Friday, 13 March 2009

I had a bit of a rant

I'd seen this story, but was waiting for corroborative evidence from other sources because it just seemed, well, sick.

And sure enough, it is very sick.

Can the vatican (you'll forgive me for not using capitals, ever, when I talk about religion, they don't deserve them) not see how stupid they sound/seem?

So, let's go through that whole religion thing again, just for the n00bs: You do what I (a man) says, or you will die, or burn in hell, or be outcast, or generally treated like shit. Sounds like a guy to me! I just can't imagine why women want to be a part of the priesthood. Are you mental? (Quote from 'Ultraviolet', great film)

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Deborah 13: Servant of God

One of the saddest things I've seen on British TV, recorded in the UK, a 13 year old girl, raised by her parents, home-schooled, isolated from people her own age. 4th of 11 children, with no contact with people her own age. Sent out (or maybe volunteers, who knows?) to proselytise on a friday night, complete with bible tracts and an attitude for God.

Everything seems to be a sin in her little world, and it's a very little world indeed.

The family are easily described as young earth creationists, they actually think the planet is 6,000 years old. The bible is taken as literal.

Interviewer: 'What are you training them for?'
Father: 'Eternity'

Of course, everything the family watch on the internet (no TV) is from creationist broadcasts which basically repudiate anything not agreeing with the literal interpretation of the bible.

My main problem with the whole family isn't with the parents, but with the oldest sibling, currently at university, who seems to protest a little too much. He's probably the biggest influence on the youngsters, yet still, after going out into the big wide world, continues to contribute to the continuation of the usual fallacies.

He's the role model.

The whole programme reeks of guilt as I'm watching it.

Oh, no, the Big Bang is a can it be proved by science?
He takes her to meet his house-mates at his Uni digs.
On the way:
Brother looking at the landscape... 'look at it! Created, I think!'

So she meets his house-mates. Very embarrassing for the housemates.
Then shopping. 'Oh, what a shallow life, compared to when the "elements are all melting up"'. Rapture anyone?

Oh, it's too much. I'm not sure I can watch it to the end. The poor girl has no real social skills, no sense of perspective. Everything is about her and god, but no question of what other people do with their lives.

Interesting error: the bible, apparently says 'no drinking'. I seem to remember something about weddings and water into wine. No?

According to this girl, people who tell 'little white lies' and 'paedophiles and murderers' are all going to hell.

It's all guilt, guilt, guilt.

The last 60 seconds of the program shows a 13 year old girl struggling to make sense of cognitive dissonance, she has seen real life, people who don't think as she does. And she struggles to reconcile what she's seen with what she believes, and in my book fails. And she looks wretched going through that. Not her fault. The fault of the people who indoctrinated her. Very sad to watch.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the father of this family (his father was a churchman of some kind) fell in with the Jehovah's Witnesses, then went off to start his own cult, beginning with his wife. Lots of witnessing going on, and strict adherence to biblical truth.

apologies if that seemed a bit stream-of-consciousness, I began blogging after watching the first 60 seconds, I wanted to get down what I was seeing, I couldn't really believe it.


(thanks to GemmaK for the head up)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Freedom of Speech vs Religion Update

Here's the petition for those who live in the UK, or are ex-pats and allowed to vote in the UK


Simple, Elegant Science.

Great story from the Singularity Hub (always worth a read to see what's coming in the future) about 'flu' viruses and a possible one-shot treatment.

Normally, we vaccinate against flu by using attenuated or killed viruses. This means that a damaged, non-infectious version of the flu virus is injected into the patient, triggering an antibody response. This is like being intoduced to a deadly enemy by photograph. Once you recognise the enemy, you are fore-warned. If the enemy invades, the immune system has a picture and destroys the threat. as the saying goes, 'fore-warned is fore-armed'.

The Singularity Hub story shows lateral thinking in action. The problem with viruses is that they mutate, as does everything, it's called evolution. So how do we protect against something that is constantly mutating?

Here comes the elegant bit:

Don't try to protect against the part of the virus that mutates, protect against the part that stays the same!

Of course, this may not be a case of lateral thinking, it's more likely (reading from the article) that it was an accident. But now that we have a tool to use, how far can we take it?

Is it possible that this approach can be used against HIV? I hope so. Flu is the beginning, and the article makes it clear that the vaccine is still in its infant stages, with trials in time for the 2011-12 flu season at the earliest.

After the good news that stem-cell research has indeed provided a cure for Chrohn's Disease, I feel optimistic. Research for the sake of research provides answers, sometimes it provides cures, sometimes more questions. We keep on searching.

(thanks to Singularity Hub)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Freedom of Speech vs Religion II

I was going to attempt a dissection of what is actually going on at the UN and how it related to western democracy, but it looks like the Hitch has beaten me to it.

There are a few comments at the Slate, below the article, which seem to make sense, like 'there's no way the US will go for it', or 'it's a non-binding agreement, who cares?' type of thing. Unfortunately, the non-binding agreement has already been passed (Sept '08) and adopted. This is the next stage, in the General Assembly. No power of veto. If you're not there to vote, you don't count, and it becomes a resolution.

Who cares? Well, maybe the hundreds, maybe thousands or more, young women who are ritually subjected to genital mutilation, which, incidentally isn't against the Declaration of Human Rights anymore, because we can't discuss it in the UN due to the non-binding resolution mentioned earlier. The workings of Islam cannot be discussed due to perceived 'offence'.

Then again, maybe it's the gay men and women born in Muslim countries.

Or the children who are raped by family members (but usually only if they have reached puberty, and it's their fault anyway according to the law, the little teasers!)

Or the young married women who are raped and then (because they are women, therefore unreliable and temptresses anyway) stoned to death for adultery. Of course the rapists are punished. sometimes.

Don't be smug, regardless of where you live in the world, this barbarity still happens in your country, even within your community. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening.

Religion has to have its fangs pulled. I'm open to ideas on practical ways to achieve this, but don't look to the UN with its horse-trading for oil and natural resources.

Personally, I'll be doing my best to eradicate the feeling amongst my friends and colleagues that religion doesn't really do any harm.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A lesson in humanity

As this is my blog, I usually make a point of commenting upon a story and linking to other blogs or news items. You can always look at the blogs I read at the bottom right. But sometimes I come across something by accident that deserves a big shout.

Here is Michael Kleinman's blog. Read it, please. (I don't normally do polite requests)

(via Twitter)

Still getting to grips with even newer shiny-tech, but glad it's happening.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Freedom of speech vs religion

It has come to my attention that the United Nation will soon be voting, in General Assembly, to make it a criminal offence to criticise religion. The wording is vague to the point of being unreadable but here is the actual text. There are several sections where mention is made of 'defamation of religion' and 'incitement to religious hatred' in the same sentence. This basically means that voting in favour of this declaration criminalises 'incitement to religious hatred' (in my opinion a good thing) and also 'defamation of religions' (not so good. Bad, actually).

So, to get this straight, some Islamic nations have decided that their faith and their god is so weak that he (and it most certainly is a he) has to be protected by the UN. OK, seems like a small price to pay, it won't really affect us in the west, just the people who are already oppresed in those countries anyway. But read a little further, you'll notice that the Declaration has a little surprise:

14. Urges all States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred,discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs and the understanding of their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance

What does this mean? It means laws. In your country. No cartoons featuring the Prophet, no discussion of human rights violations in Muslim countries, no discussion of anything related to religion at all. Period.

For a more in-depth analysis, here's a pdf with annotations. The document keeps being changed at the UN, so I'll keep you updated.

This will be a General Assembly vote. That means that there is no power of veto. Hope you counted the voters at the end.

Those in favour : 85
Against : 50
Abstain: 42

Which brings me to Freedom of Speech, while we have it. Oh wait. I heard from the government last week that we have freedom of speech 'up to a point'.

This was during a discussion about refusing entry into the UK of a Dutch film maker who made a film called Fitna. The film quotes passages from the Koran and uses images of the devastation done in the name of Islam. No narration, just straight-forward propaganda. Of course freedom of speech is ok for this guy. I'm not saying both should be banned, just that we have a little balance. Or at least some consistency.

Also, I was going to point you in the direction of a great article by the writer Philip Pullman. Unfortunately, being on the subject of free speech, the Times (UK) seem to have pulled it, but it is available here. (Thanks Neal)

Friday, 27 February 2009

the weekend....

Freedom of speech and religious stupidity. Don't say you weren't warned.

Friday Unicorn Chaser

To mitigate the heaviness of the week's posts, here's the 21st Century FAQ by Charlie Stross.
Great reading though it undoubtedly is, comments 2 and 3 provide the best front and back for a geek t-shirt ever:

The most frequently asked question of the 21st is going to be "WTF?"
Posted by: JDC February 27, 2009 3:54 PM
@2 Answer: RTFM
Posted by: ben February 27, 2009 3:57 PM

for non-geeks: WTF? is What the Fuck?
RTFM is Read The Fucking Manual.

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Read a great article on Singularity Hub regarding genetic screening and choice. Should you be able to choose the sex of your baby? Or the skin/eye colour? Maybe IQ?

The phrase is designer babies, but if you've ever watched any TV programs on the pushy parents who turn their children into hothouse geniuses (or not) you'll quickly realize that this has nothing to do with genetics, it's to do with choice. Humanity has been managing its own genetics for a long time. Now it can be done before conception. Good or bad thing?

To choose to have a healthy child, free of disease, intelligent, possibly attractive, is desirable.

Then the arguments begin, Hitler is mentioned, cosmetic babies, only for the rich etc...........

My comments are logged as 'lackofgravitas' of course.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Houdini - Arthur Conan Doyle

There's a story that Houdini was visited by Arthur Conan Doyle, a great fan at the time. Houdini had an illusion that apparently showed him walk through a brick wall. After a show, Harry showed Arthur that he used a rubber floor and went under the floor. Doyle's reaction was: I don't think that's the truth, I believe you can walk through walls. This from the man who brought many of us the idea of evidence via Sherlock Holmes, and yet believed in fairies at the bottom of his garden.

Irrational belief in the impossible is what is apparent here.

In the face of all the facts, these people regress into conspiracy theories. That's how they roll.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Vaccines don't cause autism

Here are two links to actually help you decide if it's right to vaccinate your child. The first is from Orac, who possibly has the most integrity of any blogger I read regularly. I suggest you read the whole thing, as it contains a history of the 'controversy', and also details of the dishonesty shown by the anti-vaccination movement.

The second is a piece by Michael Fitzpatrick. Another brilliant piece.

One thing is clear from both pieces; the whole anti-vaccination movement isn't about looking for the truth, it's about the media looking for a story, and the willingness of some (disgraced) scientists (with vested interests) to provide them with one.

This subject had been debated for 11 years or more, with countless law suits and publicity, but there are no real victors here. Orac and Dr Fitzpatrick both make it clear that the losers here are the parents of autistic children, (and the children theselves) who have been led to believe that there is a reason for their child's condition, and that reason is vaccines. They have been hoodwinked by those with vested interests, lawyers, cynical opportunist physicians, but most of all, Dr. (not for much longer I hope) Wakefield. His dishonesty could possibly cost more than the monetary value of the court cases brought, it could cost lives.

Thanks again to Dr Fitzpatrick and Orac, spiked-online and Respectful Insolence


Friday, 20 February 2009

Tesla Boys

Fantastic clip courtesy of Boingboing. ArcAttack perform Delia Derbyshire's Dr. Who theme with..... well, naked electricity. And decks of course. My my, it's impressive.

Remember, you never forget your first Doctor.

Mine was Jon Pertwee.

OK. I'll shut up now.

The return of the Wing-nuts

I was sure this was a hoax. But it's in the newspapers so it must be true.
If the librarians get involved, there will be bloodshed. And it'll hapen very quietly.

(Thanks Roger)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Consider me excited....

I'll be getting me one of these little things when they come out. Preferably in black and not made by Apple Inc.

Never forget a face again!

Geert Wilders - Fitna

Firstly, here is the film Fitna, that caused all the fuss. I won't deny it has many horrible images contained within, but, like the film Shoah, is worth watching so you can be informed as to the contents of the argument to follow.

OK then, Mr Wilders was denied access to the UK and is being prosecuted in the Netherlands for inciting hatred, after making the film Fitna. Let's do a little time-line here.

March 27th 2008: the film Fitna is posted on the web for all to see. Possibly this was a Dutch language version, maybe for that reason little interest here in the UK. Except the BBC.

March 28th 2008: The general response is relief. It's milder than anticipated. but the 'Rushdie' Effect is feared, demonstrations by those who haven't seen the film/read the book. But no riots in the streets. Result.

January 21st: Wilders charged in the Netherlands, for inciting hatred . what he actually said was: according to the laws of the Netherlands, the Koran should be banned. His point was that 'Mein Kampf is banned in the Netherlands, and the Koran contains similar encitements to violence, so by this reasoning, it should be banned also. Subtle Devil's Advocate stuff, but irony lost on the Judges.

February 12th 2009: Wilders refused entry to UK despite being invited by Lord Pearson, that'd be Lord Pearson of the House of Lords. OK, he's UKIP and a bit uncentred, but the reactions to the whole thing were extraordinary. Wilders had been in the UK 2 weeks previously.

Wilders: "Democracy means differences and debate. It's a very sad day when the UK bans an elected parliamentarian... Of course I will come back."

PM Spokesperson:Mr Brown's spokesman said the prime minister "fully supports the decision" taken by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Lord Pearson: a "matter of free speech", telling the BBC: "We are going to show it anyway because we think MPs and peers should see this film."

Lord Ahmed: "This man doesn't have any respect for law. He's doing this for publicity and he's seeking that and getting that."
He added: "If this man was allowed into this country it would certainly cause problems within communities around Britain."

The Muslim Council of Britain said Mr wilders was 'an open and relentless preacher of hate'.

And yet, we, as members of the UN are not allowed to question anything pertaining to Shariah Law, mention barbarism, genital mutilation of children etc... In fact, the whole concept of democracy is anathema to Islam. But because we are democratic, we allow everyone the same access to free speech, unless it criticises religion. Then it's a different matter entirely. I really don't understand how fragile their faith is that it cannot be criticised at all.

Don't get wrong, I think all religions are despicable, especially for the children who are taught to hate, but Islam is such a backward and literal religion that it could, because of our love of democracy, become a threat to the very democracy and freedom of speech we hold so dear.


p.s. I encourage you to visit and familiarise yourself with the dangers of religion. Oh, and don't forget to read The God Delusion too.

Domestic violence?

I'm sure that this story has been given wide exposure due to the religious background of the man in question. Regardless, this is domestic violence taken to it's inevitable conclusion.

If this was some guy who was jewish or christian, would the story have quite the same impact?

Then again, he was trying to set up a pro-Islam TV station in the US, doubtless promoting its wonderful moral principles. Not so wonderful if you happen to be a woman though.

How long will it take before this kind of behaviour (murder, genital mutilation, beating and stoning, etc.) is roundly condemned in the UN and the EU? Nations practicing this barbarity have to be held to account somehow. Then again, we're not really allowed to mention religion in the UN anymore. Apparently, it shows a 'lack of respect'.

Mind you, things are no easier in the EU, as Geert Wilders found out when he tried to enter the UK this week. At the invitation of the House of Lords, no less.

Actually, it looks like we men have had our chance to do the right thing and failed. It seems that the sisters are doing it for themselves. I predict the outcome of this whole situation will be somewhere in the region of
Women of the world: WIN
Religious despots (mostly old repressed men): EPIC FAIL.

Here's a little piece about how women are treated by Islam. (thanks Ibn al-Rawandi)

The incomparable ApeLad strikes again....

Thanks Adam

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Science now, atheism tomorrow...

Well, here we are again, and I think it's time I gave some background to explain what I'll be blogging about and why.

Despite growing up with a pencil, paint-brush, book or guitar in my hands, I did a degree in Biomedical Sciences. I really wanted to understand why the human race was defenceless against HIV, Mad Cow disease (as it was called then), the common cold, flu, foot and mouth. In short, all the stories I read about or saw on TV that gave me no information, just opinions.

During my course, I met a great bunch of people, some of them lecturers, some professors, some were even students! And I learnt quite a bit about science too.

The main thing I was learnt at University was critical thinking. I learnt that most things, even in science, perhaps especially in science, aren't always black and white. Or to quote Ben Goldacre, (or 'Dr Ben' as I call him) "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that". And it usually is.

So, armed with this new-found weapon I returned to the real world and had a look around. A bit shocking actually. I found that it was (2000) and still is, practically impossible to find an unbiased and informative piece of journalism when it comes to the sciences and anything that is related to health or healthcare. Anywhere.

I revisited some of the scare-stories that had haunted me growing up: HIV/AIDS was made out to be on a par with Russian Roulette every time you slept with someone. Now, it seems 'it's a bit more complicated than that'. Mad Cow Disease (GJD/BSE) was the next new plague, killing all meat-eaters, or at least beef eaters. And yet the incidence of CJD is 1 per million in America, and 1 per billion for vCJD (starts in young people).

Since then, there has been a plethora of stories 'reported' by the press, media in general, and certainly TV, designed to scare the public, for no other reason than it sells newspapers and attracts viewers: SARS, Bird-Flu, MMR vaccines, Foot and Mouth, MRSA 'superbugs', E.Coli and many more, here's a selection from 2007 in the US.

Thankfully, we are not at the mercy of the mainstream media anymore. The average person can access information relating to clinical trials, read scientific papers, read blogs by respected scientists, clinicians, medical professionals. In short, anyone can find the information, even in laypersons terms, it's not that difficult anymore. If you want the information, it's available.

At the moment, to give you all a great example of how things can get crazy, here's a snippet from Dr. Ben's book, and here's a little related discussion from Orac. Slightly related.

Tomorrow's post: religion, and more science. and maybe cats. Maybe vikings, who can tell?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


Only a religious wing-nut could come up with this sort of rubbish. PZ Myers comments, as do the lovely people at :,3592,n,n

It reminds me of all those woo-meisters who claim that certain celebrities would still be alive, if only they'd listened and drank herbal tea.

Hobo cats....

For those of you who are not familiar with the story of Pip and Kitteh:

A smile a day. Every day. Mostly.