Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dark humour

Blasphemy (again)

Should certain ideas be protected? Jesus and Mo point out the difficulties inherent in this question.

Many people (including me) would argue that they shouldn't. This includes religions which are (in my view) just ideas about reality that adherents would like to be true but have no evidence for. Of course the adherents themselves often argue that they do have evidence for their beliefs, but in my experience this often turns out to be a simple regurgitation/interpretation of powerful memes transferred into their brains from long dead ancestors via scripture, tradition and authority and not really evidence at all, more like evolved opinion or desire.

Of course the idea that free speech should be protected is itself an idea and not a universal absolute; circularity abounds with this subject but ultimately we can use evidence to assess the relative well-being of societies that have it against those that don't as a guide. Even concepts like well-being are also just ideas but at some point we have to get real and accept the fact that this is just the way space-time rolls and we need to be content with doing the best we can. I find a utilitarian perspective the most useful in reasoning about this. The most important point for me is that we base our actions on evidence rather than pervasive memes, and accept that all ideas are transient and many so unlikely that we can safely consider them to be wrong.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Saw this the other day, made me think about how obviously man made all this stuff is, the network probably extends further back from Judaism (i.e. all the older myths feeding into it) than it does emerging forward from it.


I can't look at this picture of American Dentist Walter Palmer (above) without wondering about the mental state of such a person, there seems to be something suspiciously sexual about it, I wonder what the hell is he trying to compensate for?

Anyway, Palmer is plastered all over the news at the moment because he shot (with a cross-bow) a famous Zimbabwean lion which was coaxed out of a protected park by a team (to whom Palmer paid $55k) and killed. The lion was part of a scientific study and had a radio collar on which must have been known by the group of men that killed him. I won't use the term "hunter" here because in my mind this isn't hunting, this is killing for pleasure with no risk to the killer. True hunting is something entirely different, a noble and brave act performed out of necessity for resources; this pathetic egotistical charade is nothing like that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Famous books

Saw this, raised my eyebrows slightly..

Drug stores

I saw this little local new story today; apparently my local branch of Tesco supermarket was shut down for a bit recently whilst police investigated a mysterious package of white powder found in a shipment of bananas. It turned out to be cocaine from Costa Rica worth an estimated £1M !

I'm wondering if this will start a new trend for illegal drugs turning up in supermarkets up and down the country? Of course, Waitrose will be offering a choice of 10 different top end designer compounds that all have the same effect; Sainsbury and Tesco will be providing bags of "value weed" in-between the compost and BBQ coals whereas ALDI will just be extending their glue section. Brings a whole new meaning to the term "product lines"...

Blue sky, but no diamonds

Quote competition, my offering... Yes Mr Obama, that's is the exact rib that Adam donated.

Lucky man being so close to the original fossil of one of our oldest known ancestors "Lucy", and having the case opened and then poking around inside is a rare honour indeed.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Unpronounceable wines

Drinking a nice South African wine this evening with an unpronounceable name, Vergelegen!

I have it on good authority that this is actually pronounced, ver-gel-echen where the "gel" in the middle has a "g" as in "girl" as opposed to the "j" in "jelly" and the "ech" has a guttural Dutch like sound. Why brands with international aspirations choose local names like this is a bit of a mystery to me, I suppose it adds to the mystique; but it almost certainly adds to most (non-SA) people feeling a little apprehensive asking for it in a shop?

The wine itself is good VFM in my view though, a nice cab-Merlot blend that punches above it's weight for the money (about a tenner) This particular example improved greatly by being opened for 24 hours (under a Vacu-Vin Wine Stopper), going from a quite harsh, green (as in raw) finish to a mellow blackcurrant cream, alternatively sit on the bottle for a couple of years and drink in 2017.

P.S. I thoroughly recommend a vacu-vin stopper if, like me, a full bottle of wine isn't always polished off in one sitting (especially good for school-nights!), well worth a few quid if you fancy a cheap option for storing opened wine bottles for a day or two. (PPS. there are much more expensive options!)

Telling porkies?

I came across this little blog/strip the other day, it's basically a set of cartoons depicting obvious, logical, reasonable and somewhat ironic common sense being narrated by a pig who sometimes wears a pith helmet; or in other words oppressive, offensive and militant atheism.

Whatever.... it made me smile for a moment before continuing with my life (as opposed to unleashing a fatal machete attack).

Hisstory of snakes

A fascinating new fossil find shows that snakes almost certainly evolved on land. A 113 million year old fossil (the most primitive of any snake) from Brasil shows a snake with four tiny limbs and adaptations for burrowing and not swimming. The limbs themselves are probably not big enough or powerful enough for walking but may have assisted in grasping prey or mating. The fossil also exhibited many features that clearly marked it as the ancestor of modern snakes such as hooked teeth, flexible jaws and a flexible spine, the legs themselves were also not vestigial, showing some degree of specialization. Another classic "missing link" species and an amazing find alongside other famous transitional fossils like Archaeopteryx,  Tiktaalik and Ambulocetus to name but a few.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


How about "Religion Kills (but not as much as tobacco)", true in some parts of the world at least.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Death bed conversions

Saw this little quote the other day, it made me chuckle...

Good old Tezza, he was an Atheist and a top bloke, said it as he saw it..

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Achieving clarity

It's been fascinating watching the progress of the New Horizons probe this week. The device itself was launched off to Pluto 10 years ago and this plucky little machine (to anthropomorphize) has been speeding through space ever since and finally had it's closest pass-by on Tuesday. As it hurtled past the ball of rock and ice at a range of around 8000 miles it loaded up it's flash memory chips with hi-resolution pictures of this much maligned dwarf-planet. To conserve precious energy this data will now take many months to download to receiving stations on Earth, however, from the early compressed pictures arriving at our radar dishes the results are super-impressive.

Science is a process we use to achieve clarity. Most things we don't understand or can't clearly see whether that's a planet, a person or a proton, eventually yield to the relentless processes of reason, you could say that Science is the ultimate resolution resolver. In the picture above you can clearly see this process of improving resolution over time and this image put me in mind of a book I read recently called "Faith vs. Fact" by Jerry Coyne. It's an interesting book that explores why, at their core, Science and Religion (the idea of "faith" in particular) are incompatible.

Now, many religious apologists get all huffy at this claim and point out examples of religious scientists who's existence, in their view, make it a false one. But (as is explored in depth in this book) the fact that some scientists are also religious only really shows that Human beings are capable of compartmentalising their brains sufficiently to hold contradictory ideas at the same time, i.e. as a species we can cope quite well with cognitive dissonance, although anyone who's been married for a few years could have illuminated that fact!

In the end it boils down to this picture. Science and reason provide us with mechanisms and processes that move us from left to right, i.e. they increase resolution, improving clarity and understanding, but importantly at any point in time, don't necessarily provide the ultimate resolution. Each one of these pictures is useful and helps us to understand the nature of Pluto a little bit better but, for example, none yet tells us what's going on under the surface. To answer that question we would need to invest in more Science to find out (like sending a probe to actually drill into the rocks etc.). Religion on the other hand, seems to me to move us from left to right. If I asked someone today to describe "God" I'd probably get the same kind of answer as if I asked someone plucked from the Middle East 4000 years ago; the answers would certainly be different but the resolution would not have improved.

Greek gifts

It seems as though the Greeks have finally accepted the European bail out deal (through gritted teeth); I guess that means the cash will start flowing again. The whole thing seems short-sighted to me, I can't see how the hell they're ever going to pay it all back but perhaps everyone knows this and I'm just missing some kind of political expediency point and it doesn't really matter in the bigger scheme of all things European.

In my (simplistic) view, Greece would be far better off dropping out of the Euro and concentrating on sorting out their internal accounting and tax affairs. They clearly operate to a different beat than the Germans as far as their economy goes and so trying to entwine the two things seems as doomed as trying to mix country music with thrash metal. Contrary to how this last comment might sound, generally, I'm very pro-European union. I think it makes complete sense that like-minded European countries team up (economically and culturally) to prevent wars and to compete with the Americans and the Chinese, but the economic part is only going to work if there's economic convergence between the countries involved and a political level playing field. The whole Greek scenario reminds me of the old joke about the Doctor who gives a patient 6 months to live, but when he doesn't pay the medical bill the Doctor gives him another six months.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sessions & Sours

I (and a couple of mates) attended a beer festival on Saturday at my local craft brewer (Siren Craft Brew) the theme was "sessions and sours" meaning a selection of beer to try that were either "session beers" i.e. fairly low alcohol and light so you can drink a reasonable number of them over the course of a "session" (usually around 4% or less) or the beers were made to be sour, usually by the addition of particular microbes and possibly some kind of fruit during the brewing process. I think sour beers are quite a specialist thing; personally I'm not a great fan but on a hot day and in the right setting I can see the attraction.

In the picture I'm holding up a sample of "Blubus Maximus" which is a collaboration between Siren and a West Country brewer called "The Wild Beer Company"; it's a study on blueberries, they basically make a sour beer with natural wild yeasts and then dump a tonne (literally) of blueberries into the mix after fermentation. It's an interesting combination, slightly off-tart with a pleasing flavour and thirst quenching quality, wouldn't want more than a pint of it though.

All in all it was a good event, there were a couple of decent bands and a bewildering selection of beers to sample my only complaint was that there was nowhere near enough seating! (please note for next time Siren people)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


In my job I get this a lot..

Bible shopping

It always amazes me that the Bible was so specific in forbidding shops with more than 280 square metres of floor space from opening for over 6 hours on a Sunday.

The war over Sunday trading rages on this week.

Some religious people claim that Sunday is "special" (on a cosmic scale this argument would seem flawed), whenever I hear Christians say this, in my head it translates to "stop wasting your life in shops, waste it in my Church instead".. a case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire" if you ask me, market forces and all that. No one is suggesting preventing people going to church on Sunday, or any other day of the week for that matter, a typical case of Christians thinking their own personal belief that some cherry-picked parts of an ancient book are true trumps everyone else's lack of that belief.

Many people make the argument that longer Sunday trading means shop workers suffer, granted there may well be individual cases where shop owners apply unfair pressure on people, but we already have laws to deal with this (like the WTD which limits the working week to 48 hours) It's also worth noting that retail isn't the only sector where there's pressure, personally I can't remember the last time (apart from holidays) when I worked less than a 50-60 hour week but it's my personal choice and I'm lucky enough to do something I love doing (most of the time at least). If people are being exploited then fair enough, the law needs to be applied, on the other hand if people wish to earn a bit extra by doing a longer shift on a Sunday then why not?

Monday, July 06, 2015

Life changing events

I caught a news piece on the local TV station last night about a Woman who having survived a serious car accident without injury decided that because of this "life changing" event God must have some kind of purpose for her, re-found her "faith" and was this weekend inducted into some kind of Anglican church role amid much gold braid, pomp and elaborate millinery.

I often wonder what kind of simplistic (confirmation biased) logic leads people to have thoughts like this;  do they never stop to consider all the other people that didn't survive similar car accidents (like this poor bloke), what exactly was God trying to say to those people? Do they never stop to consider the relentless advance of technology that rests on the application of science and reason that delivers (mostly) safer cars and better accident mitigation systems. Do they never stop to consider the probability that the God they attribute this generosity to is merely one of thousands of Gods invented by Human beings over thousands of years all of whom are endowed with similar if not identical considerations.

Every event that happens in our lives changes it somehow; that's the true nature of existence. The only illusion is the one where we think we have some measure of lasting control over anything whether we believe in benevolent super-beings like Yahweh, Zeus, Allah, or just the simple fact that for a brief scintilla of time we inhabit a spinning rock in a vast universe that knows (or cares) nothing of us and that generally (rather obviously) we have a better time of it if we're nicer to each other and pay more attention at traffic junctions.

Magic Water

I saw this news story today, it contains two of my favourite things, magic and royalty, both concepts that, in my view, are irrational, divisive and unnecessary. It would seem that for the christening of Princess Charlotte this weekend (magic) water from the river Jordan was flown in - you have to wonder if these people have seen the river Jordan lately (see above) What with catastrophic overuse and man-made pollution it's only a smelly trickle of it's former 1st century self. You also have to also wonder if these people have heard of the water cycle, the molecules of Hydrogen and Oxygen (among others) that make up this river at this moment in time have been cycling around the world and through the bodies of plants and animals, mixing with other molecules in other lakes and rivers for billions of years there's nothing special about them (except maybe the recent pollution part?)

Of course, I realise it's symbolism. I doubt very much that a couple of modern people as well educated as the Cambridge's actually believe in magic. This kind of symbolic exclusivity is for the benefit of the audience, i.e. the plebs like us, designed to remind us of our place in this hierarchy, not them. It strikes me that if you must have some kind of water based ceremony for a member of the UK royal family then water from the Thames, the Mersey and the Tyne (to quote Elvis*) might be symbolically much more relevant to the acquisition of historical (industrial) power they continue to exploit than the rather sad symbol of a scarce (and declining) farming resource endowed with man-made magical powers that has been dividing and killing ordinary people for millennia, although on second thoughts...

*Costello of course.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Good to see that the Middle-East is keeping on top of their witch problem; two Women in Syria have just been beheaded by ISIS fanatics for, wait for it, "working with elves and witchcraft".

Now I wonder how many forensic scientists would jump at the chance to investigate case of "working with elves" (no I can't imagine many would either, they'd mostly be looking around for the candid camera). Can you imagine Jack Regan (aka actor John Thaw) of Sweeney fame kicking in an East-end lock-up door and surprising a coven of witches making wooden rocking horses with a bunch of little Christmas elves; "put your pointy shoes on son, you're nicked!"

Bombing's too good for em.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


As usual Jesus and Mo nails the current wave of Christian/GOP angst sweeping across America in the wake of the same-sex marriage legal bill becoming law.