Tuesday, 31 May 2011

To the moon! (1961)

I missed the actual 50th anniversary on May 25th, but we are still within the same week, so I suppose I could claim some degree of topicality.

50 years ago this week, President Kennedy announced that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

What an exciting announcement that would have been.  Does anyone remember whether it sent a ripple around the world?  I don't, but then again I was only 4 months old at the time.  At least I remember Apollo 11 and even Apollo 8's first orbit of the moon.

The burning question for me is whether people actually believed presidents in those days.  If an announcement like that was made today, I think we would all expect it to be canceled again within a few years, usually having wasted half the money with nothing much to show for it.  (Think of the Superconducting Super Collider.)

How long will it be before USA pulls out of the international fusion project ITER (again)?

Monday, 30 May 2011

Only a theory

Opponents of the Theory of Evolution use the word 'theory' as an insult.  Of course in common parlance, we have to accept that there seems to be some uncertainty about things that are 'only a theory'.

However, the scientific equivalent of this terminology is the word 'hypothesis'.  This is when someone has an idea but has not yet gathered enough evidence to show that it is true.  In the case of evolution the evidence is completely overwhelming and every day more evidence is gathered, whatever the opponents might think, or feel, or like to believe.

Just imagine an evolutionary tree with gaps between fossils.  When you find a fossil that fills a gap, it could be said to double the number of gaps.  Whenever you find the fossil of a cousin (thereby not filling a gap) opponents of evolution use it as evidence against evolution when it is, in fact, irrelevant to that particular branch of evolution (albeit interesting and informative).

There are many scientific theories that are accepted as fact by the general public.  For example, very few people still believe in a flat earth.  But it is 'only a theory'.  Most of us accept now that the Earth orbits the sun once a year.  But the heliocentric theory is 'only a theory'.  And the theory of gravitation is quite attractive too.  But yes - 'it is only a theory'.

If anyone asks you whether evolution is a theory or a fact the answer is simple.

Yes. Both!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Delusional Logic

If you are a fan of spotting logical fallacies in the arguments that people use, and you want a one page 'crib sheet' to help you to name them, here's a link for you (taking you to another page on this blog where you can download the jpg). 

Collected over a period of several months, this is a new table of the common fallacies that people use, presented for you delectation.  Share it with your friends.

When this blog post 'disappears' into the archive you will be able to find it from a link at the top of the Something Surprising blog home page.


Another UK farm gate . . .

Found in Northern England.

Now we know where Nessie has disappeared to!

Mladic - of course!

Of course!  Now that Serbia has nearly handed over Mladic it means that they have nearly done enough to be allowed into the EU!  I should have realised!

Presumably some people in Serbia decided that the price was worth it, although I read comments (here and there) that are clearly defending him and trying to offer justifications for his actions. 

According to The Guardian, at this link, Mladic was indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal on fifteen charges for his role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s summarised as:
Count 1: Genocide
Count 2: Complicity in genocide
Count 3: Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds
Count 4: Extermination
Count 5: Murder
Count 6: Murder
Count 7: Deportation
Count 8: Inhumane acts (forcible transfer)
Count 9: Unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians
Count 10: Murder
Count 11: Murder
Count 12: Cruel treatment
Count 13: Inhumane acts
Count 14: Attacks on civilians
Count 15: Taking of hostages

Apart from that then . . . what a nice cuddly grand-fatherly gentle old man! And did I mention that he is not feeling very well at the moment and prefers not to go to The Hague for a 'holiday' while his lawyers delay the course of justice for as long as they possibly can.

Serbia and some of our EU politicians might think this is enough to demonstrate good will, but the rest of us might feel that they need to do a little more before they are deemed to be worthy partners.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Mladic - worse than bin Laden!

Just or not, the killing of bin Laden at Abbottabad was at least quick and conclusive.  (I'm not getting off the fence here, not saying whether I think it was right or wrong.)  But I think we are about to be reminded of the consequences of the alternative approach as we see how the same problem is tackled in the European way.

Could you ever imagine the European president having the courage to sanction the type of action that the American president recently approved?  Of course not, for at least two reasons.  First, do you know who the European President actually is at the moment?  I would be surprised if you do.  Second - it is inconceivable that the EU would ever agree to anything quick or efficient.

As I often say in my own unique mixed metaphor, in EU politics 'there is no smoke without mirrors'.  We never really know what is going on behind the scenes . . . behind the smoke screen.  The way that Europe deals with another (alleged) mass murderer will reveal a lot about what is wrong with Europe, even if it also reveals something about the fundamental humanity, truth and justice that they would like us to see.  Meanwhile our money will be squandered on a show trial that will seem endless.

Not many people would say that Ratko Mladic was a paragon of justice.  Even his supporters would only back him because of his successful efforts to eradicate their mutual enemies.  He was indicted in 1995 of the cold blooded killing of between 7,000 and 10,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica - the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II - a much worse atrocity than the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers where 2,800 died.  In one single event Mladic's forces killed at least twice as many as bin Laden's have killed in total.  Since that time one might speculate that certain Balkan authorities have successfully shielded him from arrest and kept him from facing justice.

At long last he is now in custody.  But the poor frail little old man isn't feeling very well and he couldn't possibly be expected to face the arduous journey to the Hague. No doubt this short flight would be in a private jet, not suffering the hardship and deprivations (!!) of the normal 'cattle class' tickets that ordinary law abiding peaceful people have on scheduled airline flights. 

Dear old, scheming, genocidal Mladic has good lawyers, no doubt handsomely paid out of his ill-gotten proceeds, and they will make it difficult at every step of the legal process, spinning out the trial for years.  The costs will reach tens of millions and justice might never be done.

This is the alternative to sending in a crack squad of soldiers to 'dispatch' him.  The American approach had the additional feature of revealing to the world how Pakistan had kept him 'hidden in open sight', whereas in the European approach nobody would dare to offend another European country by pointing it out. Surely those who deliberately defend and hide indicted mass murderers (whether they are labelled 'terrorist or 'army chief') deserve to be exposed.

Which is the better approach, the lesser of the two evils?  Please comment.  I can't believe that anyone reading this could claim not to have an opinion.

Little note.  In typical fashion, the question about who is the president of the EU has at least three possible answers:
  • President of the European Council (since 1 December 2009, Herman Van Rompuy)
  • President of the European Commission (since 22 November 2004, José Manuel Barroso) unelected of course, but clearly the most powerful
  • Presidency of the Council of the European Union (since 1 January 2011, Hungary)
You see!  Smoke and mirrors!

Friendly Ulster farmers . . .

 At the end of a tranquil farm drive in peaceful Country Antrim, Northern Ireland  . . .

 . . . you find a friendly and welcoming sign!

C of E in a pickle!

In the Guardian on 25th May, there was an article Church of England tied in knots over allowing gay men to become bishops.

Apparently, the archbishop of York's office refused to comment, saying the whole process was entirely confidential.

I think it would make little difference whether the Archbishop of York commented or not, as on the basis of his performance on Radio 4  on 14th January 2010  I can only assume that we would be left wondering what on earth he was talking about on the topic of gay bishops too.

I refer to the 'clarity' brought to the subject during John Humphrys’ interview of the archbishop of York, John Sentamu on the Today programme last year. The subject was the Haiti earthquake. This transcription is as close to the spoken words as I can make it.

H: Why did God allow this to happen?

S: He created a world which is so beautiful, full of power, full of possibilities that at times . . . water for example, a fantastic reality, can at one time be a devastating thing. Is God got a slot machine in which we put in things and good things come out and bad things come out, no. I actually believe that God is fully engaged, and I have nothing actually to say that that makes sense of this horror. All I know is that the message of Christmas, the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that he is with us. Rabbi Hugo Green I think said something more beautiful when he was asked “where was God when Jews were being gassed”. And he said “God was being blasphemed and violated” and what makes it more difficult because if you believe that everybody is made in the image and likeness of god, disaster like this actually make it appalling and very difficult because what we are seeing is the face of God being disfigured and that is quite pretty pretty pretty appalling.

H: But we are told two things aren’t we? We are told that God is merciful and all powerful.

S: Yes.

H: How can those be reconciled with happens to a country like Haiti at a time like this?

S: Well . . . for the Christian you have got to see the god who is very much like Christ like and in him there is no un-Christ likeness. You know, St Augustine of Hippo said “He lies in a manger but contains the world. He feeds at the breast but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes but vests us with immortality.”

H: Hmm . . . I’m not sure I understand that answer to be perfectly frank with you. I don’t quite see what it has to do with the question.

S: The question is that the god we are dealing with who is merciful and powerful has shown his face to us in the person of Jesus. And if you believe that God is very much like Jesus of Nazareth, questions of power, questions of mercy, ultimately find their answer not in a sort of a slot machine type god but actually in a god who is with us alongside us, and his power is made more stronger not in dictatorship but in terms of mercifulness, in humility and coming alongside us.

H: But what you seem to be arguing for here is precisely the slot-machine type god. Because slot machines are random. The suffering that is imposed, that has been imposed on these people of Haiti, clearly entirely innocent people, many many children amongst them, that is random, just like a slot machine.

S: No no no no no. Jesus was asked a question when there was a Tower of Siloam which killed a lot of people. People were assuming that those who died because they were wicked. Jesus said “No not at all, don’t be complacent, don’t think you can comfort yourself by saying that bad things only happen to bad people. Everyone needs to be aware of their fragility and vulnerability and of their need for one another and for God. You see we are a family, when one weeps we all weep, and I’m afraid the world as it is has got tremendous beauty, tremendous power within it, earthquakes, fire, this can be devastating, and it depends on where you live and you think, well, why did they live in that place? Now with science now for example we know, that the early warning system for the tsunami can actually warn people when this is happening because our world is a world which we are not masters of.

H: So what do you have to say to someone like Pat Robertson the American evangelical preacher, candidate for President of the United States indeed at one point, who seemed to be blaming Haitians themselves, the country he said swore a pact to the devil at its creation. So in other words they deserved it.

S: No. I think anybody who talks like this needs to sit at the foot of the cross of Jesus, where what actually you do is don’t throw stones. I think he is absolutely wrong, Haiti is very close to America, and you would have thought that for these generations when the government nearly collapsed, and the United Nations that giving any sense of it (??) that America would have come to their aid, and I am very grateful that, and thankful that President Obama is taking a more proactive ... erm ... help on their doorstep. So Pat Robertson, I am sorry, he is totally wrong, he should re-read his bible properly and realise that what my mother said, never point a finger because when you do three other fingers are pointing back at you.

H: Archbishop, many thanks.

So now we should have it clear in our heads, direct from the lips of the 'vice-president' of the Anglican Communion. At the time I showed this to a number of people. The Christians say that it makes perfect sense but they cannot explain how. The others seem as confused as me. Perhaps we should offer up 'thanks to the FSM' for sending us an Archbishop who has his feet firmly planted in the air.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Another beautiful rose

More from the garden - and one of my favorite photos from a couple of years ago.  This rose is a variety called Just Joey.

Erosion of freedom

My friend and colleague, The Erratic Photographer, posted an item on his blog a few weeks ago about erosion of freedom in this country. (UK by the way!)  Being a talented photographer, his article was called The War on Photography.  (I reccomend that you follow the link and read it.) 

Maybe things are more general than that.  I agree with everything he said, but I also feel even more strongly.  The laws that have been implemented to combat terrorism in recent years are gradually and stealthily eroding our freedoms.  In this sense terrorism is winning the war against freedom.  Now I am not defending terrorists.  Regular readers will know that.  I also don't discriminate between the islamic kind and the normal 'cuddly' christian or separatist kinds.  But . . .

Imagine that you are an innocent person (which shouldn't be too difficult, being the honest decent person that you are) and that somehow by some coincidence you become a suspect in an anti-terrorist investigation.  You could find yourself arrested and falsely imprisoned for weeks without even being charged.  Your house would be ransacked by policemen and your computer taken away for forensic examination.  Many people who's houses are burgled feel that their property has somehow been defiled, but would it be an less defiled because the action was taken by the police?  I think not!

You would probably lose your job and many of your friends (who might be wary of guilt by association). 

So far as far as I am aware, not a single suspect kept in custody for as long as the law permits has been prosecuted. 

Even medieval laws are not perfect, but in this sense they seem more just than 21st century legislation.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Tiny Storm

In the news recently, there was a story about a Canadian couple who have named their new baby 'Storm'.  That's an unusual name for a baby. 

This is not the vegetarian, female, New-Age, Australian 'Storm' who features in Tim Minchin's clever song that I featured on April 12th.

These parents are determined to keep the baby's gender secret from everyone, including the grandparents.  (What IS the difference between sex and gender in this context?  Someone tell me please.)  They seem to think that this will allow the baby to become the person they want to be, unconstrained by social norms.

Yes . . . well . . .

This is going to be one crazy mixed up kid in a few years time.  And the notion that the kid will keep the secret for very long seems to be something of a pious hope.  It will also make it quite tricky for them to find a baby-sitter who they trust.

I wonder whether this the kind of couple who will also put their baby's life at risk by avoiding the social norm of vaccination.

Interesting story though!  Thanks to Liz for mentioning it to me.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Homeopathic cure for terrorism

It has been suggested that, according to homeopathic principles, the Americans might have taken the first step to cure the world of terrorism. 

Dropping bin Laden's corpse into the ocean (after 'succussing' it extensively) might be the first step in producing a remedy.

What a pity that homeopathy has been shown, time and time again, not to be better than placebo.

More from Guatemala

One of the most popular posts so far was on 27th April, about  the almost incredible 'sink holes' that appear periodically in Guatemala City.

Here is another photo of the 2010 event which appeared on 1st June (or thereabouts) during a tropical storm called Agatha.

Just for comparison, you can see that these events are not unique to Guatemala. Not very far away (on a galactic scale at least) on the Sarisariñama Plateau, Venezuela, there are some older looking sink holes that are about 350m in diameter.

And if you prefer a marine environment . . .

The "Great Blue Hole" is an underwater sink hole in Belize.  Would you feel vertigo if you were in that boat going over the edge of the hole?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Another bus campaign?

A little fun for those familiar with the 'atheist bus campaign'.

And here is yet another bus campaign on a similar but opposite theme.

Schrödinger's Cat had its eyes closed?

For those who feel they might understand the paradox of Shrödinger's Cat (in quantum mechanics) the key question is:

"Why doesn't the cat count as an observer?"

If it did, that would spoil the whole paradox.  I think it must have had its eyes closed.

First rose of summer

One month earlier than some other years, the first rose in the garden has beaten the greenfly.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Longest brick arch in the world

Finished in 1838, this spectacular pair of long flat brick arches was contructed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to carry the Great Western Railway (GWR) over the River Thames at Maidenhead.

At the time of building, and perhaps even now, these arches were the longest in the world built of brick.  Each span is 39m wide and only 7m high.

There is an entertaining 'urban myth' about this bridge.  (Or in context, should it be a rural myth?)  It is said that the board of the GWR (in the typical way of boards who know nothing of engineering but something of litigation) were concerned about the bridge collapsing.  They ordered Brunel to leave the wooden 'formers' in place under the bridge - just in case!  (These formers had been put in place to support the arches while they were constructed of course.)

Brunel (in the typical way of this independent minded engineer who cared little for the voice of authority) complied with their request but lowered the formers slightly so that they took no part in the structure. As you can see - the bridge survived a lot longer than the woodwork which was washed away in a flood, and Brunel was proved right (as usual).

One can only imagine his glee and admire his innovation.  And as you can see from the state of his boots in this famous photo, he was a real engineer!  That reminds me - I ought to polish my shoes as I am not a real engineer.

Little note:  GWR - also known as the Great Way Round by competitors, or God's Wonderful Railway by fans of their stylish locomotive engineering.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Adam and Eve featured in the Qu'ran?

Thanks to Sarah for finding this one!

Asymmetrical warfare and the 'big brother lecture'

For as long as I can remember, I have been told "You're the big brother!  You SHOULD know better" and I always felt that truth and justice had no place in the world.  This happened sometimes when my darling little sister, with legendary persistence, had finally managed to provoke me into retaliation, and then I was the one who was punished!  (Well OK, its a while since my mother actually used that line of argument, but still it lingers!  :)

Even today in my professional life I sometimes find it annoying to get the equivalent of the 'big brother lecture'.  Relatively junior staff sometimes get more leeway and middle management is often an unenviable position to hold.

Recent events in Pakistan have made me wonder whether there is an analogy to be drawn.  In this case USA is the big brother who has been provoked into drastic action, and Al Quaeda is the poisonous little sibling that has been goading and provoking.  In this view of the situation one is left to wonder whether Pakistan takes the role of another acquiescent sibling, or that of the chiding parent.  However, parts of Europe definitely take the parental tone.

Last week I was discussing the whole bin Laden saga with an American friend who is a tolerant and decent christian.  I asked her what she thought about the subject and I was quite surprised at the satisfaction that even she clearly felt at the summary justice that had been dispensed.  When I played devil's advocate and asked her the questions that others have asked me, I was not surprised that she felt that USA had been attacked.  However, I was surprised that she thought that USA had been singled out and thought that that gave them some special right to strike back.  National stereotypes aside, I find that many Americans do not to remember about the Madrid and London bombings.

Now - I might agree with her about the death of bin Laden (although not without reservations) and about whether justice can and should be dispensed in this way.   I have noticed a difference between the views of European and American friends.  Of course as Alexander Dumas said "all generalisations are dangerous, even this one" but I feel that there is a trend for Europeans to be disapproving or guardedly approving.  On the other hand I have yet to meet an American who sees this as a dangerous erosion of international law.  So far all have wanted to celebrate what has happened.

What does this have to do with the big brother lecture?

It seems to me that the time has come for the rules of international war to be reviewed.  The 'accepted' codes of conduct have been designed for more-or-less symmetric wars where the two protagonists have broadly equivalent resources and tactics.  Surely by now people have noticed that not all warfare is conducted in such a (dare I say) gentlemanly fashion.

Over a hundred years ago the British faced terrorist action all around the empire - and of course responded brutally.  We still face criticism from around the world for the barbaric actions of our ancestors whether we as descendants are individually guilty or not.  I feel a parallel with the Garden of Eden story here, and I have more or less the same views on both.  It wasn't my actions and I personally accept no blame for either.

In recent decades asymmetric warfare has continued unabated, with relatively under-resourced terrorist groups taking action against society and then claiming the moral high-ground when retribution is taken against them.  In the case of Al Quaeda perhaps this started with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and gradually developed to include the Twin Towers atrocity, and the Madrid and London bombings.  Now that bin Laden has been attacked they seem to think that it somehow justifies what they are doing - but they are simply wrong.

Something has to change.  The big brothers and sisters of this world need to feel that they can defend themselves adequately without being accused of bullying.  I think we can all contribute to our own defence.

Be vigilant and resist creeping compromise.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

From The World's End

Follow this link for a tongue in cheek report about the Rapture arriving at a pub called "The World's End" last night, by James O'Malley of the Pod Delusion.

I think it is clear what has happened.  None of the people alive today have been saved, and all those pious individuals who died throughout history have been resurrected.

Or maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses were right all along.  Don't they teach that only 144,000 will be saved.  In today's world of 7 billion, who would notice?

Magnitude 6.5 earthquake today

Being the day of The Rapture (as I'm sure you all know if you have been following me this week), we were led to believe that there would be huge earthquakes all around the world.

Well, there was quite a big one this morning.  Magnitude 6.5 would normally get reported wouldn't it?  But in this case it was in the south atlantic, thereby causing little devastation.

False alarm again?  But will this damage the reptuation of that false prophet, Camping?  I suspect not for the following reason.

In James Randi's classic work "Flim Flam", the fourth 'hallmark of paranormal chicanery' probably applies. 

"Faults discovered in the story or performance tend to prove the phenomenon real, it is agreed, since a clever trickster would not make such basic errors!"

Has anyone seen my christians?

Judgement Day is here (as I mentioned 3 days ago).  Are you still here on Earth too?

Has anyone felt any earthquakes or noticed that their most pious relatives have gone missing this morning?

In spite of the title, my christian family are still here. Maybe we have to wait until 2012 for the end of the world after all?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Draw Mohammed Day

May 20th is the second annual "Draw Mohammed Day".  I always smile when I see someone claim that something is the second annual event, as what they really mean is that it happened only once before and they would like you to believe that they will not lose interest in the idea before next year at least.

Reading a little bit about the subject of drawings of Mohammed, I find that there are many good cartoons around.  Some are perhaps a little offensive, but not by any means as offensive as the attempted murder of Kurt Westergaard for drawing some rather  thoughtful images.  How was he to know that some extremist would add two additional (highly) inflammatory and offensive cartoons and publish all of them in Egypt under his name. 

Not wishing to provoke the wrath of the Islamic Army of Oxfordshire, I decided to avoid showing any of them here . . . with the exception of the one above.

However, in the interests of free speech, you might follow the links at this venerable and respectable site, Richard Dawkins.net, where you could join me in righteous indignation and disapproval of the slide show of awful offensive images.

Incidentally - wouldn't it be funny if it is islamists who manage to introduce a new human right - the right not to be offended!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Podcasts for everyone

Have you ever listened to a podcast?  Most people seem still to be shying away from learning to enjoy the range of listening or viewing opportunities available to them.  I'm hoping to convince you that it is easy and that you might be missing out on a world of entertaining and informative programming.

Perhaps you have tried your favorite TV station's web based player to watch a TV programme that you have missed?  It is as simple as that to listen to a podcast.  If you don't mind sitting at your computer or using your mobile phone's web app you can often just go to the website of a podcast and listen or watch it there.  There is actually no need to wrestle with new software or learn how to transfer it to your MP3 player (or i-pod if that is your preference - although it definitely isn't mine).  I'll come back to that later.

The only trouble is . . . how to find out what is available out there, and where

A year ago I had not taken the plunge into the ocean of podcasts, but now I am surfing the waves and hardly ever listen to the radio.  This is not just my annoyance with the BBC showing through again.  Radio 4 actually does host some interesting, intelligent and informative programmes.  But there are not enough of them, and the overpowering political correctness sometimes forces them to 'teach the controversy' even if there really isn't one to teach.  Most independent podcasts do not feel compelled to follow the same restrictive guidelines and they can take the risk of causing offence without upsetting their directors (or the government).They do not have to present a fully balanced argument, although most of them do.

To be perfectly honest, I can't remember what made me look for the first podcast, let alone which one of my current twenty I found first.  But these days I look forward to day of publication of several independently produced programmes.  Some others are there as gap fillers, and I even listen to one  religious offering about 'Intelligent Design' - and hate it!  My own preference, as you will have noticed from the topics of this blog, is currently for scientific and skeptical subjects, and I am not averse to a regular dose of atheism.  If you are one of my regular readers - yes there are a few of you and I appreciate you all very much - you could enjoy the same.  I think over the next few weeks I might venture to review some of the good (and the bad).  I am just trying to decide how to categorise my comments.

I have deliberately avoided getting into the question of how to download podcasts onto your mobile device.  If you find yourself drawn to this type of media I am sure that you will find a way.  It is of little use to explain that I personally use a programme called 'gpodder' to manage my podcasts and transfer them to my Sony Walkman 16GB MP3 player.  Those of you with Macs will find that it is all intuitive (or at least you will tell us that until your dying day) and those on Windows can probably use media player or something similar.   (I might have mentioned before that I don't use Windows or a Mac at home, but run Ubuntu linux instead.) 

As a taster - try these, in no particular order but all excellent!

by Brian Dunning. 
Short accurately researched weekly episodes about the mysteries of the world.  Click the picture for a link to the home page containing recent episodes (or transcripts if you prefer to read instead of listening).

Skeptics Guide to the Universe 
from the New England Skeptical Society. 
Intelligently and entertainingly looking at subjects of interest to skeptics.  I think this embedded code for the following picture will play the latest episode for you, but failing that you will at least find their web site here.  There are two options: the regular weekly hour long programme or the '5 x 5' podcasts which are more like those from Skeptoid.

The Pod Delusion
UK based, (clever name too), taking 'sceptical angles on topical politics and pseudo-science'.  Many interesting reports from interesting reporters and now apparently very high on the list of favorites on i-tunes (not that I know anything about i-tunes).  They also publish special recordings of specific UK events from time to time.  All being well you can listen to the embedded object here or you can visit their web site.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Judgement Day this week!

Not wishing to get you worried, I wonder whether you have noticed that the second coming is due in three days time - according to some American religiot called Harold Camping - who has calculated that "Judgement Day is May 21, 2011".  At least he has been thoughtful enough to consider what will happen to the rest of us after 21st May, after he has been whisked up to heaven.  He says " I have scheduled new posts to come out between May 21st and October 21st 2011, that will help those dealing with the End Times of the Apocalypse."

It is not entirely clear how he has worked this out, but on that day, exactly 7000 years after the flood, Christ will return to earth and take all the 'saved' up to heaven, leaving the rest of us on earth to suffer 'the tribulation' for exactly 5 months, until the end of the world.  One thing is obvious - he has not used the calendar developed by Archbishop Ussher as mentioned in a previous post When was the flood?

Let's just hope that he is wrong - or else a lot of people I know are  . . . well . . . in for a bit of a rough time!  If I wake up on that morning and find the house empty, my first thought might be that I slept in too long and the rest of the family (all christian) are now at work or school.  However, then the earthquakes might get me worried as we are not accustomed to them in rural Oxfordshire.

The twittersphere offers some thoughts on this topic.  A twitter user under the name of Good_Beard (also known as Hope without God) tweeted "I don't understand the claim that after the rapture there'll be wars because after the religious nuts have gone most of the causes will go."

RosaRubicondior (aka Rosa Rubicondior) tweeted "Looking forward to a #Christian-free world on 22 May when Christians finally realise how gullible they are. #Atheism #ThinkingOptimistically"

I wish it was that simple.  Most of the christians I know are dismissing Camping's calculation just as readily as I do.  One question remains then.  If they didn't believe Camping and 'The Rapture' does happen, will they be saved?

Would anyone like me to look after their valuables and investments for them?

p.s.  As of this moment, "The Rapture Index" is sitting at a nice toasty score of 182.  That is well into the 'fasten your seat belts' range.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

"Dear 16 year old me"

See Little Miss Joey's moving video post warning about the dangers of sunburn and send it to a 16 year old that you know.

And then take a moment to glance at some of her great photography.

Do You Want to Convert an Atheist?

I thought this was so good that I just had to borrow it and bring it to your attention.  See the end of the post for attribution.

If you want to convert an Atheist your task should be simple.  Atheists believe in evidence; our opinions are based on it and when the evidence changes, or we discover new evidence, we change our opinions.  We have no sacred dogmas which can't be questioned; no tenets of 'faith' to which we must subscribe. 

This should make us very easy to convert.

All you need is authenticated, incontrovertible evidence that your god exists and your evidence only needs to pass a few simple tests which, presumably, you believe it's already passed
  • You will need to explain why your evidence is evidence ONLY for your god and not any other.  Since people have believed in an estimated 3000 different gods in recorded human history, obviously you will need to show why your evidence couldn't be evidence for any of those.
  • You will also need to explain how a god is the ONLY possible explanation for your evidence and why it can't possibly be explained as the result of a natural process.
Now, since, presumably, you were convinced of your god's existence by just such evidence, it shouldn't be too difficult to tell us Atheists where it's to be found and how it meets the above criteria.

In your own time....

(p.s.  Opinion isn't evidence and nor is a quote from a book unless the quote refers to authenticated, observable evidence meeting the above criteria).

So writes Rosa Rubicondior on her popular blog (where she specifically does give permission for her work to be reproduced without permission).  Read the (incredible?) comments that she has provoked  by clicking here

Monday, 16 May 2011

Look out! Sharia about!

If you don't know what this is about, you haven't been watching or listening to the news last weekend.  Does he deserve the acid in his eyes?  Or just in one eye as (apparently) a man is worth twice as much as a woman (at least when acting as a witness).  Should he have anaesthetic, and indeed why shouldn't he have acid thrown on his whole face (or half of it) like his poor victim.

This is one good reason why we should never allow sharia law to be implemented in any form in Britain (although of course I acknowledge Scotland's right to be different if it chooses.)  Not having sharia here should ensure that we never have to make a decision about the options above.  I'm not suggesting that things like this are known to be happening in Britain (yet) and nor am I complaining that Iran has decided to use another form of law for its own citizens, on its own sovereign territory.  But creeping Islam seems to be omnipresent.

In 2008, The Times reported "Revealed: UK’s first official sharia courts", although they have been running since as long ago as 1982.  These courts are permitted to rule even on matters of domestic violence - which surely is a subject that should be dealt with in real courts according to the real laws of this country.  Many people are concerned about coercion, particularly for women who 'agree' to submit to judgement in Islamic courts.

It is not as if British laws do not already exist and not as if Britain is a country where we have too few laws.  Tolerance of other cultures is one matter, and one that Britain can justifiably claim with pride, but when those other cultures are allowed to work legally against the laws of the country I feel that that tolerance has gone too far.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Lightning strikes

Normally 'lightning strikes' at Heathrow airport have a drastic effect.  The workers go on strike, the planes stop flying and thousands of people are stranded and kept in ignorance of their expected departure time.  But not this time!

On 23rd April this year, one of the huge new Airbus 380 planes was struck by lightning on its final approach to land at Heathrow.  Lightning strikes on planes are neither unusual nor surprising, and the large commercial planes are designed to be unaffected.  The metal body conducts the current safely around the passengers who might even have been unaware of the event.  This type of metallic enclosure is known as a 'Faraday cage' - physics is everywhere!

Of the very few plane accidents 'caused' by lightning, all but a handful have been tiny single-engined planes that have been unlucky (or silly) enough to be close to a thunder storm.

The thing that really is surprising is that an amateur cameraman, Chris Dawson, was lucky enough to be in the right place to catch this spectacular event.    I have included two screen shots above and embedded the Youtube movie below. Watch it and be amazed!

(Replaced the video clip 31/7/11 as the previous embed code had stopped working. By Nov 2012 the replacement video had gone altogether from Youtube, but another video of the same event can be seen via CBS news, here.)

That does it for the BBC!

I am totally outraged this evening, having accidentally watched the BBC news.  Yes it really was an accident.

Perhaps you have noticed previous posts suggesting that the (balanced and unbiased) BBC supports UK government policies and reports the news accordingly.  This is a minority government, supported by 36 Liberal Democrat  MPs who have completely betrayed their party, as reported by disappointed party member Jennie Rigg on this week's episode (#84) of the excellent Pod Delusion.

Where do the words 'compliant quisling' deserve to go this evening?  It is not just the disingenuous turncoat, Nick Clegg - but all the LibDem MPs.

Tonight the BBC took the trouble - believe it or not - to report that 350 people protested outside parliament that the government cuts were not large enough.  They made a point of mentioning that some people actually do support the government.

Yes! 350! That is not a typing error.  Three hundred and fifty people!

That is 50 people more than the 300 who remained in Trafalgar Square just a few weeks ago after 400,000 people had gone home peacefully.  400,000 who took a whole day of their free time to protest against the government cuts!  350 is about the number of people who were quietly shopping in my local Sainsburys at that moment, and fewer than the number in Tesco.

Democracy . . . ?

BBC . . . obviously the voice of the minority government!  (Spit!!!)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Just vaccinate!

In case you hear anyone saying that they are afraid to have their children vaccinated, perhaps you can be ready with some facts.  Failing to vaccinate is now starting to be dangerous to ALL of us, and not just to the unfortunate infants.  Just having been vaccinated yourself should not make you feel safe because a (small) percentage of people do not acquire immunity even if they are vaccinated.  Those of us who are in that category need further help.  We need everyone in our communities to be vaccinated to ensure that the old - nearly eliminated - diseases stay that way.

At present we are failing to achieve sufficient 'herd immunity' because of seemingly rational fears of parents who have heard how their children might be harmed.  Epidemics are now a near certainty.  People will -yes definitely WILL - die because of the dreadful lies of the anti-vaccination movements.

Be ready to give these answers:

1. The anti-vaccination movement bases its scare stories on 'proof by mummy instinct' and not on science.
2/  Andrew Wakefield who started it all off has been completely discredited and is no longer allowed to practice as a doctor.
3/  The 'mercury' in vaccinations is definitely and provably not harmful.
4/  Vaccination does not cause autism - definitely and provably!
5/  Big pharmaceutical companies might not be paragons of virtue but they are not not giving our children autism!

A little skeptical research will help everyone to learn the truth.  And the truth is that many many people will die if we do not vaccinate.  Start here - Health Protection Agency issues warning to parents in SE England.

According to this article at Skeptical Science blog:

The first 20 years of licensed measles vaccination in the U.S. prevented…
  • an estimated 52 million cases of the disease
  • 17,400 cases of mental retardation
  • 5,200 deaths

Incidentally - when I was a baby there was no vaccination for measles, and apparently I am one of the few who has had measles twice.  I don't want to get it again if I can help it, but

Friday, 13 May 2011

Friggatriskaidekaphobia and Unix time

Its Friday the 13th - an unlucky day according to some.  But of course every day is unlucky for some and my superstition filter is working harder today than most others.  I'm ready to point out the logical fallacies in people's anecdotes about the day - and no doubt they will grumble at me for doing so.

Apparently it is only since the 19th century that this day has been considered particularly unlucky although people were already wary of Fridays in the 14th century.  Every year we have at least one of them, and some years we have three.

Not wishing to fuel world-wide friggatriskaidekaphobia - the fear of Friday the thirteenth - I have chosen one surprising but entirely harmless story for the day.  As regular readers will know, I am an (amateur) user of the Ubuntu operating system, which is a member of the Unix/Linux family. 

'Unix time' reached 1,234,567,890 seconds on Friday, February 13, 2009.

I expect you feel that your life is now enriched!

And one more thing!

Blogger is back in operation again, today Friday 13th!

You might have noticed that there was no post yesterday, for the first time since I started writing on 11th January.  It seems that blogger caused worldwide outrage by going into read-only mode for a couple of days.  Those of us who use it regularly started to feel withdrawal symptoms and today turned out to be a lucky day after all. 

Whatever all the other users say, I think it is a little churlish to complain when the service is (after all) entirely free and extremely reliable.  Where would you get better value for money than this?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tears and heroism

Having recently read "The Birthday Boys" by Beryl Bainbridge, which was given to me as a birthday present by a dear friend, I discovered that I had two things in common with Scott of the Antarctic.  Of course he had qualities  - sheer heroism and the ability to lead a team - that I could not aspire to emulate, but two little things might be considered to be a start.

Bainbridge's approach was an interesting one, even if the title of her book was a little puzzling.  Each chapter was written in the words of a different crew member, starting off with Petty Officer Taff Evans, and ending up with Captain Lawrence Edward (Titus) Oates who's famous words "I'm just going outside, and I may be some time" were uttered on his birthday.

It is amazing to think that 100 years ago, nobody had ever been to the South Pole.  Two expeditions were in Antarctic, poised to make an attempt.  The world has moved a long way in the last century.

Of course the story does not end well for Scott and his companions.  Bainbridge's description of the whole 'adventure' was consistent with other accounts that I had previously read.  The organisation and resourcing of the expedition were meticulous and yet misguided, more like a boy-scouts' outing than a scientific expedition to one of the most hostile parts of the world.  They were brave men, but with the bad weather that they experienced they had little chance of success.  This was compounded by the strange and fateful decision that a team of five men would attempt to reach the pole, when the resources had been gathered for only four to do it.

In a strange English way they also felt cheated by Amundson who reached the pole before them, and survived the return journey.  How could he be so unsporting as to say that his expedition was going North, and then to go South instead?  How could he use dogs when man-hauling was the only 'proper' way to do polar exploration?  And yet Scott's use of mechanised equipment was not unsporting - even though it worked against them in the end due to unreliability of the machines.

One of the things I found that I have in common with Scott was an inability to organise things properly.  Yes - I am indulging in another bout of self-deprecation as another dear friend sometimes reminds me.  But I fear that I could organise things no better than Scott did.

The other was that he has a tendency towards lacrimosity, both in sad situations and (surprisingly) in happy occasions.  He found that it was embarrassing to him and to the other men around him. 

My female friends never seem to find my tears difficult to cope with.  Male friends and colleagues have looked very uncomfortable.  I ought to be accustomed to it by now but I am not!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

First humanist funeral

Last week I had the misfortune to have to attend the funeral of a colleague.  It may seem strange to say this, but in the end I almost found it to be a pleasure.  Certainly I will remember it fondly.

It is not that I didn't care for him.  I was very sad that he had departed this life, but as we drove to the crematorium I wondered out loud whether it would be a humanist ceremony.  I knew that he was not a religious man.  Truly a good man - but not religious in any way.

Sure enough - the official was from the British Humanist Association (BHA), and she conducted the ceremony with respect and great dignity.  Three of his friends and his son spoke, and of course the three friends had to be gently persuaded to cut their words short due to time constraints.  Even that was achieved delicately and with a touch of humour.

The end result was that I came out of the 'chapel' feeling that we had truly celebrated the life of a great man.  Being naturally prone to tears, I think this is the first time that I have not had the need to feel embarrassed by lacrimosity at a funeral.

Well done BHA! 

Monday, 9 May 2011

USA releases bin Laden photo

Hands free!

Here in UK, for a few years now, it has been illegal to use your mobile phone while driving (unless you use a hands-free kit).  Of course it doesn't stop people doing it.  The thing that fascinates me is the way people's attitudes are so inconsistent.  So often they go into 'righteous indignation mode' when they see someone with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the phone to their ear, and then do something else much more dangerous themselves.

Personally I think the new law relating specifically to mobiles was not necessary.  It is the leglislative state gone mad.  There were already perfectly good laws about 'driving without due care and attention', and introducing a law about phones somehow legitimises other things.  However, the law is the law. 

What about similar activities?  Eating, even unwrapping sweets, while driving is legal (I think), whereas drinking while driving is not.  I'm not talking about imbibing alcohol but the consumption of other potable fluids.  I remember a case a few years ago where someone was prosecuted for drinking Coca Cola from a bottle while in the driver's seat with the engine running.  She was actually stationary in a long queue at a red traffic light, with the hand brake on.  What's the harm?  This seems like legal nonsense and over-officious policing.  (I resist the temptation to criticise the police as I know I will be told off by one of my loyal readers - but cases like this do make me feel a little cross.) 

Smoking is legal, even though presumably one must find it quite distracting to light up.  How many hands are needed?  And the fact that you are then in possession of something hot must be a potential distraction worse than a phone.  Changing a CD or a radio station is also condoned.

Perhaps worst of all though is the nearly ubiquitous GPS navigation system.  People have often assured me that they are much safer driving with GPS than with the old-fashioned system that I still use (namely MAPS).  But then they start to programme it while driving along.  Aaaaarrrggghhh!  They might as well be watching a movie while driving.

One day I was in a car with two friends (a couple at the time) and they both had their GPS systems running.  We reached a T-junction and his (in a female voice) suggested turning left, while hers (in a male voice) proposed right.  My map could have come to the rescue but it was more fun to watch what happened.  (I don't think that is why they are no longer a couple!)

One final thought.  I have often wondered about hands-free kits.  What would happen if I was holding my hands-free kit to my ear while driving?  Surely it would be perfectly legal?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Windoze or Ubuntu (Linux)?

I more or less promised last week to talk about why I tend to use Ubuntu Linux these days instead of Windows.

What would I miss about Windows?

1/  Excel
2/  . . . hardly anything else!

However, there is always the option of using it by running a copy of Windows in Oracle's excellent (and still free) VirtualBox environment on Ubuntu.  Windows in a window is a compromise.

What would I miss about Ubuntu?

0/  Security (I think)
1/  General speed and responsiveness
2/  The online community's help with (almost) whatever problem I meet whereas for Windoze it seems more difficult.
3/  LaserJet 1000 printer driver (none available on 64 bit Win7 but no problem in Ubuntu)
4/  Multiple desktops - how you get used to having this facility! 
5/  Easy way to save Youtube videos as they download - grab them from the cache folder.
6/  Ubuntu One synch so easy - if you trust cloud computing.  (And OK - there are other ways to do this on Windows.)
7/  Tomboy notes just work and synch.  I keep little notes to myself and can open them on each of the three machines that I use regularly.  (Cloud computing again though.)
8/  It's free
9/  Its so easy to reinstall in event of a major problem - and did I mention . . . free!
10/  Freedom from Win7's unexplained one minute freeze ups experienced on my laptop
11/  Login window without a visible choice of user names.  (This used to be available in Win XP but seems to have vanished in Win 7 and I regard it to be a security feature, albeit 'soft security')
12/  And finally - OK I admit it - It is not Windows.  My slightly anarchical world view is showing through.)

I would admit that there are still some slightly negative points about using Linux but I can live with these:

1/  Shorter battery life on my laptop - this is the only really annoying factor.
2/  A few niggles about wireless network cards and in some versions the reluctance of the PC to suspend to RAM (sleep) and resume (wake).
3/  Intel/nvidia's Optimus technology - there are no linux drivers if you are unlucky to have that hardware.  You lose the speed and 3D acceleration but just have basic graphics.  I'm quite happy without it as my graphics card is not nvidia and the processor is not Intel.  Nvidia always used to be the Linux users graphic card supplier of choice, for good compatibility.  Clearly their policy has changed.  What a pity.
4/  I suppose if you are a big game player there might be other items too.  

So have I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04 yet?  Well - yes on my laptop.  The experience is generally rather positive too.  More on that topic soon.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Nice satire about the Archbishop!

The Skeptical Science blog has a nice post today.  The title was Archbishop’s ‘discomfort’ at Hitler suicide. 

It begins:

"Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed ‘deep discomfort’ over the suicide of Adolf Hitler.

‘One cannot help but feel the man was driven to it,’ Dr Williams told a London press conference . . . "

What is wrong with government?

Have you ever been invited to give your opinion in the Houses of Parliament? (That's in UK by the way.)  I haven't.  Have you ever been un-invited because you are more rational than political?

Andy Lewis has.

See this link to an article on The Quackometer

Isn't it outrageous that parliament works more on patronage than on rationality?

And today someone explained to me that the same applies if you work for the European Commission in Barcelona.  Decisions are political - not rational.

Gravity suspended!

Isn't this lovely?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Take the hint Clegg!

After the Liberal Democrats' appalling performance in the UK local elections yesterday, calls are already going out for the resignation of their worst ever leader, Nick Clegg.

Last year, Richard Dawkins described Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal as a 'compliant quisling', but how much more appropriate is that expression for the disingenuous Nick Clegg?

For the first time in a generation, his party has had an opportunity to  influence the old-boys network of the British establishment, and he has wasted that chance by going against virtually every election promise that he made.  Whether it was the one about student tuition fees or his acquiescence to proposing the 'lame duck' reform of the Alternative Vote (albeit better than the current system), Clegg has let us down badly.  We await the result of the referendum of course, but there is no doubt that the No2AV campaign has confused and frightened a lot of voters very successfully.  I blame Clegg for failing us in this regard.

Meanwhile his Lib Dem colleague, Vince Cable, has been in charge of the Department for 'Banning Innovation and Science', (BIS).  (That is a kind of UK joke by the way - officially it is Business Innovation and Science.) 

This might have been a lame joke, but it is not as lame as the performance of the Lib Dems.  Clegg must go - or else why would any of us vote Lib Dem ever again.

Small note: Sorry for re-using this picture.  It seemed even more appropriate today.

Or is it Five Commandments?

After yesterday's thoughts on the 'Three Commandments' and how they affect everyday life in the 21st century (not much after removal of the redundant seven), it might be reasonable to ask which parts of biblical teaching are missing from them.

There is no reference in the Old Testament to anything like the 'golden rule' of doing unto others what you would like them to do to you.  In Dan Barker's 'Losing Faith in Faith' (p 347) he comments that this golden rule ought to be referred to as 'The Bronze Guideline' because there are many people who do not want anything done to them at all.

From the christian point of view this rule is a new testament invention, introduced into the law by Jesus.  But is this true?  It seems questionable for several reasons.

The golden rule as it appears Matthew 7:12 is actually a retelling of Rabbi Hillel's teachings in 10 AD.  It pre-dates Jesus significantly.  But that is not all.

Compare this also with the idea from the Brahmins in about 300BC "Hurt not others in ways that you would find hurtful".

Or try the even-earlier Confucian version from around 500BC "Do not do to do unto others what they would not want to be done to them". 

This latter version is surely the best one.

"Love thy neighbour" is also not an Old Testament commandment although Jesus treats it as such.  (Some make a reference to Leviticus 19:18 but that is said to refer specifically to 'the children of thy people' only rather than to generic neighbours of all nations). 

These important philosophies of the golden rule and loving thy neighbour seem much more useful than the first four commandments, probably more desirable three of the others.  They are surely a worthy addition to the three that are legally enforced these days.

I propose that there are now five commandments - source unknown, but probably not ordained by god.  Surely all were completely obvious to people long before the time of Moses!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How long does DNA identification take?

Apparently 5 hours is about enough.  Surprised?  If like most people (including me) you were wondering how they identified bin Laden so conclusively and so quickly, have a look at this fascinating blog entry about the technology involved.

How do you ID a dead Osama anyway? by Christie Wilcox.

Ten Commandments or just three?

The Catholic and Protestant versions of the 10 commandments are not the same.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that idolatry is not only permitted in the Catholic version, but more or less required.  This is why crucifixes in Catholic churches are usually complete with a Jesus, whereas in Protestant churches the crosses are bare.  The exclusion of the second commandment (about idolatry) means that the ninth is split into two for catholics.  Strangely they chose to do this rather than adopt the tenth commandment from Deuteronomy.  (See below.)  However, laying these differences aside, do the commandments make sense otherwise?  Which version do we follow?  You might be surprised that the Old Testament has more than one set of 10 commandments!

The 'published' commandments are normally based on the original set as delivered in Exodus 20.  However, the stone tablets carrying these instructions were smashed by Moses after the Israelites made the golden calf.  Fortunately someone took to trouble to remember what they were, because they have been useful ever since.

The commandments were then delivered again (Deuteronomy 4:13.) and they are then substantially different.  1 to 4 are pretty much the same but 10 is that a kid should not be boiled in its mother's milk!  (This does appear as a 'lesser' commandment in Ex 20 and hence is part of the Jewish halacha, but it seems surprising that it in Deuteronomy it is promoted to be one of the 'top ten').

Given their fate, it is surprising that the original set of laws are more generally adopted.  Maybe it is because they are more relevant to people who are no longer members of a dessert dwelling tribe?  Judge for yourself.

Four of the commandments are simply religious edicts.  Three more are prohibitions that are not embodied in modern law:  honour thy parents; adultery is punished by death (but generally only if you are female); and generic coveting (which is after all only a 'thought crime'). 

That leaves only three that are maintained in present day law in most 'christian countries' - you may not kill or steal, and in some situations (but not all) you are not allowed to lie.

Is anything missing from these commandments?  It would appear so.  Tomorrow I will talk about that, but in the meantime you might like to read an earlier post about 'Do Old Testament Laws still count?'.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

License to kill

When James Bond, 007, gets his license to kill and is sent out to find the evil enemy we sit back and enjoy the drama of the movie.  His foe gets a few chances to be ruthless and unsporting, but James Bond wins the day.  But when US forces go out and do the same in real life it seems that it is less acceptable.  What is the difference?  Is it that James Bond is more-or-less alone and in spite of the odds he is the hero and saviour of the world?  (Felix Leiter might have been a better choice to go after bin Laden?)  Is it that we all recognise it as fiction and realise that it is ok to suspend reality for a while?  Is it that Bond's enemies never have followers who will rain retribution on the survivors?

Whatever the reason, I can see that there is a difference between Bond vs Blofeld and Obama vs Osama.

The thing that bothers me most is that I see both sides of the argument but can not see the solution.  I don't like the notion that it is OK to go out to kill the baddies without offering them a fair trial.  But I don't like the idea that the baddies get away with it all the time either.

Perhaps there comes a point where it is necessary for the western world to draw a line in the sand and defend it, and perhaps this is the point.  I'm sure of one thing. 

Islam, the religion of peace, is a force that we will soon have to reckon with.

(Thanks again to Sarah for the link to the photo.)

Alternative vote referendum

We just had a flyer from the NOtoAV campaign.  The arguments they use are pretty laughable.  The worst one was:

"Someone else's 5th preference is worth the same as your 1st preference"

So presumably then, my 5th preference is NOT worth as much as their first?

They go on to point out that AV would encourage candidates to pander to the wishes of the 'fringe parties'.  I think they are worried that the candidates might actually pander to the wishes of the average voter, who is certainly not represented by the main parties!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

On the other hand - via Jerry Coyne

Another point of view has to be considered.

Bin Laden was not armed is an article from Jerry Coyne.  He has a point.  Truth and justice should not be subverted.  Criminals are entitled to a fair trial aren't they?

This point of view arose during today's discussions at work too.  If we adopted the Queensbury Rules it might be a reasonable argument.  But those who fight by other rules might not deserve to be tried by convenient and compassionate (??) Western legal systems.

Bin Laden presumably believed in the system of sharia law.  Under that system, those of us who do not accept Islam have no rights at all.  We are classed as some kind of lesser being.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I feel that truth would actually be subverted if a notorious terrorist like Bin Laden was taken to trial.  It would waste another $100 million and take another 5 years, by which time he could be like the Lockerbie bomber and claim to be dying and therefore be allowed to go free.

Just as sharia has no respect for me, I have no respect for islamic terrorists.  They offer me no rights, and I feel that equality is a good thing to aim for.

As for justice?  Perhaps the justice has been done now - nine years too late.  Today's political leaders are the Neville Chamberlains of the 21st century.  Where is Winston Churchill when you need him?  Somebody has to resist the 'third islamic invasion'.  (Cue for another blog post soon I think.  Namely the significance of 11th September for Islam - and I am not talking about 2001 but a much earlier date.)

Small note:  I didn't really intend to get drawn into this!

Bin Laden Free - via Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens might be ill but he has lost none of his expertise with words.

Only today I was muttering to people at work that we British tax payers (and the same applies to residents of other 'fortunate' nations) are facing cutbacks in our own country but we are funding the governments that harbour terrorists at the usual rate.  Or perhaps, innocently, they accidentally failed to notice notorious terrorists who were hiding like cowards in pleasant towns in Pakistan while sending their foot soldiers out to die for the cause.  (OK the Bin Laden free wall is beginning to crumble.)  And at the same time they are innocently developing nuclear weapons to fire at another country that deserves little support from the west - namely India.

Two people assured me today that I didn't understand international politics and that we need allies around the world.  Apparently the way to get allies is to pay them obscene amounts of money.  Do you get friends that way?  Or do you get friends by doing things that they respect and by expecting equality?

In his latest article in Slate, Hitchens expresses many of the views that I was just beginning to form in my own mind.  Read it, and if you disagree with his views I would love to see your comments.  Just one extract is presented here as a taster.

"There's perhaps some slight satisfaction to be gained from this smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with al-Qaida, but in general it only underlines the sense of anticlimax. After all, who did not know that the United States was lavishly feeding the same hands that fed Bin Laden? There's some minor triumph, also, in the confirmation that our old enemy was not a heroic guerrilla fighter but the pampered client of a corrupt and vicious oligarchy that runs a failed and rogue state."

UK referendum about the 'alternative vote'

If David Cameron doesn't want it then it MUST be good! #Yes2AV

This Youtube video makes it all perfectly clear. Why should you vote of the 'alternative vote' instead of 'first past the post'?

Sorry to my non-UK readers. This must seem rather trivial! (David Cameron is our Prime Minister. I don't suppose you have ever heard of him.) The rest of us didn't know what he was like before he got elected by accident. I blame the previous PM, Gordon Brown, for that. Without Gordon Brown we would not have the present government. Enough said about Gordon Brown. Others have described him adequately.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden Free Zone

You'll hear nothing about today's big news on this blog.  It is a 'Bin Laden free zone'.

Oh yes!  The whole world is a 'Bin Laden free zone' now!

Adding a comment (with thanks to Sarah):

"I have never wished a man dead,but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."  -  Mark Twain.

Men and beards - and P Z Myers

I just saw a tweet from P Z Myers of Pharyngula fame.  (PZ is normally pronounced Pee Zee except by Richard Dawkins who seems determined to stick to 'Pee Zed'.) It was about how someone told him that he 'grew old and grew a beard'.

Now some of my friends don't like my beard, but as I always tell them, all men have beards.  (Note that, not being a competitive sort of chap, I didn't say that all real men have beards, however tempting that might have been).

Its just that some of us choose not to shave them off every day.

(PZ is not even old - so exactly what sense is to be made of the 'accusation' anyway?)

The luckiest ship in the US Navy

This story came to my attention on the BBC's delightful general knowledge quiz, QI some weeks ago.  Even the BBC does get something right!

The USS Phoenix was the only ship at Pearl Harbour that was not significantly damaged during the Japanese attack in 1942.  She came to be known as the luckiest ship in the navy.  Sadly that luck did not continue into her service in the Argentinian navy.

The Phoenix was renamed ARR General Belgrano, and sunk on May 2, 1982, during the Falklands War, by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror. 

Lucky or not, she does at least have the notoriety of being the only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear submarine during hostilities.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Wise words from Sagan!

A nice lazy afternoon, reading blogging and relaxing!  It gives me chance to find wise words from Carl Sagan:

"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science."

Gerin Oil - the acceptable face of soft drugs?

An old friend (well . . . not all that old but I have known him for a long time) and regular reader of this blog has brought an article to my attention.  So here is an extra post for Sunday 1st May.  I am sure that you can guess from this linked (2006) article from Richard Dawkins.net that his IQ is higher than average as the humour is rather high-brow.  However, I am certain that the same applies to all my readers so I am not afraid to share the fun.

Gerin oil, sometimes written geriniol is of course an anagram of 'religion'.  It is proposed by the famous Richard Dawkins as a fictional drug that makes people do irrational and self-destructive things.  In Dawkins' satirical description, users are often introduced to the "drug" at social gatherings such as weddings and funerals. In small amounts it is considered by most observers to be harmless, but as usage increases it is said to cause a disconnect with reality where users expect private wishes to come true.  In even higher doses users may experience spasmodic muscular movements and aural or visual hallucinations.

Small note:
This is not aimed at anyone in particular so I hope she manages to see the funny side of this satire!

Some Mark Twain

Time for another lazy post today!  I can't resist some Mark Twain quotations:

"The most interesting information comes from children for they tell all they know and then stop."

"Heaven for climate.  Hell for companionship."

"Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today."

and finally for now

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."