Sunday, May 31, 2015

Craft beer goodbyes

One of the guys who works for me is leaving after 4 years with the company and we decided to have a little shindig on Friday evening at a new craft beer pub that opened earlier in the year in Reading. The pub is called the Castle Tap and it's just a short walk from the town centre. I believe this is the first proper craft beer pub in the area, other pubs feature the odd beer from a craft brewery (guest ale style) but this pub actually specialises in stocking a large number of beers of all styles, on tap and in bottles and also in cans. The usual suspects were there from brewers like Siren, Beavertown and Weird Beard as well as some more obscure tipples from places I'd never heard of. I particularly liked a beer called Brigid Fire which is a 6.3% smoked rye IPA; very bitter but with good depth and a nice light smoky background to it. Over the course of the evening we worked our way through quite a few on the list and much laughter ensued. I left the place well after 11pm feeling a lightness in the head and a lightness in the pocket (craft beer isn't cheap!) but a good night was had by all and I suspect I shall be returning to this venue for a fix of beery craftiness over the Summer some time.

Anglican atheists

Interesting YouGov survey results in the Independent today; it seems that 2% of Anglican priests don't actually believe in God, i.e. they're atheist. In addition, as many as 16% are unclear about God, perhaps agnostic? I have met many Jewish people (particularly in New York) who would call themselves Jewish but not actually believe in God, i.e. they would be happy to label themselves Jewish atheists and don't see any conflict with that. Perhaps this is what happens to religions as they diminish, i.e. once the clergy stop believing it you would have thought that the writing must be on the wall? I can fully imagine that for long established religions the cultural baggage like the rituals (births, marriages, deaths etc.) may well last beyond the practical end of the religion and may well merge into the next popular (man-made) movement that comes along; at some level human beings seem to need (or just enjoy?) rituals to book-stop important life moments and let's face it, the buildings designed for these purposes over the centuries are often pretty spectacular! (see Canterbury Cathedral above)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Two by two.

We all know the story of Noah's ark; ancient telepathic bloke builds a big boat and every species of animal boarded two by two etc. Most of us are taught this at junior school via picture books or little toy arks with giraffe heads poking out of a sun-roof etc. Here is a picture from one such book but there's a problem, can you spot it?

Look more closely at the two big cats in the middle of the gangplank, they're both male, could this possibly be? The God of the old testament condoning gay lions?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Victorian values..

A shocking info-graphic showing the number of workers who have died during the construction of venues for various major sporting events like the Summer and Winter Olympics. For me it says something about the values of the societies that are responsible for the safety of their work forces, foreign or otherwise; I guess in some places workers lives are still cheap.

Overdue apologies

So, the Methodists have apologised for the abuse of thousands of children dating back to the 1950s, I suppose it's a case of better late than never did God not know, or not care, or could he not do anything about it?

In other news scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human on human violence; forensic investigation of remains from a cave in Spain show a skull that has suffered multiple blows to the same spot with the same weapon, strongly suggesting an intent to kill. By dating the surrounding sediments the team have estimated that the event happened roughly 430,000 years ago; or to put it another way around 20,000 average human generations, now that's an overdue apology!

Breaking yesterday, it would appear that FIFA is a vipers nest of corruption and deceit after all. Many people within the game and who follow it closely have suspected this for a long time and have repeatedly called for a change of management within the central organisation. Hopefully we will see the guy at the top removed and a clean sweep of the rotten fruit that has been allowed to accumulate in this bloated corpse of a money obsessed boys club. I wonder when all those loyal fans and supportive communities who have been defrauded and exploited will get an apology?

Pussy Galore is back in a new James Bond book written by Anthony Horowitz and presumably destined to become an action movie at some point in the future. The mainstream media outlets seem unusually keen on this story today, all that smirking behind clasped hands is almost palpable through the screen. I hear that when Ian Fleming's niece went to see Horowitz to discuss the plot she was looking to revive a money spinning double entendre, so he gave her one.

I apologise in advance to those who might be offended by such literary imagery.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Some more equal than others..

Excellent news from the Republic of Ireland; the result of their recent referendum on same sex marriage was that 62% of the voting population voted positively in favour of allowing it. Hopefully people there who wish to marry each other are able to do so as soon as possible. Predictably the main objections came from those with political views rooted in religion; these views manifested themselves in many ways but most seemed quite transparently based on the idea that there is some kind of external objective morality in the world, i.e. same sex marriage is "wrong", a traditionally religious idea. It always surprises me how strongly people can feel about things which have no impact on their own lives but are deemed good or bad based on a cherry picked verse or two from some ancient book which, because the infidelity of traditional copying processes and translation, almost certainly bear no resemblance to the original (disparate) source materials, such certainty based on such shaky foundations always generates deep concern in me.

I'm please to see that the Catholic church in Ireland seem to be beginning to understand that their role in that society has changed (whether they like it or not) and I think it's perhaps time for the people there to clarify (through the political process) how they would like this relationship to work, for example via some kind of US style constitutional separation of church and state perhaps. Like the Church of England in England, the Catholic church in Ireland would appear to have a highly inflated set of privileges when you look at the religiosity of the population in general, there is an obvious anomaly and it needs to be normalised for the purposes of fairness and equality. In the North of Ireland, a land famous for saying "no", there's still a ban on such marriages; with a Tory government now in place here it would seem like this is likely to remain the status-quo for some time. Secularists everywhere can only hope that the positive momentum and publicity generated by the campaign in the South can be harnessed to get those guys up there thinking about joining the rest of us in the 21st century.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The rights of Women

Thought for the day...

If I had the power to cure cancer, I would.

I guess that's the difference between a simple atheist like me and all the "all-powerful Gods" our species have ever worshipped.

Things people believe..

I love this little cartoon; so true and the most surprising thing for outside observers is that the kinds of people who believe this stuff almost invariably cannot see the arrogance or implausibility of it all.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

British values II

After the recent election, this may well be what the rest of the world thinks of us... (click on the picture to see a bigger version)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

British values...

There's a lot of mumblings among the chattering classes at the moment about the new Governments plans (or lack of concrete plans) on the subject of "radical Islam". Theresa May was on radio 4 this morning and gave a pretty unconvincing performance. She was trying to explain what David Cameron meant by "passive tolerance" and how we've all been too passive about tolerance for too long, implying that we should all get more aggressive about insisting on "British values" (to the point presumably of locking people up who don't have them?). The interviewer pointed out that surely different people would have different views about what our values should be, and, being permitted to express such differences of opinion was itself an important "British value". The whole conversation was horribly circular and this Government seem to have missed the point.

We don't need more legislation to ban certain opinions or break-up fringe groups, we need more freedom of expression on a level playing field and the protection of the law in exercising that freedom. We don't need to censor the voices of hate preachers we just need to be able to criticize and mock their philosophy in public WITHOUT being labelled "Islamophobic" or racist and therefore marginalised along with that minority of haters.

Societal values do exist but they are not set in stone and they change, we are witnessing a major shift right now, i.e. over the last 10-20 years religion has been forced to retreat (kicking and screaming) from it's privileged and institutionalised position and this is a good thing. There's still some way to go but mainstream religions like Christianity and Judaism can be successfully ridiculed and challenged when it's adherents do stupid or illegal things. Since the Catholic paedophile scandals came to light the public is much more aware that religion should not be above the law and clergy should not be sheltered from prosecution (like the rest of us) just because they hold one particular set of beliefs among a plurality of beliefs in the wider society.

The only exception to this trend seems to be the way we handle Islam; it's obvious that many people feel the same way about Islam now as our ancestors probably did about Christianity in the middle-ages i.e. they are scared to criticise it for fear of violence, this is not a phobia (i.e. an irrational fear) it's perfectly rational to fear death! There are two choices, either we try to ban/censor/jail the opposing voices or we hold the line for enlightenment values and allow the reformers to win over the majority with the alternatives, the former approach has often won individual battles but seldom the war.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The sleep of reason..

Another secular-atheist blogger, Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death with machetes in the Eastern city of Sylhet, Bangladesh on Tuesday for the crime of thinking for himself and maintaining a blog about science and reason. He was on his way to an ordinary job at a bank around 8:40 in the morning when a group of 4 masked men cut him down in the street. This is the third such religiously motivated murder in Bangladesh in recent months and there appears to be some kind of pogrom going on against atheists and free-thinkers in that country where Islamic intolerance and the precipitated barbarity is clearly a growing problem. With a festering landscape of religious insecurity promoting violence of this kind it is surely only a matter of time before we see terrorists emerging from that place to threaten and bully Western visitors and tourists; then it's only a small step for them to think it's a good idea to export this insanity to places like Syria and perhaps even the streets of New York or London, and so it continues, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

Monday, May 11, 2015

He is risen!

Well, just like in the famous story, he died and then three days later rose from the dead to wander around a bit like a zombie before retaining his position on the throne. A lot of people seem to believe that like the mythical Jesus, Nigel Farage also walks on water but let's face it Jesus had a bit more of a pragmatic approach to unscrupulous money lenders. I'm sure this is some kind of political technicality being acted out here, if you say you're going to resign then in my book you should resign; that means handing back your car parking pass, dropping the laptop off at the IT support desk and exit stage-right to get a proper job. You'd have thought old Nigel would have relished the leaving-do booze up and as for the inappropriate quips that would have been tweeted at such an event, so probably are the British media! In this case though, it seems "resigning" means ducking a few awkward questions for a couple of days and then jumping right back into your right-leaning saddle just where you left off.. close but no cigar.

Eric's pickled

I see that odious theocrat Eric Pickles has been sacked from the Government cabinet and is to be replaced as Communities Secretary by Greg Clark. I was always astounded that in a secular and multi-cultural society like ours, someone so aggressively "Christian" in his outlook could have been deemed a suitable person to handle "community" matters. Ever since Pickles personally forced through legislation allowing Christians to bully non-religious people attending council meetings to have to sit through Christian "prayers" he has been well and truly off the Christmas card list of most of the leading Secularists in this country. Hopefully the new guy will be less persistent with his own pet beliefs and a little bit more representative of the actual people in this fair land, i.e. mostly non-religious.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Election fever..

Well, today is the day for all aspiring politicians in this great nation. I'll be slipping out later this afternoon to put a cross in a box (not that it makes a whole lot of difference where I live); tactical voting is about as useful as a chocolate teapot around these parts, Tory stronghold would be putting it mildly, still it's the thought that counts.

Key issues for me this time around would be,

The Economy: Can't do much unless you've got some wonga to spend. I think the best tac is probably somewhere in between the Tories and the Lib Dems on this no one else seems to have a clear plan to me. Parties on the left don't seem to have learned the fiscal lessons of the last 10 years (some might say longer) although are probably not quite as bad as the media paints them to be.

Secularism & Free Speech: We need more, not less, Tories and Labour don't seem that bothered and appear keen to maintain the status-quo; recent comments from both are mildly alarming, particularly around topics such as "Islamophobia". The Lib Dems seem to have the most progressive position on these issues although the Greens are quite good on this front too; the Tories are (as you would expect) entrenched in the establishment and Labour seem to tell people what they think they want to hear (see cartoon above)

Education: IMO it's critical that we sort out (i.e. improve) our science and technical education landscapes; our future prosperity and quite possibly future breakthroughs applicable at the global scale depend on it. Our system seems to be stuck in its ways, (good) teachers are underpaid and under valued and there seems to be a lot of accountability being avoided across the board in all sectors. I think that Faith schools are a sinister idea and very bad for our society but only the LDs and Greens want to end things like compulsory prayer and educational discrimination on religious grounds.

Business: The tax burden on small business is still too high; progress has been made in the past few years but there is still a culture of cronyism and privilege within certain corners of our investment and banking sectors; raising money is harder and more expensive here than it should be and much harder than in competing economies such as the USA. Personal incentives around creating companies, investing and building businesses are better than they used to be but still not good enough to tip the balance in terms of making innovation pervasive as it is in other parts of the world. The Tories have the best story here (although it could be better) the other parties generally under value entrepreneurs IMO.

Science: Needs more money and more support and we should be tougher on harmful pseudo-science in the public square, things like climate change denial, fake medicine and organisations that fleece the vulnerable with false promises and claims. More flag-ship projects (like transport infrastructure) at the national level and more support for grass-roots and crowd funded initiatives.

Health: Someone needs to get a grip on the NHS; chucking more money at it doesn't seem to achieve much and I can't believe they still haven't properly computerised (how many billions have been flushed on that project - and I don't understand why) All the parties seem to value this institution but none seem to have a clear plan to put it on a decent growth and modernisation path.

As usual, as clear as mud! I read one commentator today saying that he felt like someone who needed an organ transplant but only had a bucket of tripe... I think I know how he feels.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Positive Spin

Saw this cartoon today; never a truer word etc..

I reckon a lot of politicians would probably think this was a perfectly reasonable answer to many questions where reality conflicts with religious beliefs or self interest, especially in the USA.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Wishing upon a $tar..

Seeing all the fuss about that religion soaked boxing match in Las Vegas over the weekend got me thinking, how come the harder he trained the more God answered his prayers but as soon as a better opponent came along he was abandoned? It's almost like the outcome of a boxing match is simply dependent on skill, experience, fitness and blind-luck, just imagine what the world would be like if that were true... er.. just like it actually is then.

Oh well, at least he earned more money in an hour than most people will see in several lifetimes, our world certainly works in mysterious ways.

Friday, May 01, 2015


Saw this little poster the other day, it's aimed at people who deny Evolution (usually for religious reasons) - it's amazing how often you hear people say one or more of these things, the best you can say is there's a lot of ignorance in the world.

Silly thing to say on your last day with the company..

Love xkcd - maybe this is how pervasive myths really get started, i.e. teachers on their last day at work just having a laugh?

A slap up cure

Much as I hate linking to the Daily Mail I did see this story today about some woo woo pseudo medical treatment called "Chinese slapping therapy". Apparently it involves being slapped until your skin turns purple from bruising (WTF?) it begs the question, who in their right mind would pay money for this nonsense? The Chinese huckster who seems to be the leading advocate of this BS is currently being investigated over the recent death of a 7 year old diabetic boy who died after receiving a beating from him.

People really need to wise up generally about pseudo-science therapies like this, just because you stick the word "Chinese" or "Natural" in front of something it has no bearing on it's efficacy or validity. The likelihood is that if someone feels it necessary to put such a word in front of product name then they are almost certainly trying to hide something. There's this persistent and harmful myth in the West that all things oriental and ancient must somehow be true or inexplicably effective, acupuncture, traditional medicine, rhino horns, tigers penises, fire needles, hot cups; it's all been tested and the things that actually work we adopt and call "medicine" and the things that don't work we call "medical scams designed to extract money from the gullible" it's not rocket science. For those people that bleat on with statements like "but you can't prove it doesn't work" or "my Aunty flow drank bleach every day and lived to 96" all that can be said is "so what!"; We can't "prove" that leprechauns don't exist or that gypsy heather doesn't cure cancer; reality is not about absolute proof it's about the balance of probability and science is about working out what's most probable.

So, don't be fooled by things that are labelled "Chinese", it's meaningless, either it's double-blind tested, peer-reviewed "medicine" or it's not. There is no such thing as Chinese quantum theory or Lithuanian wood-fairy Chemistry we all live in the same universe governed by the same physical laws and that applies to medicine as much as it applies to gravity.

I think I'm going to start a movement that advocates "Traditional Chinese jumping out of moving train windows therapy" (it's fully natural, organic and homoeopathic of course), we can start with the politicians, might simplify our election somewhat.