Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who ate all the pi's?

No, not another story about Eric Pickles but a much more interesting and heart-warming story about UK engineering capability and the inspirational perseverance of a few Computer Science geeks. The Raspberry Pi computer that I commented on back in May last year has (after six years of development) been officially launched, you can actually buy one!

For those of us with an interest in overhauling technology and science education in this country this is a great step forward in the right direction, and will hopefully generate a lot of much needed positive publicity in the coming days and weeks about bringing some hardcore innovation and invention back into our tired and shallow curricula. The price looks like it's going to be around £22 per computer, that's fantastic, easily putting the machines within the reach of pretty much every school kid in the land; a marvellous feat of design and production engineering, I might even have a go at producing some educational software for it myself, watch this space!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bail out

I heard today that the Greeks are going to say thank you for their gargantuan, Euro billions bail out with a giant statue of a horse to be placed in the foyer of the European Central Bank... that's nice of them..

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ascent of man

I noticed an interesting set of pictures on the BBC web site today, they show some past and present views of the Auschwitz concentration camp stitched together; the missing thing in the present version is of course the people, which I suppose gives the images an added note of poignancy.

Whenever I see or read things about the holocaust I'm always put in mind of Jacob Bronowski's emotional speech at the end of one of the episodes in the 70s TV series "The ascent of man" which he delivers whilst standing ankle deep in the pond at Auschwitz into which the ashes of so many lives were flushed, he says -

It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgement in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken".

I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

Such economy of words is hard to find in TV presenters these days.

Mixing religion and politics

A silly but pointed lesson from our cousins in the USA about the horrible mess you can get into if you allow your superstitious or non-evidence (faith) based feelings about God to get mixed up with your evidence based beliefs about how complex modern societies should be fairly governed. Fortunately for them their secular constitution helps to protect minorities from idiotic views like the one illustrated here.

In the UK we are not so fortunate, here apparently non-believers have to smile and nod a lot and just suck up the insults and the jibes, because our laws and our politicians go out of their way to ensure that religious privilege is preserved..... at least they don't set fire to us any more.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wise words

Wise words, shame Baroness Warsi and Eric Pickles aren't as smart (or as democratic) as Barack Obama.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dying for a smoke

It is with dismay I read today that because some US soldiers in Afghanistan burnt a few copies of the Koran that 6 people have now died in riots. A human life is unique a precious thing and a Koran is a mass produced human artefact made from pulped wood and ink, by any moral standard these two things have no equivalence and it is sad that so many people feel they do, they are wrong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rattled of Mayfair

I happened across even more evidence that those militant apologists are seriously rattled by Richard Dawkins recent survey about UK Christians today. The Daily Telegraph, fresh from the deliciously bile filled article I mentioned yesterday about the sins of the Father, also features an article by Charles Moore, the ex-editor of that that paper who takes another snipe at Dawkins putting even more phantasmal words into his mouth than a writhing Pentecostalist speaking in tongues.

I've come across Moore before, he's one of those right-wing intellectuals who thinks that religion is good for us plebs; I'm suspicious that what he really means is that it keeps Eton and Cambridge types like Moore at the top of the heap by venerating tradition over reason and the parochial interests over equality. The last occasion I had to listen to the views of Mr Moore was at a public debate between him and Dawkins, it's obvious from spittle flecked words in this article that Moore is still bitter about the intellectual drubbing that Dawkins gave him that night, the man obviously finds it difficult to reason objectively about what he believes and clearly bears a grudge.

Practically every paragraph of Moore's article reads to me like a smug and narrow minded puff of Tory hot air in favour of inequality and establishment, all the usual canards are there, Dawkins, Gays, Science, Atheists, morality, virtuous faith, Jews, (murdering) Muslims and the EU, climate change denial and abortion would have made the complete set but I guess there must have been a word limit. The conclusion of the piece is a rather bizarre argument along the lines that the C of E privilege is a good thing because it discourages other religions from squabbling over power and therefore different followers from killing each other, at first glance this seems like a contorted and circular piece of illogic but I have to admit, if it's true, it's a compelling argument for secularism and atheism..

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rattled cages

It seems that our religious brothers and sisters are well and truly "rattled" by the recent survey done by Ipsos MORI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The results show pretty clearly how little people in the UK know about and/or practice Christianity (by any sane definition) even though they tick "Christian" on census forms; dispelling the myth so often offered by religious politicians that Britain is a "Christian country". What people choose to call themselves is of course a matter for them but when inaccurate population statistics are used to justify and support religiously inspired legislation (i.e. state funded faith schools) then proper research like this is essential in order that secularists can expose this "majority" argument as a specious one. However, as Corporal Jones once famously said "they don't like it up em sir, they don't like it up em!" since release last week there has been a fire-storm of publicity and apologetics around the results of this survey, Baroness Warsi took the opportunity to rally believers of all flavours against "secular fundamentalists" during her recent visit to the Vatican and assorted Bishops and faith defenders around the country have been rabidly exercising their right to completely ignore the actual results and avoid dealing with the arguments by lobbing childish ad hominem attacks at Dawkins instead.

Even the once decent Daily Telegraph got in on the act, excreting a story about one of Dawkins' forebears a Henry Dawkins (1698-1744) who owned slaves in Jamaica (shock horror!); quite astoundingly the reporter actually asked Dawkins in all seriousness if he thought that since he was an ancestor of Henry that he might have inherited the gene for supporting slavery. I can only conclude that the Telegraph are running their own genetic experiments these days, crossing morons with idiots to breed the next generation of slime bearing reporters. If you wish to waste 5 minutes of your life reading drivel then the story is here. On Sunday Dawkins appeared on the "Big Question" TV show to talk about the survey, along with some Woman from the Telegraph who completely humiliated herself, claiming to be a "miracle believing" Christian she then went on to admit not knowing that the first book of the Bible is Genesis and that she believed the English language to be based on the Bible (how quickly I forgot all that Hebrew my native tongue is based on!) Watching this program it seemed that "Christianity" may be defined as anything one wishes. I think I'll start calling myself a "snooker player", having neither a table, cue, chalk, coloured balls or any knowledge of the rules of the game.

One thing that the Telegraph neglected to mention about good old Henry of course, was that it's a pretty safe bet he was a Christian, in the upstanding company of every other white slave owner in Jamaica at that time who were also good Christians. They also neglect to mention the good Christians who opposed Wilberforce and the 1000 years before this when good Christians condoned slavery without so much as a second thought; so much for "Christian" morality, they are welcome to it, not only do they cherry pick their Bible they cherry pick history too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Secular progress

I was very pleased to read today that Bideford (Devon) council has lost a case bought by an atheist councillor (Clive Bone) and the National Secular Society. The argument was over the policy of that council to start council meetings with a prayer (to the Christian God), being an atheist and being pro-separation of church and state Mr Bone questioned the councils powers to enforce such a practice, claiming that it was discriminatory in nature and an inappropriate ritual. I can see his point, why some Christians feel it necessary to stamp their superstitions and rituals over everything regardless that there are many who don't share those beliefs is arrogant, divisive and somewhat sinister frankly, much like compulsory prayers in schools. In a statement Mr Bone said,

"Religious freedom is an absolute right and so is freedom from religion an absolute right, in my view."

It's fairly predictable to read the religious responses to this decision, bleating about "religious freedom" is the most common complaint, of course to some "religious freedom" means the freedom to impose your dogma on everyone else whether they want it or not. Then we have the apologists who harp on about "why can't everyone just get along", which translated means "why don't those pesky atheists just shut up and stop causing a fuss", I suspect that's exactly what most majorities think when they are accused of unreasonable behaviour by any minority that aren't content to do nothing.

More worryingly, the Bishop of Exeter is saying that he'll be encouraging councils to hold prayers in their meetings, in other words encouraging them to break the law then? Some people just don't have an ethical bone in their bodies, next they'll be moaning about not being allowed to burn witches in council meetings, after all that's part of the Christian "tradition" too isn't it?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Clowning around

I noticed that the debate about female bishops in the Anglican church has resurfaced recently. I must say it all seems very alien to me, why any organisation (particularly one aligned to a supposedly modern state) would want to exclude 50% of this planets' talent base from it's leadership ranks is baffling, I can't help but wonder why a few differences in a persons DNA would make such a difference, imagine if those DNA bases coded for skin colour or hat size instead of sex, what a furore there would be.

Anyway it's not an organisation that I wish to belong to and not just because it discriminates against Women, as Groucho Marx once said "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member". I believe in freedom of expression and free speech so any private club should be free to choose it's own rules under the law but in this case it seems that an exception has been made by our society along fault lines of tradition, revelation and authority, never good reasons to do anything.

One thing that struck me more than the comedy of this debate was the picture that the independent newspaper chose to use for their story on it, a strident, disrespectful Atheist caption writers dream, "where does religion fit in modern society" would get the ball rolling or maybe "The hat’s nice, but he could use a bit more greasepaint." :)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The religion of peace

I'm seriously glad I don't live in Indonesia it seems to be becoming more of an intolerant and fundamentalist state by the year. Recently an atheist, Alexander Aan, made a defiant declaration of his personal viewpoint on Facebook saying simply that "God doesn't exist" For his troubles he's now staring down the barrel of a jail sentence for blasphemy (a victimless crime) Some Muslim groups in his homeland are even calling for him to be beheaded as apparently jail isn't good enough for non-believers. Of course many would say that these are the voices of extremists but we hear this kind of thing so often I find this point of view increasingly hard to swallow.

Indonesian law only recognises six religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism) and bad mouthing any of them is a chargeable offence punishable with a maximum of 5 years in prison. Have you ever heard anything so mind crushingly backwards? Well, maybe creationism, LED watches and the x-factor.. in any case it's with sadness that I strike another beautiful country with pernicious cultural values off my bucket list.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Joke du jour

Coming back from yet another recent EU summit in Rome, various European leaders were forced to take the train due to a strike by Swiss ATC controllers; sitting together in the same compartment, travelling through the Swiss Alps, were Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel and the young and very attractive female Irish foreign minister.

The train goes into a dark tunnel and a few seconds later there is the sound of a loud slap. When the train emerges from the tunnel, Sarkozy has a bright red, hand print on his cheek. No one speaks, everyone is extremely shocked and embarrassed.

Angela Merkel thinks: Sarkozy, not able to help himself, must have groped the Irish girl in the dark, and she slapped his cheek.

The Irish girl thinks: Sarkozy, not able to help himself, must have tried to grope me in the dark, but missed and fondled Merkel and she slapped his cheek.

Sarkozy thinks: Why me? That perfidious Cameron must have groped the Irish girl in the dark knowing that I'd get the blame for it and she slapped me... the English bastard.

And Cameron thinks: I can't wait for another tunnel, so I can smack that little French shit again.