Friday, 30 November 2012

Was Einstein an atheist?

"From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.... I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our being."  -- Albert Einstein

That's reasonably clear then.  He was an atheist but had more important things on his mind!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Hidden beach on the Marietas Islands

Hidden beach on the Marietas Islands
Hidden beach on the Marietas Islands
Just an interesting bit of geology in Mexico.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Don't pray in public

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
      Matthew 6: 5-6 (Authorised Version) 

These are claimed to be the words of Jesus himself, just before the feeding of the 5000.

How does this fit with Christian worship? You might argue that worship inside a church is analogous to being inside a closet, but as soon as worship takes place in a public place it seems to be going against the teachings of the best authority figure available in the bible.

As for a TV broadcast of a service . . . there can be little doubt that it also falls into the category of a deadly sin!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Words people get wrong

Isn't it annoying when educated people get simple things wrong?  I'm talking mainly about those egregious errors that creep into conversations or into announcements of events.

Your nuts or you're nuts?
Your nuts or you're nuts?

I often find myself invited to 'a colloquia' when there is only one of them.  I find that pacifically irritating (when it should have been specifically) .

People always mix up infer and imply.  There was a great scene in the movie 'Wilt' where Griff Rhys-Jones is playing the part of a college lecturer who is being interviewed by Mel Smith who plays a policeman.  Mel says "Are you inferring that we're all thick?" and the reply is "No, no, no, I'm implying that you are all thick and you are inferring . . . "

Affect and effect constantly get confused too.  Can't people work out that one is a verb and the other a noun?  (OK . . . if you are a philosopher, then effect actually is a noun, but most people don't know that.)  They can't even 'hone in' on a solution, when homing in on it might be easier.

All the time people mix up their, there and they're.  They can't spot the difference between you're and your, or where and were.

And when they agree with you they write 'here here' when they really mean 'hear hear'.

Please concentrate folks!

Monday, 26 November 2012

God plucks defeat from the jaws of victory

Have a really good look at one of those bible stories that are never told in church.  Take two or three translations in order to get a good feel for the story.  Starting at 2 Kings 3:21, we read a short story about how the Israelites tricked the Moabites into lowering their guard and moving in to finish off their enemy.

Having lured the Moabites into their trap, the Israelites they fell upon them and started to massacre them mercilessly.  Then they pursued the Moabites to their own country, destroying property and land, and filling wells and (somehow stopping springs) as they went.

When it was clear that all was lost for the Moabites, and after a failed counter-strike by 700 swordsmen, their king resorted to one of the few measures remaining him.  He sacrificed his own son on the city wall, presumably to another god (who doesn't even get named, but is probably called Chemosh, or Kemosh).

Suddenly the tables were turned and the Israelites fled in terror.  It is not that the sacrifice of the eldest son was such a shock.  It had been a common practise not far back in history, so it defies common sense to make such an assumption. Something else must have frightened them a lot.

Does this demonstrate something about all-knowing, all-powerful God, or does it relegate him to the position of a subordinate deity?

Stories like this always make me wonder why Christianity retained the Old Testament, or indeed if it did, why it kept the parts that are most embarrassing to its own cause.

Incidentally, an artifact in The Louvre called the Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone) appears to correlate with the story from the bible.  You can read about it in Wikipedia, and see a translation here. (I can't check for authenticity.) Whether this stone tablet refers to the same story or not, this relatively unknown story from the Old Testament still says something about God that most Christians and Jews would find inconvenient.

Mesha Stele - The inconvenient Moabite Stone!
Mesha Stele - The inconvenient Moabite Stone!

Explanations please?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Apologies for a feast for 5000

In a surprising example of desperate Christian apologetics I was surprised this week to hear an explanation for the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

Far from the usual explanation of the story as the miraculous multiplication of a small amount of food into copious quantities, performed by the son of God and demonstrating his power, a much more straight-forward explanation was offered to me.

Apparently at that time in history most people travelled with food in their possession.  The real miracle was that those people could be persuaded to share their precious food with the rest of the crowd.  Shades of Philip Pulman I think.  See below.**

OK - so a wise traveller would have had some food with them.  But surely most of these people were not planning to be travelling at all.  They followed a crowd to see what was happening and found themselves on the side of a mountain with nothing to eat. 

Aside from that, I think it would be only human nature - not miraculous - for people to share some food with needy and hungry folk around them. In other words, when we see need, we often engage in altruism.  That is not the same as the obvious waste that would result from giving all their food without seeing the need.  The biblical account suggests that such waste was the result of the event.

Doesn't this explanation relegate the son of God from a miracle worker to a master rhetorician.  Surely that undermines the whole point of the story.  It is all about the miracle

And on the subject of miracles, I like to quote a famous atheist:

If science and religion really are 'non-overlapping magisteria', then religion must give up miracles to the magisterium of science. -- Richard Dawkins

Small note**:  In Philip Pullmans 'provokingly bold' book "The good man jesus and the scoundrel Christ" a similar theme arises.  I might say more about this when I finish the book.  100 pages into it, I think it seems like a tale for 8 year-olds.  Maybe I will change my views before I get to the end.

If you hate God . . .

If you hate God, you're not an atheist.
If you hate God, you're not an atheist.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

No women bishops - no bishops in the House of Lords

Now that the Church of England has 'shot itself in the foot' (as previously mentioned here) by voting for women bishops, but not quite decisively enough, it is time for us all to take appropriate action.

If you are a British Citizen and are a regular reader of this blog, I hope you will feel moved to take the time to sign a petition calling for the established church to be taken to task for their obvious inequality.  This is a petition which says:

The Church of England on 20th Nov 2012 voted not to allow women to be Bishops. Though that is within its rights to do, this should worry the Government as Church of England Bishops are awarded legislative power through seats in the House of Lords. 

The Church has chosen to be a sexist organisation by refusing women the right to hold highest leadership positions and therefore should not be allowed automatic seats in the House of Lords, as this clearly does not comply with the spirit of UK Equality law. 

We call on the Govt to remove the right of the Church of England to have automatic seats in the House of Lords, in line with its commitments to equality and non-discrimination, set out in the Equality Act (2010) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979)"

Here's the link.

Small note:  For those of you who are citizens of other great nations, please see what nonsense we have to tolerate in UK!

Amazing lenticular clouds

Amazing lenticular clouds', atmosphere, meteorology
Amazing lenticular clouds

Friday, 23 November 2012

Reliability and asset management

I have just been to a seminar in London on the subject of Reliability and Asset Management and was pleasantly surprised by the attitude of the participants.

For many years - as long as I can remember - trainers and consultants seem to have pushed the concept of de-skilling the work force, proceduralising the work, and thus demotivating the people involved.  I've always thought this was the wrong approach.  Admittedly you don't want to be entirely reliant on a few key people, but it isn't a question of one extreme or the other.  That would be the fallacy of the missing middle, and in this case the middle most definitely is not missing.

But during that day, whatever the topic, whether it was reliability or life extension of equipment we came back to the same point.  Your skilled people are the ones you need, both as problem solvers and as problem preventers.  The people who know the equipment best are the ones who live with it all the time.  They know the sounds, sights and smells that indicate potential problems, and they usually have a petty shrewd idea about how serious a problem is going to be long before their managers suspect a problem.

What a refreshing outlook!  I suppose this is because I was sitting in a room of optimistic and realistic engineers who know what it takes to keep their plant running, whether this happens to be a train, a chemical plant or a nuclear power station.

It was much more encouraging than listening to management consultant BS!  Apologies to some of the lovely people who do it for a living, but I just had to say it!

Limbo or show jumping?

Limbo-dancing show jumpers
Limbo-dancing show jumpers

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Amazing Starlings

I remember the first time I saw starlings flocking like this.  I could barely believe my eyes as I stood on the deck of a ferry, leaving the Scottish port of Stranraer on a journey to Northern Ireland.  See something similar here.  This beautiful video was taken not far from my home in Oxfordshire.

Amazing, isn't it!

Mouse scares dog

Which is more frightened? Mouse or dog?
Which is more frightened?
Mouse or dog?
Small note:  ... and indeed, is the mouse actually real?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Camel in a car

A camel in a Ford Fiesta
A camel in a Ford Fiesta

C of E gets it wrong again!

One of my (female, Christian) colleagues (and dear friends) was wearing purple yesterday.  I asked her whether the colour demonstrated her support for the day's important vote in the General Synod of the Church of England.  She smiled and gave a good reply.  I will come to that later.

Should women be allowed to be bishops?

That was the burning question of the day.

I must say that the new archbishop has tried to start off in his role as a clear and decisive leader.  The bishops and clergy have done their duty and voted with him.  One has to wonder whether they did this secure in their confidence that the pious laity would come to the rescue by failing to support the change quite enough.

Sure enough they have!  They got the answer wrong and didn't reach the majority needed to allow the election of women bishops.

I thought my colleague's reply to my humorous taunt was reasonable and representative of the general view.  If someone who was not even ordained ten years ago can become Archbishop of Canterbury today, why should women who have worked for a lifetime in the church be barred from higher office?

I would go a bit further.  Should an organisation that benefits from being the established church and has a woman as its (notional) head, also be allowed to be exempt from the law of the country?  It is a matter of reciprocity.  England has to accept that its laws are affected by an unelected and unrepresentative but influential minority - the bishops of the Church of England.

Now it is time for the church to have the laws of the land enforced upon it, in return.

One of those laws requires equality.  Nobody else is exempt from this.

Let's disestablish the church and have a secular government!

Small question:  As the new decisive leader has failed so quickly, should he resign his position and get a good settlement and pension to compensate him?  This works for other public officials, after all!

Related post: C of E in a pickle

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Blood-sucking lawyers

How hard can it be to say . . .

"We'll sell this bit of land to you, for this price, on this date, as long as such and such an event happens, and another bit later on the same terms".

Would you expect this to need 59 pages of abstruse, obstructive, barely-intelligible and unhelpful nonsense?  Does it fail to fill you with confidence when the author of the said document can't spell the people's names correctly, can't get their postcodes right, and fails to fill in the timescales.

Then when challenged on the quality of the document, the solicitor claimed that it was only a draft, and advised that we left the contents of the document to him because he was an expert in this sort of thing. It is his job, and this particular transaction is very difficult.  A younger and less experienced lawyer than him would not have been able to do it.  This I find difficult to believe.

I'm struck by the difference between his profession and mine.  If I wrote a scientific paper that was as abstruse as the document that he has produced, it would be thrown out without question.  Admittedly the language of science is not easily obvious to all readers, so perhaps my own bias is showing.  But I think anyone reading this blog would do fine with anything that I have ever written, and that almost nobody reading this blog would understand what our solicitor has written.

There are two other differences between scientists and lawyers.  Lawyers are probably more respected, although for the life of me I can't work out why.  And lawyers are paid more per hour than scientists tend to be paid per day.

Why do we tolerate blood sucking lawyers?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Creationist schools

Chris Addison on Creationist schools
Chris Addison on Creationist schools

Featured on Skepticule podcast

Skepticule podcast
I was innocently listening to the Skepticule podcast this afternoon, episode 34, and they were talking about three events in London this September, that I also attended and wrote about. (See below.) I was pleasantly surprised to be mentioned by name in the interesting account of the Secular Europe March.

So here is a quick shout out for the Three Pauls who run the Skepticule podcast.  I'll look forward to meeting one or more of them again.

(I'm mentioned from 34:40!)

Related links:
Thoughts about the Secular Europe March
The Pod Delusion's birthday party
Secularist stars at the NSS conference

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Would you pray?

In the comments on a blog post from a few months ago, Anti-atheist quotes refuted, someone asked a very reasonable question, if you were stuck in a really difficult situation and there was no other way out, would you pray then?

I'm trying to remember whether I have ever found myself in this situation and if so, what I did.  Luckily, since I decisively left Christianity I have not faced this decision, but I think it is clear in my mind how I would react. 

It is not that I can be certain that there is no god - nobody can prove that.  But I feel quite sure that the Christian God is so completely implausible that there would be no point in praying to him.  Even if he did exist he doesn't have a great track record with me, even when I believed in him.  Why would that change now that I don't?

So would I choose any other deity?  I think not.  Of all the gods that I have ever heard of, none of them seem any more plausible than God with a big G.

So I think that's my answer. 

No, I wouldn't pray, whatever the situation.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Things Christians say, part 40: Eventually God will touch your heart.

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

Eventually God (or Jesus) will touch your heart


I find this argument very similar to the one that I described in part 24 of this series.  Just as Christians claim that God or Jesus will find a way into my heart, other people have told me a similar story about other invisible entities.  One friend has assured me that their spirit guide has informed them that they will be able to convince me of the possibility of speaking with the dead.  I would be surprised if that is the case, but not surprised any more than I would be if Jesus did find a way into my heart.



For a start, I disbelieve in the possibility of the existence of a theistic God of the type that Christians claim.  Even if he did exist, then he is surely a cruel and barbaric being, hardly deserving of a place in my heart . . . whatever that expression really means anyway.

The very phrase "a place in your heart" is a rhetorical device harking back to ancient times when the heart was credited with roles other than pumping blood, and although there is nothing specifically wrong with rhetoric in itself, it is more like a catchphrase to convince the credulous than an accurate description of a state of being.

I expect everyone would describe it slightly differently.  That's the beauty of rhetoric isn't it?  It doesn't actually have to be accurate to achieve its aims.

Last episode:  God doesn't believe in atheists
Next week:   You confuse Christianity with religion

Health benefits of Alhamdulillah!

On a Wikipedia page about 'Alhamdulillah', there was an intriguing link:

As you can imagine I followed it to see what surprising claims might be found.

Health benefits of alhamdulillah not available to me!
Health benefits of alhamdulillah not available to me!

Apparently (and apart from the funny spelling error), none are available to me.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Cowboys in armour?

What an array of suits of armour!  This photo was taken at Hotel des Invalides in Paris, during the 'pilgrimage' to Napoleon's tomb.

Suits of armour at Hotel des Invalides, Paris
Suits of armour at Hotel des Invalides

Presumably the smallest were for training the boys to fight in armour.  Not particularly surprising I suppose.

But then I saw this metal hat, in a shape that is almost reminiscent of a cowboy's ten-gallon hat.

Interesting armoured hat at Hotel des Invalides
Interesting armoured hat

Presumably all the little fittings were there for a reason, along with the curved shape of the brim on the left-hand side.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The real centre of the earth

One religion teaches us that Jerusalem is the centre of the earth, while another teaches that Mecca is the centre.

What about the notion that the earth is an oblate spheroid and its real centre is in the middle, not on the surface somewhere in the middle-east?  The fact that they don't know this tells us quite a lot about their all-knowing little bronze-age gods.

Both Judeo-Christian texts and Islamic texts mention that the earth has four corners, so it is futile to claim that its writers knew that the earth was not flat.

Of course Christians claim that, for example, the Isaiah (40:23) includes a phrase 'in the circle of the earth'.  Every school child who has had a 'proper' education (which presumably excludes most Christian and indeed Islamic scholars) is fully aware that a circle and a sphere are different in the fundamentals of their geometry - 2D vs 3D. 

Some supposed scholars of Islam claim that the Koran tells us that the earth is the shape of an ostrich egg - which of course is wrong, even if it was translated correctly.  Others claim the passage to describe the action of an ostrich to flatten the sand after it has hidden its egg, confirming the metaphor of the flat earth.  This is the only apparent 'evidence' that it was known that the earth is broadly spherical.  Little do they know that they are also showing their own ignorance (and probably using deliberate taqiyya) by making this claim.

But their ignorance is confirmed beyond doubt by the claim that Mecca is the centre.  This makes it completely and unambiguously obvious that they, like Judeo-Christians are indulging in two-dimensional thinking, shooting themselves in the foot with their claim about the three-dimensional revelation that Allah/YHWH/God is supposed to have imparted.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Black and white miracles

There is a legend that the black rock at the centre of the Kaaba in Mecca was white when it descended to earth.

Apparently the sins of the sons of Adam made it turn black!

It is also said that it floats on water.  At least this bit is plausible!

Questioning believers - an oxymoron?

One of the big differences between believers and non-believers is the way that we look at things that are mysterious or unanswered.

Would it be true to say that non-believers look at things with a question, not with an answer?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Opium of the people?

How often do we hear a 'quotation' from Karl Marx

"Religion is the opium of the people"

In actual fact he didn't exactly say that.  He said:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Rainbow over La Bastille

Paris - a rainbow over the Bastille monument
Paris - a rainbow over the Bastille monument
(in fact a double rainbow if you look askance)
You might also like to look at Ever thought about rainbows?, a post describing some of the interesting and surprising features of the rainbows that most of us see from time to time.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Things Christians say, part 39: God doesn't believe in atheists

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

God doesn't believe in atheists!


Trying (very hard) not to chuckle openly at this one.  Apologies for failing to come up with anything better than that.



How do you know that?  You can't.

Last episode:   Aw - that's sad.
Next week: Eventually God (or Jesus) will touch your heart 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Satanic Verses

Do you know where the title of Salman Rushdie's most notorious book comes from?

Surah 53:19-20 tells muslims to worship the daughters of Allah, and names them as al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat.

How odd.  It seems hardly surprising that these verses are now abrogated, and that they are called 'The Satanic Verses'.

Two-headed puzzle

Following advice from French friends, this week has given the opportunity to visit a few more new places in Paris.

One asked me "Why would an Englishman want to see Napoleon's tomb?  To spit on it?" and I replied that the past is a foreign country and that I didn't need to go there to gloat any more than I boast that I went to the same school as William Wilberforce (who was instrumental in the abolition of slavery).

Two-headed, Paris, Invalides, Napoleon

You can find photos of the tomb anywhere, but this carved head provided a moment of surprise walking back out of the Hotel des Invalides.

What is the point of representing two heads in one like this?

Any ideas?  It must mean something.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Surprisingly embarrassed by a name

Naming our daughter 18 years ago, it never crossed my mind that she would go to university in Paris, or that that chance event would give me a chance to get to know the city so well.  This is my fourth (and longest) visit this year.

More than that I would never have realised that the French have terrible difficulty in pronouncing her name.

Further still, it has taken over a month for her to discover that the French word for deer mating (like the English word 'rut') sounds very similar to their attempts to pronounce 'Ruth'.

You can't blame her for considering using her middle name for the next three years.

Small note:  I'm not laughing at her, but 'sympatising' with her.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Surprising Parisienne souvenirs

A six-day trip to Paris got off to a bad start, while trying to negotiate the ticket barrier at the station with luggage.  The advice is to push your luggage ahead of you.  The gates close immediately behind you, trapping the luggage very effectively - almost irredeemably!

What they don't warn you about (and I should have thought about) is that if the luggage that you are pushing hits something and stops, you end up tumbling to the floor, and in my case putting out my right hand to arrest my fall.

Net result - a visit to hospital and a souvenir from Paris that I didn't expect.

An X-ray of the author's right hand!
An X-ray of the author's right hand, from two angles!

Nothing was broken, just bruised and somewhat 'pénible' - or at least that is what I think they told me, and they were right and still are.

Only one word was spoken in English during the visit to the hospital, and that one didn't help.  The experience tested my French language skills to close to the limit. 

I can even claim to have enjoyed it!

Typing was a bit slower than usual for a day or two.  Over the next few days a few more Parisienne delights will appear . . . probably interspersed between other things.

Small note:  Now waiting for the bill to arrive in the post!

To Mr Romney . . .

From Twitter:

@BigBigBen: Mitt, I just don't think you were fully prepared. Yours, London 2012

(Not that I'm supporting the 'Nolympics', you understand!)

Small note:  With thanks to one of my Facebook friends who probably prefers not to be named.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The world breathes a sigh of relief!

To my American readers, I hope you realise that you have made the world feel happier and safer by re-electing Obama.  Well done.

If the rest of us had had a chance to vote then it would not have been close-run, but a landslide.  After all, we are all affected by the outcome of your elections, so why shouldn't we have a say?

Romney's politics were one matter, his beliefs in an obviously-made-up religion (as opposed to the normal kind of made-up religion) were also significant.  But to cap it all, his running mate just frightened everyone.  How could the Republicans have made such poor choices in their candidates?  Couldn't they see that a less frightening pair would have got them a victory?  Everyone else could!

All in all, today we can celebrate.

And now Obama has no excuse for failing to deliver the promised improvements to the world economy that we all hope for.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Malala for Nobel Prize again!

Following the successful Canadian campaign which had a positive influence on politicians, here is a message from a UK version. 

I just signed the petition "UK Party Leaders and Foreign Secretary: Nominate #Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize #Nobel4Malala" on

It's important. Will you sign it too? Here's the link:


Follow this link for my previous post on the subject.

Wherever you are, please sign it if you have a minute or two to spare.  It might make our risible Prime Minister realise that there are important things to do in the world!  It might even make the compliant quisling take an interest too. 

That might mean that he has disagreed with his boss twice!

Monday, 5 November 2012

As free as the wind

In the news this week, I saw an item about the world's largest offshore wind farm having produced its first power. The London Array Offshore Wind Farm is a 630MW scheme, located in the Thames Estuary.

This has got to be good news hasn't it?  Well . . .  OK . . .  I know that not everyone will agree with that statement, but when the lights start to go out (which seems not to be wholly unlikely over the next few years) I think even the most ardent critic of wind farms might start to see the advantage of diversity.

But this brings me to another point.  Diversity is only achieved by . . . yes . . . diversifying!  One other new and promising source of power is nuclear fusion, and the international ITER project is now under construction.

Critics in Europe continue to question the cost of the project.  People always object to anything new, and the fusion seems to be a little pricey compared with most people's personal expenditure.  But in the context of energy expenditure, are the numbers really all that high?

Rumours are beginning to emerge that the sheer cost of offshore wind might be a threat to the UK's renewables commitment.  A budget of £30 billion had been earmarked for the construction phase, up to 2020.  But now it is clear that this has been a serious underestimate because the price of concrete is rising.  In a kind of spiral, the cost of concrete depends mainly on the cost of the energy needed to produce it, and that energy needs to be made by the machines that consume the concrete.  The net result is that the offshore wind costs for the UK alone might reach £90 billion by 2020.

Now tell me again that ITER is expensive!  I suggest that you can't do that with any degree of intellectual honesty.  Even if ITER reaches a cost of £20 billion (which is way over the current expectation) this £20 billion is spread between most of the richest countries in the world, whereas the £90 billion for wind is from one small country alone.

Let's be reasonable.  Context is key.

Fusion is not all that expensive.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

What else is in an Arabic name?

Following on from Saturday's post, Abu and Hamza - What's in a name, here is another interesting translation problem.

In Arabic names, both ibn and bin can be translated as "son of".

Osama bin Laden means "Osama, son of Laden." It's not uncommon for names to include references to three or four generations of ancestors, each offset with bin or ibn.

So, why do some names use bin while others use ibn?  The spelling of the word in Arabic changes depending on where it is in the sentence.  If it is at the beginning, it is written as alef-ba-nun, which we transliterate as 'ibn'. If the word appears in the middle of a name, the alef gets left off.  We write that as 'bin'.

Given this system, it's not entirely accurate to use "Bin Laden" when we refer to the man in shorthand. The Guardian's sentence "Bin Laden effusively praised the Jordanian-born militant." would more accurately be "Ibn Laden effusively praised the Jordanian-born militant" since in this case the "son of" is at the beginning of the name.

Bin and ibn are more likely to show up in places with strong connections to tribal culture, like Saudi Arabia. People who live in big cities tend to drop the connecting terms from their names—someone named Osama Bin Laden might end up just "Osama Laden." In North Africa, the bin tends to be spelt with an "e", as in the name of former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Things Christians say, part 38: Aw - that's sad!

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

Aw - that's sad!


No its not sad at all. I feel quite the opposite now that I've escaped from Christianity.



Yes, I think it is sad that people are oppressed by religious clerics, that they find their lives controlled by people who know little about the scientific explanations of the world, and who make claims that they can't back up with any evidence.

Last episode: It doesn't make any sense - you're saying that something came from nothing?
Next week:  God doesn't believe in atheists

Friday, 2 November 2012

Abu and Hamza - What's in a name?

After the recent glorious extradition of 'Abu Hamza' to USA, I dared to ask a couple of Muslim colleagues for their views.

One of them surprised me and then even armed with the learning from that experience the other surprised me again.

The first didn't answer the question.  He thought I had not noticed that he had essentially changed the subject by telling me that Abu really means 'father'.  This is classic taqiyyah at work.

Now . . . having heard that, I thought I was ready for the second encounter.  But I was surprised to find a Muslim who would (albeit gently) criticise Abu Hamza.  Further than that, I found that Abu really means "father of" rather than "father".  Usually the name of the eldest son follows this title, and by that system I would be called Abu Chris.  (Before he was born I would have been called something else.)

But then we find that the name can be metaphorical.

The Arabic word "Hamza" is a masculine name properly pronounced as "Humzah",  which means "the one who is strong and steadfast".  The name clearly originates from the Prophet Mohammad's Uncle who was killed on a battlefield.

So the name Abu Hamza suggests that its bearer has great character.

Does he?  As Wikipedia tells us,

On 16 May 1980, Masri [aka Abu Hamaz] married Valerie Traverso, a Roman Catholic convert to Islam, and had a son, Mohammed Mustafa Kamel.  Masri later separated the boy from his mother when he was four years old. His son did not see his mother again for another twelve years.  Masri acquired British citizenship following three years of marriage [how convenient] and, according to the Sun newspaper, acquired a job as a bouncer for a peep show in Soho [high morals in action - not that I'm judging!].  In 1984, he divorced his wife and married Nadjet, with whom he has seven children [several of whom have been convicted of serious crimes related to terrorism]. 

Strong . . . and steadfast!  Or just a cheat who used his first wife to gain a privilege that he abused for nearly 20 years, and a father of a band of criminals?

You have to decide for yourself (just as I did).

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Its confusing

It took me a while to tune into the Jesus and Mo meme, but this has got to be one of his best ever cartoons.

Remember . . . the invisible character is the ever-wise bar maid.