Sunday, 31 March 2013

Caste discrimination is not illegal??

What a shock.  In this age of human rights where convicted criminals are entitled to a life of luxury (etc.) I discovered today that it is not illegal for Hindus to discriminate against lower castes!  See the report from the National Secular Society here.  Would it be illegal for me to do the same?  Of course it would!

So what is the difference between my rights and those of a low cast Hindu?

How can this be the case in present day UK law?  Well, when you think about it, it is interesting to see that the barely elected UK government is very much into class discrimination and that caste discrimination is only another low-key version of their own policies.  For some odd reason, the 'compliant quisling', Nick Clegg seems to have nothing to say on the topic in spite of the expectations of the people who voted for his party at the last election.

Since Clegg has complied with the Tory government for several years now, isn't it time for him to impose some LibDem policies?  Many of my readers have hoped for evidence that he actually does have a backbone in spite of the present evidence.

Maybe support is at hand from the United Nations. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council increased the pressure on the British Government by calling on it to "develop a national strategy to eliminate caste discrimination, including the immediate adoption of the clause in the Equality Act … in accordance with its international human rights obligations".

So why hasn't it happened yet?

Nick Cohen has some views on the subject here at The Guardian.

What do you think?


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Christ myth: some inconsistencies

"Truth is not hard to kill but a lie well told is immortal" - - Mark Twain

I know that it might be hard to accept that the stories of the life of Jesus are merely myths, but many people claim exactly that.  One of their starting points is the inconsistencies in the bible's own accounts of the life of Jesus.  Another is the suggestion that the bible was written so long after the time of the supposed events that it can't possibly be accurate - which after all is consistent with what we actually see.

First century Judea was a strategically important region from the Roman point of view and it is particularly well documented by plenty of writers.  The surprising thing is that the writers of the bible got things so wrong.  Here are a few of the inconsistencies that make the Jesus myth so difficult to believe:
  • Caesar did not tax the world in the time of Quirinius.  The first such tax was imposed in 74CE.
  • Quirinius and Herod did not overlap.
  • There is no archaeological evidence that Nazareth existed at the beginning of the first century, but did it did exist by the end (when the gospels were written).  
  • The term Nazarene did not imply coming from Nazereth, so if he actually existed the mythical Jesus might have been a 'Nazarene'.
  • It is very unlikely that the slaughter of the innocents occurred.  Herod made a lot of enemies who then catalogued his misdeeds in every detail but they never mentioned this slaughter.  Anyway this story is only found in one of the gospels, Matthew, and is a clear redaction of the Moses story anyway.
  • The ministry of Jesus is not found described in any documents other than the bible for about a century - which is much too late to count as contemporaneous evidence.
  • The triumphant entry into Jerusalem is described differently in each of the gospels, but nobody else records it, including those who were known to have been there at the time.
  • The accounts of the trials of Jesus are different in all the gospels and they were not recorded elsewhere.
  • The various versions of the crucifixion in the gospels are incompatible in almost every detail.  The synoptic gospels have it starting at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Passover, but John has it on the day before.  All four say it was Friday.
  • The crucifixion darkness was not recorded by anyone else, and neither were the ripping of the temple veil nor the earthquakes.  The mass resurrection in Jerusalem also appears to have gone unnoticed.
  • The resurrection was originally only mentioned in Luke and Acts.  The account in Mark was probably added later and John doesn't bother with this trivial detail.

Given this amount of inconsistency in the story, how can anyone actually believe it.

On a charge of perjury, doesn't the bible indict itself?

Friday, 29 March 2013

Jesus died today . . . or did he?

Jesus died this day, one unidentified year, a couple of millennia ago.  It was Good Friday.

Or did he?  I would say "of course not"!

Surprisingly serene - Reni's view of the crucifixion from Wikimedia

Did the crucifixion actually occur?  If (for today) we assume that it did, might it have been on a Thursday instead of Friday?  After all that would be more consistent with the biblical account of him being in the grave for three days and three nights.  Many believe that this fits better with the accounts of the short time that Jesus is supposed to have spent in Jerusalem too . . . as described in the bible.

Of course it would be nice to have some independent, contemporaneous, eye-witness accounts of this important part of history, but oddly enough none are to be found in spite of all the miraculous events that were going on around the city.  Isn't it rather surprising that nobody else mentions the crucifixion darkness, the ripping of the temple veil, and the miraculous resurrection of so many dead bodies.

The gospels aren't exactly clearly about the story either - surprise surprise!  They have a variety of timelines and nobody has yet found a consistent explanation of the accounts of the four canonical gospels as far as I know.  That is, consistent from a rational point of view, at least!

As Christians wallow in the self-pity that they traditionally feel on Good Friday, isn't it time to start to ask whether the story might just be a myth told by members of a cult that only wrote it down many decades later? 

Isn't this just bronze-age scape-goating updated to iron-age myth, or is it something that is actually sensible or useful?

Small point of pedantry: I have always found it surprising that Christianity has an instrument of torture as its primary symbol but it is even stranger to see pictures like the one above where the barbarity and suffering are thinly disguised as something serene and beautiful.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sanal Edamaruku in Oxford this week

Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association, was in Oxford this week, and he took the opportunity to speak to an audience of about 50 at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub.

This was not the usual 45 minute talk that we are accustomed to.  I thought I saw an interesting twinkle in his eye when he was introduced with the statement that he would talk for about that long.  In fact he treated us to and hour and three quarters of interesting anecdotes about the role of superstition in otherwise progressive India.

For example, Indian technology has enabled the country to launch satellites, but astrologers are still consulted when deciding the best time to launch them.  We were treated to a long list of more and less shocking anecdotes on similar topics included fire-walking, 'The Milk Miracle' (where statues appeared to drink milk from a spoon), the Prahlad Jani hoax (where he pretended to have fasted for 70 years) and tales of the famous Sai Baba who has been debunked many times by Sanal and his crew.  You can see more of the tales on  this video from Vimeo (which I shared with you a few days ago).

He described how his organisation runs 'Inspire Camps' in schools all over India, teaching the children how to do the tricks that a lot of gurus and holy men use to fleece their customers.  They then give the kids a kit of the ingredients that they need so they can go and show their parents and friends how it is done.

A few other interesting facts:
  • The average age of an Indian is currently 22.  Within 10 years the average will be 18.  By comparison in most EU countries the average is over 40 and sometimes over 45, and increasing.
  • The terms Humanist and Skeptic are used little in India.  Generally the two groups are combined and referred to as Rationalists.
  • You will see people in India rubbing their hands in a particular way because they believe it will stop them going grey.
  • There is still a culture of child marriage in India, even though it is illegal.
  • Until the 1930s, people suspected of theft could be tried by fire - fire-walking that is!  If they were not burnt then they were considered innocent.
  • I was a bit surprised to hear him invoke ball-lightning as an explanation for some events in Utna Pradesh.  Still - even 'Rationalists' can have areas of non-skepticism.

All-in-all he did not disappoint.  He concluded with the story of the recent event that resulted in him having to leave the country.  You can read more about that in a previous post on Something Surprising, here.

I was most surprised by events the next day when I was telling a Christian about him.  She dismissed him out-of-hand and said she thought people shouldn't go round debunking other people's beliefs like that, whether or not they happen to be harmful beliefs.

I disagree. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The surprising product of an evening's work

Believe it or not this took all my evening - no time for blogging until now!

Draft wiring diagram for a narrowboat!
Draft wiring diagram for a narrowboat!
I guarantee that it is not yet correct!  Still working!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Reminded of me?

A friend, colleague and fellow blogger sent my this picture today.  She commented that it made her think of me, which amused me a lot.

Odin promised the end of ice-giants!
Odin promised the end of ice-giants!

My beard is not exactly as flowing as his, but I do have a few hammers.  The mystery is how she knew about that hat! (Ha ha!)

Odin apparently promised the end of all ice giants and I could believe that.  Is this more believable than the claim that Jesus promised the end of all wicked people?  Did he actually promise that?

Still - its fun!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Short-lived apostates

From the great series, Jesus and Mo, comes this slightly sinister offering (originally via this link).

Jesus and Mo - "Green"
Jesus and Mo - "Green" from here

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Sanal Edamaraku at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub

On Monday evening this week, Oxford Skeptics in the Pub will host the Indian star skeptic Sanal Edamaraku.

You can see some of his work in this video from Vimeo.

If you can make it, it will be interesting to see you there.  I won't be carrying a copy of 'The Financial Times' or wearing a pink carnation - but you might find me chatting with anyone who wants to talk.

Links here and here.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Things Christians say, part 47: Atheists have no reason to live

A (more-or-less) weekly series (although there was a pause for a while) 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'). 

Atheists have no reason to live


Piano

In some ways you have hit the nail directly on the head.  Atheists would tend to say that they are not here for a reason; that nothing is pre-ordained; that there is no divine being who has directed the forces of good and evil (however incompetently).  But that is not to say that we don't like to be here and don't want to work for the benefit of the world or for future generations.

A lot of atheists are humanists.  In my own case, I still can't quite decide whether I am or not.  I do happen to be a strong secularist.  That means that I'm happy for you to worship whatever mythical being you like as long as it does affect my life.

That, for me, is a reason to live (even if I have no others).  I want to make it possible for other atheists to live without the threat of organised religion.  In many parts of the world that is a dream that will not be reached for many decades.

***

Forte

That kind of statement is hardly worthy of a response.  It is not exactly well defined; not clear and transparent what it really means.

And of course this is a typical hallmark of organised religion.  Its proponents like to keep things vague and transcendental for all sorts of reasons - none of them good! 


Last episode: Atheists are responsible for all the world's ills
Next: How can there be goodness without a measure to judge it by?


Friday, 22 March 2013

Religion is the least popular genre

In a report from the National Secular Society today we hear that religion is the least interesting thing on publicly funded broadcasting.  In spite of that someone with an obviously non-Christian name makes faith-based claims.

Head of religious propaganda at the BBC, Aaqil Ahmed, commented: "Easter is the cornerstone of Christianity and the programmes across the BBC reflect the beauty and mystery of the season through sacred music, reflection, live worship and documentaries".

And any critical commentary, it appears, will not be tolerated.

I enjoy it when the BBC will not tolerate my views.

I criticise the BBC.

Is that bad?

Bad me!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

What a parent can never say to a teenage child!

This came up on Facebook.  It is what most sensible parents of teenagers really need to say but few of us would dare to try it.  Imagine the sulks!

Words for teenagers - what parents ought to say!

So if you are an uncle/aunt or family friend and can say it on behalf of apparent, then I think you will find that you have grateful friends.

After all, it it only explaining about the things that kept us entertained when we we teenagers.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Remarkable faith claims - culpable nonsense!

Someone calling themselves T-Herbert kindly left a comment on my post How to beat William Lane Craig!  I always welcome comments, even if they are culpable and incomprehensible nonsense like this one.  It went like this.

What Hilary is trying to present is if one refutes God's goodness and grace one would have to look at Jesus which is God 'manifested in the flesh' - Paul. To truly label God (an infinite and non-natural being) with natural qualities one needs to look more at his natural manifestation and not what he did in the old testament. I think a very good argument for how compassionate God is towards us is the fact he loved the world so much he allowed the execution of his son so that we might be able to go to Heaven-John 3:16. In laymen's terms, God essentially wrapped himself in dirt, then fellowshipped with dirt, in order that dirt might be able to spend eternity with him. That, to me is remarkable, and I think that any non-incredulous person can not refute this as evidence of how compassionate God is.

Remarkable, I agree, but to me it is most remarkable that an obviously intelligent and literate individual thinks so completely differently to me.  How can any of this be considered as evidence in any way at all? 

Remember how philosopher Peter Boghossian defines faith?  He says "Faith is pretending to know things that you don't know".  Having said that I will unpick the arguments from the comment above.  It is an interesting variant on the usual themes that we hear from the faithful.

First of all, the only evidence presented for this point of view is either biblical or faith based (or both).  Since I can't accept the bible as more than fable, and faith is nicely defined as it was above I can't see any value in the comment at all.

Second - I don't think that is what Hilary was talking about anyway, even though she and T-Herbert are clearly on the same side of the fence.  So the argument about how much God loved the world is worthless.  It is a claim about something that you just can't know.

Then moving onto the nice explanation of the comment for us laymen, this is a typical Christian point of view.  God wrapped himself in dirt??  Humanity is dirty and sinful, not intelligent and respectable.  From a humanist point of view this (and indeed reducing it to a layman's explanation) is simply offensive. 

That doesn't mean that you can't say it, but it does mean that it isn't likely to convince anyone to change their point of view and suddenly accept Jesus into their hearts (or indeed to stop thinking of William Lane Craig as an intellectual criminal, as Boghossian also said).

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The fall of Tyre - but it didn't happen!

Quite rightly, it was pointed out to me in the comments on my recent post  Ezekiel's surprising bread recipe, that I might not have been entirely fair to the book of Ezekiel.

'Baking bread with dung' could conceivably be imagined to mean that the dung was the fuel for the fire, rather than an ingredient of the bread.  I might point out that human dung probably doesn't burn very well, whereas the dung of herbivores would be a better fuel. 

However, in order to do justice to the book of Ezekiel I will mention one of its other famous problems.

Much of chapter 26 is devoted to the devastation of the coastal city of Tyre.  God seemed to be rather biassed against it and there is a long description about what he plans for the city.  In fact, the destruction was not planned for some vague and generic time in the future.  It was to be at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.

But it didn't happen!  Tyre is still there and was never destroyed as the bible predicted.

Biblical infallibility is again shown to be wrong!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The surprising origins of YEC - 'The Genesis Flood'

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is a surprisingly recent phenomenon!  Yes - I know that some of the old arguments are based on the work of Archbishop James Ussher, but Ussher's ridiculous literal calculation had gone out of favour long ago.  Christianity had settled into an acceptance that science had the answers to some of the questions about the universe and his claim about the creation happening 'on the night preceding Sunday 23rd October, 4004 BC(E)' is risible for many reasons.  Presumably that was 'the night' in Greenwich Mean time?  But GMT was not a concept that had been formulated at the time.  Perhaps it was in Local Time at Armagh in Northern Ireland - or perhaps during 'the night' somewhere more holy - like Mecca or Jerusalem?  Anyway, how could there have been a night preceding the creation? 

But all that changed in 1961 when a book called "The Genesis Flood" was published.  Interestingly, the original publishers, Moody Press, pulled out when they found out about the actual contents, but the company that stepped in, Reformed Publishing Company, found itself very fortunate!  They sold 200,000 copies over the next 25 years, and started a powerful movement in some otherwise civilise and rational countries..

The authors, John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris set the cat among the pigeons, and they are widely blamed for re-starting the YEC movement.  Fundamentalist home-schoolers refer to this 'scholarly work' in order to justify to their children that their claims are true - which of course they are not.  How can the children be protected from such lies though?

One of the worries of the original publishers was that the accepted (but still bonkers) traditions of Day Age Creationism and Gap Theory Creationism were threatened.  Indeed they should have been worried because neither of those points of view remain as prevalent as they used to be, especially outside USA.

So where does that leave us?  The rational scientific world has been downgraded especially in USA, and people who believe in science when they board a plane lose their faith in it when it comes to estimating the age of the Earth.

So now we are stuck with the pseudo-scientific claims of people like 'The Discovery Institute' who propagate YEC and Intelligent Design.  Thank goodness that some people keep an eye on their activities and report what they are up to!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Rocks Don't Lie - Noah and other floods

This week's episode of the popular and increasingly informative podcast Skepticality featured an interesting interview with a geomorphologist, David Montgomery, (Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington), about how his work led him to write his latest book The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood.

You can listen to Episode #203 at read the show notes here. Montgomery talked about flood myths worldwide, and how Christians use the existence of these myths in so many cultures as evidence that a global flood really happened.  However, he notes that some of them pre-date the time of the Old Testament significantly (as I have mentioned before in my series of blog posts about the flood, starting here.

He added some facts that I hadn't come across before.  Apparently flood myths tend to be tailored to the environment of the cultures which propagate them.  It is not too surprising to find that those who live on the Pacific coast of the Americas describe floods that sound very much like tsunamis, whereas others sound more like overflowing rivers.

I was also interested to hear that the resurgence of biblical creationism that we witness today is a comparatively modern phenomenon.  Even in the early 1800s geologists had completely established that a global flood has never happened and by a century ago, very few people were concerned about the apparent contradictions between science and the bible.  The story of a regional flood that just seemed to the local people to have destroyed the whole world was mainstream Christian teaching.  It is only in the last 50 or 60 years that this topic has become so hotly debated, particularly (but not exclusively) in North America.  The resurgence of Young Earth Creationism can be traced back to a 1961 book by a theologian and an hydraulic engineer, called The Genesis Flood. I might come back to that topic another day soon.

One thing that I did find surprising was that Montgomery described two well-established flood events that could have been the factual origin of the Noah myth.  One was the breach of an ice barrier leading to a devastating flood in the Mesopotamia region, and the other was the filling of the Black Sea through the Bosphorus.  The former seems quite plausible, but the latter less so for one simple reason.  Noah's flood receded after a hundred days or so.  As far as I'm aware, the Black Sea is still there.  However, that is my only criticism of an otherwise excellent interview.

Have a listen to it.  While you are there, listen to the rest of the podcast.  It has a number of regular features contributed by fascinating people and I never miss an episode.  Also check out David's research group online.  Now I'll add another book to my wish list.  I just need to make time to read some of them!

Related posts:
Was the flood the only way?
2 by 2 - but not only 2 of each
Where is all Noah's water now?
Was the Ark big enough?Evidence in the geology - cliffs and varves
Noah's aquaria?
Noah in Islam
Rafts of Baramins
Before Noah came Gilgamesh
Kangaroos - the final evidence against Noah?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Things Christians say, part 46: Atheists are responsible for all the world's ills

A (more-or-less) weekly series (although there was a pause for a while) 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'). 

Atheists are responsible for all the world's ills


Piano

Isn't it odd that Satan used to have the position of being responsible for the ills of the world.  Have atheists taken over from him?

I know quite a lot of atheists, and although I am sure that there are evil atheists in the world I don't happen to have met any of them yet.  Those who are indeed intent on spreading ills through the world would surely have their work cut out.

After all, there is a lot of competition from the people of all the world's religions.  I venture to suggest that you personally know more bad Christians than I know bad atheists.

***

Forte

Well, if atheists are responsible for ALL the world's ills then there must be a lot of atheists in the Roman Catholic Church and indeed even in the Vatican.

To claim that atheists are responsible for all the world's ills is manifestly mischievous, and indeed, as such, I think it is a self-refuting statement! 


Last episode: Can't you just make yourself believe?




Friday, 15 March 2013

Ezekiel's surprising bread recipe

Chapter 4 of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains a surprising recipe for bread.  It is not exactly the finest bread, but more something designed to help the people survive periods of famine when the normal ingredients of bread could not be found.  Barley has never been favoured for bread for good reasons.

Verses 9 to 12 say this:

4:9Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.
4:10And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.
4:11Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.
4:12And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. 

Did you read that carefully enough and see the final ingredient described in verse 12?
Most of the ingredients for the Ezekiel recipe for bread!
Most of the ingredients for the Ezekiel recipe for bread!

Oddly, you can buy the ingredients for Ezekiel 4:9 on Amazon if you want to have a go at the disgusting recipe.  Presumably they were not able to include the final ingredient because you have to see personally that it cometh out of man'

God certainly does inspire the writers of his holy book in mysterious ways.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Why didn't God just start again?

Some people claim that God was planning to start again at various points in the Old Testament, but that something persuaded him not to do the job properly.  The flood was a fiasco and the whole story of Sodom and Gomorra would frankly not have achieved enough.

But all of that was much too late wasn't it?  He had let things go too far.  And yet, omniscient and omni-benevolent God had seen what had happened in the Garden to Eden when there were only two people there.  Obviously he new what was going to happen as history progressed, and that he would end up 'having to' send billions of people to hell for eternal torment.  (Why he still had to do this just because to the irresistable power of 'original sin' anyway is a separate mystery.)

Yet all of that suffering could have been easily avoided if he had just wiped out his (presumably) first attempt, including Adam and Eve and had another try where he didn't put that powerful tree within reach of his favorite creatures.  Surely that course of action would have been for the greater good.

It's not as if it had taken him billions of years to do the whole creation job after all.  Another six days of work and he could have rested again, secure in knowledge that fairness had been well served.

But no - instead of that much of the population of the world lives in dread of hell. 

Surely that is evidence enough or substantial underachievement!

Small note:  Yes I know that not all Christians believe in the literal truth of Genesis!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

That's the spirit!

I happened across this reference to a product sold by Amazon, namely Rustin's Methylated Spirit. In spite of its attractive colour, it is not normally a beverage served at the finest parties.  However, it received a surprising commendation at this link.

Review by Mr Harold Ramp - Gentleman Of The Road (Brentwood)

What better way to celebrate yet another restraining order from the ex-wife than with a glass or two of this reasonably priced beverage. The initial bouquet can be a little daunting for some but after a glass or two even the uncontrollable defecation that tends to follow can be easily ignored and the words "If you come near me or the kids again, I'm calling the police" sound like a declaration of undying love...

I'm still chuckling!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Top-battery.co.uk's excellent 3 year warranty

If you want to buy a replacement battery for a laptop or netbook, why not buy one from a web site?  After all, internet buying is easy isn't it - I buy a lot from Amazon and get great service.

Given the choice of web sites, when I happened to discover that the best price for a high capacity battery was from another company using a UK domain name I was quite pleased.  No worries about import duty or how to return it in the event of a warranty claim or faulty delivery.  And on top of all that, the battery came with a 3 year warranty.  Too good to be true perhaps?

It arrived a few months ago.  It weighed more than the netbook, but at least I didn't have to carry a charger with me.  Its capacity was absolutely prodigious.  The netbook had a battery lifetime of over 10 hours - enough for a return trip from Oxford to Paris by train!  But being aware of looking after batteries, it was rarely discharged below 70% full.

But of course it was not a case of 'happy ever after'.  Quite soon it started to show signs of problems.  Sometimes the netbook wouldn't start up unless I took the battery out and replaced it.  Sometimes even that wasn't enough.  I had to plug in the charger for a few seconds and it would start.  Having started, it would run fine for hours without the charger but odd battery-related lights would flash at me ominously.

During a long conversation, my 'dear friends' at top-battery.co.uk usually replied promptly and courteously, but I don't think they understand English very well.  Or maybe that is just a tactic to avoid answering difficult questions.  They ask similar things all the time, take little notice of your answer and finally when I asked for a warranty replacement they asked me to send them £15.  You see, they are not in UK at all.  Who knows where they really are, but they claim China. 

What?  £15 in order to claim my statutory right to a warranty replacement - no chance!  Their excuse was

"As yo [sic] know, our battery is so competitive.The battery is used for some times,We will resend you once get the payment."

I'm sorry to say that it all reinforces my view that (at least some) Chinese companies have a different view of contract law and indeed common decency.  They make promises that they have no intention of keeping.

e.g.  http://top-battery.co.uk/, says "We promise all the products sold are 100% brand new and free from defects in material and workmanship. Our goal is 100% customer satisfaction."  That is, unless you make a warranty claim.

They masquerade as something that they are not - namely a UK company - and their excuse "our battery is so competitive" is quite pathetic.  The battery is not at all competitive because it doesn't work properly!  In fact, in the following disclaimer you can see how they are playing with the law in innovative ways. 

Disclaimer:
The batteries supplied by our Company are [replacement for] sold for use with certain products of computer manufacturers, and any reference to products or trademarks of such companies is purely for the purpose of identifying the computer manufacturers with which our products [are replacement for] may be used. Our Company and this Website are neither affiliated with, authorized by, licensed by, distributors for, nor related in any way to these computer manufacturers, nor are the products offered for sale through our Website manufactured by or sold with the authorization of the manufacturers of the computers with which our products [are replacement for] may be used. 

And yet they claim
  • ACER Laptop Battery
  • APPLE Laptop Battery
  • Dell Laptop Battery
  • HP Laptop Battery
  • LG Laptop Battery
  • SONY Laptop Battery
You see how they flaunt the names of top brands to sell their dubious products?   You might be lucky if you buy something from top-battery.co.uk, so it is (of course) up to you if you want to take the risk as I did.  The ironic thing is that I was about to buy another battery for another laptop and I would certainly have bought it from them if they had been the reputable supplier that they claimed to be.

But now they can f*** off, and they are not getting another £15 or another order and I write this in order to warn other potential customers who they are dealing with!

I have no way to know how many UK domains they own with credible-looking web sites, but since my correspondent has always signed off with the name 'Sunny', I'm wary of any companies with the word Sun in their name, especially when they also come from Shenzhen province.

I think I'll stick with other traders via Amazon (who don't have the word Sun anywhere in their name)!

Small note:  I haven't actually given up on the prospect of a refund via Paypal yet.  They should expect the possibility of a long-lasting dispute to occupy them for a while.  But I offer a limited warranty on that claim.

Amazon intelligence

I buy lots of things through Amazon and have done for several years.  I probably spend thousands each year via that site and in the few cases where there has been a glitch in the product or the delivery they move heaven and earth to correct the problem.

Compared with other internet merchants I find that they balance quality and cost exceptionally well.  Buy from some of the Far-East merchants masquerading as UK companies and you have no idea whether you will get a product that complies with local safety regulations, or that your product with its '3 year warranty' will really have a warranty at all.  More on that topic in the next post, very soon, in a post called Top-battery.co.uk's excellent 3 year warranty.

But Amazon does do one thing that surprises me.  I'm more amused than annoyed but I wonder why they do it.

Now, if I happen to browse for a product (such as a replacement watch battery) and later choose to buy it from somewhere else then I could understand why Amazon might continue to offer other versions of the same or similar products to me.

But if I do actually browse Amazon and place an order for the product, what is the point of continuing to offer me alternatives?  There must be some reason why this is a good algorithm or they wouldn't keep doing it.  But I only need one watch battery for the next 5 years, so why would I buy another one just now?

The benefit of this strategy isn't obvious - not to me at least!


Monday, 11 March 2013

Things Christians say, part 45: Can't you just make yourself believe?

A (more-or-less) weekly series (although there was a pause for a while) 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'). 

Can't you just make yourself believe?


Piano

Some people can clearly find ways to make themselves believe in God.  That fact is inescapable, and this is not a question of intelligence or rationality.  Those people are free to believe what they want.  In fact, it is observed that the more intelligent the person is, the more innovative they are at finding ways to rationalise their beliefs.

Then again it works the same for the opposite opinion.  If you find it difficult to believe things without any evidence (as I do) then I can say that I can't just make myself believe.

Empirical evidence might change that, but I would be very surprised if such evidence is ever forthcoming.

***

Forte

What do I have to do to get you to believe in the tooth fairy?  Or Santa Claus?  They are well documented in literature after all.  Yes, that literature is fiction, but then again many people believe the bible to be fictional too.  It is a collection of bronze age myths which are not well supported by historical evidence.



Last episode: Atheists are immoral
Next: Atheists are responsible for all the world's ills

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Religious discrimination in Wales

Flint is a county in Wales.  It used to be most significant for having had a small detached section which was an island of Wales in North-West England.

Now it is notorious for another reason.

Apparently, according to the Daily Telegraph, parents will have to produce evidence that their children have been baptised before they can get on a bus to school!  Is this the UK's version of the bible belt?

So how can this type of activity be legal in a country like UK?

I blame the barely elected government for failing to act decently (again)!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Caste discrimination is not illegal??

I was amazed to find out today that it is not illegal in UK to discriminate against people of specific castes.

How can this be true in a 21st century Western Culture?  It seems almost unbelievable.  And apparently our government is doing little to change this. 

Fortunately The House of Lords has introduced an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill, as explained at the National Secular Society's site here.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "The Government set a poor example by refusing to follow the UN's recommendation last year to the UK to make caste discrimination unlawful – as it was obliged to do so by its international obligations. Instead, all the Government offered those suffering from caste discrimination was conciliation where there is conflict. The peers, however, were determined to aid the vulnerable more effectively by providing legal protection on caste. Their view prevailed, leaving the Government embarrassed."

I still find it incredible that caste discrimination was not outlawed over a hundred years ago!

I also like things that embarrass the current government!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Only an opinion about nothing . . .

Oxford Skeptics in the Pub had an unusually 'empty' talk this week, entitled "Why nothing matters".  An I'm not saying that the talk didn't happen but that it was full of nothing.

An audience of only about 30 heard Ronald Green speaking about "Why Nothing Matters", hawking his book and clearly expecting to be heckled.  Indeed his style was more-or-less confrontational while he told us that he had spent 5 years studying 'nothing' very seriously.  It is not quite clear where he was when he did that study, nor indeed which universities he has taught at in various continents, or exactly what post-graduate studies he participated in at Oxford University (or indeed which university in Oxford).  But maybe I am too skeptical in wondering about those questions.

Was it obvious that it is true that nothing matters?  You have to ask yourself how deep the following comments are.

"There has to be something around nothing, and there has to be nothing around something."

"Luke says 'nothing is impossible with God' ".

"Zero apples is not the same as zero oranges" and "there are different kinds of nothing".

"Really, nothing is the absence of everything, including ourselves"

Apparently 'silence' might be one kind of nothing [but I don't think the absence of sound is enough to count a real 'nothing']. But he claims that you can never actually have complete silence.  I venture to disagree with this particular claim on grounds of some physics.  If you were in a vacuum there definitely would be silence.  His claim that you hear yourself when it gets quiet enough and that there there is never silence is surely philosophically flawed, because the role of the observer is irrelevant.  If you were not alive and were in a vacuum there definitely would be silence and it doesn't matter a jot that you therefore don't know about it.

More interesting was the tale of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911. Apparently far more people queued to see where it had been stolen from than had wanted to see the painting itself. 

But my final point is that I prefer the approach taken by Peter Atkins in his recent talk and Lawrence Krauss in his "A Universe from Nothing".  Green claims that "even Krauss gets terribly mixed up about it".  I think I would ask whether it is overwhelmingly probable that that is true.  Ask who is more mixed up, and I think the answer seems obvious.

On the other hand I saw a review of his book . . .

[Unlike the talk] This is not a book to be dipped into or skimmed over a coffee break. Green writes very clearly and with a great deal of humour, but he is dealing with ideas that perhaps go to the very core of what it means to be human. That he can do so without the nihilistic melancholy of so many of the people he quotes is a tribute to his writing skills. Would I recommend this book? Yes, with the proviso that if you choose to read it you give the time and thought it deserves.

So maybe I misjudge him. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

One foot per nano-second

If anyone ever asks you how fast light travels, you might like to tell them

One foot per nano-second!

Translating that into metric units it is about 30cm in a billionth of a second (where this is a UK billionth - namely one thousand millionth of a second).

Not many people know that!  But for some of us it is actually a useful rule-of-thumb in our daily work.

You might also like to surprise someone with the unit of a micro-century.  Just between you and me, that is just over an hour.  Business meetings should generally limited to a micro-century.  In that time, light manages to travel about 750 million miles.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Libel reform set to founder . . . unless . . .

Unless our barely-elected UK government takes some positive action in the next few days, all the work that has been done to reform the UK libel laws will have been wasted.  Sadly they haven't shown a lot of interest in doing anything sensible and I fear the worst.

I received an e-mail from the Libel Reform Campaign (having previously and currently supported them).  It was rather disturbing, when I had naively thought that we were on the home straight.  It included this introduction:

Dear Friends

We need your urgent help this week to get the libel reform bill back to the House of Commons. There is the real risk that unless we act it will be dropped.

We have all worked hard to win the case for reform – to show the chilling effects of the current law on citizens, to secure commitment from the three main parties and to get a bill that ends bullying and protects the public interest. We did all of this and politicians rose above the fray to work together on it.

But it is now threatened. As you may have read over the past week, the bill has been hijacked by a group of peers who have inserted amendments to introduce press regulation proposals from the Leveson debate ‘by the back door’. The bill needs to go back before the Commons in the next two weeks, but the Government has not tabled it. It has to do so, because if the bill does not complete its passage before the parliamentary session ends in late April or early May it will be lost.


Then it implored me to write to my MP, which I promptly did.  You have my permission to borrow some or all of these words if you would like to write to your own MP and can't decide how to phrase it.  If you can do better, please tell me how.

Write to an MP from this site theyworkforyou.com/

I chose a fairly direct approach with my MP.  We are not ideally politically aligned but I try to remain neutral on that.

Dear Mr *******,

I'm writing to express my deep concern about the chance that the Libel Reform bill might be lost.  I understand that several peers are using the bill as a way to introduce items recommended by the Leveson Report.  This leads to an intolerable risk.

After making such good progress towards the reform of our archaic, embarrassing and risible libel legislation, the government should  feel nothing but utter shame if it fails to complete the process.  A huge amount of work has been put in by many dedicated people.  Now it is your turn, as a member of the government, to make the required effort for the good of all of us.  The Government should put the bill back into the Commons within the next two weeks, so that the amendment can be removed, and the law changed.

British libel law has been the laughing stock of the world for as long as I can remember.  Please can you assure me that you you intend to support the re-tabling of the bill ? Time is of the essence.

Yours sincerely,


Me


Monday, 4 March 2013

Guidance from Catholic priests

You might consider this post to be somewhat insensitive to victims of sexual abuse, or you might agree with the questions that I am asking.  In this particular case, the alleged victims are Roman Catholic priests.  Does this make a difference?  Personally I think it does.  (And since drafting this post I have also heard notable Christains, even Catholics, agreeing with most of my points.)

Presumably the training for the priesthood involves quite a lot of guidance about what is generally right and what is definitely wrong.There are some topics where there are no absolute answers, but there are others where things are much more obvious.  At the end of their many years of training, these men are sent out into the world to advise their parishioners on matters that they have not generally experienced for themselves.  But they can be matters of life and death.

I recognise that it must take a special sort of person to devote himself to this way of life, and although it would not be my choice, I do have some respect for their selflessness.  That respect is limited though.  After all, all rights are accompanied by responsibilities.  In general (and I can think of few exceptions) I have no respect at all for the teachings that emanate from the Vatican. Anyone who propagates those teachings is partially culpable, however good their intentions might be.

So what happens when a priest needs guidance himself, and he goes to his bishop for advice.  In the case of certain bishops - now ex-cardinals - that advice would appear to me to fall into a rather special and particular category.  It has a simple name . . .

Sin!

This is not an anti-gay comment.  It is all about the way that powerful men in the Roman Catholic church have been able to make inappropriate sexual advances to 'vulnerable' people.  I have heard Christian theologians trying to make the point that this is not systematic sin associated with the church itself, but that it is associated with the individuals themselves.  But they would say that, wouldn't they!

Now in the case of children, or even innocent adult parishioners, most could very reasonably argue that they are the victims of a crime.  They are truly vulnerable and someone has taken advantage of that vulnerability.  They have been indoctrinated to follow the leadership of their priest for their whole lives, and his power can't be questioned.  Many of them have the intelligence to realise later that they have been abused, and with the proper support they have to go through the long and difficult healing process.

But men who are formally qualified to know the difference between right and wrong - ordained Catholic priests - might possibly be in a different category.  If they do not stand against sexual abuse and take refuge in the law then they are hardly men of the right calibre for the role are they?  Professional men have an absolute responsibility to make a stand for truth and justice - unless, of course, they are lawyers!

Or am I being too judgemental?  I'm not saying that there is actually anything wrong with being judgemental, because the only people telling me that this is immoral are the Christians who seem incapable of behaving correctly themselves.  But society tends to shy away from making judgements and I tend to think that is a special form of cowardice and insecurity.

I can only make a comparison with other professional bodies and particularly those which award a special type of qualification.  For example Chartered Engineers or (even) Chartered Accountants have a responsibility to society.  In most professional institutions the failure to 'do the right thing' in this sort of situation is one of the few things that can get your membership withdrawn.  It is all part of being a professionally qualified person.

So now, are priests 'professionals', or 'victims'. 

Make a choice!  It matters.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Original Sin and the sins of the fathers!

A C Grayling said:

Compare: a pharmaceutical company tells us that we are all born with a disease that requires that we buy their product all our lives long, and that if we do it will cure us after death.

Christopher Hitchens paraphrased or supplemented this by saying:

God creates us sick and then offers a cure under penalty of eternal torture.

Does anyone have a good counter-argument?  By 'good', I mean something that actually makes sense, and not a silly quotation from C S Lewis or some other patronising preacher.

I would be genuinely interested in hearing a real, well-reasoned explanation about what is good in Christianity's guilt-ridden philosophy of 'original sin'. 

As both of those fine men have pointed out, Christian teaching seems not to be the nice friendly teaching of Jesus that many people expect - love thy neighbour and all that - but a set of stories that are cunningly crafted to terrify believers into submission.  Where is the objective morality that we should all aspire to follow in that message?

It seems to me that the concept of original sin is simply a doctrine of cruelty, thinly disguised as a 'truth', based on obvious mythology and mysteriously inherited by each new generation.  This is in spite of the bible's other teachings that the sins of the fathers shall (only) be visited on the next four or five generations.

Its obvious!  It has been carefully tailored with the aim of subjugation.

The sad thing is that it works on so many innocent people.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Things Christians say, part 44: Atheists are immoral


A (more-or-less) weekly series (although there was a pause for a while) 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'). 

Atheists are immoral

or  You just don't want moral restraints - which is also addressed in this post

Piano

It is very frustrating to hear this old chestnut repeated over and over again.  Those who make this claim seem to think that it will become more true if they say if more often.  I leave it to the integrity and judgement of the reader to decide whether there is an validity in this approach?

So is it true?

I know atheists who sometimes joke about this topic.  Usually this happens in a situation where there is a question of honestly being discussed.  Take an example of having a meal with a group of people in a restaurant.  The bill is complicated, and the waiter makes an error and misses several of the meals off the bill, or maybe gives you the bill for a neighbouring table.  The net result is that the bill is for a figure much less than the actual price of the meals that you have eaten.

What do you do?  Well in a recent case of this in a restaurant in Oxford the table of atheists had this discussion.

Shall we be good honest typical atheists and tell the waiter about the error and pay the full sum? Or should we be typical Christians and read the bill like they read the bible - picking the bits they like and discarding the rest as irrelevant.  The choice was very easy and the waiter was suitably grateful.

Does this count as morality?

***

Forte

In this week when a pope has retired into a life where he is going to have to hide himself very well to avoid the risk of prosecution, let's look at a couple of big moral issues.

What does Jesus say about contraception?  I think you have to agree that he was silent on the subject, and only with the most convoluted theology could anyone claim any biblical teaching on the matter at all.  And yet the Catholic Church teaches that contraception is against the will of God, even where it is a matter of life and death.  Millions of people in Africa have been infected with HIV AIDS because of the teachings of priests, under the direction of The Vatican.  Is this objective morality?

Apologising for being too predictable, the issue of systematic cover-up of child abuse within the church must also be considered. (It is not just the pope, but it has happened in other countries too, notably UK as described here.)  Not only is it immoral in the minds of most people to abuse children, but then to move priests to new parishes were they can offend again is only compounding the problem and confounding justice.  To refuse to give the evidence to the secular authorities is not only immoral but specifically and clearly illegal.

Now try to tell me that atheists have lower standards of morality!

Who is it that fails to demonstrate moral restraints?


Last episode: God bless the pope
Next: Can't you just make yourself believe?




Friday, 1 March 2013

A budgie called Onan

When I was at university I had a friend and neighbour who had previously owned a pet budgerigar.

Somehow, it was revealed one day that the budgie had been called Onan.  At the time I hadn't heard of this minor character from the book of Genesis.  If you read about him in this story you can see that the name was chosen by someone with a sense of humour and a good knowledge of the bible.

Just like the budgie, Onan 'spilled his seed on the ground'.