Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What they really think..?


As an atheist in a modern society like the UK you don't actually come across much in the way of face to face attempts at ridicule and bullying from Christians these days. Sure, there are a plethora of apologists and Church leaders writing newspaper columns, blogs or who appear on "Thought for the day" who trot out the same tired old canards but these are hardly worth getting excited about; their arguments have invariably been debunked for centuries by both philosophers and scientists. Then there are a handful of spectacularly ignorant sect and cult leaders who are much more vociferous but on the whole just sound like nutters. In the infamous words of spin doctor Alistair Campbell, as a (usually) polite society we tend not to "do religion" out in the open and when we do it's the sickly sweet "for God's sake don't upset anyone" variety.

Most atheists I know (including me) wouldn't actually mind the odd intellectual run around the block, over a pint or two, in fact quite enjoy it. So long as the Christian (or which ever religion) person on the other side of the table didn't object to receiving a proportionate, robust response in the spirit of honesty, tolerance and frankly being a grown up! As long as the conversation sticks to the ideas behind the positions rather than attacking the people holding the ideas then all is good in my book, the only risk to either side is learning something. Of course many religious people don't tend to see things this way, they feel their belief is indistinguishable from them - which is a big problem. A lack of belief on the other hand doesn't come with such baggage, there's no obvious target to take aim at, apart from the usual straw men, i.e. "Stalin was an atheist" [technically, Stalin trained as a Georgian Orthodox priest but became an Atheist later in his life].

But, it wasn't too many years ago that even here in the UK this would not have been the case. Christians used to be assertive, unrelenting and downright hostile in their approach toward the perfectly scientific, reasonable and historical theological position that is atheism, and in many countries around the world this remains the case. Take the above example of the X-factor contestant in Catholicism-soaked Ecuador; this poor 16 year old girl was personally attacked on national TV for not believing the particular theological ramblings of certain members of the judging panel; and good for her I say, they sounded to me like people who had never heard a single word against their position. Of course, the psychological abuse on this show wasn't particularly serious when compared to the physical abuse handed out by many religious authorities but was spectacularly ill-informed and baring in mind the context and particularly spiteful in it's delivery. The arrogance on display from these people and the certainty with which they (and millions like them) make these ridiculous claims, with no apparent inclination to offer any kind of justification whatsoever, is staggering. At one point someone asks "has she got the devil in her", one wonders what would be next, a lynch mob or burning torches and pitch forks perhaps?


Oh well, Ecuador is another country off the list (I'm sure they couldn't care less) but next time I hear some apologist talking about new atheists being aggressive or "militant"; meaning simply an atheist who dares express their viewpoint; I will think about this poor girl. Of course, most Christians wouldn't be as blatant as this in a secular country like the UK (Muslims on the other hand...) but I can't help suspect that even when they don't say anything, it's what they're really thinking.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do as I say, not as I do..


I must be thinking and reading a lot about hypocrisy lately; when you look it's all over the place. In my previous post I talked about a hypocritical surgeon who denies the science upon which his profession (and personal wealth) is based and also this week we've had wall to wall stories about the Pope visiting America kissing babies and upsetting climate-change deniers in the Republican party. Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said that people shouldn't listen to the Pope on climate change because he's "not a scientist". Of course, like much of what Jeb Bush says, this is both hypocritical and wrong. It's hypocritical because Jeb Bush isn't a scientist either and wrong because Francis has a degree in Chemical Engineering, which I know for a fact is pretty science'y because that's what I studied too!

During the visit Pope Francis declared his support for anti-gay marriage clerk Kim Davis, apparently he thinks it's a "human right" to not do your job if you feel that your religious views are infringed somehow. It was less clear who gets to choose what is a "human right" and what is not, the Catholic Church perhaps? And what about the "human rights" of the people being denied the service? He also acknowledged the suffering of the thousands of people who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy of his organisation; he said he'd "pray for them". Many secular people would have preferred it if he'd said something like "I guarantee that no criminals will be protected by the Church and evade justice, in this life, or the next". He also said that Women are perfectly able to be priests and are more important than men, but in his Church they couldn't hold this position or any more senior position either.

All of this sounds a bit hypocritical to me?

America, really?



I was horrified to read recently that US Presidential candidate (Republican) Ben Carson is on record as saying that Darwin came up with the theory of evolution whilst under the influence of the devil! You can see the video in which he makes these claims above but be warned it's really hard to watch. Carson just comes across as a complete buffoon, spouting all kinds of crazy anti-science, medieval creationist bull, occasionally bordering on outright lies.

It's clear that this kind of delusional clap-trap goes down well with a certain crowd in the USA (i.e. the Christian loony right typically) but what's really scary is that Carson was supposedly a top neurosurgeon before taking up politics, i.e. someone who has benefited (career-wise & monetarily) from the very science that he is dismissing in this video. It's utterly bizarre that someone like this can hold these views, either he is mentally ill or simply a lying huckster who will say literally any old crap just to get a vote, either way what with creationist loons and money grabbing monsters (Trump) US politics is in a really sorry state at the moment.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I never thought I'd live to...


Warwick University Student Union got itself into a bit of bother last week by banning Iranian born secular speaker and Human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie from delivering a talk to the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. The students' union claimed that the talk "could incite hatred or offend Islam".

You need to let that last sentence soak in a bit before you realise how stupid it is on so many levels. It's analogous to saying something like "We're banning Einstein from talking about Quantum Physics because it might offend Newtonian Physics" one of the purposes of attending University, being young and free to challenge ideas is that you actually do it and (perish the thought) learn something in the process! Even ignoring this primary function of these institutions we are still left with the asinine idea that "an idea" can be "offended", what? Can't these lefty laggards understand the difference between ideas and people? Is criticising Conservative monetary policy morally equivalent to taking a dump in David Cameron's letterbox? How ridiculous.

I never thought I'd live to see the day but it seems like the spiritual heartland of free thought and intellectual challenge to discriminatory establishments of all stripes (i.e. the Student body) has (at least in Warwick) been overrun by weak minded, politically correct wimps who have actually convinced themselves that cow-tailing to the misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-free-speech, traditionalist, juggernaut that is "conservative" Islam is somehow a moral thing to do?

In a pleasing update to this sorry tale it seems that the Student Union have reversed their decision and apologised to Maryam; perhaps some of those ex-hippy professors took them aside and explained a thing or two about proper activism.

Tomato soup Moon


I can only marvel at the way that some (stupid) people are getting overexcited about the particular alignment of stars, planets and satellites last night that caused a shadow to be cast over the surface of the Moon and for the light from the Sun to be filtered through the atmosphere of the Earth on its way there. Officially this is known as a Lunar eclipse as opposed to a solar eclipse when the Moon sits in front of the Sun, relative to the Earth (more spectacular IMO). So, superstitious, religious, new-age, spiritual, astrologist (delete as appropriate) people, show yourselves some respect, stop peddling these imaginary end of the world/apocalypse dramas, you're just making yourselves look even more infantile than normal!


During these alignments the Earth's atmosphere causes the Solar light to be discoloured and the Lunar surface to appear slightly reddish brown in colour. The more superstitious among us over the ages have leapt on this natural event and concluded that because the colour of the Moon is slightly red then it must have something to do with "blood" and anything to do with blood is bad, therefore a Lunar eclipse is a portent of something bad happening. What a sad bunch of losers those superstitious people are with their Gods, devils and blood myths, why blood? If you look at the actual colour it's more like a home made tomato soup than blood (which would be much redder) so why not a "tomato soup" moon or a "red squirrel" moon, no, "blood" has much more weight to scare (and control) the gullible; they'll be trying to convince us there's a giant man in the sky watching our every apish impulse next...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Is there life on Mars?


No, not the Bowie classic but perhaps even sweeter music to our ears. NASA are making a special announcement tomorrow with the strap line "Mars Mystery Solved" - speculation is rife but the favourite hypothesis is that they're going to announce the discovery of liquid water. However there is a (remote) possibility that they may announce some kind of discovery of life, or more probably past life on the red planet, that would be truly spectacular, something that would probably represent the biggest scientific discovery ever. It will air live from Washington at 11:30 a.m. EDT or 4:30 p.m. here in the UK.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hypocrisy with a big H


The Jesus and Mo cartoon this week is bang on the money WRT Saudi Arabia and human rights abuses. I've blogged about this many times before, but it seems particularly relevant at the moment because the Saudis have just been appointed to head the UN Human Rights Council (an already debased body) The hypocrisy of this decision need hardly be pointed out, according to Amnesty International the Saudi regime is one of the worst for freedom of expression and religion (or none), torture, discrimination and Women's rights ergo they don't belong anywhere near any human rights council.

Call me old fashioned, but I always think that you can judge the strength and moral standing of a political system by correlating the amount of covering up and killing that goes on within it's borders; in the case of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia (among other theocratic/dictatorial regimes in the Middle East) that's an awful lot. If it weren't for the natural resources beneath that particular part of the planet (i.e. pure chance) then the story would be so, so different, hypocrisy only surpassed by a seemingly criminal ambivalence toward health and safety.

Poetry of reality



I love this quote, so poetic..

Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance has painted a thin covering of life—complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans (a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature), have grown in population, technology, and intelligence to a position of terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush.

—Paul MacCready, Jr., “The Case for Battery Electric Vehicles” (published in The Hydrogen Energy Transition edited by Daniel Sperling and James Cannon, 2004).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Scary AI


The idea of scary computer technology that replaces Human beings has been the staple of Sci-Fi stories since the genre was invented, having worked in the computer industry for my entire career and also having dabbled a bit with AI in a professional context I can say with some degree of confidence that we're a long, long way from the Hollywood version of artificial intelligence. In my reckoning there are much more immediate dangers right now from the "old-world" human inventions like burning fossil fuels, religious extremism, bad politics, greed and ignorance etc. rather than the new.

The liberal paradox


That bastion of human rights abuse, Saudi Arabia, has been in the news again recently, this time sentencing a 17 year old boy to death by crucifixion (WTF?) for seemingly nothing more serious that demonstrating against the totalitarian regime there and having an uncle (also scheduled to be executed) that has seriously fallen out with the ruling crime family. Not only are they planning on crucifying this unfortunate lad, when they're through doing that they're going to behead him. We can only assume it's "just to be sure". Not only has this entire "legal" process been conducted behind closed doors and in secret, confessions have rumored to have been extracted using torture.

If it wasn't for oil, regional politics and the arms trade, this backward and culturally toxic country would probably be facing sanctions up to their agals (if it existed at all). The paradox is that whilst social media is awash with liberals whining about the treatment of Muslim schoolboy Mohamed El-Hassan Mohamed who got arrested in Texas for taking a homemade "clock" that looked just like a bomb into school, I would bet a million dollars hardly any of them would have heard of this poor guy. On the one hand you have a clearly opportunistic fraud who was out to cause trouble and on the other you have someone with, you know, actual liberal principals - it's such a screwed up world we live in.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Influences


Some days I hear and see so much gullibility underpinned by arguments from authority and plane old "happy talk" from apologists of one stripe or another, corporate, religious and political, that I just need to unwind with something short, sweet and economical from the Hitch, a cold beer on a hot day, in word form.

The gods that we've made are exactly the gods you'd expect to be made by a species that's about half a chromosome away from being chimpanzee.” Christopher Hitchens

Us and them


Jesus and Mo satirises the unavoidably divisive nature of most religions; he's not wrong especially when you look at what's going on in the Middle East at the moment.

To scale



Ever wondered what our Solar system would look like if you shrunk the Earth to the size of a marble and then placed all the other planets on their respective orbits to the correct scale. Well you can't do it in your front room, nor in a sports hall, for an accurate representation you need the Black Rock desert in Nevada, some 4WD transport and of course, some marbles.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Crapple



Rant alert..

Apple software upgrade to iOS9 in iPhone 5S doesn't work and turns your phone into a brick, wastes hours of your life and makes small children cry, OK I made that last bit up but still, the rest is true.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Respect?


I see that the new boy on the block, Jezza Corbyn has upset a few people for not singing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain remembrance day ceremony yesterday. Personally I don't see what the fuss is about, I couldn't care less. If you think about this rationally (instead of like a petulant child) then it makes perfect sense, he's a republican and an atheist and our national anthem is a boring dirge that grovels to both Gods and Monarchs, hardly surprising behaviour. I would have had less respect for him if he had sung it, I'm damn sure he wouldn't have meant it as I'm sure many others didn't either, respectful, contemplative silence seems wholly appropriate. In actual fact, berating people for not singing a song that panders to a Christian God that a most people don't believe in and a monarchy that many people don't agree with is in itself insulting and opposes the traditions of tolerance and respect for freedom of conscience that this country is supposed to hold dear. I'm sure many of the combatants in WWII didn't conform with these authoritative institutions either, however it didn't stop them serving their country just as it doesn't stop atheists and republicans deeply respecting their sacrifices today, freedom was what they were fighting for after all.

Oh and another thing, it's about time we had a proper secular anthem in this country, one that celebrates the actual achievements of real people in our country and not one that panders to outdated parasitic authority figures, real or imaginary.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Constant change


If there's one thing we learn as we travel through time on our little spinning planet it's that nothing is forever; change (mostly unexpected and unpredictable) is the only constant in life.

We need only look at the news everyday to observe this fact, for example, I find myself asking the question today, what lasts longer, an Australian prime minister or a Rowntrees fruit-pastel? In our own parliament change has come in the form of a completely overhauled and mostly unknown (to me at least) "eclectic" set of people who now represent the opposition to the incumbent Government.

For people fleeing war and people looking for a quick buck, change is afoot. Last week Europe was an open door with people cheering at railway stations, this week, not so much. For many people the most unwelcome kind of change has visited them, people who were just driving to a football game on the A27 or making a pilgrimage to Mecca or fighting for ISIS in a Syrian city or just sitting at their desk in an American university, the result the same, extinguished before the end of their natural spans. How might we deal with this apparent chaos, randomness and seemingly malicious nature of nature? People find different ways of course, all of these news stories have thrown up different examples of coping strategies which prompted me to write this post and talk about how I personally find some of these strategies much more satisfying than others.

For many/most religious people our reality is reconciled by inventing an alternate reality, an unconvincing imaginary one where few of the natural rules of our universe need be obeyed. An example of this would be the Imam in Oxford who reconciles the crane collapse in Mecca that killed a hundred people, including a father of four from Bolton, by claiming the deceased was "blessed" because he will "go straight to heaven, no question" (actually there are lots of questions about "heaven"). So, the pervasive religious strategy is to move the problem into the realm of the unfalsifiable, i.e. impossible to prove wrong. For me, and millions of other people, this is a deeply unsatisfying tactic; wish-thinking by another name, a wish for certainty, but a wish that is delegated into the future perhaps even an abdication of responsibility, i.e. someone is actually responsible for this particular accident.

A much better and more satisfying strategy in my view is to embrace change, accept the evidence of our eyes and our reason, i.e. that there is no overarching purpose in the universe and that we create our own. Reality makes much more sense if you accept that any wish for an external unchanging framework in which we play some bit-part is just an emergent property of our consciousness; a product of the chemical and electrical processes in our brains interacting with our environment. In other words we might be happier if we can overcome this natural desire for future certainty and instead, learn to live in the moment.



Of course, living in the moment is a very difficult and challenging thing for evolved primates to do, in many ways it goes against our nature, we're pattern seeking mammals after all. We are easily obsessed and distracted by unimportant things and being social animals we care far to much about what other primates think about us; we love group-think. But, on the other hand this highly evolved social nature enables us to care for others and have empathy without which we would have gone extinct millennia ago.

In my own experience I have found that embracing ideas such as illness not being a punishment, make your own purposes, this life is all we get or that we are related to every other living being on the planet has been liberating. Thinking this way certainly facilitates the idea of living in the moment which when you fleetingly achieve it, really struggles to be beaten.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Bible question


So, this question had me thinking today, if God created the Sun on the 4th day (from Genesis) "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, the stars also."

How the feck was it the 4th day?

Anyway, I quickly realised the true answer is most likely that the authors of Genesis made the whole thing up or alternatively stole the idea from the Babylonians, who also made it up.

Apparently I'm not the only one that reached this conclusion, there are some letters for sale at the moment from that famous naturalist and prolific letter writer Charles Darwin on this very subject. The sellers expect to fetch £50k for one that says:

“Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully Ch. Darwin”.

I'm not sure I'd pay £50k for something so blindingly obvious?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What would you send?


Here's an interesting thought experiment; let's say the Earth is faced with some cataclysmic event that will destroy everything, including all scientific knowledge. But, you are able to send one single sentence of information forward into the future for an unscientific descendent species to discover, what would you send?

Artificial selection, germ theory, atomic theory, gunpowder all useful snippets of knowledge in different ways. There would be quite a few possibilities but I thought the one above was good, it's easy (relatively) to do and is one of those foundational things that would lead to all kinds of other discoveries and advances; in terms of the usefulness of a single sentence extremely good value for money!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dying for change


The topic of change (and no change) has loomed large in our political lives over the last couple of days; yesterday MP's voted not to create a new law on assisted dying, i.e. a law that would have made it legal for doctors to assist people who have reached the ends of their lives, often suffering terribly with incurable conditions, and that wish to choose the place and time (and dignity) of their own death. My own view is that we should have such a law, it seems to me to me the moral thing to do and this decision is disappointing for all of us, after all, we're all going to die. It seems obvious to me that having such a law would not alter the number of people dying but would reduce the number of people suffering.

The other kind of change is complete change, and it seems that the Labour party has voted for that. Jeremy Corbyn has been elected the new leader of the opposition party (announced today) against the advice of many party sages and to the surprise of almost all political commentators. Corbyn is probably the most left leaning leader this party has had in many years, perhaps ever, and seems to have spent most of his years as a politician in opposition to his own party let alone the actual opposition. Anyway, I know very little about the man and have not heard him speak much, but from what I've read about him he seems to be one of those highly principled (academic) politicians holding views that are utterly impractical and out of touch with the main stream of UK society (apart from his atheism of course), it will be interesting to see how things pan out for him; I suspect many more center leaning Labour supporters are fearing years in the political wilderness from this point on.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering


In memory of the date today a little cartoon that depicts how events on this day 14 years ago made me feel (I was working in New York at the time) For me it was a tipping point, a stark realisation about the nature of blind faith and what it can make some people do and I still feel as strongly as I did then.

And yes, before anyone says it, I do realise religion isn't the only source of division and extremism in the world but it's one of the biggest and most pervasive and utterly central to what happened then and what continues to trouble many parts of our world today.

Meet the relatives


It's been a fascinating week in the rich story of human evolution; results and findings were announced by a team working in South African of a new species of early hominid named "Homo Naledi". The remains of around 15 individuals were found back in 2013 in a deep cave that's only just accessible through a tiny 18 inch gap, the conclusion is that it's likely these early hominids were disposing of their "dead" away from everyday life, perhaps to prevent scavenging by animals or possibly as some kind of ritualistic behaviour. We will probably never know the full story but never the less such behaviour so early in our evolution will almost certainly revise opinions about the rough elapsed time and path taken for Homo-Sapiens to walk out of Africa, perhaps by millions of years.


As you can see in the photo above, either this is the worst lunch box ever or there are many new prehistoric bones to now be studied and compared; it seems that some features of Naledi are like modern humans (the feet for example suit walking upright) but the brain cavity is much smaller and the hands although modern in proportion have slightly curved fingers which is reminiscent of modern apes like chimpanzees a truly intermediate species, I wonder if they can get DNA from any of the teeth, that would be quite something.

No doubt the coming months will see interesting revisions to the overall scientific consensus regarding the detailed timeline of human evolution and also no doubt we'll also see creationists contorting, twisting and selectively quote mining in order to fit this fantastic discovery into their perverted narrative (yawn) - interesting times.

Bad communicator?


Stunningly clear and obvious message from Jesus&Mo (as usual); why would an omniscient being choose such a hopelessly error prone way of passing on a message so supposedly important?

"Mysterious ways" would certainly be one possibility, as would a capricious deity but non-existence is much more likely based on the evidence we see in the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Decent guidelines


Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9: Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Apple announcements


Some fairly mundane announcements from Apple yesterday about their new and improved product lines; basically a bigger iPad (with an overpriced keyboard) a faster phone and yet another TV/Movie streaming box - it's cool, but I do wonder why so many people get so excited about this stuff?

Dopey data


The women's marathon world record holder Paula Radcliff is receiving a lot of heat in the media at the moment all because some blood test data was leaked (stolen) to a newspaper who then implied that some of the results suggested that a "household name" was involved in doping. Later a parliamentary committee chairman suggested that a British marathon winner was implicated in this story (he may as well have named her).

I don't know whether Radcliff took drugs or not, she should certainly be assumed innocent until proven guilty but I am pretty sure that her current approach of refusing to release her data and simply gazing, wide-eyed, into the camera and assuring us that she is "clean" will not do. Unfortunately the huge financial rewards available to top athletes (of all sports) these days brings with it a responsibility to show (beyond reasonable doubt) that cheating is not a factor in any success. As has been seen from assertive, media-savvy characters such as Lance Armstrong among others, simply saying you're clean (in an assertive manner) is no guarantee of fair play. I fear Radcliff needs to show (and explain) her data. She claims it could be misinterpreted, which may well be true, but this could be minimised by getting a suitably qualified expert to present it on her behalf. It would be very much in the broader interests of athletics generally that this matter be resolved one way or another, whenever there are gaps in our knowledge people have a tendency to fill them with all manner of fiction and malice.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A right royal laugh


I read a couple of funny Queen gags on Twitter today..

"Elizabeth became the longest serving monarch in UK history today... but her backhand was terrible.."

"Queen update: still there, more as it happens"

"You'd be on the throne for 63 years too if all you ate was swans."

"Anti-monarchist groups refuse to parade on Queen's reign."

"4-gun salute to celebrate Queen's longest reign almost drowned out by drumming of Prince Charles' fingers."

and so on...

Hypocrites r us


Lot's of hot air being expended in the USA at the moment over the case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. Davis refused to issue a marriage licence to a gay couple (something she is legally obliged to do) because she is a Christian; what seems like an incredibly simple choice to most non-religious people, i.e. do your job or quit has been blown up out of all proportion by wanna-be theocrats and Republican presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee. Last week Davis was held in contempt of court for refusing to issue licenses to certain couples (on repeated occasions) and was locked up for a couple of days; she was released today and treated like a hero by her sheep-like religious supporters. They claim this is a case of religious freedom, most sane people immediately realise this is a case of a bigot who wishes to impose her personal beliefs on everyone else in defiance of the law of the land and against the sense of morality and fairness of the majority of the population.

Not only is this odious official a bigot she is also a hypocrite; the ancient book that she claims to be adhering to (i.e. the Bible) does indeed label homosexuality an abomination (in several places), but it also forbids divorce and adultery, both instructions Davis chooses to ignore; she has been married 3 times and had children with a married man whilst married to another, a pretty crappy Christian if ever I saw one.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Adobe worship


A little Google auto-complete religious conversion humour for a slightly dull September Monday..

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Stormy times ahead


Astronauts in the ISS are watching three hurricanes chomping up the Pacific ocean at the moment; it's a first that they've seen three at the same time. Combined with data showing lowest ever Arctic ice levels and the warmest year (average) ever recorded I'd said something is heating up our atmosphere, wonder what that could be? (American politicians talking out of their backsides perhaps?)

Thursday, September 03, 2015

What are wasps for?


This little story caught my eye today. We've all heard that well known curmudgeonly question common at late summer BBQ's and picnics "what exactly are wasps for?" which is a question that could equally be applied to the fly, the mosquito and the midge. Well, it seems that the venom of a wasp in Brasil has proved pretty good at zapping cancer cells and yet leaves healthy cells completely intact. The article explains how the chemicals in the venom attack the cell membranes at certain weak points allowing the contents of the cell to flow out, therefore killing it. A fascinating study and one that may well put the bad press around this daily mail bogie to bed for good!

School TV


I watched an ITV documentary (in 2 parts) at the end of August called "School Swap", it was basically an experiment where the headmaster and a couple of kids from a private school swapped places for a week with the same from a state school. Normally I wouldn't go out of my way to watch a reality TV programme like this but in this case I had a good reason. The private school that was featured was called Warminster School, which I attended from 1975-78, so I was intrigued to see how the old place had changed and see what it might be like now.

The first programme was about the kids from Warminster travelling up to a comprehensive school in Derby for a week, I thought there might be more resentment of the "toffs" in evidence (you know what teenage kids are like) and especially since it was up North (albeit the soft-North) But, the kids actually seemed to have more in common than you would expect a couple of the boys actually struck up a decent friendship, I guess kids (particularly boys) tend to gravitate toward certain things, (Xbox, sport, banter, girls) the playing field seemed pretty level on that score. On the academic side though it was clear that the private school kids were much more confident and articulate than their state school colleagues, their attitude towards learning was generally more healthy but not perhaps as much as people might think. One of the girls attending the state school was a recent immigrant from Syria and completely out-shone (academically) her buddy from Warminster (who seemed pretty clueless!) The big surprise of the episode was when one of the private school boys attended a Maths class, a subject that he struggled with and for which he was in the lowest set at Warminster. The state school teacher rated him much, much higher and made the claim that if he were his pupil he would expect an A grade!

The second programme was much more interesting for me as it was the reverse of the first, i.e. the state school kids visited the private school so I had fun trying to recognise bits of the dorms and classrooms as the camera followed them through their daily routine. A lot was made of the grounds and the facilities and the place has changed a lot since I was there (all weather pitches, modern classrooms, IT, proper canteen etc.), but the feel of the place seemed the same (it's essentially Hogwarts!) Barring the impact to their senses of being woken up at the crack of dawn and working an extra 3 or 4 hours a day ("prep" in the evenings etc.) the state school kids seemed to get on just fine. The amount of extra-curricula stuff (like sports) was a revelation to them ; one of them (Brett Riley) ended the show saying he really wanted to attend the school and apparently a place has since been offered, I wonder if he'll take it?

**UPDATE: apparently Brett took the place. I wish him the best of luck, work hard, have fun and what's the worst that can happen?

At the end of the program I came away thinking that kids are kids, broadly the same raw materials; how we treat them, teach them and encourage them makes most of the difference in terms of outcomes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Totalitarianism by a different name


Another outspoken rational thinker and critic of superstition and idolatry was murdered in cold blood on Sunday in India; it seems that religious fanatics on the sub-continent are determined to stub out all free-thought and criticism aimed at their primitive beliefs. Any murder, of anyone, is a tragedy to someone and the only consolation we can take from this particular murder is that these countries are clearly entering some kind of end-game with militant religion and theocracy. When your opponents have nothing left but guns and knives with which to silence you, then you know you occupy the moral high ground. This is how totalitarian systems work, and liberals everywhere (religious or otherwise) should stand in opposition.

Corbyn comments


A lot of people are huffing and puffing in the news recently about Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made back in 2011 about Osama Bin Laden, many are reporting that he said he thought the death of this terrorist leader was a "tragedy" prompting an obvious outpouring of indignation. What he actually said was that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden was killed and not put on trial; I think he's right about that. I have no qualms about killing terrorist murderers but Bin Laden was obviously a clever man, skilled at convincing people to do obscene things in the name of religion, there may have been something to learn from him that would help us counter radicalisation in the future?

Then again the film and media rights were probably already negotiated long before the Apache helicopter rotors had even stopped spinning.