Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who would have predicted..


Reading a story on the BBC site this evening about new security guidance being sent to all churches in the UK advising that they should have CCTV as well as a door that can be secured in the event of a terrorist attack. Clearly some intelligence has been received and people in the UK are now potentially threatened in the same way that we've seen attacks on institutions in France and elsewhere.

It's a classic ploy for weak armies to use gullible amateurs (often children) to hit soft targets like this, hopefully ISIS is scraping the barrel in terms of it's capabilities to hurt us, but never the less it's an alarming prospect. In 1986 if you'd have asked me what dynamic would most likely threaten our country in 30 years time I would have said, nuclear war, Irish politics, plague, Chernobyl fall-out, mad cow disease but I wouldn't have even thought of religious war. I would have assumed it simply too medieval to even consider, and yet here we are, one religious faction attacking another in order to provoke a sectarian response; our species predilection for pointless self-destruction on the basis of pure fantasy is mind-numbing at times.

Steps to heaven


As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been on holiday recently with my family; we visited a couple of places that I'd never been before, which is always exciting. One the places we went to was Montenegro, more specifically the town of Kotor. It was beautiful, a wonderful setting almost Fjord-like but with azure water instead of the icy grey of more Northern climes. We only spent a day there but it's a place I'd love to return to and explore a little more. The people were very friendly and the food was exceptional, fresh fish like you used to get in Greece and Spain 30 years ago (not the farmed-stock that you typically find now) and they even make their own wines. We had a flinty, nutty Chardonnay with lunch that could have been sprung from the soil of the Cote du Beaune itself, and cheap too.

One other thing we did while there was to climb the steps of the medieval fort that sits above the town; it seemed like a good idea at the time but by half way up we were all starting to regret it. The temperature was around 30 degrees centigrade and there were over 1000 steps, most of which were quite rough and uneven. Amusingly there were people stationed at 3-4 points up the hill selling bottled water; at the bottom it was 1 Euro, half way up it was 1.5 Euros and so on, finishing up at 2.5 Euros at the very top; it seems that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. The view from the top was spectacular (the photo shows the view from about half-way up) but I wouldn't advise doing the ascent in the heat of the midday sun like we did, unless you're mad, or an Englishman of course.

The great Italian wine hoax


Those laggards at NASA, they certainly need to up their game; sending computers to Jupiter isn't rocket-science you know!

Talking about NASA I was amused to watch this recent exchange between climate-change denier and Australian politician Malcolm Roberts and Professor Brian Cox, the frustration and incredulity on the face of the latter is wonderful. 


I had my own climate-change denial moment last week whilst on holiday. I unfortunately got seated at a restaurant next to an ignorant, fat American man who, apart from being loud, opinionated and socially retarded was also (as I found out) in total denial about climate science. His contention was that the whole thing was a conspiracy dreamt up by Al Gore and NASA in order to make "billions" of dollars from US tax-payers. I pointed out that it wasn't just Al Gore that took this position, that in fact it was the majority of the worlds scientists from different countries some of whom would love nothing more than to discredit each other. He wasn't buying it, the whole conversation felt like talking to a creationist, no matter what evidence I offered the response was the same, conspiracy! I hasten to add, this person was no illiterate, he had a degree in mathematics (or at least claimed to)!

It was amusing to taunt him with the dichotomy that according to him, the same organisation (NASA) simultaneously achieved the greatest feat in human history for America, i.e. landing a man on the Moon (of which he was very patriotically proud) as well as engineering the largest scientific hoax in history designed to extort cash from the very same population? How could this possibly be? Is the integrity of US institutions so pathetically weak that they could be infiltrated to such an extent that gangsters could be subverting the most prestigious Governmental scientific organisation in the world?

At that point I resisted the urge to go for a coup-de-grace and stopped talking to him; I could see that his tiny brain was about to explode and I didn't want to ruin my glass of Italian wine, which by the way, was rather splendid... allegedly.

Wrong rights


Jesus and Mo. sums the French burkini dilemma up very well. How does the state protect the freedoms of it's (multicultural) people from the lack of freedom imposed by the communities and cultures they originally emanate from.

Skirting around the real issue


Relatively speaking, India has a lot of societal problems, it has a discriminatory caste system, crushing poverty in many areas, poor education, lack of investment, patchy medical care, poor infrastructure, retarding deference to superstition and corruption on a large scale, not to mention her vast population has an average life expectancy 20% lower than that of the West. India also has a lot going for it too, for example a reasonable democracy, ambition, cultural richness and diversity, natural resources as well as some great artists, intellectuals and scientists (some of whom actually live there as opposed to London or New York!)

I read with interest today that the Indian "culture minister" (Mahesh Sharma) has gotten into some hot water over his recent advice to foreign visitors, particularly Women. He advises them (under the cover of "cultural differences") not to venture out on their own, not to wear skirts and more worryingly to take pictures of any car they might travel in and to send them to friends. Sometimes people betray their real thoughts in the advice that they give. It seems fairly clear that India also has a problem with misogyny and rape. No society is perfect of course, but the numbers do seem to suggest that incidents of rape (reported and unreported) are significantly higher than in many other places, even marital rape is not illegal in India. Many Women in India have spoken out on social media to challenge and even ridicule Mr Sharma, it would seem that Women in India also recognise the problem. In my experience Indian Women generally have strong independent characters; I hope that they are able to marshal resources in order to change their society from within (always the best way), any country that can justify spending billions on space research but can't offer protection and justice for 50% of it's own population or female tourists probably needs to re-think it's priorities.

Emptying the cesspool


Noticed a couple of heart warming stories in the papers recently, a week or so ago we had the splendid news that (finally) loud-mouthed ignoramus Anjem Choudary has been prosecuted for inciting hatred and supporting/promoting ISIS and other terrorist groups. Choudary is one of the most odious individuals you'll ever likely encounter, a hypocrite, a manipulator and a benefits scrounger to boot. For years this parasite has been hiding behind Islam (not a difficult thing to do in our society) in order to make money, promote theocracy and push a political manifesto based on religiously justified bigotry, injustice, prejudice and racism that has lead to many people becoming radicalised and committing violent acts against innocent people. The sooner he's banged up the better; although I can't help thinking that some other bed-shirted buffoon will simply step into his sandals and pick up from where he left off, an important question for our legal system is how we deal with them when they emerge.

Yesterday we had a story about the ISIS strategist Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a man who has been recorded urging lone-wolf attacks against the West like the ones we've seen in Paris and Nice. The Americans finally tracked him down to a location in Aleppo, Syria and killed him with an air-strike. The dismantling of ISIS is proving to be painfully slow, it's depressing to consider how many more deaths will likely occur in our cities and in the Middle-East before this movement is finally defeated, the best you can say is "every little helps".

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Religious jokes

I am partial to a good joke and I'm not at all fussy at whose expense it comes; sticks and stones etc.
Apparently back in 2005 the Christian web site "shipoffools" asked it's readers to send in and vote for the funniest and/or offensive religious joke. The competition completely passed me by at the time, but the organisers of the site were surprised at how offensive the jokes sent by Christians were, perhaps there is hope for us after all? Anyway, here's the winning joke, it's an old one (Dave Allen?) but still bought a smile to my face.
I was walking across a bridge, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. 
I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Like what?"
"Are you religious?"
"He said: "Yes."
"I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Christian."
"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Protestant."
"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Baptist."
"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.

Bad Apple?


So, I read that the EU Commission has finally caught up with the shenanigans Apple and the Irish Government have been up to. A ruling today has declared that the tax advantages given to Apple by the Irish are illegal and have been for some years, meaning that back tax (and interest) is due to the tune of £11 billion (that's some tax bill!)

Of course those of us familiar with the workings of American corporations already know this dubious practice has been going on for years; certainly since the 80s (to my knowledge) Company after company has come and gone and used deliberately weak tax regimes like Ireland as bases to route cash and therefore more profit back to the good'ole US of A. The list is long, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Facebook, Pfizer all take advantage of this ploy. Today there are something like 700+ US companies based there. They call it tax "avoidance" rather than "evasion" since up until now all of the parties involved had assumed that the practice was legal. Places like Co Galway and Cork have long been convenient European bridge-heads for US companies wanting to make a quick (low-tax) buck and for the Irish Government to "buy" investment and jobs into areas of under-employment and under-development, a win-win for both parties. 

Companies (especially the larger ones) will always look for ways to reduce their tax burden but those (for reasons of scale) who are excluded from such schemes have for a long time now complained that they are inherently unfair, some have gone as far as to accuse Ireland of being the "tax-scam" capital of Europe. This is perhaps a little harsh since there are a few countries doing similar things, and let's face it, companies in the financial sector around Europe are hardly spotless when it comes to manipulating markets for their own gain. However, I believe there is a grain of truth here, what smaller (more agile) businesses really want is for Governments to provide a fair and level playing field, they want this in order to both attract talent but also compete on price with larger entities. If one company is paying 0.005% corporation tax in one EU country but another elsewhere is paying the full 20% then clearly this represents an unfair advantage.

Overall I'm glad this blatant loop-hole seems to be on it's way out; perhaps fairer competition will see better price competition and more choice for consumers. Apple has for a long time been philosophically anti-competitive, both from a product point of view (try buying a non-Apple power cable for your phone!) but also, it seems, from a tax standpoint too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

When in Rome


Doing some work on in New York at the moment so it's only polite to try the local brews. Had some Sixpoint (Brooklyn) "resin" which was one of the strongest and most hoppy beers I've ever had. Weighing in at 9%+ ABV it carried it quite well (not as well as Cloudwater DIPA), massive hop payload and in your face bitterness. It seemed a bit unbalanced at first but calmed down over time, served ice cold and most welcome as it's currently over 35 degrees and really humid here at the moment, although one small can was plenty.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Good ideas (not)


Here's a really good idea, let's stoke up some competitive religious tension in Syria, because let's face it, there aren't quite enough religiously inspired problems in that part of the world! 

A Swedish evangelical church based in Uppsala is planning to drop thousands of Bibles via drones into ISIS occupied towns. What could possibly go wrong we ask ourselves. In fact i'm sure this ultra-conservative (literalist) Christian cult has a lot in common (intellectually) with the ultra-conservative (literalist) Islamic cult occupying these towns and ruining the lives of the people there, they'd probably get on like a house on fire, if only they could find a house left standing and still on fire.

Pope declares bears defecate in the woods!


I'm sure Prof. Brian Cox is mightily relieved this morning, Pope Francis has declared that evolution and the big-bang theory are (probably) true, apparently God isn't a "magician with a wand" (I always wondered about the wand - "Expecto Patronus" etc.) 

I suppose this is an advance of kinds, previous Popes haven't been so accommodating toward reality, preferring instead to stick with "magic" and to ban, censor, even burn detractors to death. Anyway, the enlightened thinking only lasted a short while, Francis went on to say that "God" was entirely compatible with these theories and in fact required by them, I'd love to see his "workings" on that claim.

Honest communication


On my way into work today I heard some lady on radio 4 talking about how the Government needs to do more to stop more young people leaving the UK to go to Syria in order to join ISIS. I heard the phrase "more engagement with the Muslim community", a sound-bite very widely used in political and media circles but lacking in any clear definition, predictably, none was offered.

I thought about this for a while and concluded something quite different from the commentator. I would actually quite like it if all ISIS sympathisers left this country as soon as possible, the quicker the better. To use an old fashioned label, if these people plan, plot or act out in any way the goals of ISIS then they are traitors plain and simple. They betray the society that sustains them and threaten its broader well-being by embracing a set of values and ethics that are incompatible with the wishes of the vast majority of people here. Values like freedom of speech, gender equality, freedom of conscience, pluralism, freedom of religion, tolerance, secular law and so on. 

Of course there are some cases where young kids are groomed and indoctrinated (for the second time in their lives) by shady figures whose agenda is to "radicalise" them. Of course coming from the socio-religious background they invariably do, where the main theme of the group-think is "submission" to an invisible male sky God, it's hardly surprising that many are totally gullible and ripe for exploitation in this way. Any shred of sceptical thought has been expunged from them over many years of being pummelled with irrational superstitious nonsense, any sign of weakness of character or thought is right there in plain view, ready to be exploited to the full. 

However, having said all this, I still think there is something that our Government can do; it's a simple strategy called "telling the truth". Show these people what will really happen to them, counter the narrative of heroism and jihad coming from ISIS with some hard cold evidence, ideally from witness statements. Let these people know (in graphic detail) what awaits them in this primitive and barbaric cult. YouTube some witness testimony from Yazidi women, explain that their future will consist mainly of being repeatedly gang raped by rancid middle-aged men, immolation for non-compliance, total subjugation to a violently misogynistic patriarchy and eventual annihilation by Arab machine gun (against some dirt wall), or unexpectedly during the night by Kafir missile or Alawite barrel bomb.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Don't drink and dial


And to illustrate the point, here is a photo of a 16th century (1533) book (Horologiographia) by Sebastian M√ľnster all about dialling, or the art of making sun-dials. From the look of the instructions, dialling is harder than assembling IKEA furniture.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Special pass?


Take a look at this bloke, looks evil doesn't he, cold, heartless, eye's a bit too close together?

Of course if you know that he's a Catholic priest who's just been convicted of child sex crimes then it's easy to make these kinds of silly retrospective generalizations. Obviously we can't judge people's intentions by the way they look but equally we can't predict to what rancid antisocial depths they're prepared to descend by them belonging to any (supposedly morality giving) religion either. I look forward to the day when people don't automatically get a special pass just because they put the word priest, father, vicar, bishop or reverend in front of their names.

Monday, August 08, 2016

I'm in two minds..


Wonderful little assemblage of Donald Trump utterly contradicting himself on just about every serious issue there is; my goodness what an idiot. The vast majority of sensible people in America can't possibly vote this moron into the most important job in the world, can they?

Crashing out of the Olympics


Finally got 5 minutes to watch some of the Rio Olympics yesterday, the whole family installed itself on the sofa to watch the cycling, only to (almost immediately) see a horrific crash and some poor Dutch lady (who was leading at the time) plough into a sharp concrete curb head first and bounce like a dead cat. She was clearly unconscious but her condition wasn't reported on for several hours, it was hard not to think the worst. I read today that she suffered a few fractures and a concussion but should recover, very lucky. I can't help thinking that the road course, particularly the descent where she crashed was pretty dangerous, not because of the gradient (I'm sure there's much worse on the Alpine sections of the Tour de France) but because of the lack of anywhere safe (i.e. without sharp pointy things) to bail out if it all goes wrong. I'm sure there will be much discussion among the health and safety bigwigs about this over the coming days and weeks. As for watching other events, we found that we couldn't really get into anything (lots of channel hopping) and the kids eventually wandered off, it's strange that the London games had us all glued to the TV non-stop but for some reason this time the allure isn't anywhere near as strong.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Arrogant ignorance


Some Americans, particularly it seems those associated with the Republican party and especially Donald Trump are demonstrably ignorant. Here is Mike Pence making a complete hash of both science and history with a mangling of the English language on the side. Not only does he clearly not understand the first thing about what the theory of evolution claims or how science works, he also doesn't understand what the word "theory" actually means. His smug Christian mocking exposes a truly epic level of ignorance, he keeps repeating that "this is what we were taught at school and evolution is a theory not a fact", clearly the religious meddling was so bad at his school that he must have been force-fed the usual pack of straw-man BS that creationists peddle (which he's never bothered to fact-check since) or the man is as thick as pig poo or he's a lying huckster fishing for the religious vote, you decide.

More worryingly, for someone aspiring to the #2 job in the world, he also doesn't understand US history nor the backgrounds of the people who authored the declaration of independence. A pivotal document and an historic moment upon which many of the principals of the US constitution were layered. Unlike Mr Pence, many of the (key) founding fathers of the USA were very intelligent men and at most they were Deists born out of the Enlightenment going on around them, certainly not Bible literalists. If these men had been born after Darwin I have no doubt they would have embraced the scientific reality of his findings, especially Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. Washington, Franklin, Adams and Monroe were also well documented skeptics at a time when society was utterly drenched in Christianity and it's various flavours and dogmas. These were also the people who understood the need for and codified the principal of separation of church and state (smart people) not ignorant literalists like Pence, who spend their political capital trying to insert private delusions into the public square by lying for Jesus.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Look into my eyes


Nice little cartoon. Lot's of people visit psychics, some for entertainment but many believe it's actually real. You have to ask yourself, if it is real then why aren't all psychics lottery winners? Deep down I think we all know the answer to that.

Sticking to the script


When you speak to religious people who claim evolution is false (and it's not a small minority of people that believe that) you hear the same sound-bites again and again, most of them utterly pervert the actual facts of evolution and are designed specifically by unscrupulous manipulators to present straw men that are easily dismissed. Quips like "if we came from monkeys why are there still monkeys" or "you never see a fish giving birth to an elephant" etc.

Clearly most of these people have never actually bothered to try to understand the evidence and science behind the facts of natural selection, and are simply parroting what they've been indoctrinated with by their parents, preachers or imams etc. It's especially sad to hear such propaganda coming from the mouths of children. If you think about it, they're having ignorance forced upon them and are being taught that dismissing the inconvenient evidence of reality is perfectly OK, or worse that it's a virtue. This kind of indoctrination illuminates a clear and direct path from kids believing that everything they don't understand or disagree with is the "work of the devil" through to climate-change denial all the way to flying planes into buildings. If you don't have the intellectual skills or will to fact check your beliefs against reality then you are always going to rely on someone else to tell you what is true; you are ripe for the picking.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Clarity


This is so familiar. I do find that I spend an unholy amount of time at work listening to people talking about irrelevant stuff or their latest (ill-conceived) brain-fart. Of course, they don't share my perspective (why should they), so I could always try to explain my viewpoint but often I find it's quicker and more politically expedient to let them drone-on to a natural end (i.e. let them reach their own conclusions) rather than intervene, but that takes time.

As I get older the feeling that I should be using precious time as if it's actually precious becomes ever more acute, the challenge of course is how to do it without upsetting people.