Monday, November 30, 2015

Reality is optional

I see that Homoeopathy is in the news again.. This time the debate is about whether or not this controversial treatment should be funded by the state and given out free on the NHS?

The correct answer is, "of course not!" This answer seems pretty obvious to me, for pretty obvious reasons, i.e. that we already have an established set of mechanisms (peer reviewed double blind trials) for determining whether or not any particular treatment works and should therefore be subsidised by tax-payers cash. According to that (agreed) standard Homoeopathy doesn't work and so shouldn't be funded, hardly rocket science! If fans of whatever "alternative" medicine wish to propose a better (or different) mechanism for determining drug efficacy then they are free to do so and lift the Nobel prize in the process; but if the basis of their argument is simply that "they felt better once after taking a sugar pill" then I'm afraid that's not good enough.

No one is saying that people aren't free to spend their own money on whatever treatment they like, if some numpty thinks "beating with sticks" cures haemorrhoids then have at it, so long as that person is a consenting adult then no one is going to stop them chucking their money at some huckster who offers this. At best the person might benefit from a placebo effect that improves their condition and at worst the person will simply be ruthlessly ridiculed by all and sundry in the best tried and tested tradition of these things until they go to a proper doctor.

If it quacks like a duck..

Last week in Colorado Springs, USA there was a shooting at a planned parenthood clinic in which three people lost their lives. The murderer was arrested at the scene and is now in police custody, initial reports suggest that Robert Lewis Dear fits the stereotypical profile of a mentally deranged loner living "off the grid" on a trailer park, seemingly rambling and incoherent at the point of his arrest, hopefully the authorities can get to the bottom of his motive and help bring some closure to the victims.

It's a rather odd phenomenon that in the USA, Christians (of all manner of flavours) seem to have a disproportionately unreasonable reaction to legal abortion. In most European countries (except Ireland) abortion is a medical procedure that, although very serious for the participants, is technically fairly routine, but it has never achieved the same levels of acceptance in the USA. For example, since 1977 there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons in and around clinics like this in the USA; someone, somewhere is trying to make a point about something, but the rest of us are not entirely clear what that point is.

It's strange because more often than not the same Republican (they're mostly right-wingers) Christian voices are first in line to promote the freedom of access to lethal weapons for school children, bombing other people's children they disagree with and are also first to advocate denial of publicly funded social care services to the most needy in their society (like children!), a somewhat dissonant set of ideas? It's like they're arguing that unborn foetuses should be protected at all costs until they are born, sentient and able to suffer, then it's OK to hurt or kill them so long as God is on your side; particularly if the parents don't conform to a rather parochial mid-western view of how a "good" life should be lived. Christians like this are quite common in the middle of America (less common around the edges) I've met a good number of them and if the conversation should stumble into this topic area I always ask, "would abortion be OK if the foetus is going to grow up socialist, gay and atheist"? It's fun to watch the blood vessels in their temples pulse whilst perusing this question.

Christians everywhere seem to be distancing themselves from this event; many pro-abortion activists and supporters on social media have been asking where the moderate Christian voices are on this and the response from what I've seen so far has been along the lines of condemnation of the act but denial of any linkage to the broad set of Christian dogma at the centre of this dispute. I find this position slightly disingenuous, it seems to me that if you belong to a club that openly promotes the doctrine that abortion is murder and murder carries the death penalty (as it does in most of the states in question) then you bear some responsibility when one of the members of your club (albeit a mentally deranged member) goes out and murders a doctor. The reaction of most Christians I've seen is that this guy wasn't a "real" Christian (no true Scotsman?) , maybe he wasn't, but in that case I would question where he got the idea that killing doctors is sanctioned by something or someone from in the first place, wouldn't it be most likely from pro-life Christian propaganda? I would also ask how the following message from Joshua Feuerstein (a hugely popular Christian vlogger) would sound to a mentally deranged follower, is this tantamount to incitement, listen carefully, I think it's pretty close.

Many Christians don't seem to want to ask hard questions about the authenticity of people claiming to be Christian when it comes to census results and disputes about wearing crucifix shaped nose rings to work, but when the boot is on the other foot, I must say they seem rather quick to do an "apostle Peter" and deny, deny, deny.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Taste test

About 4 weeks ago I made some beer that was based on a famous commercial brew called "Punk IPA" I posted about it at the time and today I decided to crack open a bottle to see what it was like.

As you can see in the picture above it has a great colour (although darker than the original) and a nice foamy head; the aromas of the various hops involved hit you as soon as you open the bottle and the taste is really good. Good clarity, nice malt backbone, good balance of bitterness and a lovely mix of hop flavours. If I were critical (and I am) I'd say it could do with a touch more sweetness and a tiny bit more alcohol (came in at around 4.5 ABV) but all in all not to shabby for 40p a pint (the commercial version is roughly £3 a pint in the supermarket).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Combo platter

Nice xkcd cartoon about made-up food combinations; so true. Although the options sound like a bunch of things Americans might put in their coffee or on their pancakes..

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hate speech

Some religious people, actually quite a lot of religious people, think that when someone says something like "treating Women like property is wrong" or "believing in God is a delusion" or "Gay people should be given equality under the law" or "all genital mutilation is bad" then this represents "hate speech", they say it insults their deeply held beliefs and therefore offends them; I disagree but there we are, it's a childish and irrational point of view, but I suppose it's a point of view.

However, when they say to a small child something like "if you don't believe the same thing as me then you'll burn in a lake of fire for ever" then this (according to them) is simply "freedom of conscience", an inalienable right ? Personally I define hate speech as something hateful directed at an individual or group of physical Humans, not an idea, philosophy or a policy. For me, saying to someone's face that they're going to eternally burn for not believing x or y is much closer to hate speech than saying the Bible is wrong about the big bang. I experienced this first-hand the other day and it felt surreal!

I was talking to a Christian (Baptist flavour), we're not close friends but it's someone I've known for years (our kids go to the same school) and we were having a friendly (touchline) chat about evolution. I didn't realise previously, but he's a denier, so we were talking about all the various pillars of evidence for it (which he knew nothing about) and we talked about all of the supporting science that would have to be wrong if evolution were also wrong, things like Geology, Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc. We also touched on atheism, and what I thought about that etc., but he gave me the impression that he'd never heard or read a single one of the many, many arguments against his position, ever.

Now this isn't a stupid man, he's polite, funny, well educated, successful, well travelled and went to a fabulous school (Wellington) Anyway, we ended the conversation cordially and in the parting comment he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said "I don't understand why you don't just become a Christian, I'm sorry, you're a good bloke but you are going to hell". I wasn't offended, I just laughed, that kind of nervous laugh that says "get me out of here" ; but honestly, what a crock of nonsense, how can these people expect not to be ridiculed when they believe things like this?

A smaller slice of pi

There's been a quiet revolution going on recently in cheap computing power; it started a couple of years ago with the launch of the raspberry pi machine which I blogged about at the time and since then (as is the norm with these kinds of things) the original $25 device has become more powerful and better tooled through several iterations. Now, for the first time ever (that I can recall) the original pi team have launched a new computer (the Raspberry pi Zero - pictured above) that not only is the size of a stick of chewing gum but also so cheap ($5) that it's being distributed on the cover of a magazine!

This little device is a fully functional computer in every sense, it plugs into your TV or monitor and has micro-USB connectors so that you can plug in a keyboard and mouse; it uses an SD card for memory (like the ones used for digital cameras etc.) so all in all is a very cheap package indeed. This little device is many hundreds of times more powerful than the first computer I ever used and smaller than the logo printed on it's sheet metal case! That computer was enough to inspire me sufficiently to launch my entire career in the direction of computer science and software; hopefully this wee gizmo can help do the same for kids of this generation, our economy certainly needs them!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Small victories

I read with pleasure today that a recent High Court legal case (that I posted about earlier this month) to do with our religious education curriculum not including humanism (or non-belief); has been won by the three families who brought the case; yay!

When it comes to education (as opposed to indoctrination) it seems obvious to me that equality is better than preferential treatment and that public religious education should properly reflect the plurality of beliefs in our society as they are now and not as they were in the 18th century. For example, it's baffling why people would think that covering "Sikhism" (400,000 people) is more important educationally than the non-belief of over 14 million people in our country today (and probably many more!). Now, of course, I have nothing against teaching kids what Sikhism is about but in reality they are much more likely to work with or sit next to an atheist (or non-believer) than a Sikh! Decisions like this should be based on evidence and numbers, not special pleading from minority interest groups, it seems as though the judge in this case agreed!


Jesus and Mo. nail the recent navel gazing in certain religious quarters over recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Funny how God always always seems to say what his particular audience wants to hear; predictably this appears to be a reliable property of all Gods, not just the Abrahamic one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

VTOL success

Holy crap, Jeff Bezos just launched a rocket that ascended to 100 km (space), deployed a viewing capsule and returned both safely to Earth, landing vertically less than 5 feet from a target on the ground. I bet Elon Musk is gnashing his teeth about the successful VTOL landing (the SpaceX equivalent crashed) let's hope the obvious competition between them accelerates development.

I wonder how much the tickets are going to be?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Media strategies

It seems that the Church of England may have finally hired someone who understands how modern media works. They recently created a 60 second proselytizing film mainly featuring that mainstay of attention-seeking masturbatory traditions, praying. The message being that people from all walks of life and from every kind of background in this country can and do masturbate like this; it makes them feel good and good luck to them.What people do in those private moments behind closed doors with their eyes closed is entirely up to them, so long as it's not done whilst operating heavy machinery.

The piece was designed to be shown in cinemas and they had hoped that it would be screened before the new Star Wars films this Christmas. Unfortunately their advert conflicted with the DCM (which covers Cineworld, Vue, Odeon and others) advertising policy which clearly states that it doesn't allow,

"Political or Religious Advertising"..

Of course we all know that any and every agency worth their salt would check this first so the Church's claim that they are "bewildered" and that this represents some kind of "snub" is frankly, fatuous. I can't help thinking that this is simply a cynical ploy to get more air time than they otherwise could have got; I think this high-profile story pretty much guarantees that vast numbers of people will view the film on social media, which, from a media strategy point of view, is probably much more useful than cinema and I'm not the only one that thinks this. I hear now they are even thinking of legal action, making this a free speech issue! That would complete the circle for me and if it happens then I'd feel even more confident this was all just manufactured to generate publicity (a religion, making stuff up, perish the thought!).

I believe this is the right decision by the DCM, proselytizing of any stripe has no place in the public square (adverts for Islam anyone?) where there is a captive audience like this who cannot realistically walk away. Although, judging by the amount of phone and nacho action in our local cinema during the show, it's a wonder anyone can concentrate long enough to make sense of anything! For me this isn't about being offended (I've seen it and it isn't offensive to me in any way, in fact no one is saying it is) it's about appropriate content for the setting. If there were no adverts at all in cinemas I'd be delighted, personally I go there to watch the movie I paid to watch, not to receive a hard-sell for trainers, Indian food, bank accounts, cigarettes or anything else, particularly not heavyweight things like politics or religion.

What is more amusing about all of this is the fact that the Church has to advertise Christianity at all? To me it sounds completely ludicrous that Yahweh, the guy that created our Universe, and who is omnipresent and omniscient is such a bad communicator that he needs a bunch of hipsters from Soho to tell us anything at all, why the need for so many middle-men? (I'll just leave that question hanging, I know everyone with any sense knows the answer and has done since the middle-ages)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Doubt it.

Archbishop Welby has admitted that the terror attacks in Paris recently have made him "doubt" the presence of God. Welby questioned where his God was while these barbaric attacks were occurring, its a good question and this is certainly an honest revelation of his feelings, I can't fault him for that. However, I must point out that "God" was smack bang in the middle of these terror attacks. What Welby didn't acknowledge, which seems obvious to most people, is that the God of Islam was very much "present" in the imaginations of the jihadists as they ran around the Bataclan firing bullets into children.

From an atheist perspective the question that Welby asks has a fairly obvious answer, i.e. nothing that happens on this planet suggests the presence of a (benevolent) God; everything suggests the absence of one, particularly the irrational evolved primate behavior of a few of it's inhabitants. For all of us, the insertion of the invented values and edicts of imaginary "Gods" into national politics is a big part of the problem here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Looking vs. seeing

I watched Roger Waters performing "The Wall" on DVD last night, quite superb it was too, albeit slightly self indulgent. It's rare that music today grabs me like this did back in 1979, it was the sound track to my coming of age I suppose and I consider myself lucky that it was so brilliant. A sheer accident of birth of course, I could of had much worse (Kajagoogoo for example). Anyway, this film which shows a staging of the famous Floyd album by Waters in Berlin (appropriate) is about personal isolation, fear, group-think and circularity is Waters best work and has in it one of my favourite tracks ever, comfortably numb, and a guitar solo that's hard to top IMO.

As if by divine revelation I saw this little cartoon today (above), it struck a double chord, there's the obvious symbolism of the wall but also the underlying message is very relevant to the news this week. The way I see it is that the wonders of life, love and the universe will be unseen by you if you limit yourself to only reading one book, this is bound to generate resentment but the solution is in plain sight.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Evolved DNA

Great bio-computational truism from xkcd, appreciated more by those of us that have to make sense of and create WEB site code.

Many people consider genomics as a branch of computer science already; I'm not sure about that, but the possible applications in medical treatment that could emerge from the combination of the two disciplines is mind boggling.

What's in a name?

Pretty clear introduction to the "This Week" programme from Andrew Neil, he should stop beating around the bush and say what he really thinks! 

I also noticed a nice quote from Maajid Nawaz in this article today..

"ISIS has something to do with Islam. Not nothing, not everything, but something."

Which I thought sums up my view on things nicely, as does the following cartoon..

Islamism in a nutshell.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Siri, what happens after you die?

In friendly conversations with religious people the subject of death often crops up; the conversation often goes along the lines of "so you're an atheist then", "yep, that's right", "so what do you think happens after we die then?"... etc.

Now, rather than trying to say "nothing" (in a respectful way) I can simply hand out this handy infographic (above) to explain what I believe. This doesn't mean I'm right of course, I just see no reason or evidence to believe anything else happens; which sums up the philosophical position quite succinctly. Somehow I suspect this answer won't cut much ice though, conscious brains (including mine) aren't programmed to comprehend their own non-existence, bit like asking Siri what happens to her when the power goes out.

Cry "havoc" and let slip the dogs of war...

I saw a story today that I thought might just change British public opinion about directly attacking ISIS in Syria.

No this isn't a story about the French nuclear aircraft carrier leaving Toulon yesterday headed for the "Eastern Mediterranean", this story is much more impactful on the British psyche.

It's a story about French police dog "Diesel" and how he valiantly lost his life in the raids on terrorist hideouts in Paris yesterday. Nothing, and I mean nothing, stirs our national outrage more than cruelty to animals, especially dogs. I can imagine jets on runways, gunboat boilers being stoked, RSPCA vans being fueled and flags at half mast all over Battersea as we speak, they've gone too far this time..

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

e by gum boots!

I came across this picture today, it apparently shows two customers of the Kirkstall Bridge Inn near Leeds who decided that not even a flooding river was going to separate a Yorkshireman from his pint!

Credit for the photo goes to @LeedsBeerMaz, kudos to Steve Holt and John Kelly for reminding everyone what true dedication looks like, we're not worthy!  (clearly not lager drinkers :)

Pro-Christian BBC?

Iain Lee the comic, TV and radio broadcaster has been fired from his job on BBC three counties radio over comments made during a robust debate with Christian Lawyer Libby Powell. The topic of the debate was the recent case of a Christian prison gardener (Barry Trayhorn) who decided to "remind" prisoners about the injunctions and judgements that his particular deity is claimed to have made regarding homosexuality, sin and general wrong doing. Apparently some prisoners complained and the prison authorities gave Trayhorn a warning which he claims led to him leaving the service and then the lawyers got involved and he's now suing the Home Office for constructive dismissal.

During the interview Lee made the comment that the prohibitions against homosexuality in the Bible were bigoted, and by association Powell was also bigoted for restating them as "true" and preaching this to others. Powell did the usual Christian thing of sidestepping responsibility for this bigotry, i.e. when Lee asked her to confirm what the passages said and meant she replied "these aren't my words, they're God's" - to which Lee quite reasonably pointed out that the Bible was not "God's words" but in fact authored by Humans (lots of different ones over hundreds of years and in many languages).

You can hear the interview here. In my opinion it's a reasonable interview, I have no objection to interviewers giving Christians a hard time for things like this, just as they do with politicians and football managers. No one at any point said that Powell couldn't or shouldn't hold these views, clearly it's everyone's right to be a bigot if they so desire, they just have to keep them out of publicly funded government and educational establishments where there exists a plurality of views and religions. Claiming that "my God said so" is simply not a legal (or rational) defense! (you'd have thought a lawyer would have understood that point?)

I'd love to hear the BBC's side of this, I wonder exactly what grounds are they dismissing Lee on? I can only imagine what would have happened if Powell had expressed equally judgmental opinions on Islam for example (as discussed on the Christian Concern WEB site), no doubt Lee would now be a hero rather than a villain. It seems that our state broadcaster supports bigotry so long as it's sugarcoated in the right religion.

In other news John Kettley has been been fired for offending viewers by describing water falling from the sky as rain.

Monday, November 16, 2015

We're getting there... maybe

An amusing Facebook post I came across today; goes rather neatly with my previous post about our feckless Home Secretary. I must say that I was more encouraged by David Cameron's speech to the Mansion House earlier tonight which you can see here. Sounds like the message might finally be getting through.

Secretarial sophistry

If I were a politician who wanted to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that I was utterly and completely out of touch with reality and popular opinion then, at this exact moment in time, I would probably make a statement like... "The Paris attacks have nothing to do with Islam"...

Oh, hold on, it looks like our Home Secretary (no less) has beaten me to it.. Theresa May, sounding like someone who hasn't received the current version of the script. It sounds as stupid as claiming that the inquisition had nothing to do with Catholicism. Of course these attacks have something to do with Islam, granted not the flavour of Islam practiced by most Muslims, but the "Islamic state" is an exclusively Islamic, Islamist organisation, never mind that they incessantly tell us exactly what they use to justify their barbarity (the Islamic holy texts!) but the frigging clue is right there in the name!

Normally this kind of asinine sophistry could be ignored or simply mocked mercilessly but the critical issue with it at this point in history is that coming from an authority figure, it completely dis-empowers the fragile embers of truly reformist Muslim voices out there, voices that so desperately need amplification.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Re-boot required

The Islamist atrocities in Paris this weekend leave me feeling a mixture of things, disgust, sadness, anger, outrage, helplessness and, lets not forget that most Islamic of emotions, offence. It seems likely that now that ISIS is beginning to lose ground in Syria and Iraq they are turning their attention to softer targets, i.e. us Europeans.

Let's face it, this kind of response is hardly surprising, the west is pounding ISIS fighters from the air and the hapless "troops" themselves containing large numbers of disaffected loosers and nut-jobs that are either too stupid or too gullible to make a good life for themselves as European Muslims and/or escape the clutches of religious radicals peddling the most ridiculous, medieval and asinine theology. It stands to reason that these European rejects will now turn and bite the hand that once fed them. They can't beat the Peshmerga, they've shagged their way through most of the 12 year olds in Northern Iraq and have decapitated almost all the unarmed and helpless aid workers in the region. With the ideas running out faster than the money and a backward religious ideology that constrains them to a boring and sterile existence devoid of culture and art, what else can they do to make themselves feel like real men?

I can't help feeling that the key question is not if ISIS is destroyed but when, and the critical point for Europeans is that the quicker this happens then probably fewer of our kids are going to get gunned down on European streets by pubescent religious retards. We have to face reality IMO, we're not going to defeat an idea (i.e. Islamism) with bombs alone; we have to make more of an effort to expose the ideology for what it is, i.e. corrupt, manipulative and misguided. For me this means moderate Muslims must spend less time being offended at cartoons and more time being offended at their fellow Muslims being eviscerated and enslaved by ISIS, particularly the rich Muslims in the gulf states who are conspicuous by their silence. Liberals the world over should lose the chips on their shoulders about faux racism and stand up for liberal values like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We all need to realise that hating ideas and hating people are not the same thing, and we need to better support Muslims who risk everything by speaking out against the extremism within their own traditions and communities. On the thorny issue of whether this is a majority or a few bad apples we need to engage with the facts and stop burying our head in the sand, for example, after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January a poll of Muslims in the UK showed that over a quarter had sympathies with the assassins, this is a huge problem for the cohesiveness of our society, it will be impossible to sustain dissonance like this. The left need to understand that these barbaric acts do indeed have everything to do with Islam, but obviously not everything to do with every Muslim, our politicians and media should spend as much time condemning, criticizing and mocking the ideas, texts and myths that are used to justify violence as the violence itself.

As I write this and whilst the choir still sings hymns at Notre Dame, the Twitter stream is alight with rumors that Raqqa (Syria) is being heavily bombarded by French fighter jets, this is surely a messed up world, I can only hope that we can find some way to reboot and rid ourselves of these death cults and mind viruses.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


As per the recent Starbucks cup fiasco, here we have the classic dichotomy between what is said and what is done, the airbrushing of which is a skill perfected over many millennia by people of all faiths.

A "truth" captured incredibly efficiently by Jesus and Mo as always.

Storm in a coffee cup

Maybe Starbucks should provide a set of crayons with every cup so that certain people can colour them in however they'd like... like the tiny children they so clearly act and think like.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The party line..

Love this little cartoon created to showcase a well known Christopher Hitchens speech about dying. I always think about this when people bang on about eternity and the desirability of a life after death, of course we have no evidence to suggest that any of that is true but I wonder how many people have really thought about what it would mean if it were; eternity is a very long time.

Slip sliding away..

I've posted on the subject of Bangladesh several times in the past, it would seem that the religious loons in that country not only have a predilection for murdering secularists but now I read that for the first time state officials have been attacked by assassins claiming to be part of ISIS. It's hard to tell if these claims are true or not but if they are then this represents a nasty kind of proliferation that could see this kind of terror attack cropping up in all kinds of places on the Indian subcontinent, it seems difficult to see how this will end without huge (unnecessary) bloodshed, chalk another few thousand ruined lives up to the invisible friend brigade.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Watching me, watching you

My thoughts about the recent changes to internet snooping laws in the UK are summed up nicely in this photo. Unfortunately, Humans being Humans, something as useful as an instant Global communications network could never be immune from being used for unethical and evil purposes. Where the criminals go the authorities have to follow, a law of physics I suppose. What surprises me more is how easy (and cheap) it is to hide behind traffic tunneling protocols and encryption in ways that effectively makes internet activity more or less invisible if you so desire.

Another inevitable side effect of being a "global" platform is that it's easy to selectively chop up and route traffic through countries that don't exactly have a sophisticated criminal justice systems or cooperative legal channels. Surely the well funded, determined terrorist or criminal will have worked this out by now and Governments will know they know this; which does beg an obvious question, who do they hope to catch by snooping on ISP records?

All (super) Natural

Following from my post about US Presidential candidate Ben Carson yesterday here's a little something I spotted on the wire today. A thoroughly splendid effort, and exactly how religious know-alls who wear their faith on their sleeves and attempt to use it to acquire political power, like Carson does, should be ridiculed.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Looking for equality

I've been reading about an interesting test case today. The case is being brought by a group of parents against the UK Government and specifically about the decision to exclude non-religious world views such as Humanism from the new GCSE religious education syllabus. Under new rules (which I generally approve of) students are required to study two world views in depth (for example Hinduism and Christianity) but there are no non-religious world-views on the list. I can see both sides of this, i.e. being pedantic Atheism, Humanism, Deism etc. are not religions, they are mostly, simply the lack of one, therefore you could argue don't belong in a religious education lesson.

But, then again, there is a rich, intellectual history of struggle among past atheists, deists, religious moderates and humanists against the often oppressive and authoritarian religious regimes of the past; studying religion without opposition or non-religion seems to me like studying the old masters without impressionism, Einstein without Newton, Jekyll without Hyde. From Epicurus to Spinoza, Hume, Paine, Jefferson and Shelly through Nietzsche, Marx, Russell and even Dawkins every age has had a world-view sitting in opposition to the popular religious systems of the time. Any balanced study of human history and development illuminates a deep tradition of intellectual rigour and equality campaigning, opposition which is embodied in world-views like Humanism. They are IMO certainly as rich and interesting as any dusty old myths about elephant men, giant man-eating fish or flying horses.

It's Christmas, buy, buy, buy...

Christmas wouldn't be the same without a good parody...

Attention span

As this excellent XKCD cartoon illustrates, it's funny how human beings love to see things through rose tinted spectacles.

Many people constantly bang on about how bad things are today compared to the past, many have an attitude that the older something is the more likely it is to be true or worthy. It's a perspective that's heavily influenced by personal circumstances (we can all think of people who are having a bad time) but when we look at the big picture, i.e. the average, then now is probably the best time there has ever been to be a human constituent on planet Earth.

There's a lot to be happy about and yet many people still prefer to believe that the past was better. Many political manifestos are even built on this concept and for most faith based organisations and systems this idea seems foundational. Of course we must remember that golden geese aren't immortal, the value of our stock can go down as well as up so learning from the mistakes of the past is essential to our future success. Investment is key IMO, as every successful business person knows to survive in the long term you need to invest in the down market and save in an up market. This is why I believe that the current debate on science funding is critical, we need to make sure that the current climate of austerity doesn't constrain investment unnecessarily, we won't succeed in the future if we continually gaze in the rear view mirror.

Presidential properties?

US Presidential candidate Ben Carson has been getting into more trouble with the media lately; in a recent WSJ article he is exposed in an autobiography lying about his time as a student at Yale University. In the book he claims that a psychology professor there had awarded him $10 for being the "the most honest student in the class" and put his photograph in the college newspaper. The problem for Carson is that there was no such photo in that paper and no such psychology class at Yale during any of his years there, the irony here is exquisitely acute.

Carson is becoming well known around the world for his delusional opinions about reality; recently he was recorded giving a lecture in which he states that Charles Darwin was influenced by the Devil whilst formulating the theory of Evolution and that all of the quaint Bible myths of Noah and the garden of Eden are literally true and that the Earth was created in 6 actual days. In a revelation that hit the wires last week he is on record as stating that the Egyptian pyramids weren't in fact tombs for Pharaohs but grain stores built by the Bible character Joseph of old testament (Genesis) fame. Egyptian archaeologists were quick to point out that this question was in fact settled by the ancient Egyptians themselves who actually wrote down what the pyramids were for at the time.

For those of us who aren't fundamentalist Christians or indeed even religious, Carson represents the more frightening end of the political spectrum in the USA, the fact that he is one of the leading GOP nomination contenders scares the living bejeezus out of even the most rational of atheists and agnostics. The ego of this man seems to know no bounds, with God on his side he clearly feels qualified to make up his own versions of reality, versions that simply confirm his personal superstitious and literalistic narratives, independent of actual evidence. The fact that he is also highly intelligent makes things worse, it means he's amply equipped and funded to convince the many millions of voters in the USA who also prefer their reality distorted and parochially self-serving that he's a realistic candidate. In a recent photo-shoot at his house in Maryland the photographer diligently snapped the many rooms laden with certificates, awards, medals and clippings glorifying himself, and also a rather spooky portrait of Carson alongside Jesus? It's clear to many what this man thinks he is, and in an ironic Pharaohic twist he seems to have already built himself a mausoleum.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Thames Toffee

Continuing on a craft brew theme I also decided today to have a go at brewing a traditional English "bitter" beer. The template for my first attempt is a local Henley brew called Breakspear which has been made in Henley on Thames since the 1700's although it recently (2002) moved it's brewery further up into Oxfordshire to Wychwood. It's always been one of my favourites, the "ordinary" as it's known around these parts is a tasty session beer that you can always rely on and is fruitful and malty but only around 3.5% ABV.

The ingredients were a little different from the Chinook IPA described in my previous post; much less grain (therefore less sugar and less alcohol) but also darker (more roasted) grains including some "black malt" which smells just like chocolate! The hops were different too, English varieties like Challenger and East Kent Goldings rather than more exotic American varieties. For this batch I also used a special Thames Valley yeast strain which smelled glorious (nothing like the Thames at low tide!) The brew came out quite dark (as you can see in the photo) and quite flat, nowhere near as lively as previous brews, hopefully the ferment will kick in soon and I'll see some yeast/carbon dioxide bubble action! I decided to call this one "Thames Toffee" since that's exactly what it smelt like as it was boiling, hopefully it will be a tad less sweet than real toffee when it's finished, I'll let you know in a few weeks!

Chinook taste test

I brewed a beer back in October using a hop I'd never heard of before called "Chinook"; it comes from the USA and imparts spicy warm flavours of pine and fruit into the beer. I made an IPA out of a mixture of pilsner malt, biscuit malt and aromatic malt to which I added quite a large amount of the hops spread over several drops into the boil pot; I thought I'd be brave and give it a try today.

The beer came out quite dark (as you can see) and not particularly carbonated (a very light fizz) the aromas are great, hoppy and fruity then the taste hits you like a wave of pine forest on a hot sunny day, really good, I'm amazed you can make a beer so good with just basic pots and pans. I need to do this one again but I think I'm going to prime the bottles a little better so that I get a stronger carbonation, other than that it's sliding down great. I didn't measure the specific gravity of this one but it tastes like about 6-7%, enough to warm anyone's cockles on a on a rainy Saturday evening in Berkshire!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Geek Jokes

I came across a list of Science jokes; some of them might even make the "stock image" nerd in this picture smile, here are a few examples..

1.  Funny how theories on inertia don't seem to gain momentum..
2.  Why can't atheists solve exponential equations? Because they don't believe in higher powers..
3.  Pavlov? Name rings a bell..
4.  Neutron asks, how much for a beer? Barman says, for you, no charge..
5.  Optimist = Half full; Pessimist = half empty; Engineer = twice as large as it needs to be.
6.  Books on anti-gravitons are always hard to put down..
7.  Never trust atoms, they make up everything..
8.  What's the difference between a miner and a chemist, the way they pronounce "unionised"..
9.  Tried a chemistry joke the other day.. no reaction.
10.Two chemists walk into a bar, one asks for H2O, the other for H2O too, the 2nd dies.

TFI Friday!


Jesus and Mo dealing with the rather childish reaction that most religious people exhibit when their treasured faith (of whatever stripe) is criticised or mocked. It's ironic that as a social species our addiction to being part of an in-group is simultaneously one of our most successful and also our most destructive traits, hopefully, over time, we can use the daddy of all Human traits, i.e. reason to wriggle our way out of this emotional straight-jacket.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Ultimate freedom

Leonardo da Vinci would be proud of this Swiss foot-launched glider; the only other way to get airborne as easily is via a para-glider or para-motor also both foot launched but more open to the elements and also probably slightly more difficult to fly. Back in 1997 (pre-kids!) I did a para-motor course in the French Alps (Tallard) and it was fantastic other than the fact that the engine that was strapped to your back weighed in at around 25 kg and you had to run to take off whilst balancing an inflated canopy above your head and revving the engine at the same time. It was extremely tiring and a bit like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. This glider on the other hand looks much easier, and although it weighs around 50kg you don't seem to have to run more than a couple of steps before you're airborne.

Landing seems to be straightforward too, either on grass or tarmac and I see that there's an electric version with a propeller as well; what will they think of next?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Deep time

Time is a funny old thing, most of us can't cope with more than a couple of generations with respect to truly grasping it. But in terms of the history of the Earth, a few Human generations is nothing. As this little analogy illustrates, in terms of our planet we're just a scintilla of conciousness, the scum on the surface of the lake, and in terms of the whole Universe we're an infinitesimal speck. I wonder if it takes 4 billion years for complex conciousness to evolve or whether it has evolved many times in the life of the Universe and then destroyed itself (probably arguing about whose invisible friend is true). Let's hope it's the former, the latter is just too depressing to contemplate.

Keeping schtum

Research commissioned by the Church of England suggests that four in ten British adults don't think that Jesus was a "real person" who actually lived and nearly a third didn't know anyone who was a practising Christian. Findings like this seem expected these days and although I always take surveys like this with a slight pinch of salt, the general trend would seem to suggest that gradually our society is becoming less (hardcore) religious as time goes on. I think this is good news for all of us; a less religiously biased population is much more inclined to support a proper secular constitution, i.e. a level playing field for everyone without political and financial privilege for members of one particular supernatural belief system. Having spend a fair amount of time over the years talking and debating with religious people and examining their claims I feel there is a fundamental attitudinal shift going on (albeit at a glacial pace), one of the softening of traditional dogmas. Particularly in developed countries there's a general move toward more tolerance on the part of religious constituents, particularly of things like LGBT rights, Women's rights, political arrangements and also education of all stripes, sexual, philosophical, moral, cultural etc. All things that I believe are hard to argue against.

The other interesting finding was that when Christians actually talk about their belief to their friends and colleagues it's more than three times as likely to put them off as to attract them. This is totally unsurprising to me, in my experience English people particularly, abhor talking about religion and politics, perhaps because generally we are all terrified of causing "offence"? There definitely remains a taboo around this subject in polite society, it's invariably an awkward, guarded conversation. This is a shame because in my view there's nothing better for making sceptics and atheists (who would otherwise sit on the fence) than actually talking about religion and trying to rationalise it's truth claims or critically examine it's logical and philosophical/moral incoherences.

If truth be told, most people these days are still indoctrinated into one particular religion (as I was) at home and/or at school (albeit in softer ways than in the past) and most Atheists I know have reached that conclusion through gaining more (balanced) knowledge about religion and philosophy rather than less. Perhaps the CofE needs to accept this fact if they want to remain relevant in modern Britain and to evolve with it, i.e. keep schtum about the more obviously mythological aspects of their tradition! As many people in history have said, the quickest way to becoming an atheist is to actually read the Bible.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Lucky brew day

I spent a couple of hours on Sunday brewing up some of my favourite beer. The recipe I concocted is a knock off of a beer by a producer in Scotland called "Brew Dog" and it aims to reproduce their original (famous) "Punk IPA" which probably did more for craft brewing in the UK in the last few years than any other single brew. The beer is quite light (the commercial version is even lighter than mine) almost lager colour and is full of exotic, tropical, spicy American and New Zealand hops*, so many in fact that I'm only just getting rid of the smell in the kitchen (although TBH I've had worse smells in my kitchen!)

The picture shows my primary fermenter after a day and a bit; the English ale yeast is working it's magic and there's a constant stream of carbon dioxide bubbles emerging from the air lock at the top of the vessel. You can see the yeast settling out at the bottom and also a bit floating at the top; after 4-5 days the top gunk should sink down to the bottom allowing me to siphon out the clear beer into a secondary fermenter ready for bottling. Hopefully I got my quantities a bit more accurate this time and I'll end up with more or less a gallon of beer (8 pints) which I will bottle in a couple of weeks time (unless I cock something up!)

The next challenge is to come up with a name and a label for the beer; being a die hard Clint Eastwood fan (films before "The Gauntlet") I'm thinking I'll go with an outline of a Magnum .44 and the name "Do I feel lucky"; a pub quiz on a bottle!

*Columbus, Ahtanum, Chinook, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin

What if you're wrong?

DarkMatter debunking the popularity fallacy; a lot of people have a real problem understanding this one, but you can't argue with the numbers, i.e.

  • If Christianity is right then 5,000,000,000 people are wrong
  • If Islam is right then 5,500,000,000 people are wrong
  • If Hinduism is right then 6,000,000,000 people are wrong
  • If there is no god then 6,000,000,000 people are wrong

So much for Pascal's wager..

The nature of speculation

Many people are speculating about what caused the crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai over the weekend. Clearly there needs to be some kind of scientific investigation into the incident before any concrete conclusions can be reached, but if people are going to speculate about anything then an apparently random and terrible loss of life on this scale is almost certainly the kind of thing they're going to speculate about.

Much like the downing of the Malaysian airlines flight over the Ukraine before it, this event has raised the ever present spectre of war and terrorism. It has to be asked what's more likely? A modern jet liner with an experienced crew disintegrating in mid-air for no apparent reason or a bomb / missile causing catastrophic disintegration. For no other reason than statistics and socio-political geography, my money is on the latter at the moment; we shall see.