Thursday, August 29, 2013


Here's a shocking and sober story for this 21st century of ours. In the home of the brave and the land of the free, no not Yorkshire but the good o'l US of A an atheist by the name of David Silverman applied for a custom number plate, nothing wrong with that I hear you say however it just so happens that Silverman is the President of American Atheists and so naturally he asked for his number plate to read "ATHE1ST". His request was denied by the traffic authorities in the state of New Jersey, the reason given was that this would be offensive!!

In the immortal words of Jim Royle, "land of the free my arse!"

Slip sliding update

Looks like we won't be raining fire down on anyone this weekend... more PIMMS anyone?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Slip sliding away

With the western world seemingly sliding toward greater involvement in the conflict in Syria its probably a good time for our politicians and leaders to think seriously about the pros and cons of military action. On the one hand we have an atrocious situation where thousands of people are being killed on a monthly basis and on the other a political, ethical and legal quagmire that could seriously bite us if done wrong. If it were me I'd try to build a model and iterate through different scenarios in order to reason about the possible outcomes, it would be a very complex model of course. I wonder how our government will do it, I read today that parliament has been recalled to debate it so it seems likely that something will happen. It's an interesting thought experiment to try to write down the list of factors, even more so to try to think about scoring them, anyway, here's my list (0=bad, 10=good).

Saving lives6Short and long term angles to this but should help
Ethical7What would we do if our own people were being gased
Self interest3Not a huge amount of trade with Syria but they do have some oil
Cost (money)4Not as expensive as Iraq, could do without it in a recession
Cost (human)4As long as it's an air campaign, not huge (like Libya?)
Complexity2Horribly complex, Russians, Turks, Americans - political rats nest
Impact(failure)3Bad but not too bad
Impact(success)7Can't see a massively positive outcome, perhaps a construction windfall?
Inconvenience8Most ordinary people won't notice any effect
Impact(long-term)7Probably won't affect the terror situation, might upset the Russians
Political6Probably good for the tories
Hypocrisy4Why are drone strikes less ethical than gas bombs?
Evidence4Need something incontrovertible

If you then take the average of these factor scores you end up with 5, i.e. possibly only just worth doing but not conclusive either way, which pretty much sums up my feelings about it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The wrong kind of woo II

I know Muslims aren't that fond of cartoons but someone in the Saudi Arabian government should take a look at this characteristically accurate cartoon from, for me it just about sums up religious (aka magical) thinking and its unsubstantiated claims to have authority to interfere in government and legal matters.

The wrong kind of woo

Apparently the religious authorities in Saudi Arabia are stepping up their efforts to stamp down on the wrong kind of magic. The infamous Saudi "religious police" are expanding anti-witchcraft units around the country, units that convicted some 215 sorcerers in 2012, punishing them in a variety of ways for example fines, public flogging and in some extreme cases even beheading.

A belief in magic is of course widespread throughout the world; I would argue that to be a proper Christian, Hindu or Jew you must believe in the supernatural aka "magic", a suspension of the natural order and an interference in human affairs by invisible and purposeful forces. I'm often surprised how "western" Christians I know look down on primitive practices like this; from my point of view they don't look all that different to talking snakes and whispered prayers. In fact the only discernible difference I can see is that aggressive religions in places like Europe have been forced back into their respective boxes by 400 years of relentless secular and scientific progress and success which on the whole religions tended to impede.

There are of course other cultural factors at play here, the eternal fascination that superstitious authorities seem to have with sex; I've always wondered why forbidden religious practices almost always seem to centre around Women and invariably require practitioners to be naked? Then there is the delicious possibility of settling tribal scores using unfalsifiable bollocks, wouldn't we all love to dispose of an annoying neighbour or a nagging wife with a swift and effortless accusation of "magic", how convenient, how human.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

23 varieties

I'm a big fan of wine particularly red wine, collecting and sampling (in moderation of course) is a major hobby of mine so I was pleased to notice this heart warming story about it this morning. Apparently red wine has even more complex compounds in it than previously thought and a recent investigation by scientists in Australia has uncovered 23 new ones previously undiscovered that may yield health benefits for all kinds of ageing related diseases. Everyone who's had an "ageing" week at work can fully understand the health benefits of a glass or two of red wine on a Friday night so I reckon that's case closed, we should all appreciate good wine more.

Coincidently my parents came over for Sunday lunch last weekend and I opened something nice to have with our roast lamb, the picture above is the wine we had (Sarget de Gruaud-Larose), it's from Bordeaux and my favourite district of Bordeaux which is called St. Julien. Normally you should leave good claret like this for at least 10 years before you drink it but in this case I took a chance and the bottle was from the 2005 vintage, a good year for Bordeaux. The wine had a good nose of cedar and red berries, plenty of soft fruit, full bodied but well balanced with a typical St. Julien finish, memorable. I'd say it was drinking well now but also that it has plenty of legs left in it, at least another 5 years in the dark wouldn't hurt.

Not a cheap wine (about £20) but think of the health benefits!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The God quotient

There is a paper doing the rounds at the moment which is a meta-analysis of various intelligence related studies that concludes atheists are smarter than religious people (on average). I'm reasonably schooled in maths and statistics but I can't understand how different kinds of intelligence measures can be combined to calculate a single correlation, it would seem like a case of apples and pears to me, anyway I'm also not sure a complex thing like intelligence can be boiled down to uni-dimensional measures like this? Mathematically it's probably OK but it doesn't mean much in the real world. I know plenty of religious people who are smarter than me in many different ways and I know atheists who are as thick as pig excreta, luck, environment and personality must also play a significant role in ones deistic outlook I reckon (but only have anecdotal evidence for that)

I'm sure that social scientists can use statistics to prove that social scientists are cleverer than you but I'm also sure that those who still use chickens entrails to determine things will continue to disprove them with gut feel..

Monday, August 12, 2013

Socially networked world

How true is this...

Friday, August 09, 2013

Slow news day

I was watching the BBC news channel this morning whilst munching on my breakfast and thinking to myself that the actual "news" content of the bit stream was close to zero; a series of pieces whining about the NHS interspersed with pointlessly elaborate weather reports. I actually watched two almost identical weather reports separated by only 6 minutes! Now either that's a reflection of some new and incredibly precise meteorological science or a desperately slow news day!

I reckon the BBC should challenge their audiences a bit more, instead of pointless Summer "news" they should re-run dramatic old news stories like the sinking of the titanic, the 2005 ashes victory or the relief of Mafeking, see if anyone notices.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Frontier mentality

I noticed a rather odd story on the BBC site yesterday it highlights the abnormal rate of church construction in Romania at the moment and contrasts this expensive hobby with the generally dire and cash strapped state of the economy there. I visited Romania in 1986 a few years before the collapse of the Ceausescu regime, it felt to me like a very grey and sinister country. I remember being struck by how there was a feeling about the place of being at the edge of Europe, a frontier between a familiar culture and the heathen darkness of Asia. This feeling was undoubtedly implanted by stories of Vlad the Impaler and his quest to defend the extremities of Christendom against the Ottoman hordes which are laid on thickly throughout the tour of Bran Castle (of Dracula fame) near Brasov which is near where I was staying.

Perhaps this desire to re-establish Christian traditions so vigorously is a reaction to the threatening spectre of an expanding Islamic influence from the East again or is maybe a knee jerk reaction from years of being oppressed under an atheistic communist dictatorship, whichever is the case it seems to me like Romanians could probably better spend their money building a few roads and hospitals before they fill elaborate buildings with credulity and candle smoke. Of course private Romanian citizens should be able to spend their cash however they like though I do hope none of the charity that secular countries like the UK donate to them ends up as concrete narthex foundations otherwise Daily Mail readers will start referring to Eastern Europe as "bongo bongo" land...

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


I saw this story today in the Independent it left me thinking what the hell is wrong with some people, especially some supposedly educated Americans in the Southern states?

The article is about the last abortion clinic in Mississippi an Alamo of rationality and humanity in Jackson where Women run a gauntlet of arrogant and aggressive morons shouting threats of hell fire and waving little black books who do everything they can to harass and abuse Women going about their lawful business. I guess if you feed people enough supernatural delusion with a side of political certainty from an early age you will eventually manufacture monstrous personalities like these; people who are bloated with entitlement and propped up by an illusion of absolute knowledge, such shameless and random inhumanity is incomprehensible to me.

We have isolated incidents of conflict on this subject the UK of course, sadly we still have some fundamentalist theocratic Christians here too but relative to Mississippi reproductive healthcare would appear freely available and a private matter between the doctor and her patient under the (secular) law of the land, the way it should be.