Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday means salvation

Seems fair..

Pot shots at American sniper

I saw the film American Sniper the other day, it's a well made film in a very populist style but I have to question the veracity of the underlying storey (even allowing for the normal Hollywood manipulation)

Firstly we're introduced to Chris Kyle (the real American sniper) watching the twin towers falling with his wife at home in Texas and in the very next scene we see him in Iraq! If I remember correctly the Iraq war wasn't specifically to do with 9/11 but to do with WMD?  Anyway that's quite a small quibble; the main issue for me was the apparent ease with which the "hero", a fairly low grade NCO, could apparently do what he liked on the field of battle and order everyone else around to essentially go along with his wild hunches and personal vendettas (I know several military men who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and they say it's just not like that, the chain of command was much more rigid). Throughout the film the main character was being haunted by a mysterious baddie in black who was supposedly an opposing sniper who had won a shooting medal for Syria in the Olympics; the problem is that the film has this sniper operating for different (and opposing) Sunni and Shia factions at the same time; all pretty unlikely.

Finally there's the mental torment and regret that Kyle suffers in the film as he ploughs his way through the men, women and children of Mesopotamia, turning them into corpses and chalking up notches on his McMillan TAC-338 sniper rifle. All very powerful depictions of the moral spaghetti that was Iraq but somewhat at odds with Kyles own accounts of the same events in his book (of the same name) In the book Kyle comes across as someone who loathes the Iraqis (calling them "rag-heads") and felt happy that everyone he killed was evil. Bible bashing Kyle clearly states that his main purpose and preoccupation was the protection of his own troops "whatever the cost", but in reality I suspect the truth is somewhere between the dehumanising training that snipers like Kyle must surely receive and the Budweiser fuelled "all-American" banter invented in Texas bar rooms that someone thought might earn a few dollars if put in a book.

If you're looking for a (not too serious) hero/action adventure war movie that's well made and well acted then this may be a film for you. If you thought the Iraq war was morally reprehensible and felt that it was being run by a bunch of red-neck who-ha's and attention seeking lap-dogs for dubious reasons, then this film will probably confirm every suspicion you ever had.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dawkins fanboys

This made me laugh out loud today - superb

WARNING: The messages Dawkins is reading out are from religious people so expect some hateful language designed to threaten, denigrate and vilify; but worst of all expect horrific scientific ignorance. (not safe for work, or civilised society)

Some might argue that this is just an example of people exercising their right to free-speech, well not entirely. Here we (mostly) have a bunch of people attacking a man, an individual; NOT the ideas he promotes, a classic example of an ad-hominem attack, which in plain language means slagging someone off when you don't have a good come-back; it's a very common tactic among critics of Dawkins since most of them have pathetically few substantive rebuttals of his position (and let's face it most of his arguments are neither new nor his) or can't be bothered to actually find out what he really says. I really don't understand people who fail to distinguish between themselves and the ideas they hold at any particular point in time, people deserve respect, ideas do not.

Fortunately Dawkins shows the correct way to deal with assorted insults regardless, i.e. with humour - religionists take note.

Cutting to the chase

Blasphemy laws - Protecting the ridiculous from ridicule...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wise investments

Oh no, once again you have destroyed my scientific theory with your expert knowledge of theology and the Bible.... said no one ever.

Can anyone think of an example where modern Science claims X and the Bible/Koran/Torah claims Y and on investigation Y turned out to be the correct/best answer?  No, me neither.

Origin of the universe, the Earth, human beings, flora and fauna, slavery, genocide, global floods, the exodus, Adam and Eve, causes of mental illness, education, medicine, most of cosmology, female emancipation, evolution and most of biology all incorrect in the holy books; all subsequently corrected/improved over the last 400 years through scientific and philosophical enlightenment; it makes you wonder. For books that have so much human capital and emotion invested in them being perfect, they seem to be pretty useless at explaining anything useful.

But... many people still don't accept modernity, they prefer to contort and twist these ancient books in a vain attempt to extract sense from them, they seem to have some inexplicable yearning for an imagined past where such myths and legends were real; a past that never really existed. For most of our ancestors the further back you go in history the more their reality consisted of random and lethal violence, inequality, pain, hunger and terror of a world of disease and natural disaster that made no sense. It can be easily shown that our present day western democracies are, as a matter of fact, the most peaceful, predictable and fair societies that have ever existed (on planet Earth at least..) and the vast majority of people get to live much longer (thanks to science) to enjoy them.

Don't believe me that (sane) people today still cling to superstition and myth? Take a look at this recent BBC program debating religion, science and evidence, the best bit for me is when the scientist asks the Bible scholar "could you clarify what a demon is please?" (he couldn't); is this a marginal viewpoint? Well, unfortunately no, Saudi Arabia, a nation of 30+ million Muslims executed someone for "sorcery" only last year and there still over 30 nations worldwide that will prosecute you for blasphemy (the ultimate victimless crime!) including some Arab countries that will kill you for it.

Some people seriously need to get some perspective on our place in the universe and re-calibrate their beliefs, ethics and goals. Take a look at this latest image from the NASA Hubble space telescope; it shows the Andromeda galaxy at an unprecedented level of detail, every dot on this image is a star, like our Sun, probably with planets circling around it; some of which may well host life. There are something like a hundred million stars in this galaxy which is around 40,000 light years away from us; just let that sink in for a second, then realise that there are over a hundred million galaxies like this in the visible universe, and here we are killing each other over cartoons of a desert war lord that died 1,400 years ago.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Muslims, get with the programme!

Maajid Nawaz unleashing a torrent of common sense in the direction of those Muslims who don't seem to understand the value of reciprocation, solidarity and community integration and who are upset at the content of the letter sent to them today from the Communities Secretary requesting that they think about ways to explain how Islam "can be part of the British identity". The MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) has rejected this letter and doesn't see why it should be part of any solution to the problem of Islamism in Europe. Either these people really don't get it, or even worse, they are part of the problem! Either way I can only see more trouble ahead unless moderate Muslims start to "man up" and take some responsibility for helping to find solutions to this issue and be seen to do so; purging the MCB of unhelpful laggards would be a good start.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Is anybody out there?

Raif Badawi (who I mentioned on Wednesday) has had his flogging postponed this week on "medical grounds". A doctor apparently decided that his "wounds" had not healed sufficiently for them to be re-opened again this week (a Saudi court sentenced him to 1000 lashes, 50 per week for 20 weeks).

I haven't read or heard about any significant Muslim outrage or "offence taking" about this other than from the commendable @MaajidNawaz  ; an interesting side note is that Saudi Arabia have executed 9 people so far in 2015 one of whom was a woman who despite pleading her innocence to the end was beheaded in public without any form of aesthetic. Capital punishment is not unique to Saudi of course but why this backward country feels it's necessary to hack at peoples' necks with a sword in what appear to be half empty car parks (see picture above) seems perverse in the extreme, it's almost like they want incriminating pictures to leak out. A very dark hearted society indeed, and by all accounts getting darker as the pressure to reform increases.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

True colours

I see that the Pope has finally "come out", no, no, not what you're thinking. Catholics should still think gay people are sub-human, unless they're Cardinals of course, then it's OK so long as they keep their mouths shut and don't get caught, such is the way of the Lord.

No, the pope has revealed what he thinks about free speech and by Jove he's all for it! it's a fundamental human right according to him. The Pope is absolutely for Catholics being able to make up all manner of horse shit to lecture everyone else about; regardless of how offensive it is. Women must abandon their reproductive rights, non-believers are going to burn in hell, gay people must deny their sexual identities and live sterile lives, condoms are worse than AIDS and on and on; the very definition of offensive, sanctimonious clap-trap that the rest of us are subjected to ad-nausea, and guess what.. we don't have to respect these views but we must tolerate them, this is the essence of free-speech. Of course as with everything religious, there's a but, the Pope says free speech is fine unless it involves criticising or mocking someone's faith, that's verboten! Boy, those religious johnnies really stick together don't they. A case of do as I say and not as I do, such a wonderfully simple philosophy for the in-group.

As everyone knows, the most destructive forces in the in the realm of religion (which is somewhere between Mordor and Narnia) are honest enquiry, reason and evidence; the man in the big hat can't be having any religious person exposed to that kind of Kryptonite! The faithful are clearly not faithful enough to deal with it (in his eyes) and after all, the creator of the universe is now so utterly pooped after shitting out all that dark matter that he needs good Muslims, Jews and Catholics everywhere to punch anyone on the nose for daring to suggest (especially if it's presented in cartoon form) that an evolved primate on a small rock in an insignificant galaxy might think Godly beliefs or actions that are inspired by those beliefs are in any way infantile, hypocritical, barbaric, immoral, criminal or plain dumb! Faith must be viewed by everyone for what it truly is, Captain Americas' impenetrable shield or the ultimate invisibility cloak; protecting it's wearer from the laser-beams of critical reason or the ruthless gaze of ridicule.

And so, you can probably tell what I think about this patriarchal hypothesis, fortunately I'm not alone, many other, more talented people than me sum it up much more eloquently and put it to music, so, in the immortal words of Tim Minchin.

Fuck the Pope!

And yes this song is designed to offend and shock; but it's not even on the same scale of offence and shock as covering up the abuse of thousands of small children - that's kinda the point; some people need to calibrate their morals.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Flogging for a blogging

Just in case you don't pay much attention to the really offensive acts going on in the world (as opposed to the blasphemous kind) this poor chap is called Raif Badwawi. He lives in Saudi Arabia (first mistake) and for the right royal crime of "writing a mildly edgy blog that criticised religion" he has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 (public) lashes (50 a week for 20 weeks) I can imagine his diary makes for quite a depressing read at the moment. Raif was lucky in that the prosecutors originally wanted to charge him with apostasy (simply leaving his faith); the sentence for that is death. So the next time someone tries to convince you that this whole Islamic blasphemy thing is just a few bad apples then slip this guy's name into the conversation and mention the fact that his homeland alone has a population of 30 million, see how they like them apples.

Does anyone now feel the urge to take an AK-47 to the Saudi judiciary? No, I didn't think so, even though such an act is truly offensive to any decent, moral and fair-minded person. Perhaps what is more telling is that you will struggle to find any Muslims getting overly upset by this, certainly none that are prepared to satirise such cases in public.

Here's an idea

Jesus and Mo. bang on target as usual (metaphorically speaking)...

Religion poisons everything

So folks, this is what all the fuss is about!

Any reasonable, rational person can see that the purpose of this cartoon is to make a political and (memorable) satirical point by provoking an emotional reaction; the clue is in the name, i.e. to provoke something you need to be provocative. Now, you may not agree with the point or the need for a cartoon or even the need for any kind of reaction at all, but if you're a person who has an apologetic bent and thinks "murdering people is bad, but..." you need to ask yourself a deadly serious question. Exactly how far are you willing to have your own views suppressed by (spurious) Islamic blasphemy laws? At what point do you start self-censoring; keeping your most heart-felt beliefs to yourself for fear of being attacked by aggressive intolerant people who demand that you submit to their parochial world-view? How about your religious views? Because let's face it, those will be the first to go.

Every single freedom we have, including religious freedom, had to be talked and written into existence, often accumulating significant human suffering along the way. Freedom of speech, the right to criticise, mock and question ideas underpins freedom of assembly, due-process, universal franchise etc. i.e. all the freedoms needed for a pluralistic and democratic society,  and without it we are lost to the whims of tyrants and confined to societies that are red in tooth and claw.

Do apologists and (left leaning) liberals really think this fight is about ink and pencil drawings or racism or unacceptable offence? Of course not, let's be honest with ourselves, it's about power. The crime of blasphemy was conceived by the powerful in order to exert authority over everyone else; a mechanism with which a ruler may exert his (because its always a "him") dogma over the ruled. The way it works is by exploiting the delusional spell cast over the credulous so that they fanatically suppress dissent in the name of the imaginary authority whose interests are magically aligned to those of the ruler. It's a perfect system, to question the rule is to commit the offence; any fool can see why free-speech is an anathema to blasphemy. Western secular societies realised this during the enlightenment three hundred years ago when the philosophical and ethical arguments were essentially won; it then took us two hundred years to (mostly) get rid of the offence from our various legal statute books (there are some anomalies - Ireland I'm looking at you!) There are of course non-religious forms of blasphemy (state-dogmas, like in North Korea), but since non-religious ideas are subject to scrutiny by universal logic and science (unlike religious ideas) they are much more easily shown to be spurious or proven beyond doubt to be wrong; the unfalsifiable nature of religious ideas makes them amenable to much more leeway in this regard.

Our challenge now is that we are living through the emergence of a dark hearted cult in the shape of Islamic fascism (ISIS, Boko-Haram, Al-Qaeda, Wahhabism et al.) who want to exert power on the world stage. Part of that plan is to force us to implement Islamic blasphemy rules within our secular societies, been there, done that, no thanks. We should not give an inch and I applaud every single publication here in the UK who have published this image and I noticed that even the (normally lilly-livered) BBC had a fleeting glimpse of it on their news report this morning (bravo!) hopefully someone in the UK will re-publish this magazine so that people who are pro-enlightenment values here can buy it here in volume, this isn't about insulting Muslims, it's about not accepting being told what to think!

When I think of the resources that will now have to be expended on security and all the money that will now be spent on weapons and training and surveillance it fills me with a sense of exasperation and foreboding for the future. I think about all the better ways that that money and energy could be spent; solving problems that our species actually has, for example climate change, energy sufficiency, health-care, education and so on, and my conclusion is that the divisive ideas underpinning religions, in the vast majority of their forms, truly do poison everything.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bad day for freedom


The sleep of reason

Horrific news from France today, Islamic gunmen stormed the offices of a French newspaper and opened fire with automatic weapons, then executed police officers trying to stop them. I use the word executed because that's the correct term for when someone puts a gun to the head of an injured (and incapacitated) opponent and pulls the trigger. There's a video on YouTube right now (I won't link to it and I doubt it'll be up there for long) taken by a bystander from the roof of an adjacent building showing one of the terrorists doing precisely this.

So, innocent people are being summarily executed by Muslims on the streets of Paris for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and office workers slaughtered at their desks for the crime of drawing a cartoon. I hope that now people will now think twice about giving any credence to the relativist cosmopolitan elite who are so fond of saying that violence of this kind has nothing to do with Islam; as no doubt that will be their response. Perhaps Angela Merkel will re-think her nauseatingly transparent PC condemnation of the Pegida rallies across Germany this past weekend and perhaps the next Islamic apologist or left leaning media commentator who starts an article or interview with the sentence "the majority of Muslims are not terrorists" will ponder that (albeit correct) statement and think about Germany in 1919 when a small aggressive group of similarly anti-free-speech fascists started their journey into the light; within 30 years that little ideological experiment culminated in the deaths of roughly 50 million people and the moderate (silent) majority proved utterly irrelevant.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Accurate inaccuracies

I read with amusement that the Egyptian government have banned Ridley Scott's new film "Exodus: Gods and Kings" because of "historical inaccuracies".

If their complaint was that the film is inaccurate because it shows a well fed (white) Welshmen (Christian Bale) running around the Western desert in 13 BC then fair enough, but, apparently their objection is that the film shows Jewish slaves building a pyramid and the Red Sea parting as a result of an earthquake. Now any proper historian knows that Jews didn't build the pyramids (they were actually built much earlier than the Moses story) and that the Red Sea was in fact split open by a huge invisible man in the sky with a vindictive and narcissistic personality and an unhealthy fetish for one particular Canaanite tribe. According to the Egyptian "cultural" minister the film therefore represents a "Zionist" version of history.

Clearly these Egyptian dullards don't appreciate the target audience for this film, i.e. American Christians; who (as countless polls attest) are about as uneducated on matters of the Bible, world culture and geography as it's possible to be! Say "Egypt" to the average mid-western red-neck and not only would they point to Alaska on the map, the only noteworthy historical thing they'd be able to tell you about it would be "the pyramids!", well, that and possibly how hot Elizabeth Taylor's breasts looked sprinkled with half and half.

I haven't watched the film yet nor do I intend to until it's free, but from the clips I have seen I doubt it will hold my attention unless the directors cut has lasers and kick-ass aliens in it, although, then it might be more believable?

Enemies of secularism

Read this article today. I found it enlightening and for me it clarified some of the benefits that a properly secular state offers it's citizens by highlighting some of the big disadvantages of trying to operate parallel legal systems i.e. religiously founded systems like sharia or religiously based privilege like unelected Bishops in Parliament.

I'm in favour of a strictly secular state, one where there is one law (that evolves by consent) which applies to all persons regardless of irrelevant factors such as sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or favourite football team. In practice, allowing a number of parallel systems would inevitably lead to a conflict with this basic position, for example, what happens when numerous parallel legal systems clash, which should take precedence?

Take free-speech for example, it would seem rational that free-speech is synonymous with freedom of conscience and therefore freedom of religion (or none) but still a large number  of religious people have sought and continue to seek to protect their ideas from criticism under the historical shield of "blasphemy" or more recently the modern equivalent of "taking offence", the latter being a slippery slope to the former in my opinion. This is not a new idea, almost all religions (or sects) that have achieved a majority position (usually violently) within a state apply some kind of censorship in their favour; from English language Bibles to The Satanic verses. It seems to be an inherent weakness in the foundations of practically all religions that the followers feel its structural and intellectual integrity is so weak that they need to protect it at the point of sword, letter of the law or threat of a fatwa. It's only increasing secular pressure applied over centuries that seems to move a culture beyond this infantile state.

150 years ago John Stuart Mill nailed the reasons why free-speech is a necessary pillar of any civilised society, he said in "on liberty",

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

I suspect it's the "exchanging error for truth" part that people have a problem with but even to this day, you can't fault his logic without admitting the insecurity of your own position; religious or otherwise.


As usual the marvellous comic xkcd clarifies things for us; in this edition we have examples of what we should and shouldn't be worried about in real life compared to what happens in the movies or on TV (acknowledging the fact that many people prefer to think they exist in the latter)..

Friday, January 02, 2015


Whoosh, and another year rushes by.

In the spirit of annual reviews I can confirm that for me 2014 was a good year, not the best, but in the general scheme of things perhaps a top 10 candidate (so far) I'd like to think I've learnt a few things this year, hopefully more than I've forgotten and the highlight was simply the number of family holidays banked, a total of 5 in the year which is a record for me. As for what next year may bring, who knows, let's hope the global economy picks up deadly diseases are vanquished by science and people focus less on their delusions of power and entitlement and more on solving some of those stubborn retardations that previous generations would have assumed we'd grown out of by now (yes Middle East I'm looking at you).