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.