Friday, April 30, 2010

Tim Minchin 4 Pope

Here is a little ditty from Tim Minchin, it's very disrespectful, full of expletives and incredibly catchy, if you play this at work make sure you have headphones on.

This captures what a lot of people feel about the Catholic church and particularly the Pope currently, when (if) he comes to the UK this summer we will get the chance to tell him to his pious face what we think of him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brown knows..

A couple of chuckle-worthy comments heard around the office today..

- What does "BIGOT" stand for? (Brown Is Gone On Thursday)

- Perfect PR solution to Brown's bigot problem, raise the terror level to critical...

- Apologising was like clearing a blocked toilet with explosive, solves the original problem but Brown is still covered in sh*t

- Brown plans to revisit Rochdale, this time to do something positive for the community, he's unveiling a status of Harold Shipman...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gordon Brown helping to define the word "bigot"

Just listening to a breaking story about Gordon Brown; he was doing a walk-about in Rochdale (Lancs.) and was approached by a member of the public who asked him several questions about the economy and pensions, immigration and student loans etc.., he seemed (to me at least) to have responded to those questions reasonably well, but when the session was over and he was back in his limo he made some disparaging remarks about the woman calling her a bigot (and forgot his radio mic. was still switched on!) - what wonderful TV, no doubt the media will have a feeding frenzy around this and it will do his campaign image great damage.

As for the validity of his remark, I can certainly understand the emotion all the candidates must be getting cheesed off with answering the same questions all the time, but I think he needs to swot up on the dictionary definition of "bigot", or perhaps just look in a mirror?

I found Jesus..!

Yes folks its true, thanks to my good friend Lisa (who occasionally comments here) Jesus looks like he's turned up in the lung of a patient in an Illinois hospital; check out this MRI scan...

Of course being credulous like me means that you accept hard evidence like this as being completely true, however I must confess that I have nagging doubts that this isn't Jesus but in fact Frank Zappa, or maybe Frank Zappa is Jesus, ah the theological possibilities :)

Another one bites the dust...

Oh dear, it looks like the Chinese expedition that claimed to have found Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat in Turkey (as discussed yesterday) has been fabricating evidence; here is a report from a Dr. Price who claims he was the archaeologist on the trip and that the so called "wooden structures" were simply shipped in on a truck and placed there.

I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details).

To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake. The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut’s men to the site saw the wood, but couldn’t get inside because of the severe weather conditions. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

With all of these claims and counter claims it's hard to take this story too seriously (like most religious claims actually!) so until I see some proper science on this I think I consign it to the "delusional wish thinking" bucket along with creation science, transubstantiation and intelligent design, it will be in good company.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Turkish delight for evangelists..

A group of Turkish and Chinese evangelists are claiming that they have found (the real) Noah's Ark on mount Ararat in Turkey. Apparently they found a bunch of wooden structures at an altitude of 4,000 meters and fragments of this wood has been radio carbon dated to 4,800 years old, i.e. roughly the right period for the Bible story of Noah and his Ark.

There are of course many problems with this claim and also with the whole flood story itself, it is also worth noting that no conclusive photographs have been forthcoming of these "wooden structures". It's also worth noting that evangelist Christians like the ones making this claim also claim that the world is only 6,000 years old and that radio carbon dating techniques (among others) that disprove this belief are bunkum (make your minds up guys!)

I did read somewhere once that even if you took two examples of every animal and plant species on the planet and liquidised them, they still wouldn't fit into the supposed Ark, never mind how those poor kangaroos managed to walk all the way back to Australia from Turkey :) Anyway, lets not spoil a good story with something boring like "reality", we all know what it means if this discovery turns out to be true (and not a completely delusional fabrication like all the other Ark discoveries).....


Monday, April 26, 2010

Secular or Sectarian, the choice seems clear.

I really feel for the people of Lebanon, not only do they have a political situation that is utterly hijacked by more powerful regional forces, they have a ingrained religious landscape of at least 18 different sects, which seems to exponentially increase the complexity and impossibility of ever reaching rational compromise. Being sandwiched between the frothing medievalists of the Islamic variety and the rabid isolationists of the Jewish variety must feel intolerable, but then having to pussyfoot around their own internal ranks of irrational faith-heads must provide the icing on the metaphorical maggot infested cake.

Recently these internal tensions and the abject failure of successive administrations to improve the daily "lot" of the average Lebanese person have spilled over into protest, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Beirut, not against America or for religion but in a desperate plea for secularism.

Lebanon provides sad insight for the rest of us into what happens when you have a population where (irrational) sectarian divisions are permitted to dominate the society and its governmental instruments, Northern Ireland was another example much closer to home although less blatant. Religion doesn't belong in politics, it is a personal thing and has no place in the public square other than a background influence on an individuals opinion on certain issues. Contrary to a lot of religious people's view, particular religions and the dogma's that go with them are no more right or wrong than anything else including no dogma at all; in fact it's only when you look at the needs of people through the lens of what evidentially works for the majority of (all) the people and what is fair that you actually achieve what we all claim to desire. Secularism is not perfect by any means, there are a wide spectrum of implementations and results may vary, but in my view and compared to the alternatives, the people of the Lebanon are entirely justified in their protestations.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Party Poper

It looks like Pope Ratzinger may be thinking about abandoning his forthcoming visit to the UK because he apparently doesn't like to be criticized by people who choose puerile humour as their weapon of choice. Calling off a state visit simply because a junior clerk somewhere in Whitehall decided to make a joke at his expense (see above) seems slightly excessive even for an organisation as insular as the Catholic Church, although perhaps as the late great Kurt Vonnegut once said "The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful."

The more skeptical among us will be thinking that this faux outrage and insult is rather reminiscent of faux Islamic "offence" at inappropriately named teddy bears and rather poorly drawn cartoons, perhaps the RC Church is learning a thing or two from the mad mullahs? Or perhaps this is just a convenient vehicle to distract people's attention from the daily sex abuse revelations against them, who knows. In any case it would be a shame to miss out on the chance to see these clerical stiffs squirming as even more "offensive" questioning and rude behaviour would certainly be perpetrated during the planned visit.

Friday, April 23, 2010

ding, ding - round 2

So we had the second leaders debate last night. After the first round it was going to be interesting to see how they would try to mix things up a bit (or not). It has been generally agreed by pundits and in the media over the last week that Clegg won the last round decisively, I agreed with them, but would he keep the momentum going or run out of steam, I eagerly tuned in to find out.

My early impression was that Brown was much improved, less wooden and more natural, and that Cameron had lost his apparent nervousness from the previous round although he still came across as vague to me; Clegg seemed about the same, perhaps a little repetitive. I thought the questions were a little weaker this time around, but my interest perked up when someone asked about the forthcoming Pope's visit to the UK and what the leaders thought about arcane Catholic dogma on topics such as science, abortion, contraception and gay rights etc.. The fact that such a question even appeared at all is a great boost for those of us who have been pushing a pro-rational and secular agenda for the last few years, such a question would have been inconceivable pre-9/11 in my view. Unfortunately though, the responses were apologetic drivel, Cameron towed the line, "we should respect all faiths", what a load of crap, why should we respect any old rubbish anyone chooses to believe just because its called "faith", Brown referred to his own Presbyterian background and supported the visit, he did confirm his position in opposition to some of the dogma but didn't really address the point of the question. According to what I read in the press, Clegg is supposedly an atheist, he confirmed that he "does not have faith" , this was encouraging and took guts I thought, however he mentioned that his wife was a Catholic and his kids were being indoctrinated into that mythology (my own translation) so I suspect he knows where his bread is buttered on the question of the Pope and he slotted straight into an apologetic track after that not really addressing the substance of the point. So, I wasn't impressed on that one and the question fizzled out with general consensus between all of them, no concrete thread for me to pull on that might help in my own deliberations.

The topics jumped around a bit, they talked about immigration, defence, Europe and the economy but I didn't really glean anything new, all of them repeated responses from the previous debate verbatim which was disappointing. There was a little more emotion as Cameron and Brown clashed on Labour "leaflets lies", which of course is trivial and boring but at least adrenalin levels spiked a little which is good to see albeit I would have preferred them to get animated and "off script" about a more strategic issue.

So who won? My take was that it was much closer this week, Brown did better, Clegg about the same and Cameron slightly better (but he still looked like a PR flim-flam merchant to me), too close to call but on the whole I find myself supporting Brown and Clegg more in terms of policies.

If you are having trouble deciding how to vote take a look at this WEB site you never know it might help... (PS when I did it it put the LD's slightly ahead of Labour for me)

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Now that the British Chiropractic Association has dropped it's case against Simon Singh, clearly because they realised that the sway of public opinion was against them and they couldn't win, does that make them spineless...?

Boom, boom, I'll be here all week.... etc.

Handbags at dawn?

I noticed on the BBC today that the Earth is passing through the tail of comet "Thatcher" currently, astronomers are looking forward to a show tonight as the meteor shower hits the atmosphere. This is a yearly event and even has a name, its called the "Lyrids" after the constellation the meteors appear to come from.

I wonder if this comet is anything like its namesake ex-prime-minister, i.e. not for turning or perhaps it will be showering us with little flaming handbags?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Offensive? Damn right they are...

Catholics in Germany are getting all hot and bothered about this magazine cover; it's not entirely surprising although what does continue to amaze and stun me is the spectacle of a steady stream of Catholic "stiffs" being paraded in front of the media spouting venom and bile at a long list of groups they despise, like homosexuals, liberals, secularists, scientists and atheists, blaming them for the child rape scandal that everyone can clearly see is lodged firmly in their own back yard as can be seen here and here and here and here and here.

One has to ask the obvious question at this point, since our Governments are too lilly livered to take concrete action against this organisation, what do they honestly expect the rest of us to do, bend over and take it quietly?

Did the earth move for you?

According to this bat shit crazy Iranian cleric the reason we have earth quakes is that certain women dress inappropriately. According to Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedigh,

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes"

Clearly these clerics are as desperate to cling onto power in their communities through lying and threatening people as the Catholics are to blame their immorality on some bizarre straw-man that is a composite of everything they dislike.

I can only imagine what those reprobates in Iceland have been up to, my mind boggles, although someone recently said that our current airline woes are all down to a huge misunderstanding, apparently Gordon Brown sent a terse email to the prime minister of Iceland asking for money but he made a typo and missed the "c", the message read "urgent, send ash"...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Christian bias?

Here's a cool idea... take a religious group, like Christians and subject them to different laws than everyone else; extrapolating you could perhaps have another set of laws for Muslims and another for Zoroastrians and yet another for Klingons and so on. But hold on a second, haven't we been here before, isn't that called tyranny?

You would be forgiven for thinking this is not a new idea at all, and in fact this is an immoral and oppressive idea that is thankfully relegated to the pages of history (well, almost) Well, apparently not if you are a Christian, because if you are a follower of Christ then this is exactly what your leaders are campaigning for. Now clearly this is not how the pious spin doctors are positioning it but essentially this is what is going on, certain prominent Christians (including the previous Arch Bishop of Canterbury Lord Carey) are claiming that our secular legal system is oppressing them because it does not allow them to be subject to different laws than everyone else. Just let that sink in for a moment, people are claiming "oppression" because they cannot pick and choose which laws they obey and which they ignore.

The fact of the claim is that Christians in public service scenarios are being oppressed because they are not allowed to discriminate against people that their bronze age mythologies say are doing bad things (like homosexuality), even when modern civilised societies have, by consensus and by scientific evidence concluded that those things aren't actually "bad" at all, in fact they are harmless and natural.

This Jesus and Mo cartoon summarises it better...

Political debate

Just a quick thought about our party leader's debate on telly tonight..

Pretty sterile stuff I thought, not much "debate" more like a procession of pre-prepared sound-bites, there was the occasional glimmer of actual argument but only a glimmer. In the end my impression was that Cameron is a smooth operator but I don't trust him, he represents the past, vested interests and struggles to gift wrap it as something more modern. Everything Brown says sounds like spin to me, this is probably unjustified but he comes across as awkward and unable to think on his feet he seemed very nervous and made a couple of gaffs. Clegg did OK I thought, this is probably the most people have heard him speak to-date and save a few annoying repetitions of pointless snipes he seemed the only one willing to actually venture into quantification and example. Cameron said nothing of any substance except he'd cut out Government waste (change the frickin record!) and Brown simply said everything is fine, but we need to do more and oh by the way financially we're teetering on the edge of the abyss, it's very easy to become cynical.

It's going to be a difficult choice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Simon Singh case dropped

I'm very pleased to read today that the libel case against Simon Singh the science writer brought by the British Chiropractic Association has been dropped. A victory for common sense and science over lucrative woo woo.

Libel law should not be used to censor and interfere with evidence based scientific discourse.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What were they thinking?

Here is a video that is doing the rounds at the moment, for those not familiar with Wikileaks it's a wikipedia style site that specialises in leaking sensitive information that various governments, large corporations and tyrants generally would rather you didn't see. This video is from an Apache attack helicopter in Iraq and appears to show the pilots shooting civilians and children in Baghdad, the film has been verified by an unnamed US army source according to the BBC and two Reuters employees were officially killed in this attack, Reuters have made an official complaint to the US government.

It is very hard for us if not impossible to judge what happens in war from afar, maybe the pilots had a better view of the supposed weapons that these people were claimed to have, I can't see any weapons, maybe they just mistook a camera that one of the Reuters men had for an AK-47, all plausible. However, what is inexplicable is what they did when a bystander drove past in his van and stopped to help. How could they have failed to notice the two small faces peering out of the side windows of the vehicle? they're clearly visible to me even in this grainy video, the soldiers simply opened fire on the van killing more adults and wounding the two children who were sitting in the front seat, celebrating their "kill" with emotion and language that betrays and belittles the real bravery going on in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. This is not a video game, enemies or not, the people being dismembered in the street by the 30mm cannon rounds being sprayed on them from above were real human beings, what were they thinking.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Easter and all that..

I had an interesting conversation with a Christian friend at the weekend, it started because I had a piece of simnel cake at a family gathering (the kind with 11 marzipan apostles on the top) and I love marzipan! After breaking the philosophical ice with a comment by me about bringing an atheist cake (i.e. a non-existent one!) we got onto the subject of religious symbols and ultimately what Easter is really supposed to be about. Like most people who did RE and attended church for years at school, I’m familiar with the traditional Christian story of sacrifice, torture, absolution, sin, conquering death etc. but I had never really deconstructed it. It was interesting to do that in the company of someone who believes the story to be true and who was quite happy to throw the ideas around.

Like all persistent and powerful stories it struck me that the Easter story appeals to our natural cognitive biases, specifically the idea of self sacrifice. Imagine a soldier who throws his body onto a hand grenade to protect his comrades in the shell hole; we look at this person as a hero. Such thoughts stir up strong and conflicting emotions in social animals like us; we wonder if we would be brave enough to do the same, we marvel at how supreme and selfless such a sacrifice would be. This was the aspect of the story that my Christian friend wanted to emphasise the most, the crux of the story for her, but what she was much less clear about was the true nature of the sacrifice i.e. in the case of the Jesus story where was the grenade?

It’s easy to understand the fascination with the horrific elements of the tale, the thorns, the suffering, the blood the nails etc. you only need to look at the popularity of that awful Mel Gibson film to see that phenomenon but when I consider the actual context of the sacrifice I am left with a narrative that doesn’t really add up. Of course the Christian claim is that Jesus was “saving” us from our original sin, our flawed and inherently wicked nature, and that sin was initiated by the first human beings. But we know now that those beings could not and did not exist and even if in some metaphorical sense they do exist in our minds then their sin was simply being wilful, curious and credulous. By most people’s standards today this so called “sin” would be considered a virtue, committed by mythical beings against a myth. Is this a "sin" really worth dying for?

The next problem is that nothing seems to have changed, there was “sin” before and there is “sin” now and everywhere in between; the sacrificial act passed most humans on our planet by completely not affecting them in the slightest. The stock response is of course that the severity of the sacrifice suggests the importance of the message; but again one of our pervasive cognitive short cuts is being hijacked, we assume that because the doctor died to give us the pill then the prescription must be all the more effective. This is simply a fallacy; people die for utterly stupid reasons every single day, the only test that really matters is whether or not the medicine actually works. Even if this fallacy wasn't then why would torturing the doctor to death make us any better?

If this isn’t enough to make more people question true nature of the sacrifice in this story we have another more elementary problem, Jesus cheats. We are told that he dies in order to save us from an ancestral sin infection but he doesn’t die, he comes back to life and zooms up to live forever in his father’s pad in the sky, what has been sacrificed? I suppose he is supposed to have experienced pain and torture, great suffering and sadness etc. but this doesn’t really help. Imagine our theoretical infantry man throwing himself on that grenade, even if the grenade was a dud the guy would still be a hero, but Jesus was supposed to be omniscient, he knew his own nature, the heroism must surely be fraudulent?

Finally there is a slice of the story that simply doesn’t compute with modern audiences (educated ones at least) that is the idea of the propitiatory sacrifice. This is probably where the idea of springtime bloodletting draws its mojo, i.e. if you have a problem with your God then take your king, or best goat, or virgin daughter, or loyalty and offer it up to that God. Then you will be rewarded with a better harvest or fortune in war or whatever remedy you desire. We know these days that this doesn’t work, even my Christian friend knew this and it was the part of the story that she least resonated with i.e. the idea that God supposedly gave his son in a blood sacrifice to propitiate himself and grant forgiveness for our species having disobeyed him once in 4000BC it doesn’t really work emotionally or logically. We wouldn’t regard the sapper who pushed his mate’s body onto the grenade as any kind of hero, especially if he pulled the pin out in the first place.

None of these thoughts are new or original but I’d never flushed them through like this before so I enjoyed our conversation around them. No doubt there are plenty of wizened theologians out there who would pick holes in these thoughts, run semantic circles around them and pepper them with pedantry, all the while alluding to some “greater mystery and meaning” that can’t possibly be understood using mere reason, but if that’s true then doesn’t the whole thing fail a simple taste test and doesn't there have to be much simpler explanation?

Back to work... with a headache

Well that’s another Easter holiday over with, back to work today with a slight hangover after staying up far too late to watch re-runs of “Extras” staring Ricky Gervais and drinking too many glasses of a nice Cabernet from Yarra Yering (Dry Red No. 1 2004).

Somehow I missed this series when it was originally aired but found it quite funny in an uncomfortable social situations kind of way. Topically one of the plot threads was about religion; Gervais’s character "Andy" proclaimed his atheism in one scene only to lie about it later when a woman (he fancied) said that she was a Catholic and to gain her favour he claimed he was also. The story then descended into a disastrous first date when she took him to a prayer meeting and the ugly truth gradually came out as he was questioned by the priest about his apparent lack of knowledge regarding Catholicism, horribly awkward but really funny.