Saturday, December 29, 2012

My verdict on Christmas TV

Worst ever...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Final Hitch

Well, it's Christmas eve and before I settle into a good film and some mince pies here's my last Hitchens quote. Talking about life and death in direct language like this means that superficially it may look depressing or unwelcome to some, but look further than shallow fear or desire and you may find something more worthwhile than you think.

"Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hitch 6

Only one more day to go, here's the sixth hitch quote to Christmas...

"Atheism is not a creed, it's the only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hitch 5

Here is my fifth quote of seven from the late Christopher Hitchens, only 3 sleeps to go :)

"Atheism is not a creed, it's the only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last (EOW) joke


Well that's another apocalypse negotiated without incident, hopefully we can all breath easy again and focus on the calorific catastrophe that is rapidly approaching us, i.e. Christmas lunch..

It's interesting to see the affect that this particular non-event has had on everyone, it's been a constant topic of conversation in the office for the best part of a week (in a humorous way), the best one-liner I heard today, which will be my last word on the whole "end of world" subject (until the next time), was the following,

"people are making apocalypse jokes like there's no tomorrow"

te he..

Stone huggers


I see with some amusement that our stone hugging brothers and sisters have been having fun at Stone Henge today. As I'm sure most enlightened people know today is the shortest day in the UK or the Winter Solstice as its known, when the Northern Hemisphere is at it's maximum tilted distance from the Sun, i.e. the Sun appears lowest in the sky at it's highest point. The good news is that from here on in we're approaching next Summer as opposed to retreating from last, certainly something to celebrate for warm blooded mammals like us.

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun is a great example of cycles in nature, the clue is in the name, i.e. they're cyclical, they will just keep going around for ever until some element of the system causes a tipping point and a new trajectory is established, nothing pre-planned, nothing aimed at human beings and certainly no anthropological guiding hand at work, just physics doing what it does. The exciting thing for me is not that these cycles occur in nature but that we now understand (more or less) why, something our Mayan forebears unlikely ever did.

Hitch du jour

Continuing the theme of quotes from the late Christopher Hitchens, here is number 4...

"Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life -- except religion."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Keep calm


I hope people aren't going to get silly about this silliness...

Reasons to be fearful, part 1



Following the dreadful school massacre in the USA last week I spotted this story today. I guess it's inevitable but still seems catastrophically stupid to me, an 11 year old has brought a gun to school for "protection". I can just imagine playground disputes over sweets, marbles and kiss-chase being resolved via a Glock 9mm and a clip of soft nosed rounds, what the hell kind of society are they trying to create over there?

Third day

Day three of my countdown to Christmas with another Hitch quote...

"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holy tweets



On the money as usual;

Hitch quote

Here's the second of my top seven favourite Christopher Hitchens one-liners, only 6 sleeps to go now..

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Political analysis (for morons)


That odious American entrepreneur James Dobson who made his fortune from selling dreams (aka religion) has offered his followers an analysis of the political state of the union and suggests the reason for the recent mass murder at a school on the East coast of the USA. You can probably guess where this is going but Dobson believes (or says he believes) that the reason for the slaughter is because America allows abortion and gay marriage, the awful events of last Friday were nothing to do with gun controls or mental health issues, nope, Jimmy reckons it's all down to his vengeful God.

I always find it surprising that moderate (and sane) Christians don't do more to discredit morons like this, they continually give secularists spectacularly good arguments with which to marginalise them from the public square. They also don't do religion any favours either, even if his "God" existed at all then who'd want to worship an entity that kills terrified young children in a brutal and sadistic fashion just because some other (unrelated) people don't follow some random sub-set of interpreted rules. The cognitive dissonance this drivel causes is palpable.

Quoting down to Christmas

As we run down to the consumer-feast that is Christmas these days I thought I'd remember that feisty old curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens who died of cancer a year or so ago. Here is the first of seven of his more well known quotes, a pearl of wisdom for each day.

"Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mapping madness


I saw this sobering picture today, it's the 13 countries in the world today where I could get punished or even executed simply for not believing that there exists an invisible, all-powerful supernatural man in the sky. 12 of the 13 countries are Islamic, which isn't a surprise but Laos? what have they got against us atheists I wonder?

The full list is as follows,

- Mauritania (officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania)
- Sudan
- Egypt
- Eritrea
- Maldives
- Comoros
- Saudi Arabia
- Kuwait
- Iran
- Afghanistan
- Pakistan
- Indonesia
- Laos

Anyway, more places to be struck off my holiday list, their loss.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Micro-blogging miracles

I was most concerned this morning when white smoke started coming out of my iPhone, fortunately it was only the Pope sending his first tweet...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Its only a theory...


Love this picture, it shows the proportion of (current) peer reviewed scientific papers supporting the idea that we're heating our planet up versus those that reject this view. Looks suspiciously like a wedge strategy to me.

Down, down, deeper and down


Findings from the 2011 census for England and Wales have revealed the number of people who say they are Christian has dropped dramatically from 72% to 59%. The figures published today by the Office for National Statistics also show the number of people who say they have no religion has risen from 15% to 25%.

Its interesting to ponder why this may be the case, I think there are several key factors involved. Since the last census in 2001 we've had a surge of Islamic extremism spawning the 9/11, London and Madrid bombings among other atrocities both in the Middle East and in other parts of the world (Bali etc.) Closer to home we've seen a reactionary lurch toward evangelicalism, during the Bush Era and particularly within the Catholic church but also within more traditionally moderate organisations like the Church of England. From religions in this decade we've seen many despicable and arrogant attitudes being thrust into the public square over issues like child abuse, misogyny, gender discrimination and other matters of simple Human equality like gay marriage. The fact that members of these religions are out of touch with modern society is not in itself the point, they can believe what they like (even though they don't often espouse that right for everyone else) the issue for them is that their medieval attitudes are simply driving the support of moderates and "undecided's" away at a ferocious rate. It's probably reasonable to say that the default stance of most people born in the UK since 1980 is either Atheist or Agnostic (which we all know is just a softer word for Atheist)

Hopefully this is a trend which will continue, realising that you don't need to believe mythological authorities to live an ethical, healthy and fulfilled life is one of the most liberating experiences a Human being can have in my view, it certainly was for most Atheists I know. I also note that the number of Jedi's is on the decrease too and that's never a bad thing, may the force be with you :)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Getting with the plot


It would seem that members of the Christian Union of Bristol University have been caught with their trousers down (not what you're thinking!) over the issue of gender equality. In an investigation by the student union there a memo emerged that stated Christian women were not allowed to present at weekly meetings, but could address an audience in other settings if accompanied by their husbands. I admit I had to do a double take over this article, I thought for a second I had been bodily transported to the Islamic Republic of Iran. No, apparently Christians affiliated with this organisation feel that in 21st century England it's still OK to discriminate on the basis of gender.

The (majority) secular community figured all this out back in the 60s however the Christian community still seems heavily divided on this embarrassingly straightforward question, as evidenced by the recent furore over women bishops. My question is, when will these retards ever learn and why the hell should the rest of us take them seriously until they do?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ice bugs


Here's a picture of a bacterial cell found in a lake under the Antarctic ice cap, the environment there is described as aphotic (with little or no light), anoxic (without oxygen), and slightly acidic brine with a temperature of -13C. Carbon dating has indicated that the inhospitable-sounding brine has been isolated for more than 2,800 years, and yet there is still life there. It kind of suggests that life is significantly more durable than we thought, as I ponder this amazing fact, I'm beginning to think my Mother-in-law might be from there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chromosomal discrimination

I read with interest tonight that the Church of England (the state religion in my country) has voted "no" to a proposal to allow Women to become Bishops even though they may be perfectly able and willing.

Next week they'll be voting on the thorny issues of people with ginger pubes becoming grave diggers and allowing lactose intolerant people to ring bells; in fact many traditionalists insist that anyone with a genetic difference greater than 0.001% from the DNA extracted from molar teeth of the late Thomas Becket shouldn't be allowed to join the Church in the first place, apparently it makes their God very cross!

In other news Nick Clegg is relieved that there's now at last at least one major UK institution less popular than the Liberal Democrat party.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Its all about the kids


Lots of focus on children in the news this week, first we had the depressing story about a couple in Ireland who lost their baby due to a miscarriage, however it was reported that the hospital refused to abort the foetus until there was no trace of a heartbeat, this took days during which time the mother developed blood poisoning and died. The reason given for not performing the required medical procedure much earlier was, yes you guessed it, "Ireland is a Catholic country".. In more depressing news we have innocents suffering as a result of escalating violence in Gaza and of course they continue to suffer in Syria too. In the UK we have "children in need" weekend where people up and down the country do daft things in a good pro-child cause this is in stark contrast to the continuing story about the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a much less enlightened anti-child segment of her society just because she wants to go to school. Fortunately Malala seems to be doing well in hospital in the UK at the moment.

As always the excellent cartoon series Jesus and Mo (above) sums up how certain sections of our various societies feel about children, for me, I'm just looking forward to the weekend and finally spending some quality time with my own.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pool rules



Time for something less serious and more light-hearted...

Here's a pool that could use a few more rules, like, no dive bombing and no heavy petting (whatever that means - I was never entirely sure...)

Symbollocks


Its that time of year again here in the UK when we remember the sacrifices of our ancestors in the (far too many) wars and battles that have been fought in the name of our little island and its ideas and interests over the years. Some of these engagements have been much more noble than others but I don't believe that fact diminishes the struggles and bravery of the people involved at the cutting edge. I'm very keen that we force ourselves to think about the past, to think about the people and what they endured but we also need to understand why it's a good idea to focus on people (like us!) and not facile symbols like flags or poppies. The only worthy reason I can think of to dredge this unpleasantness up again every year is so that we re-double our resolve that the horrors of the Somme, Dunkirk and Auschwitz must be avoided in the future.

Whilst I believe it's really important to think about our history and to teach the next generation about it (warts and all) I would not agree that everyone has to reach the same conclusion nor think in some uniform "state-sanctified" way. If anything, I'd have said that diversity of thought and free speech is one of the most valuable jewels to be salvaged from the blood of the 20th century. But, even today I read of some bloke in Kent who has been arrested by the Police there because he posted a picture of a burning poppy on Twitter, really? arrested? What the hell did all those people die for if not to protect a tolerant, rational society where diversity of opinion is allowed if not encouraged, sticks and stones people, sticks and stones.

Herd mentality


I was watching the final part of Andrew Marr's "History of the World" last night, its been an interesting series tracking the progress of Homo-sapiens from when we first emerged from Africa to the present day. In many ways I agree with his final commentary which (summarised) was that our scientific and technological progress has been amazing (once the crippling retardants of religion and superstition were marginalised) but our political progress has been much less impressive.

I was thinking about why this might be, it seems to me that we invariably go astray when we put too much faith in people (and their delusions) over evidence. The programme last night focused on the 20th century and posed the question "how and why did a loser like Hitler manage to create such a cult of personality and achieve absolute power over millions?" I'm sure the answer to that question is complex, but I think there's value in examining our inherited social primate instincts; these behaviours are still very powerful and clearly we haven't travelled the long road out of Eden fully yet, even though many might think we have. We all know what it feels like to do something stupid against our better judgement and innate morality just so that we can feel part of the in-group. It must have happened on a grand scale in Germany in the 30s but we can see it going on around us all the time. Take the current storm in the BBC, I still can't quite figure out how the mishandling of a particular story by one programme team could amount to such a crisis and why there seems to be a lemming like wave of people falling on their swords right now? Has some internal spell been broken has the fog of delusion cleared exposing the blade edge of reality. Just like the fate of every other in-group there has ever been, has the cult of "Auntie" reached its inevitable end?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Drilling for souls


I read with interest today that the new Archbishop of Canterbury is to be ex-oilman Justin Welby; I'm wondering if this means the Anglican Church will now be introducing loyalty cards and selling charcoal and flowers from naves up and down the country? Seriously though, I wish him luck and hope that his "real-world" experience will help him to speak more rationally than his predecessor on topics of privilege and secularism from his albeit privileged position in our country.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Best election photo..


Love this picture of those nice people at Fox News, maybe they just didn't pray hard enough? (or perhaps to the right God instead of the God of the right?)

Update: Seems like I'm not the only one that thought that ...

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hey Euro weenie's, whatever...


I saw this amusing story in the Telegraph today, it's basically suggesting that people in the US don't give a damn what Europeans think about their election; in fact the grass-roots undercurrent (particularly from Republicans) is more like "f**k off and mind your own business" (does this means they feel they are losing?).

As someone who has spent a decent proportion of my life working for and with Americans and also having lived in the country I would argue that I have an above average interest level compared to most other Europeans but in any case I think its actually quite a healthy thing for anyone to be interested in world affairs, particularly when so much of what we do at work and play these days involves interacting with people from further afield than the next village. So, I'd say to those Americans who don't like the idea of non-Americans expressing their opinions "right back at'cha!" Perhaps if certain Republicans had more of a grasp of world affairs, maybe if they realised there actually was a world outside of 'merica, they may get more sympathy from it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Madrid


I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Madrid (see above) recently, we went to pick up my Son who was staying with a friend of his from school and took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. I made several new discoveries, one of which was a wine that I hadn't tried before and liked a lot. It's called Hacienda Monasterio from the Ribera del Duero region and is made from that standard bearer Spanish grape of Rioja fame, Tempranillo with a splash of more international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The man behind the label is Peter Sisseck who made a name for himself making the iconic "Pingus" which is eye wateringly expensive. This wine it's not cheap (although it's cheaper in Spain than here) but if you're looking for a classy wine that would go well with a special meal (beef or duck etc.) then it will be a great match, I expect it will also improve over the next few years as well; I might even give it a try with the Turkey over Christmas (shock horror, thinking about Christmas in November!).


Friday, November 02, 2012

Can't trust those atheist muslims...



Don't get me wrong, this kind of daftness obviously isn't confined to one political following or another (and clearly the clips are edited to get a particular effect) but some of the views being expressed by the people in these interviews are downright scary. I was particularly interested to hear that Obama is a Muslim and an Atheist and hates America also that Bhuddists are flooding into the USA and stealing freedom of religion, no wonder they're upset... (Oh and just how rough does Meatloaf look!)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Chiroptera excrement crazy



For those following the American presidential elections here's Mitt Romney talking about his "religion", or as the rest of us know it a Victorian scam invented by a convicted con-man called Joseph Smith, it's very enlightening.

Mormonism has everything a good religion should have, angels, demons, magic, elitism, dubious right wing tendencies and most importantly it's all completely unfalsifiable; the only concrete evidence (angelic golden plates) apparently having been spirited up to heaven before they could be examined by anyone other than Smith himself, always handy that. One of the more odd things that Smith invented was a story about one of the lost tribes of Israel ending up in the USA, this is where American Indians came from according to him. Modern science has debunked this already absurdly unlikely claim through examining the DNA of Jews and American Indians, but I suspect like the psychic in my previous post true Mormons just think that those nasty scientists will do anything to spoil a good story. They also believe that Jesus will re-visit the Earth landing in Jerusalem (where else!) and then rule over the Earth for 1000 years (why 1000, maybe Joseph smith didn't know any bigger numbers?) apparently Jesus will rule the entire planet from the two most obvious global centres, Jerusalem (yawn) and Missouri, er, yes that's right Missouri, by a strange twist of fate that's precisely where Smith lived too, what are the odds?

Don't believe me that such an obviously transparent lot of old cobblers could be believed by any serious person, well, listen to Mitt and believe in America...

I could have told them that...


Scientists at the University of London have found that two psychics who volunteered to be subjected to regular scientific testing were unable to show that they had any special powers of cognition. In tests carried out at the University neither of them were able to demonstrate any ability whatsoever to discern anything unusual about a group of volunteer subjects using psychic powers alone. What little they did get right simply corresponded to what would be expected by blind chance alone.

One of the psychic's claimed afterwards that the tests proved nothing and that scientists are "closed minded", I suppose that response could have been predicted.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween?


Can anyone explain to me what the point of Halloween is? I've been baffled for years, a celebration of a bunch of evil entities that don't exist but apparently still scare the crap out of some people (Catholics I'm looking at you!) at a time of the year when its always cold and drizzly, why? And just don't get me started about "trick or treat", what a stupid (American) tradition, if you're going to go to the bother of dressing up and wandering door to door extorting sweets from people by threatening them, at least be prepared to follow through with something that's original and ideally amusing or even ironic (which it never is!)

At least we've got bonfire night coming up, now there's a proper celebration grounded in reality....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Digitally touching cloth...



This little clip made me smirk today, it's a totally serious piece of engineering research and hugely impressive it is too (so long as the obstacles aren't pre-programmed); the thing that made me giggle was simply the thought that scientists and engineers have probably spent millions of dollars and many years of effort to produce a robot that looks just like the average drunken youth staggering around our town centres come Friday or Saturday night, I love it, especially the bit at the end, is it me or does he look desperate for something?

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm a C grade sinner..


Here's a picture taken outside the recent Texas Freethought Convention held in Austin; it's a Christian chap (of some sort) warning the attendees of what awaits them if they continue on what he thinks is the path of un-righteousness, destination hell of course; presumably the fiery, infinite torment variety so bafflingly beloved of so many of our religious brothers and sisters, love em.

Possessing a liberal perspective on life, but mainly just being a grown up, I'm not offended at this kind of thing; my normal reaction would simply be a quick roll of the eyes before moving swiftly on, but being a devilishly competitive soul I paused to take a closer look at the list and realised to my horror that I only score 5/10! A rather paltry C grade (or B* if you measure it by modern A level standards) I really must try harder.

Now, where can I get a cauldron full of stolen golden cows?..

Friday, October 19, 2012

Elitism for dummies


Hat-tip to my fellow blogger and Archdruid over at that epicentre of Beaker culture (near Milton Keynes) for this little story. It's about 11 year old wannabe boy scout George Pratt, resident of Midsomer Norton near Bath who has been chucked out of that movement after 10 months of service because he doesn't believe in God.

I posted on this subject before when I learned that the boy scout movement is an openly elitist organisation who insist that members must believe in God (they're not particularly fussy about which ones) in order to attain full membership. A unbelieving cynic (like me) simply sees this as a way of ensuring the maintenance of an unquestioning "in-group", i.e. that regardless or your character, ethics, ability or background, as long as you have an invisible friend that you are willing to make a promise to then you're in. This is a shame since what I fear this constraint actually does is make unnecessary bluffers of a good proportion of it's young members (great moral lesson for future life there!). Anyway as any parent knows, forget Yahweh, Allah and Buddha how many 10 year old kids actually have enough insight into anything to have strong convictions about it? (other than PlayStation or XBox of course...)

As the good Archdruid points out (and she should know!) this entry qualification is actually more onerous than those required to join most mainstream religions in the first place, entry into those organisations seems to rest with some third party mumbling a few words whilst dribbling magic water on a baby's head or hacking at some body part or other of an unfortunate infant, in both cases reassuringly far too young to understand what the hell is going on.

Hopefully if Pratt junior can manage to dodge the multitudes of murderers that live in places called "Midsomer" long enough to accrue some broader perspective on this matter he will realise that he's actually lucky to have avoided yet another mechanism for religious indoctrination, but more importantly as he gets older he'll realise that you don't need a woggle to have fun rubbing things together outdoors!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Human traffic

I've blogged on the subject of Gary McKinnon before it's a matter that's been around for quite a few years now. Today I'm pleased to learn that the extradition case against him has been dropped and he's going to stay here in the UK.


The thing I could never get my head around was why the US authorities felt it necessary to conduct legal proceedings against McKinnon in the USA when his crimes were actually committed in the UK? The potential double standard at work here always seemed inedible to me, it wasn't so long ago that a New York judge refused to extradite an IRA terrorist to the UK on the grounds that his murderous acts were "political", a somewhat optimistic interpretation of events. No doubt questions will now be asked about the differences between a rejected case like this one and that of Abu Hamza; one major difference that I can see is motive, McKinnon was looking for UFO's; Hamza's beliefs are much less credible.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

I think therefore I am (or not)


I must remember to speak to the Inland revenue about this...

TGIF


This one is for those of us that make a living by writing software (aka coders), it's a comparison between writing software and creating music; they are both similar in many respects and are things I love to do, but as can be seen from this chart only one pays the bills adequately ...

Dignity


This is Malala Yousufzai, she is a Pakistani school girl who had the balls to stand up to the bearded cowards who claim to be the custodians of morality in her region of Pakistan. We know these thugs as the "Taliban", and moral they are clearly not; by any standard, seeking out a young defenceless child on a school bus and putting a bullet in her skull is a morality and a system of ethics that most people would rather die fighting against than play any part in, regardless of their religious indoctrination or lack thereof. If you haven't heard of this story before it's about a teenager (Malala) who simply wants the chance to receive an education and live a normal life, her only crime is that she isn't afraid of saying so and speaking out against the oppression she and her fellow female Muslims suffer at the hands of these misogynists. Now she lays in a hospital bed fighting for her life. It doesn't take much intelligence, even for an "Islamic scholar", to realise that Malala is victim of injustice and along with all the other Women the Taliban have executed has more courage and dignity in a single blood cell than all the rug-butting retards that put her there have, or will ever possess. I wish her well and hope she makes a full recovery.

Friday, October 05, 2012

How can we be moral without religion?

Its Friday so time for a (nicked) cartoon, this one says everything you need to know about the relationship between theology, religion and human morality; from the excellent "Jesus & Mo" series.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I rubber stamp this art..


Occasionally you see a piece of art and think wow, that must have taken huge skill, persistence and effort! This is one such a work, it's by an artist called Federico Pietrella and can be seen at the Saatchi gallery; believe it or not it's made entirely from a simple rubber date-stamp, if you don't believe me then check the image below (which is a close-up) view.


Amazing!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blasphemy R Us


Today is International Blasphemy Rights day, a day when people who value freedom of thought and expression can show solidarity by challenging reigning religious beliefs hopefully without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal. Unfortunately for most people outside of the liberal countries such as the UK and the USA (excluding parts of Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina) this is something that would be unthinkable. In Bangladesh for example a mob of Muslims decided that a Buddhist man was out of order putting an image of a burning book on his Facebook page by visiting the Buddhist temples around their area and setting fire to them.

This kind of excessive religious response to non-violent protest, criticism, satire or even simple disbelief is increasingly common as the march of progress and enlightenment moves through populations of people stultified by years of oppressive theocracy and tradition. It seems like a non-issue here in the UK but if you notice these things there are many places in the world where people actually get locked up, harmed or even killed for simply being public about having intellectual doubts over the blatant hogwash that most incumbent religions peddle. What is even more noticeable is the nature of the reaction of those outraged religions, particularly Islam, the outrageousness of the claims seem to directly correlate to the excessiveness of the response. Even in moderate supposedly secular countries there is an alarming tendency for authorities to capitulate over harmless fun making or even spiteful fun making, take Greece for example where the Orthodox Church has a highly privileged position in society; recently a 27 year old man was arrested and charged for blasphemy, his crime, to make fun of a clergyman, he now faces a possible 2 years in prison for this act, which in most civilised places would be dealt with by a quick roll of the eyes and a rapid resumption of normal business. In places like Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan it's not hard to find stories about people being abused, injured and jailed for thought crime gift wrapped as "blasphemy". Even Anglican Bishops seem in favour of international laws that protect their club from criticism, recently 4 of them wrote to the head of the UN asking for..

"We hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”

Of course what they don't say or perhaps don't realise that this means EVERY two bit prophet and quack will be protected, unless someone draws up a list of course, just imagine the bloodshed that would initiate! How much hate crime would be unleashed on countless minorities and unfortunates around the world if such an abomination were made law, it would be shameful and in my view simply harden resolve and deepen the divide between faith and reason everywhere.

So, watch out, if the people of "God" get their way not only will we all have to suck up to mythical folks like Mohamed and Jesus but also real hucksters people like Joseph Smith, David Koresh and, God forbid, David Icke.. they'll have to pry the keyboard from my cold dead hands...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Humbling Hubble


There are many things in life that are humbling, watching the paralympics, listening to a great piece of music, climbing an Egyptian pyramid etc. but when I think about some of the big questions nothing could be more humbling than to better understand our place and significance in the universe we live in.

The latest deep field picture from the Hubble telescope illustrates this position very well. Actually it's not one picture it's 2000 pictures (all stitched together) of a minute patch of space (the little square next to the Moon) taken with a really long exposure in order to capture as much of the light as possible emanating from unimaginably distant objects. As you can see the little patch of space that, to the naked eye, looks utterly black and empty is crammed full of entire galaxies. Now, a galaxy is a collection of a billion or more stars, we live in a spiral galaxy called the milky way which itself has over a billion stars (like our Sun) in it and is so big that it takes light 100,000 years to get from one side to the other and light is no slouch! The number of stars visible in this one little square of space is simply mind boggling and each star is likely to have planets orbiting around it, so the number of possible places where life could possibly have evolved is boggling times 10.

I always think about this image when I hear about fellow primates getting over excited about who "owns" some little patch of land for an insignificant sliver of time somewhere on our insignificant planet. A small strip of semi-arid scrub at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean or some tiny Island in the middle of the East China Sea to name but two of many examples, in the words of a wise man, “The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kids (toys) in SPACE!



Here's a nice little story, it's about a guy who attached his kid's favourite toy to a weather balloon and let it rise to the edge of space, then he made this little video of events. We've been able to do this for quite a while now helium has been around for a few years, what's new is cheap (light) hardware to film the voyage and GPS so that the film can be located once it plummets back to Earth. I'm tempted to have a go at this, although I suspect you're not allowed to gaffer tape the actual boy to the balloon much as he's up for it, bloody health and safety...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pointless


I came across this little story today, it struck me as an incredibly dumb and pointless way for someone to die. I can't imagine what its going to say on his tombstone but it probably won't be this...

Abdullah Ismail extinguished his fleeting and precious existence in this universe, giving up the potentially wonderful and luminous experience that Human life on this planet can be because he...

Believed a story about a super human man and a flying horse and was convinced by other men who believe the same story to be offended by other men who Abdul had never met. These other men don't believe the flying horse story and believe a super human zombie man story instead, they live on the other side of the planet from dear Abdul. The offence was caused because the zombie following men made a set of flickering images making fun of the flying horse man, which Abdullah never actually saw because he was too poor to own a computer with a connection to the internet. So, the best way that Abdullah and his friends could think of to protest about their offence was to set fire to a number of pieces of polyester 2 ply cloth. These pieces of cloth were coloured red, white and blue in the form of an abstract symbol representing a loose collection of land areas called "America", these areas of land contain millions of different people, some of whom believe the flying horse story and others the zombie story among other magical stories too numerous to mention. The cloth wasn't actually made in America by the zombie men but was made in yet another patch of land by people who believe a story about a fat man who said wise things about transforming yourself into an ant when you die. Abdullah died because he inhaled too many of the combustion products from the burning of all those pieces of cloth, the smoke that poisoned him would have included chemicals such as Benzene, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon monoxide and acetic acid, unfortunately for Abdullah science wasn't his strong suit, he preferred stories about flying horses, now he's dead and this is sad because no one, apart from the people who loved him, really gives a shit.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sometimes I ask myself


David Cameron recently moved Baroness Warsi from being Conservative Party Chairman to a new role, that of "Minister for Faith and Communities", my question is, do we really need a "Ministry of Faith"?

I guess many people would claim that millions of UK citizens are religious and therefore some kind of reflection of this is needed in Government, but why? Do religious people require different services and laws from non-religious people, do they not use the same Health services, public transport and education system as the rest of us? Unlike properly secular countries, in the UK we already have 26 unelected Bishops in the upper house of our Government, does faith need any more special representation than this..

I fear this new appointment introduces unnecessary dangers of division and inequality among people in that it may further institutionalise the notion of a "faith community" as a demographic grouping defined by a particular religious belief. This idea is inherently troubling and problematic. It assumes that people have common political interests just because they share a religious label: indeed, it encourages these groups to adopt a religious identity for political rather than spiritual reasons, and that is bad both for politics and for religion. And it potentially privileges people who assert a religious identity over those who don't. Even though polls show clearly that half of people in this country aren't religious, there's not going to be a minister for secularism.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Morality distortion field


The expression on my fellow primate's face sums up my feelings about this. I'm talking about the fact that in the name of Muslim solidarity a religion and it's leaders are able to warp peoples innate morality to the extent that they feel it's their duty to destroy property and kill non-Muslims over a pathetic piece of trash film on the internet that nominally hurts their feelings whereas those same people remain silent as a Muslim government drops fire and death on it's own children.

This isn't moral, wise or even sane, Hitchens was right, it poisons everything.

Friday, September 14, 2012

ta, da, dada ... can't touch this..


Jesus and Mo, on the money as usual....

Brains, words and reality...


I've always wondered what people are talking about when they say "spiritual". Moderately religious people say it all the time, the classic apologist line of "I'm not religious but I am a spiritual person" springs to mind. I've always pigeon-holed people who say this to me as really meaning that they can't be bothered to invest in the ritual and paraphernalia of organised religion but can't let go of the wishful thought that they might have a  benevolent father in the sky that looks out for them. It always seems like a cop out to me, trying to benefit from in-group membership without putting the effort in, anyway, I've never had anyone adequately describe what it means or why this feeling isn't entirely natural and human.

When I think about this feeling my conclusion is that "spiritual" simply means a feeling of wonder or awe, quite natural and totally expected when you possess a powerful reasoning simulation engine like a human brain (some more powerful than others of course!) This feeling is usually invoked by observing something surprising or inspiring and seems to be because my reasoning brain calculates the effort involved and the achievement accrued or perhaps the improbability of the event. I suppose if I exclude thinking about non-existent (low probability) entities then most people must experience this at some point, and I suspect depending on their environment and conditioning different things will be agents for spiritual feelings. The photograph above was taken by wildlife photographer Bobby Haas in Mexico and shows the fleeting instant a flock of flamingos formed into the shape of, well, a flamingo! I don't know if Mr Haas is a religious person or not but in his interview he talks about the "holy grail" of wildlife photography and the moment he snapped this picture as a "spiritual" moment, his meaning is not clear but this is obviously a very low probability event.

Brain chemistry is a truly complex thing and in a rather tenuous and weak segue to other chemistry news I noticed on the BBC site today that the IBM laboratory in  Zurich has published some more pictures of atoms (see below)


The scale of this picture is mind boggling, what you're looking at are individual carbon atoms and the colours represent higher or lower densities of electrons, the shape of the molecule can clearly be seen. Now I don't know about you but when I contemplate the skill, intellect and resourcefulness (never mind financial investment!) required to produce a picture like this it's about as close to a spiritual thought as I think I'll ever get; my religious brothers and sisters are welcome to their allegories and their wishful thoughts but this stuff is ground breaking, highly inspirational and most importantly for me, real.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday smirk


About sums us up really...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Blood sucking science


Now this is cool, a flying micro-robot that looks eerily like a real mosquito, apparently it can also take DNA samples with a little needle and syringe which you can just see at the front below its head. All that needs to be done now is to program it to spend all its time transferring bacteria from stagnant water into my blood stream and the natural versions of this animal will be completely replicated.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Out of the frying pan...


I was pleased to read today that Baroness Warsi has been fired from her position as Conservative party chairman. From a pro-secular point of view this is a good thing; the fewer people we have in government who believe that religion deserves a privileged position in our society (i.e. are anti-secular) the better. Sadly though what David gives with one hand he takes away with another, the new health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, believes in quackery, at least Cameron no longer thinks Warsi works!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Do you want fries with that?


Jesus found in onion ring... !!

...or is it David Bellamy, it's so hard to tell ;)

Eclipse of the moon


Sun Myung Moon kicked the bucket over the weekend, a colourful character who scaled the heights of cultism and plumbed the depths of tax evasion.

The debate continues of course, was he a great "spiritual" leader or a huckster on a global scale, I never really understood what "spiritual" means in such contexts so I'll lean towards the latter, and like most religious leaders its difficult to pin point the secret sauce of his success, but like all of them whatever he had his overarching skill was indisputably an ability to convince large numbers of people that he knew something they didn't.

Notionally "Christian" his Unification Church was created by him after some alleged conversations with "Jesus" back in the 50s although like most of these kinds of organisations its difficult to see beyond the flashy suits and the money grabbing media empire that it nurtured to any particularly useful non-recycled philosophy. No doubt most mainstream Christians saw him as the leader of a slightly sinister cult with dubious motives and he certainly fell out with the Catholic hierarchy over the years, however what most mainstream believers wouldn't accept is that from certain perspectives (like mine) the pattern of predation and exploitation of fellow social primates is probably explainable and certainly predictable, in fact, from this distance all religions look mostly the same.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Funky squid



We all know that squid can change the colour of their skin right?

Well, what do you think would happen if you hooked up a squid to an iPod (electrically) and then played some happening beats directly into one of its fins? ... take a look at this video!

Wow! now if only we could get some squid DNA sequences into the puny skin colouration sections of our own DNA and hey presto, disco heaven!

Friday, August 17, 2012

I predict a riot


In the "new" Russia these days if you dance and sing in a church you may find yourself with two years in jail for your troubles; of course I'm sure it depends what you sing about, grovelling to non-existent men in the sky or real men in the Kremlin would be just fine, but any kind of criticism of the establishment, religious or political would appear verboten - sounds a lot like the "old" Russia to me. After the furore over the St. Paul's protest camp I bet there are plenty of Churches here in England that would love roving punk bands to visit and perform protest songs, in fact they'd probably be thrilled to have anyone visit, whether they moaned about David Cameron or not..

Another place struck off my must-visit list..

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dweeb or Dork?


Ever wondered what kind of modern, technologically savvy person you are? Apparently "geek" is something to aspire to...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Last one out, turn off the lights


Well the Olympics are over, what the heck will we do with all that spare TV time now?

We watched the closing ceremony last night which compared to the opening ceremony scored a "B minus" in my estimation.

The highlights for me were:

- Imagine (great song, nice idea)
- Wish you were here (love Floyd, but why no Led Zep or Stones?)
- Homage to "The Life of Brian" - who'd have thought 30+ years later such a controversial film would be celebrated like this..

The lowlights were:

- Jacques Rogge (will that sour bugger ever smile?)
- George Michael doing his current single
- Spice girls (enough said)
- Harry Windsor (for someone with only a short cab ride home he didn't look that bothered..)
- I wasn't there!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Mohawk hair science


Climate denial vs. real science..

The guy on the left is your typical old school GOP "vested interest" kind of US Senator (James Inhofe from Oklahoma) gun toting and god fearing no doubt. He's a climate change denier which, because of the utterly dire way in which bad science is given a disproportionally high profile in our mainstream media he seems to get away with. Inhofe was elected despite the overwhelming evidence for global warming which make his pathetic assertions on this subject about as credible as the "stork theory" of reproduction. Unfortunately for our species, Human beings generally prefer believing in things that they'd like to be true rather than things that are actually true, and while that behavioural attribute remains people like Inhofe continue to exploit them by claiming that "God says Global warming is a hoax" whilst behind the scenes receives millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

The guy on the right (Bobak Ferdowsi) is a real scientist and works for NASA and has seemingly caused more of a stir in the media than the fact that human-kind has been able to land a one ton beach buggy on the surface of a planet 250 million miles away from Earth. It's indicative of the way science is discussed in the media these days that Bobak is such a hit, with a budget running to billions of dollars it's as obvious as an ice core up your end-times that NASA would be scientifically advanced enough to produce a "hot geek", it's not rocket science.... oh wait....

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Last words..


te he..

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Daily Mail moment


I know, I know, even in my own head I sound like my Dad...

Parallel universes


There's a lot of talk these days about the possibility of there being more than one universe and that the one we all live in is but an infinitesimal shard of insignificance among an infinite number of sibling structures all with their own sets of physical laws and attributes. It's a fascinating idea, admittedly there's not much concrete evidence for it yet but  from the maths involved the concept "shows promise" as they say.

For me though it seems quite obvious that on some human level we all inhabit different mental "universes". Religious people for example inhabit varyingly different universes to me and it seems like the more fundamentalist the viewpoint the further the distance and character between us. Nothing brings these differences into focus more than the ongoing battle between science and religion; take the recent technological triumph of the Mars curiosity rover, science blogger Flaye Flam received a letter from a reader of her blog complaining about the "wasted" money and effort involved in looking for non-terrestrial life when everyone apparently "just knows" that the Christian God created everything in a puff of dust in the garden of Eden 6000 years ago (I'm sure you can imagine the kind of thing). Clearly this person inhabits a different universe from the rest of us and I thought her response to him was really good (and polite!), I've reproduced it here to illustrate what I mean...

Hello. I’d like you to know your letter reached our universe with success. I’ve been particularly conscious of parallel universes in the last week since I started reading “Why the World Exists” by Jim Holt. This book blends physics and philosophy to explore the question of existence. There’s much discussion of parallel universes in which the constants of nature and perhaps the very laws are different from ours.

Do you have philosophy in your universe? Is your universe apparently expanding? Ours is accelerating. Isn’t that the weirdest thing? And we've just confirmed that our space is pervaded by a Higgs field which gives elementary particles mass. What kinds of particles do you have in your corner of the mutliverse?

I’m intrigued that in your universe evolution is “junk science”. That’s mind-bending for us here on Earth because natural selection is such an elegant process, it’s hard to conceive of a universe in which life would emerge and not be subject to it. How does it work out your way?

Your universe seems to have quite the negative attitude toward space exploration. Where does that come from? Do you have other planets in your solar system? Do you have solar systems? You must at least have Google translate, since you message reached me in English, though I think you might have a few glitches. Anyway, nice to hear from you. Keep in touch.