Friday, June 29, 2012

Its Friday :)

Sharp philosophical insight from Jesus and Mo.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ancient practice for the chop?

I read today that a court in Germany has ruled that the primitive religious ritual of circumcising young boys is actually "bodily harm" and that the child's right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights (circumcising young girls is already illegal there).

I whole heartedly agree, once done there's no going back regardless of the later outcomes and choices in the life of the human being the ritual is inflicted on. Unfortunately though whenever this subject comes up we hear lot's of bleating about religious freedom, complete poppycock in my estimation, even if you did believe in some kind of God why on earth would you believe that God makes baby boys uniformly imperfect such that their genitals need to be hacked away at as soon as they're born? The whole thing is so obviously a man-made throwback to a bygone era of human evolution and primitive ethics, when genocide was de-rigour, slavery was just fine and women and children were the property of men on a par with livestock.

There are plenty of life choices parents need to make for their children in the early years of life, most are simply for practical reasons because babies cannot consent. However unnecessary plastic surgery would never be top of my list (or even on my list) unlike the Jews, Christians and Muslims who adhere to these primitive dogmas I don't have faith in faith, that most overrated of all human virtues.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Missing you...

The weather in the UK this Summer has been utterly abysmal so far, rain, wind and grey have been the order of the day ever since a water shortage was announced back in March. I notice from the forecast that we're about to get another wash out weekend so with that in mind I thought I'd post a picture of the Sun for all of us who've forgotten what it looks like. If you click on the image you'll see a higher resolution version, and quite spectacular it is too when you think that those little black spots are the size of our planet, after contemplating such a wonderful image all that's left to say is come back soon, we all miss you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jimmy dodgers

There's a lot of chat around at the moment about tax avoidance, particularly about the Prime Minister David Cameron's criticism of the comedian Jimmy Carr using some elaborate avoidance scheme based in Jersey. I must admit I'm somewhat perplexed at this seemingly "do bears s**t in the forest" kind of interview, it seems so arbitrary to me, why pick on Jimmy Carr? According to reports the deadpan comic shelters roughly £3 million pounds from UK tax using a process of paying salary to an offshore entity and then borrowing the money back from them. It all sounds rather suspect but in my view needs to be put into perspective alongside the billions of pounds wrangled from the tax man by corporations such as Amazon and the much larger amounts running to hundreds of millions said to be dodged by Conservative supporting billionaires like Philip Green.

It seems to me that politicians should probably focus on fixing bad laws and avoiding conversations about morality, it'll only end in tears.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Your call is important to us

Just over a year ago now I blogged about a cool innovation called the Raspberry Pi computer, it's basically a £25 device about the size of a credit card and aimed at the education market, specifically, teaching children how to program computers in an attempt to inspire them to innovate. The device proved so popular with everyone (not just educational institutions) that ever since there has been a massive supply-demand problem, essentially they can't make them quick enough and I suspect don't have the capital investment to scale the manufacturing up to meet demand.

The excitement around this idea is somewhat reminiscent of the excitement that existed about the cheap early home computers of the 1980's such as the Sinclair ZX80 and Spectrum devices and the BBC micro. This parallel even extends to a horribly overloaded production cycle and typically British queuing system in order to place an order; I worry that it will ultimately extend to the squandering of the advantage of being first to mass-market just like the UK computer boom of the 80s did.

I received an email this morning informing me that soon I would be "invited" to place my order, then I'd  have to wait another 11-14 weeks for delivery. Whilst we often put up with this kind of stuff here in the UK (because we're all eccentric don't you know) it seems to me like an opportunity missed. Imagine the impact of having a million of these devices ready to go on launch day and capitalising on all that interest and excitement. Clearly such a bold move would have required big shiny brass ones and a tidy pile of cash up front, neither things that UK Ltd. is particularly good at organising. I know one thing for sure, the money would have been better spent exploiting this industry than on any financial bail out fund.

Double standards

I came across this story today, it's about a pensioner (John Richards) from Boston, Lincolnshire who is an atheist and decided that he'd stick a poster up in his front window expressing his opinion on the true purpose of religion. Unfortunately for John he has fallen foul of our PC nanny state and it's anti-free-speech attitude when it comes to religion, he was advised by police that he could be arrested if someone complained.

The current public order act (which is what is being invoked here) states that its an offence to display any sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting, you can judge for yourself whether or not this simple statement fulfils any of those criteria. Personally I think "JR" looks like he's lived enough years, paid enough tax, read enough church signs and probably received enough religious waffle through the letterbox to earn the right to express whatever opinion he'd like in his own front window.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bugs life

I came across this interesting story on the BBC site this morning. It's about bugs, or to be more specific microbes, i.e. bacteria, viruses and other very small critters that live with us; when I say "live with us" I don't just mean hanging around in the same environment but actually on and in our bodies. There are an incredible 10,000 different types of microbes (on average) that live on and within our bodies at any particular time, a positive ecosystem of animals that scrape (sometimes literally) a living from our flesh. Most of these bugs cause no harm at all to us and some have even co-evolved with humans in symbiotic fashion helping with certain chemical tasks that our own cells cannot manage in return for energy or protection. To put the shear number of critters in perspective, when you stand ten times more bacterial cells rise up than human ones, there is even an official project to identify and study them all.

At some point in our lives I'm sure most of us have felt as if we were being exploited by others, now we know.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Primary education is evolving

I read today that the department of education in the UK is finally putting evolution into the primary school science curriculum, it will start to be taught to 8-9 year old children, as well it should. Evolution is the foundation of Biology, not teaching it until age 14 is just plain dumb, it's like teaching multiplication and division before addition and subtraction. No doubt there will be a fuss made of this by some of our religious brothers and sisters and I can imagine it won't go down without the usual silly canards from the less enlightened members of our population, that's my theory anyway.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


I read today that the passwords of some 6 million people were hacked (i.e. stolen) by someone in Russia from the Internet giant LinkedIn yesterday. Time will tell if this leak proves problematic or not but it would probably be wise to change your password if you're a user of that particular application and whilst you're there give it a quick scrub to make sure there's no ultra-sensitive personal data that you'd rather not share on it. Some people could find that their "network" is a little larger than they expected this morning.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Majority rule

I saw this piece of research today incredibly in May 2012 some 46% of Americans still cling onto the intuition that the Earth was created 6000 years ago by a big man in the sky in a week, why? Of course the answer is simple, these people were indoctrinated with this story when they were children and the communities they now live in continually reinforce these myths as well as make it incredibly difficult (socially) for individuals to question them or indeed hold any other view. This state of mind is perfectly understandable, at a simple day to day level such teleological questions don't matter, they certainly matter less than being fired from your job or being shunned by your family but the real point is not about what's true (that was established 200 years ago!) the real slippery slope here is about religious coercion, freedom and our desire to protect minorities from the majorities.

America has a constitution that separates church and state, it's a wonderful idea and certainly allows that country to benefit from great innovations in the arts and sciences that run counter to religious parochialism. I wonder what would happen if the law of the land didn't protect people who hold contrary views to powerful or dominant religions? Well, perhaps we get a glimpse of what that would be like from India where a rationalist Sanal Edamaruku is being charged with "blasphemy" by the Catholic church for debunking a silly stigmatic statue whose dripping "blood" he showed to be nothing more than a leaky sewage pipe. In this regard Indian law is bad of course, but there wouldn't be a problem if the supposedly reasonable, rational Catholic church wasn't pushing that bad law, would that church push similar prosecutions elsewhere if it could?

Examples of religiously inspired abuses of power from around the world are as numerous as the grains of the sahara, seldom a day passes without some story of an unfortunate soul being tormented for seemingly natural and harmless behaviour. Just today I read about some girls being executed for "dancing", previously I've written about a fatwa for Tweeting and inappropriately named soft toys, the list is endless. Can we assume from all this that the only thing restraining religious abuse of power and privilege is the denial of said power and privilege?

*Update* Apparently Spain has some silly laws too.

It moves!

Lot's of excitement over the transit of Venus this weekend, not much chance of seeing it here in the UK though; as everyone knows all of our public holidays are always shrouded in low grey clouds and constant drizzle, its a tradition. Anyway, observation is overrated so I watched a TV program about it instead and learned that the passing of Venus across the face of the Sun is a rare event (in the context of a human life-time) and the next one isn't for another 100 odd years, oh well, chalk up another missed cosmic phenomenon because of an Atlantic depression. I can't help thinking though that in a universe as vast as ours with hundreds of billions of stars and probably trillions of planets there are more transits going on in any single minute than you could wave a stick at.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

God save the Queen and pass the ammo

In the ongoing battle to keep the right leaning middle classes in a permanent state of terror the Daily Mail came up with a cracking set of front page stories on Friday. First you've got Diana the ex-princess of Wales, of course mentioning Diana everyday in the Daily Mail somewhere has become a regular act of religious devotion second only in predictability to politicians praising the troops or Rowan Williams praising the Queen, however in an escalation of toadyism the fine journalists at the Mail have combined the standard Diana story with a super Kate story, would they have been buddies? I can hardly contain my excitement in contemplating this challenging philosophical conundrum. Alongside the philosophy section we also have a quick dig at social media, someone is being called names on Twitter, shame on those bullies, anyway we couldn't maintain our paranoia levels without a splash of future shock. Then to cap it all we have the startling revelation that people shouldn't drink more than three glasses of wine a week, yes you read that correctly THREE GLASSES A WEEK!

There are many things that we shouldn't do more than three times a week, driving 4X4's, eating big Mac's, going outside and let's not forget elevated stress levels would suggest reading the Daily Mail should fall into that category too. I'm sure abstaining from many of these things would prolong our lives, hopefully so that we could contemplate important ontological questions, like who would Diana have voted for on the Voice. However this headline misses the main motivation for drinking any kind of alcohol more than three times a week, i.e. to make conversations with all those Daily Mail devotees slightly less boring!

Health Warning: Please drink in moderation and watch out for Daily Mail stories, they many contain nuts.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Bank holiday weekends and galactic annihilation

I noticed this cheery little story on the BBC science site today; all I can imagine is that some mischievous rationalist somewhere in the bowels of the BBC (because obviously all the best jobs in the BBC are given to arts graduates) thought they'd pour some cold reason onto the excited emotional frenzy that is the jubilee bank holiday weekend by doing the equivalent of a scientific "Harold Camping" prediction about the end of the world, only being scientific of course it actually has some tangible evidence for it.

The picture shows the night sky as it might be 3.7 billion years from now as our nearest neighbouring galaxy (Andromeda) collides with our own galaxy (the Milky Way) Data from the Hubble space telescope predicts that these two cosmic bodies are being inextricably drawn toward each other. Even though we're moving toward each other at a speed of 250,000mph there probably won't be an "impact" as such more of a gradual mash up where gravity slowly merges the two structures together into one. We shouldn't worry too much about being destroyed by this collision but we can't rest on our laurels because by then our Sun will nearly be out of Hydrogen fuel so will explode anyway vaporizing the entire solar system and destroying every shred of evidence that our planet or human beings ever existed.

Have a nice day.