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... ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Libyan bellweathers

It strikes me that if you want to know what's really going on in Libya then you need to listen to what the regime members are saying and assume the exact opposite is actually what's happening. I can't help thinking that there may be trouble ahead though, wounded animals and mad dictators are at their most dangerous when cornered.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Passionate "religious" disputes come in all shapes and sizes and don't seem to need to have anything to do with religion. In the software business I come across them all the time, people have vested interests in particular technologies or methods and make all kinds of unsubstantiated claims and irrational attachments regarding the wondrous nature of their particular poster children. It seems to be common behaviour that exists at the intersection of human nature and a self preservation/promotion instinct, highly analogous to peoples cultural and religious beliefs in many ways since these are often arguments that may never be "won" (without AK47's), they hinge on perspective, personality, culture, upbringing, vested interests etc. all of those soft squidgy, subjective things that are often impervious to reality and evidence.

I experienced a classic case in point the other day around the omnipresent feud between PC and Mac fans, a debate with a (non-technical) colleague about the relative merits of these two computing platforms (from a business perspective) came to a head when he reeled off a list of what I assume he felt were knock out mac features in order to shut me up, this is what he said,

"It (i.e. the mac) just works"
"Macs don't get viruses"
"Macs are lighter, thinner and have longer battery life"
"Macs boot up quicker"

Much like when atheists debate with religious people, this chap didn't appreciate that just because a particular position is taken it doesn't mean the holder of that position has no experience of the other side. Quite often people who rely on PC's for business own mac's at home (as I do) and atheists who criticise religion were often raised within a faith system, it's always worth checking before attempting your coups de grace.

Mac's don't "just work", their software can be just as poor as poor software running on a PC, the bug count for office on the mac is just as big, if not bigger than office on the PC. All the main anti-virus vendors have products for the mac, just because people don't bother writing viruses for the mac doesn't mean they can't. My Dell laptop is lighter and thinner than a Macbook and my iMac takes longer to boot up than my PC and anyway this cartoon from sums up the future pointlessness of this debate quite nicely..

The obvious elephant in the room was that owning a Mac makes (some) people feel good, and therein lies their main motivation for buying one, the rest of the pseudo-science is mostly wrong or generalised beyond usefulness. I find the same thing with all religious debates, people really have a problem simply admitting that they can't justify their preference but it just makes them feel good, and that's all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cross about crosses

Atheists are putting Christian’s noses seriously out of joint in New York. American Atheists, a non-profit group are objecting to steel girders arranged in the shape of a cross retrieved from the 9/11 rubble being housed in the new memorial museum, their logic being that since the museum is funded from public money this blatant religious symbol violates the US constitution as it relates to the separation of church and state. I can kind of see their point and we all know how Christian right wingers would react if say a Muslim or Jewish group wanted to place one of their symbols there instead (I’m sure plenty of crescent shaped bits of scrap metal could be dug up!) The stink created by the attempted positioning of an Islamic cultural centre near ground zero was plain for all to see, a positive feast of pots calling kettles rude names.

Christians must accept as a matter of fact and indeed history that people of all faiths and none perished in that attack equally without dignity or memorial, no single group should demand that they have a privileged position, particularly when the memorial is state funded. However, Atheists there should also seriously weigh up the pros and cons of such a move, in any campaign you have to choose your battles carefully and frankly this one will simply look arbitrary and mean spirited, a lose-lose scenario, they should drop it IMO, especially when there are much more worthy targets around. Like, for example, dominionist nutters Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann mixing religion and politics freely, bashing science and unbelievably running for the presidential office.

Monday, August 15, 2011

God found

Its official, God has been found, he lives in Kenya and dresses like Mr Blobby...

This man is called Jehovah Wanyonyi, and yes, according to him that's the *actual* Jehovah, the one who created the universe, stars, light, planets, people and all of that. JW started his little sect back in the late 50s and you have to hand it to him has been totally consistent since, not changing his story one bit, he is God, he cures all illness and injury, he offers redemption and has 25 wives and 100 children (no doubt that trick with the loaves and the fishes comes in really handy!) The only blot on this otherwise sterling record is the fact that JW had to move rather hastily a few years back after people started noticing that his end of the world prophecies didn't happen and that followers still continued to die of stuff that everyone else did, in fact more perished needlessly because he prevented them going to hospital. JW was run out of town but incredibly pitched up somewhere else 100km away and resumed normal Deistic services to the present day.

There is one delicious twist of irony to this otherwise sad and exploitative story, a local Pastor, Joseph Tanui was asked what he thinks of Wanyonyi, he said,

“He is a liar, lazy and a conman who has taken advantage of the ignorance of our people to exploit them. He knows that he is not God and will never be one, but the poor have no choice other than to turn to whoever promises them miracles and heaven,”

You have to marvel at the self inoculative power of religion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Irony r us

In a stroke of sheer ironic genius the Iranian Government has issued a statement advising the British Government to exercise restraint in dealing with rioters and recommending that an independent human rights organisation be allowed to investigate the killing of Mark Duggan.

Just so we don't forget here's how Iran's theocratic and corrupt leaders deal with people protesting on their streets, to be clear not stealing and looting, just expressing their opinion. (Note it's a disturbing video, showing the end of someone's life, don't watch it if you're easily upset)

Its not just the Iranians jumping on the band wagon either, there are other countries that clearly have axes to grind,

The times of India are fretting about the Olympic games in a similar tone as UK papers did over the last Commonwealth games in Delhi, fair enough I suppose; if Seb Coe is convicted of corruption then they may have a good point, until then not so much.

Russian paper Pravda called the riots "divine justice", no more need be said about them.

China had a dig about Internet freedom in a kind of "told you so" way, a question of out of sight out of mind no doubt and a subject already covered on this blog.

I wait poised with satirical ill-intent for what our traditional European antagonists say, you all know who I mean my fellow anglais ;)

Analysis fatigue

Like most people I was glued to the TV on Monday evening watching buildings burning in London feeling emotions of anger and concern and there was great anticipation last night that we would see similar scenes, but in the end it was an anticlimax. The massively increased police presence on the streets extinguished any idea people may have had for a repeat performance, adding weight to the argument of many that the rioting has mainly been about criminality and opportunism.

It's seems clear to me that the underlying reasons for this kind of behaviour are many and complex, there is no "one size fits all" regardless of what lilly livered lefties or frothing hard-liners are saying today. Several pieces of evidence make me think this, firstly there are a small number of people who may have a genuine grievance against the police, the shooting which happened last week and seemed to provide an ignition spark does have a very odd whiff about it and the sooner it can be properly investigated the better. Then we have evidence from the arrest records, many of the people actually collared were not from London at all, some had full-time jobs and some even degree educated, so much for an alienated and unemployed underclass. We also have to ask why some of the rioters were so young and I even read one report of a couple of kids who phoned their mum to come and pick them up at the end of a particularly busy looting session, she even helped them load the booty into the back of her car! Clearly some people need "acceptable behaviour for members of a social species" training (and no, not from a priest!) How can we make any sense of this, indeed should we expect to make any sense of it?

We've only had one calm night out of the last three (in London) and I'm already tired of the post riot "analysis" of these events in the media, the endless interviews with sociology professors from the peoples republic of Tower Hamlets correspondence university, chairmen of the police sub-committee on inappropriate footwear (retired) and Priests from our lady of perverted morality offering their opinions. I'm sure all these people are well meaning and are certainly entitled to their viewpoint, but attempting to tar so many people with a single brush seems doomed to failure to me. Blaming young people or black people or unemployed people or single parents or ill-educated people or immigrants or Government cuts or left wingers or Twitter simply doesn't cover it. Human beings can be born arseholes or made into arseholes and come from any walk of life, they can wear hoodies and steal trainers or suits & ties and wreck our economy. Crime and antisocial behaviour is a constant throughout history as I'm convinced is the proportion of arseholes in any given population. In big cities like London (where the density of arseholes is obviously higher) imbalances in the stasis are more noticeable but regardless, we need to make sure that any disincentives or punishments dished out are proportionate and followed through regardless of the postcode of the offender.

Solving social problems is notoriously difficult because people and societies are very complicated things, as has been seem many times in the past, social programs like marketing campaigns are usually only 50% effective, unfortunately nobody really knows which 50%.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Anti-social media..

Many people are talking about the violence and crime in London and elsewhere last night, there's lots of speculation about the causes and the impact of it, I certainly have my views but thought I'd take a different tack. There was a lot of speculation last night that rioters were using "social media" to coordinate their criminal activities, to the extent that some commentators were actually blaming it.

I expect to see that kind of thing from hysterical right wing sources but such criminally simplistic reporting shouldn't be the norm on channels that are supposed to be balanced and researched, like the BBC for example. Blaming crime on the internet is akin to blaming world war one on the telegraph, or world war two on the radio, or the Vietnam war on TV, i.e. dumb! One wonders how insulted the police must feel about this speculation, the implication being that they are too stupid to read and use the same social media channels as the criminals, and indeed actually use them to pre-empt crime. It seems unlikely that monitoring such feeds with smart software that identifies potential risks would be beyond the resources and intelligence of the UK Government and its security services, then again on second thoughts....

Friday, August 05, 2011

Comfort zones

I read this story on the BBC today about a Dutch cleric who runs a Protestant church in central Holland but is not actually a Christian. When you read his account of how that works he does what a lot of religious people do; in fact most I talk to do this to some extent they redefine the core concepts of religion like "God" to suit their own perception or situation. To the Rev Klaas Hendrikse "God" is just a word that means "Human experience", rather like the Deists of old (e.g. Hume, Paine, Jefferson, Einstein etc,) his is an Einsteinian view of "God", i.e. God is not an entity that exists or impacts on our lives it's just a word that means something beyond our complete comprehension or simply all encompassing like "God is nature" or "God is love"

I have some sympathy for this viewpoint it's useful to have labels for things that places them into some kind of intellectual comfort zone; after all there are plenty of things we don't understand and plenty of things that overwhelm our senses. Life is awesome and terrifying in many ways however looking at it rationally I don't really see that hijacking words so overloaded with meaning from history particularly adds much value, the process explains nothing. The Atheistic viewpoint seems to me to be more honest than the Deistic one, to simply admit, we don't know something rather than redefine words like "God" so that we make sure they're all being used for something seems pointless to me, if God is nature then why not just say "nature" and avoid all the confusion?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Perception is everything

A strange thing happened to me yesterday, an accidental experiment in perception.

I'm really busy with work at the moment and I was working late last night. When I finally admitted defeat I looked at my watch and it read 10 to midnight, not too bad I thought. When I got upstairs I looked at my digital bedside clock and it read 1:50?. Now, because my wrist watch is unreliable, it keeps stopping, I automatically thought oh crap my watch has stopped again, it's two o'clock in the morning, I'm really tired and I'm only going to get 5 hours of low quality sleep since it's really hot and muggy at the moment! When I awoke at 7am I felt awful, just as I should have felt after a long day and only 5 hours of restless sleep.

As time passed this morning I discovered that it wasn't my watch that was wrong at all, it was the digital clock whose first digit is on the blink, it read 1:50 and it was actually 11:50! giving me a fairly normal 7 hours of sleep. Why did I feel so bad? I went to sleep thinking about how tired I was going to be when I woke up and my brain faithfully delivered on that, Human brains truly are powerful simulation engines, giving us false physical signals that seem totally real and probably chemically are real. This is especially true when we're given external confirmation bias into the bargain.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

We all know who wears the trousers...

In the most recent outbreak of that uniquely crippling mental illness CPS (Christian Persecution Syndrome) we learn of a midwife who refused to wear scrub trousers in an operating theatre claiming that it was against her religion. For those apologists who kid themselves that all those awkward Bible edicts are understood as outdated or allegorical by Christians, check out Deuteronomy 22:5 which Hannah Adewole cites specifically, she's reading it as I'm sure most of us would,

"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

One of the other complaints allegedly made by this Christian lady is that Muslim midwives have special dispensations for this kind of thing (although, it is the Daily Mail so caution is advised when it comes to Muslims).

I must admit that as long as you think belief in Bronze age Palestinian mythology should be offered the same respect as scientific medical best practice then she is correct on two counts, her religious instruction book does indeed mandate what she says it does, and if special allowances are made for Muslims whose holy text is simply a plagiarised version of the same book then we have a totally unfair and nonsensical situation on our hands.

My view is a simple one, there are certain places and situations where a secular approach is the only fair and practical path, certainly religious people have a right to believe whatever they like but they should simply avoid jobs or roles where this is impossible for them.