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.