, I'd much prefer to see justice in this one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Selective hearing


I saw an intensely frustrating program over the weekend (in a slow motion car crash kind of way). It was called "Conspiracy road trip" and featured Irish stand up comic Andrew Maxwell taking five typical young British conspiracy believers on a road trip from New York to Washington in an attempt to debunk their various delusions regarding the 9/11 attacks in New York. In the program each conspiracy theorist presented their own personal account of what they thought happened that day and this was then debunked via the group being taken to meet various experts and eye-witnesses.

Of the 5 people involved in the program only 1 of them actually changed their mind, 2 of them became more entrenched and the others remained more or less on the fence. It was frustrating (for a rationalist like me) because these people were obviously decent people but went to extraordinary lengths in order to retain even the faintest grasp on their pet theories, despite being confronted with overwhelming physical evidence to the contrary. The similarities between the kind of obvious emotional investment needed to do that was so similar to the religious debates I have it was uncanny, lots of futile "seeking meaning" within meaningless "why" questions and blatant confirmation bias for the actual "how" answers easily provided by real life. I wanted to gaffer tape the mouths of these people whilst I read them Carl Sagan's "dragon in my garage" essay, but no doubt they wouldn't have seen themselves in it as I did.

There was one lady in particular, "Charlotte" who came across as an archetypal relativist, a triumph of self-confidence over ignorance and like some obnoxious contestant on "the apprentice" she became more and more entrenched the more reality and evidence pulled her delusions into focus. Her initial theory was that the whole event was stage managed by the US government because no one could fly a plane into a building with such little training, it sounds reasonable, but the program then picked one of the sceptics (who had no flying experience at all) and within an hour of training had her landing a real aircraft. Rather than addressing her error, Charlotte simply moved onto the next theory, claiming that the towers were toppled using "thermite" in a controlled demolition, a chemist then proceeded to demonstrate what thermite does to one inch thick steel beams, surprisingly, bugger all. After a series of similar refutations and several tantrums, Charlotte finished the program accusing all the participants of collusion with the Government, or was it the Illuminati, I forget, anyway, in her mind "feelings" trump reason and evidence, she is not alone in that view, the 9/11 hijackers had exactly the same perspective.

PS. In case you're wondering why I posted a picture of the surface of the Moon it's because a recent NASA probe has sent back some splendid high resolution pictures that show in some detail the detritus left behind by the various NASA Lunar missions, driving a final nail into the coffin of the plethora of Moon landing conspiracy theories out there - or not, if Charlotte is anything to go by.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Dem' bones...


Spent a lovely weekend down in West Dorset/East Devon visiting some friends and went to the beach at Charmouth, and in a recent mud slide at the foot of a hill called Black Ven the kids and I found this, looks like a huge fossilised bone to me, it was too big to lift and we didn't want to hack at it so just had to leave it there... tantalising!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pray kid, or else...

I was listening to a random program on Radio Berkshire this morning about a recent survey of parents regarding compulsory prayer at school, many people probably don't realise that having a daily act of (Christian) worship in school is actually the law in England but the meat of the program was focused on the fact that most schools don't do it. Various arguments were aired for and against, and whether or not this law should be enforced. There's a reasonable summary of the story on the BBC news site.


Parents apparently have the right to withdraw their children if they wish and sixth formers can choose for themselves, however my view is that withdrawal of young children from a majority activity and the obvious stigma that would be associated with this is probably more harmful than just going along with it and simply teaching the child to think for themselves, evaluate the evidence and come to their own conclusions.

What I found encouraging about the program was that the pro-worship side had utterly dismal arguments, easily on a par with Piers Morgan, some of them are repeated in the on-line article, for example The Bishop of Oxford seems to think that forcing people to pray together makes a statement about cohesion, what nonsense, if you look up the word "divisiveness" in the dictionary it says "see religion". The solution seems obvious to me religion (or any similar cultural hobby) should not be a mandatory part of any state school timetable unless it's being taught comparatively to everyone, the law should be changed.

Piers Morgan argues for God, and fails.


Famous Las Vegas magician and outspoken atheist Penn Jillette has a new book out, it's part autobiography and part a conversation about atheism, from what I've seen so far it looks like a reasonable read. At the moment Penn is doing the rounds of talk shows in the USA promoting this new book and last night I happened to catch him on the Piers Morgan show (see YouTube version here) I haven't been paying attention to Piers Morgan much lately, I had some vague notion that he was popular in the states but nothing more than that. I had no idea that he was such a moron, either that or he plays at being moronic very well indeed.

Take a look at the interview and see how many basic logical fallacies you can spot in his arguments against atheism, I spotted at least half a dozen (argumentum ad populum, non sequitur, straw man etc..). Morgan declared his hand almost immediately, i.e. that he was a believing Catholic and attempted to goad Jillette into a negative reaction by being aggressive, argumentative and talking over Jillette from the outset. Jillette on the other hand handled it really well, he remained calm and polite and simply neutralised Morgan's ridiculous arguments with "logic 101", although it was clear that Morgan didn't understand why his arguments were stupid. I like Jillette a lot more after seeing this, he's cool, as for Piers Morgan all I can say is I'm glad he's working in the USA and I don't have to listen to his idiotic views at home.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Looking back, and looking forward...


It's a funny time of year for me, on the one hand it's my Son's 10th birthday so we're all very excited about that and on the other hand it's the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These events are inextricably linked for me, if it weren't for his birth I would have almost certainly been in New York on that fateful day probably staying at the Marriott World Trade Centre (photograph above) or at the Millennium Hilton hotel (The thin black building in the foreground of the photograph below) - chances are I would have been physically OK since my habit was to go to the office on Wall St. early, long before the first plane struck the North Tower, but still, it's a sobering thought.


Of course there are plenty of documentaries and deconstructions going on in the media currently about these events and they are all interesting in their way, but for me they tend to focus far too much on the mechanics of what happened, the horror and the spectacle and not enough on the terrorists themselves and the bigger cultural picture. The best article I've seen on this is by Christopher Hitchens writing for Slate magazine. I agree with most of what he says which is backed up by my own experience; ask 10 people in the pub or office why Al-Qaida attacked America on 9/11 and you'll get 10 different answers, most of them far too complex to be credible and most avoiding what for me is the elephant in the room.

Hitchens sums up this evil organisation nicely by saying it's,

"a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and "unbelievers," and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire."

What I like about this definition is that it isn't afraid to address that elephant in the room, Islam.

As we all know, correlation doesn't prove causation and so I wouldn't be so naive to blame Muslims for these specific attacks but the article goes on to point out why Islam is absolutely essential and central to the mechanisms that enabled these attacks and why the philosophy underpinning them will not prevail.

The key point for me about Al-Qaida and organisations like it is that, unlike the secular West, they have no mechanism for self criticism and correction, it's essentially a faith based organisation. Whilst Al-Qaida's motivations may be materialistic and/or political the rationalisation for their existence is only possible because of faith, without it you cannot rationalise such actions and goals, with it, anything is possible and you can convince intelligent, degree educated men to fly planes into buildings. Armed with faith it is entirely likely that short lived symbolic victories like 9/11 and 7/7 can be manufactured, but like all faith based philosophies from the Catholic Church, through Stalinism to Al-Qaida they are doomed to eventually implode because they cannot evolve effectively in any kind of time-scale that enables them to compete in an ever accelerating global marketplace of ideas.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Water, water everywhere

Should homoeopathic remedies be available on the NHS?

Or, in other words are you happy for your tax revenue to fund the public provision of substances that are as close to pure water as pure water and given to people because they *might* be lucky enough to benefit from a placebo affect. Are you also willing to accept the risk that someone with a serious illness may be stupid enough to forego real medicine for water or a sugar pill, and therefore make their condition worse than it otherwise would have been?

Vote here..

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What would Jesus bench press?


Here's an interesting story, gentle Jesus meek and mild is no longer de-rigour in certain backwaters of Christianity, some Kentucky based followers of the gentle shepherd are looking for a much tougher "Chuck Norris, kick-ass" version, artist Stephen Sawyer has even illustrated some examples of him. There are also undertones of this macho desire for butch role models here in the UK, I was surprised to discover that there's such a thing as a "Christian men's magazine" featuring stories with titles like "No more Mr Nice guy!" (unfortunately no naughty page 3 nuns though)

No harm I guess, but you have to wonder what kind of subliminal thinking is at work here; are we non-Christians to think that creating the whole universe wasn't sufficiently impressive for these people and that more "muscle" is needed, do they honestly feel spiritually undernourished by such feats? For me a view of the stars on a clear night or the birth of a child fills me with quite enough awe to be going on with, surely these guys must realise it looks (psychologically) suspect for grown men to feel more secure knowing that their preferred deity is more like "the rock" than Stephen Fry? Anyway, I always thought that old testament style God of smiting and genocide illustrated the very worst of Human kind in their imaginings of what type of entity should fill the holes in our ego's or the gaps in knowledge of our universe.

Since we have practically no evidence for the existence of Jesus at all, certainly nothing independently corroborated, and many gaps and inconsistencies regarding his life story I suppose it's only natural for followers to fill those gaps with whatever they imagine to be heroic figures of the day. If we cherry pick the teachings accredited to the man then even a hardened atheist like me can see some value, but at best all I could conclude would be that I can see reasonable moral rules of thumb in (some of) the stories, but apparently, according to some of my Christian brothers, Jesus loves me, which makes things all a bit awkward... ;)