Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Year, New Wonga

The London Underground stops at around 1 in the morning for about four hours every night, to allow essential maintenance to be carried out to the network. The exception to this is New Year's Eve since 2003, when trains run throughout the night for free, to enable inebriated Londoners to travel home on a creaking, mostly-out-of-date transport system at a time of their choosing.

This year, in a spirit of free enterprise, Boris Johnson has announced that the free New Year's Eve travel will be sponsored by Wonga.com, a company specialising in short term loans at extortionate rates of APR, typically 2689%.

Fortunately, as they explain on their website, although they're legally obliged to print this in large letters on their adverts, it's nothing to worry about:
The larger the APR the more expensive a loan, right? Wrong. It’s a common perception, but with Wonga’s super-flexible approach to short term credit the opposite applies. This is a good indication of the potential for APR to mislead when trying to judge the cost of a short term loan.
The cost of a Wonga cash advance is determined by the amount of money borrowed and the number of days you need it for - the shorter the term, the less you’ll pay in interest and fees. Yet APR actually increases as the term and cost of a Wonga loan decreases. Confused? Well, as the loan period gets shorter, the more times you have to multiply and compound interest to make it into a theoretical annual figure!
Ah, so it's actually cheaper. How stupid of me.

There's a lot of instances on their website where Wonga soothes potential customers after asking them if they feel confused by all this financial speak.
With such short term credit APR has the potential to confuse, because it creates incomprehensible numbers compared to the norm. That’s why we also show the total amount repayable (TAR) before you apply. 
And not because you're obliged to by government legislation?

It's easy to imagine that the kind of people who'd use a short term loan service might not be particularly au fait with the ins and outs of financial terminology. It's also easy to imagine that such people would be easily convinced by a flash website which spends a lot of time authoritatively calming their fears about a subject they might be understandably concerned about.

Wonga state on their site:
We have a consumer credit licence from the Office of Fair Trading and are members of the Finance and Leasing Association.
A consumer credit licence isn't that hard to come by. But what's the Finance and Leasing Association? Sounds impressive.
The Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) is the UK’s leading trade association for the consumer credit, motor finance and asset finance sectors, and the largest organisation of its type in Europe.
Our members are banks, subsidiaries of banks and building societies, the finance arms of leading retailers and manufacturing companies and a range of independent firms.
It's a lobbying organisation for the financial industry.
Our mission is to represent our members’ interests to government, regulators, the European institutions, the media and the general public so as to improve the working environment in which our members do business.
What they do is to push the interests of what is an already vastly powerful section of industry, the financial sector, and do their best to reduce the costs on this sector. This is nothing to do with the Financial Services Authority, which has a slightly different purpose.
The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) gives us four statutory objectives:
  • market confidence - maintaining confidence in the financial system;
  • consumer protection - securing the appropriate degree of protection for consumers; and
  • the reduction of financial crime - reducing the extent to which it is possible for a business to be used for a purpose connected with financial crime.
It's not surprising, then, that the Conservatives want to get rid of it.

See what Wonga did there? They stated their membership of an association called the FLA, which sounds similar to the FSA, but has entirely different objectives. It would be very cynical to conclude that Wonga touted their membership of the FLA in the knowledge that most people visiting their site will be impressed by the big words and financey language.

Ultimately, while companies like this manage to avoid the tag "loan shark", mostly because their operations are legit, they share a target group in the part of society that is underpaid, undereducated, and unable to do anything about it, while all the time being bombarded with the messages from the consumer culture we all live in.

These companies have no interest in changing the structure of society. Why would they? It suits them for their customers to remain in poverty, with just enough income to justify the short term loans that companies like Wonga use to prey on them, but not enough to escape the grim cycle of loan-repayment-loan that keeps the loan companies in business.

It does London Underground and Boris Johnson no favours to be associated with these despicable people.

Hello, Vera

Bet you didn't know aloe vera could cure cancer.
Aloe Vera is a natural plant. The form you buy may be nearly 100 per cent natural. This natural compound was used in Egyptian times to fight skin problems and as a cancer treatment particularly for skin cancer, and one of its major benefits is its ability to soothe. It contains at least 6 natural ingredients which act as ´anti-inflammatory agents´, reducing inflammation, one of the important precursors to cancer.
Aloe vera can fight cancer.
What criteria is used for "100% natural"? What devilishe moderne practice has been used to defile the pure aloe vera, so it's not quite there? Never mind.

I wait with bated breath for the stunning evidence of aloe's amazing cancer-fighting properties, but none seem to appear. How strange. Just lots and lots of sciencey-sounding waffle.

It doesn't help, either, when the official Cancer Research site publishes stuff like  this:
Some people claim that aloe vera can balance the immune system, or even treat and cure cancer. Studies have been carried out into this and some laboratory studies and early studies on animals seem to show that extracts from aloe may be helpful in boosting the immune system to attack cancer cells.
It goes on to cite, fairly credulously, a study that claims to show aloe vera shrinking cancer cells:
One study in Italy of 240 patients reported in 2009. It tested aloe vera alongside chemotherapy for people with metastatic lung cancer, bowel cancer, and stomach cancer...
...In this study the cancer was controlled or shrank for a time in 67% of patients who had the combined aloe and chemotherapy treatment and in 50% of patients who had chemotherapy alone. In this study the researchers said that patients taking the aloe vera had a better quality of life and that they had fewer chemotherapy side effects such as numb fingers and fatigue. They also said that there were no ill effects from the aloe vera. More patients who had the aloe vera survived for 3 years than patients who just had chemotherapy.
Now, I'll give Cancer Research its due. It also points out that
Although this research seems positive the researchers said that there are some concerns about the study. The researchers knew which patients were receiving aloe vera and they may have influenced the results.  
Admittedly, they're only showing the criticisms the researchers themselves apparently brought up, and seem to have no thoughts on the study. But they also state:
But there is no evidence that aloe can treat cancer in humans. Some types of aloe can cause severe side effects when used as a cancer treatment and should only be used under medical supervision. It should never be used instead of conventional cancer treatment.
We don't recommend alternative therapies in place of conventional treatment because there is often little (if any) scientific or medical evidence to back up the claims made for these therapies. If you have cancer, using methods such as aloe vera instead of conventional medical treatment can be very harmful to your health.
The trouble is, the damage is already done by the earlier statements that show some lukewarm support for at least the idea of aloe vera as a cure for cancer. You end up with sites like thealoeverasite.com able to spew up garbage like this:
So popular is the idea that Aloe Vera may be able to treat Cancer that Cancer Research UK have devoted an internet page to it in which they generally state that there is no scientific proof but that it can do no halm (sic).
This is dodging the truth by any standards, as Cancer Research make it quite plain that very serious "halm" can come from trying to treat cancer with aloe vera.

I can quite understand that the possibility of aloe vera being a miracle cure for cancer would be of great interest to Cancer Research, for very legitimate and understandable reasons. Hell, I'd probably shout it from the rooftops. But the science shows nothing of the sort. In fact, a literature review from the University of Westminster concluded that
There is no evidence from clinical trials to suggest that topical Aloe vera is effective in preventing or minimising radiation-induced skin reactions in cancer patients.
But this doesn't stop hundreds of altie sites heaving up their unfounded claims for aloe's alleged properties for treating and preventing cancer itself - and of course, selling you their crank remedies.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Peter Serafinowicz, jokes, fairies and God

Have just woken up, and, after wallowing in the smug pleasure of England's 346-run lead over Australia, I notice there has been something of a storm over an alleged Peter Serafinowicz joke on Twitter.

Some of Peter's RTs:
They are just words. RT @: Just seen the deleted @ tweet. Disgraceful. Lost all respect for the guy.
:( RT@: @ Really disappointed man. I used to really like you but that joke was just disgusting.
Wow incitement RT @: Re. deleted joke, I hope you get the help you deserve. Or are burned by a mob. Either is good.
Huh? I can't find sight nor sound of this joke. Anywhere. I'd have thought that someone would have reposted it somewhere, at least. But nothing.

However, there are some people who have suggested it's some kind of a hoax. This tweet from @simonpegg backs up that theory:
serafinowicz Mate, it will never blow over. You have fucked things up for all of us. Thanks a bunch.
I'm now waiting with interest to see what reaction we get from the Sun, the Mail and the like. There's going to be a lot of people with egg on their faces if it turns out this "joke" never existed in the first places, like fairies, or God.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Man fined for insulting muliticoloured rectangle of fabric

I knew France was insecure, after the saga of the veil, but this is ridiculous.
A court in the south of France has fined an Algerian man 750 euros (£637; $984) for insulting the national flag - the first penalty under a new decree.
Abderrahmane Saidi, 26, was at a local government office on Tuesday when he grabbed a flag and snapped the pole in two during a row with a clerk.
A July decree made insulting the tricolour an offence punishable by a fine of up to 1,500 euros.
The rule was triggered by a photo of a man wiping his bottom with the flag.
Free speech. Unfortunately, it means that sometimes, people are going to say and do things that you don't like. Like the now infamous Islamic poster against Christmas.
On the 1st day of christmas my true love gave to me an S....T....D.
On the 2nd day debt
On the 3rd rape
On the 4th tennage pregnancy
  • Followed by an abortion
  • raves
  • claiming god has a son
  • blasphemy
  • exploitation
  • promiscuity
  • night clubs
  • crime
  • paedophilia
  • paganism
  • domestic violence
  • homelessness
  • alcohol
  • drugs...

xmasisevil.com

Well, fair enough, you can't really get away from the god having a son bit. After all you Christians brought that on yourself.

But aren't all these Muslims supposed to be going to hell anyway? They're the ones who believe in a false god, and all that. Why don't Christians just sit back, smile and think of Judgement Day when something like this happens?

The last word on flags goes, as so many of them do, to Bill Hicks.





Case... Fucking... Closed.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Give your loved ones an extra-special prezzy: the HPV vaccine

HPV Vaccine: Would You Give Your Kids Gardasil and Cervarix Vaccines?

Martha Rosenberg's clearly heard of the idea that any question in the headline of an article should be answered "no". In this case, however, it's a resounding "yes".

Even though Merck's Gardasil and GSK's Cervarix are highly advertised to doctors and patients, many women are just saying no to the vaccines, according to research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia last month.
The vaccines protect against the Human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus which causes cervical cancer.
In 2007, 12,280 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,021 died.
So vaccinating against this danger would be a good thing, right? Wrong.
And then there's the morality issue.
"I was greatly offended that Merck suggest I vaccinate my nine-year-old daughter against an STD," says Kelley Watson, a mother of two in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. "Especially insulting to me was that there was never any mention of HPV as being a sexually transmitted disease. It was presented as something women can contract through tampons or nylon stockings -- as if men played no part."
Hmm. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but one day soon, sooner than you think, your nine-year-old is likely going to be experimenting with boys, and possibly men. Why is it considered against morality to recognise that possibility, that your daughter's innocent fumblings might result in a death sentence, remote as that possibility might be?

And after the patronising morality plea, here come the health risks:
In addition to causing fainting, allergic reactions, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and blood clots, 56 girls have died from the vaccine as of September says the CDC. 14-year-old Natalie Morton died last year, soon after being vaccinated for HPV at her school in Coventry, UK though authorities now say she died of a tumor.
Nice. Even though you admit that Natalie Morton's death had nothing to do with the HPV vaccine, you still think it's fine to stick the link in your article anyway. Classy, Martha.

And you don't provide a link to back up your claim that the CDC says 56 girls have died from the vaccine. Why's that? Here, I'll help you. This is the page on the CDC website which, presumably, you took your figures from. And here's a quote.
As of September 30, 2010, there have been 56 U.S. reports of death among females who have received Gardasil. Thirty of these reports have been confirmed and 26 remain unconfirmed due to no identifiable patient information in the report such as a name and contact information to confirm the report. Confirmed reports are those that scientists have followed up on and have verified the claim. In the 30 reports confirmed, there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine.
Whoa. Hold it a minute. Did you just say
there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine.
Yes, it did say that. But... that would mean... Martha, you're a dishonest, lying cheat, who takes a figure from a credible health information site, and deliberately leaves out the important bits, like
there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine
in order to pretend that it's supporting your own fanatically anti-vax views.

Fortunately, among the anti-vaxers and altie fanatics, there are a few savvy teens who have their head screwed on.

School girl said on 21 January 2010

I'm a fifteen year old girl and today i had my second HPV injection. To all those that are passing this up is rediculous. The bad side affects are really rare. All i get is a slight headache and soreness around the injected area fo 24 hours. I would much rather deal with that then actually get cervical cancer. Your daughters are at the age where they can make up their own mind about things and this is definately one of them! I highly recommend! The injection doesn't even hurt. So i think your putting your daughter more at risk from it by not letting her have it because she may not be old enough for screening but doesn't mean she won't get it at her age.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Somewhere in the world, the wrinkled face of a media baron cracks into a cruel smile

Vince, Vince, Vince. What were you thinking?

You were absolutely bloody right, of course. Someone's got to resist Murdoch, and it might as well be the Lib Dems. After all, it's not as if any part of his evil empire was ever going to publish a favourable opinion of you lot, was it? And let's face it, the Tories and Labour are too busy forelock-tugging to keep an eye on him.

Now there's very little to stop Murdoch taking over the rest of Sky (like he didn't dictate its line anyway) and turning it into the UK equivalent of Fox News.

One slip of the tongue, and you've lost a huge chunk of your department, and responsibility. A bit knee-jerk, I think, transferring 70 civil servants essentially in the interest of not pissing Murdoch off too much, but there you go, that's how the Tories work.

Well, maybe Jeremy "Rhymes With" Hunt might grow a backbone, and actually stand up to the gnarled old Aussie.
But would it matter if Rupert Murdoch owned two TV news channels in Britain? "The important thing is not whether a particular owner owns another TV channel but to make sure you have a variety of owners with a variety of TV channels so that no one owner has a dominant position both commercially and politically.
"Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day.
"We would be the poorer and wouldn't be saying that British TV is the envy of the world if it hadn't been for him being prepared to take that commercial risk. We need to encourage that kind of investment."
Ok, maybe not.

Vince, Vince, Vince. Thanks a bunch.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Lights on at Temple Of Doom

Speaking of the Olympics, David Cameron has switched on the floodlights for the first time at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Or, as it shall become known after whichever of Tottenham or West Ham (or both) take up occupation, the Temple of Doom.

Few people, apart from Barry Hearn, seem to have noticed that there's already a professional football club in the area. To fill a stadium that's nearly three times as large as their own, West Ham will undoubtably have to cut prices, and that could be disastrous for Leyton Orient, as the Hammers will be targeting fans in our own catchment area.

Let's face it, the way things are going, if West Ham move in it's going to be Championship football being played there - hardly the best advert. And Tottenham need to keep their noses out and stay in North London. They didn't like it when Arsenal did it to them, after all.

No, we don't want Spurs or Hammers as next door neighbours, thank you very much.

Gove executes Cruyff turn (poorly) on school sports

In the face of the massive cuts planned for school sports in the UK, it was looking very much that the legacy of the 2012 Olympics was going to be sporting mediocrity for a generation.

Now it appears that there's been some kind of reprieve.
Today Gove said he would pay £47m to keep the SSPs going until summer 2011. They were originally due to lose all their funding from the end of next March.
A further £65m will also guarantee that all schools can release one PE teacher for one day a week from 2011 to 2013, to promote pupils' participation in a range of PE and sporting activities – a key feature of the current system.
Actually, it doesn't look particularly generous, does it? Another couple of months, and they still lose all their funding.

What worries me is Gove's "new approach for school sports".
Gove sought to portray today's announcement as the beginning of the new system of school sport that he had previously said he wanted, putting extra emphasis on competitive, inter-school sport, but without specifying how that would happen.
It's only in this country, as far as I know, that we put so much into competition at a young age in sport, as opposed to actually teaching skills, and allowing children to enjoy themselves. It's exemplified by picking the biggest, not necessarily best, kids for the school football team, in the hope of physically overpowering the opposition.

It's an approach that isn't copied elsewhere. Holland, in particular, has for many years blazed its own trail in teaching kids about the fundamentals of football, rather than insisting on winning at all costs.
In the mid-1980s, the father of total football, Rinus Michels, penned his thoughts on youth football. One key belief was that kids’ football should not replicate the adult game. Another was that it should be enjoyable, with everyone involved and lots of chances to score. Now, across the Netherlands, his ideas are used. At the age of 5, games are four-a-side. At 9 they progress to seven-a-side on half-sized pitches. Finally, at 13, they play 11-a-side on regulation pitches. “If you have kids playing football then give them a ball,” Rob de Leede, of the KNVB, the Dutch FA, said. “We don’t want people doing drills and waiting for 15 minutes for their turn.”
And that goes a big way towards explaining why Holland have qualified for three World Cup Finals, and one European Championship Final, in the last 44 years, where England have qualified for none. Michael Gove isn't going to start turning that about any time soon.

Ricky Gervais: Smug git who thinks he's right about everything

Well, at least he's right about the existence of God.
Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.
Patronizing? Impolite? Ricky? Surely not.

Actually, in this essay for the Wall Street Journal, no less, he makes his point with intelligence, wit, and even, dare I say it, a touch of humility.
As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are.
Being a cynical git with the nagging feeling that Ricky Gervais is too damn smug for his own good, I so wanted to find something to gripe about in his article... but I can't. In fact, I think it's the personal plea for atheism that I'd love to have written.

So thanks, Ricky. Maybe you deserve to be pleased with yourself, after all.

Unlike some of the commenters thereof:
History shows Jesus lived and is God’s son. Of course, naysayers continue to come up with explanations for how Christ’s body was stolen, etc., and that the man seen who resembled Christ after Christ’s body “disappeared” was not, in fact, Jesus at all.
On the contrary, faith itself will provide not only answers, but it will actually answer questions we never even thought to ask. The world becomes a much more coherent place and life itself becomes bountifully rich.
I read this and feel bad for Ricky Gervais, he is so funny. I would think he should doors investigation further than his mom and older brother, for we all have this yearning in our heart for Jesus, only He can fufill it. How about the evidence of Christ’s ressurection? Without yes faith is a lie. Here what makes it the one truth…5 strands of evidence for the factual resurrection: 1. Primary the empty tomb; post resurrection appearances; the transformation of the apostles 2. Secondary: the emergence of the Christian church; Sunday became the day of worship

Friday, 17 December 2010

Leyton Orient v Plymouth. Postponed

The second home game in succession that has been postponed due to a frozen pitch.

They don't seem to have this problem in Sweden. A few years back, when I first started working on the railway, a fellow new starter told me he used to live in Sweden with his Swedish wife (a tall blonde, apparently, but that's beside the point).

In order to help learn the language and make new friends, he decided to join a local football team. On the first day of training, it was snowing heavily in temperatures of about -5, and he wore shorts and a t-shirt in anticipation of an indoor training session, in view of the obviously unplayable weather conditions.

The Swedes, on the other hand, being used to the snow, wore appropriate attire for playing football in it. It hadn't even occurred to them to bring training inside for a second. He described it as the coldest he had ever been in his life, and was then on known as the "crazy Englishman". Now, if they can do it...

No more home football til Boxing Day.

Incidentally, my girlfriend now thinks that "Plymouth match postponed" is some kind of a tongue-twister. 

William Briggs doesn't like diversity

William Briggs is a statistician (to the stars, according to his blog). He dislikes diversity greatly.
Suppose then that we have agreed upon a locale; for definiteness, imagine it is the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. What would maximizing “diversity” mean here? Consider only physical characteristic. We’d have to staff the team with the short and tall, the fat and skinny, the able and disabled…but enough. This is obviously absurd. It is idiocy to insist on diversity of characteristic for any profession in which physical ability is important. And this is most professions: orchestra member, line worker, fireman, physician, sportsmen of any kind, jailer, soldier, and on and on. 
We’re done: we have just proved that requiring diversity of physical characteristic for nearly all defined scopes is idiotic and a truly stupid idea. I hope you realize that this is a proof and not an opinion. 
I was alerted to his post by We, Beasties the other day. Kevin made the point that Briggs' assumptions and prejudices about diversity were based on faulty logic:
We want the best doctors, and we know what makes the best doctors, so the only reason women and minorities are under-represented among physicians is because woman and minorities suck at medicine. If you think that the elite professions and schools clearly have an historic, pervasive and systematic prejudice built into their hiring practices then again, you're stupid. Human beings are completely rational, and only make decisions based on maximizing utility, so all the doctors ever hired were the best ones for the job.
I offered in the comments section my own analogy to a rugby union team, which is necessarily diverse in terms of the variety of physical shapes required, though all players require a high degree of physical fitness.

I had some further thoughts, though, based on genetic diversity. Bear with me, because I'm no biologist, this is just a topic I'm interested in.

Genetic diversity is necessary for a species to adapt to, and survive, changes in its environment. The larger the degree of diversity in the gene pool, the more variations there are in the population to be selected. Conversely, a species with little diversity in its gene pool will find it harder to adapt to sudden changes, and runs the risk of becoming obsolete as its environment changes faster than it can adapt. It's clear how evolution can favour organisms displaying greater genetic diversity, and punishing those without.

When artificial selection, that is selection by humans, is introduced, the results can be catastrophic. The potato famines in Ireland, in the 19th century, were caused by farmers planting one variety of potato only. When an infestation turned up that rotted away this variety of spud, there was no genetic variation to fall back on, and millions died or were forced to emigrate as a result.

Unlikely as it might seem, John Varley, the outgoing chairman of Barclays Bank, is a champion of diversity within business organisations, particularly with regards to disability.
Varley says employers should "go out of their way" to help those with disabilities. He says he had his own Eureka! moment at Barclays some years ago when he noticed not many university students with a disability were applying for its summer internship programme. "We set up a dedicated route to encourage disabled people to apply and, to my real pleasure, the top performing person that year, across the entire applicant base, was a disabled person," says Varley. "It's a simple illustration," he adds, "but if we hadn't specifically asked for disabled people to apply, we probably wouldn't have seen such talented people."... 
Companies must listen to staff, he says, because "they are the experts here". He adds: "We absolutely want more people to know that Barclays is a congenial place to work whether you are able-bodied or disabled."
I would have thought it obvious that having a diverse workforce, encompassing a broad range of perspectives, genders, ethnicity, disability, would be a positive advantage to any company looking to get ahead. Not only that, but exposure to other ways of thinking, that you may never have considered otherwise, challenges set thinking patterns, and is a vital force against extremism. Mr Briggs might want to think again.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

What the hell is wrong with some people?

PRESS RELEASE
October, 31 2008

Somalia: Girl stoned was a child of 13

Contrary to earlier news reports, the girl stoned to death in Somalia this week was 13, not 23, Amnesty International can reveal.
Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was killed on Monday, 27 October, by a group of 50 men who stoned her to death in a stadium in the southern port of Kismayu, in front of around 1,000 spectators.
She was accused of adultery in breach of Islamic law but, her father and other sources told Amnesty International that she had in fact been raped by three men, and had attempted to report this rape to the al-Shabab militia who control Kismayo, and it was this act that resulted in her being accused of adultery and detained. None of men she accused of rape were arrested.
This was the prologue to an article by Nicholas Kristof in the New Yoork Times about a female doctor running a hospital, school, and literacy and health classes for women. In Somalia. Not the easiest task, as you might imagine.
So Dr. Hawa had her hands full already — and then in May a hard-line militia, Hizb al-Islam, or Party of Islam, decided that a woman shouldn’t run anything substantial. The militia ordered her to hand over operations, and she refused — and pointedly added: “I may be a woman, but I’m a doctor. What have you done for society?” The Party of Islam then attacked with 750 soldiers and seized the hospital. The world’s Somalis reacted with outrage, and the militia backed down and ordered Dr. Hawa to run the hospital, but under its direction.
Dr Hawa stood her ground where most would undoubtably cave in, and eventually received an apology, and her hospital back, although I gather it's not fully up and running yet, from the article.

I must disagree with Kristof on one point, though.
What a woman! And what a Muslim! It’s because of people like her that sweeping denunciations of Islam, or the “Muslim hearings” planned in Congress, rile me — and seem profoundly misguided.
To my mind, it's in spite of, not because of, Islam that Dr Hawa's efforts have succeeded and been appreciated. There's nothing in the articles that I've read to suggest that she is religious at all - she's a divorced mother of two, which would already indicate that she's not concerned with religious views on marriage. And the comparisons with Mother Teresa don't help.

Kristof does the redoubtable Dr Hawa a disservice by lumping her together with her attackers, and the murderers of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow.

Cold in the field tonight. Very cold

These winter nights, it's enough just to get out to the field and train, never mind about how good the techniques are. Once I've run 3 miles to warm up, stretched, and done the four basic forms of the four elements, Earth, Water, Fire and Wind, I feel like I've earnt the right to train indoors on Monday, and to train outdoors on the summer when the weather's a bit more hospitable.

NHS reforms don't seem to make sense

Something's puzzling me about Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms.
The new NHS will work by fining hospitals for poor outcomes. Lansley says their funding could be cut if patients are forced to share mixed-sex wards or if some patients are readmitted 30 days after being discharged from hospital. There would also be new information services so that patients could choose their doctors and hospitals.
Um. Why would patients be in mixed-sex wards in the first place? Could it be because the hospital in question needs further funding to build more wards, or have more staff available?

And if patients are readmitted less than 30 days after being discharged, wouldn't that point to many possible problems - lifestyle, socio-economic factors, etc? And wouldn't the hospital also need further funding to cope with such factors?

So why, I wonder, does Lansley think that hospitals which may already not have enough money to do their jobs, will somehow magically improve their services by having it taken away?

Ah, free market economics. Didn't make sense to me at college, doesn't make sense now.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Not only a fraud, but also a paedophile

It's not just the Catholic Church who combine relatively innocent belief in spiritual mumbo-jumbo with child abuse. Mediums can do it, too.
Convicted child rapist Martin Smith appeared on television three years ago as a guest on the Living satellite channel's popular Most Haunted programme.
Styling himself as a medium, he was invited to go ghost-hunting and investigate paranormal occurrences at Brougham Hall near Penrith in 2007.
But by the end of that year he was on the run soon to be one of the UK's most wanted men, setting off a chain of events which would lead to the tragic deaths of his two young children.
There's nothing funny about this. I have no pithy comments to make, no sweeping generalisations (most of the tragedy of the Catholic child abuse scandals is to do with the willingness of the hierarchy to cover up the crimes of priests).

Not only did Smith use his position to rape a child over a period of more than a decade (and it's a grisly detail that the hypnosis he attempted on her didn't even work), he fled from the police investigators to Spain with his wife and children, clearly unable to face the consequences of his actions.

After he was extradited back to the UK, his wife, who stayed in Spain, allegedly killed their two children.

So we have a victim of sustained sexual abuse; two dead, innocent children; and the traumatised families of all involved. At least Smith's somewhere he deserves to be. Psychically channel your way out of that.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Northern Line footwear



My spanking new safety boots, tonight.





Jerry's boots may well be the latest in retro cowboy fashion. I wouldn't know. But I do know that if he rocked up to a London Underground station for work at 1 in the morning, wearing some of those cowboy boots he favours, he'd be sent packing faster than you can say "punctuated equilibrium".

While my beauties revel in their closed seat region (fully enclosed heel),  antistatic properties, energy absorption of seat region, water penetration and water absorption resistance. Plus penetration resistance. And a cleated outsole.


What more could the discerning signalling tester desire? I ask you.

Climate change explained for you, by Albert the Penguin

I love this comic strip by Darryl Cunningham. How has he managed to shoehorn so much information into a few panels? Johnny Ball could do with a shufty at this.

Incidentally, Albert the Knowledge Penguin is quite clearly the third best animated penguin character known to humans, after Pingu and, of course, The Penguin, the star of Steve Bell's IF...

Believing in God doesn't make you stupid, it just makes you misguided

Every so often, some columnnist or other becomes bemused that their odd beliefs aren't shared by everyone else, and feels the need to write 1,000 or so words on the topic. Today, it's the turn of Rosamund Urwin, of the Evening Standard.
I believe in God. Right, that's a few more points scrubbed off my estimated IQ by the most zealous atheists. It gets worse, though. I don't just harbour some vague notion of a kind-hearted deity; I am a church-going Roman Catholic — I believe in Jesus, Mary and the donkey too.
All this says to me is that she clearly hasn't examined the issues here. What she's saying is: a baby was born 2,000 years ago that was not conceived by two human beings having sex. And you expect people to let that pass? There's not even a primary school level of biological knowledge there. Badly thought-out statements like that from theists are almost directly responsible for epidemics of smugness among atheists.
It doesn't seem to matter that I spent much of my time at university studying philosophy of religion. That I have read and weighed up works by the anti-God Squad, the Doubting Thomases and the faith brigade. How many avowed atheists can say the same?
Quite a few, I should imagine, if this American survey is anything to go by. I consider myself an atheist precisely because I've looked at religion and decided, perfectly rationally, that it's a load of creaking old codswallop. It's the religious who have little idea what's actually lurking in the depths of religious texts.
Many are intellectuals, most have at least skim-read Dawkins's The God Delusion, yet none has ever put an argument to me for which there isn't a rational reply.
Have you read it, Rosamund? I mean, not just skim-read it?
The media don't help. Yesterday afternoon, Radio 4 replayed the debate “Is religion a force for good in the modern world?”. The speakers were Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. So while atheists had a well-regarded and witty critic of the Abrahamic faiths to make their case, we were given the King of Mumbo-Jumbo with the permatan and creepy smile.
While the former Prime Minister was fixated on the practical — religion's charitable acts — Hitchens offered a wider critique. He claimed religion imposes a “celestial dictatorship” and said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. A more philosophical mind than Blair's would have tried to offer that evidence.
Ever wondered why atheists have the smartest debaters? It's not just luck. And this, by the way, would have been the ideal opportunity to display that "extraordinary evidence", Rosamund. But you didn't. You chose to moan about how those pesky unbelievers just keep on coming with their rational arguments.
My problem isn't with most atheists. What frustrates me is that the presentation of the academic arguments for and against God's existence has become unnecessarily one-sided. At least we know whose side the Big Guy Upstairs is on, though.
Just like my problem isn't with most theists. But they really should try to understand exactly why the arguments about God's existence are so one-sided.

It's because only one side actually has a leg to stand on.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Things I've found interesting lately

  • And Cabbages, and Kings eloquently puts forward the free speech argument in favour of allowing Pastor Terry Jones, he of failing to burn the Qu'ran fame, to come to Britain and preach his tired, racist old rhetoric in Luton - Jon Cruddas, in the Guardian, argues from the opposite angle.
  • As blogged by PZ Myers and Orac, among others I assume, there's clearly no boundary to the lunacy that alternative medicine fraudsters practitioners are willing to accept.

Tranmere Rovers 1 Leyton Orient 2

Orient responded to the enforced absence of Forbes and Chorley, our regular centre back pairing, with an important away win over the men from Birkinhead - important because it leaves Tranmere stuck just above the relegation zone, and drags us up to 16th (although still only 2 points off the drop).

Also important was the fact that it was us who took the lead, and defended it in the second half when, according to the match reports, we were under the cosh a little. Plaudits, apparently, to on-loan keeper Jason Brown, who had a good game by all accounts.

On Saturday me and the kids get to go to the Orient for the first time in nearly a month, due to the vagaries of the fixture list and the cancellation of the Carlisle game last week. Get a result against Plymouth and we could be in relative mid-table safety...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

God is love, except when he's hate

Went to see my 4 year old daughter in a church Nativity play. This is the only time of year that I might ever enter a church, she was very cute (she played an angel), no-one tried to make me take part in any form of cannibalistic ritual, all was good.

But, unfortunately, if you attend a service in a church, then you have to listen to a sermon, and this was no exception. This one was all about love - how God loves us, we must love him etc.

It was some kind of New Age Bible translation being used - incidentally, if you have to keep translating the Bible to keep it up to date, does that mean it wasn't accurate in the first place? What does that say for the Word of God? Just a thought.

What the preacher came back to was this - the way to determine if we truly love God is:
  1. Do we really love God? (fairly simple)
  2. Do we keep his commands?
And that's the problem I have with Christianity. What kind of loving relationship is based on commands? And since when does anyone stop loving somebody else, just because they won't do what they tell you? Who gave you permission to say what's right and what's wrong?

Of course we have to love God, by this twisted logic, because a) he created us, and b) he sent his only son to forgive our sins.

a) is obviously false - no, God didn't create us, we're products of gradual evolution by natural selection. b) - aside from the problematic issue of Jesus' conception, the only reason sin exists is apparently because God set out the laws. You don't get to write the rules, then expect us to be grateful because you forgive us.

Anyway, according to 1 Peter, God isn't just love.
2:17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Fear God? Honour the king? Weren't we supposed to love him? It's a strange relationship, no doubt about that. I seem to remember a certain book called 1984, in which the central character had a similar relationship to Big Brother.

Grrr. Christians just have to go and ruin a good holiday by bringing religion into it.

Of dropped kerbs and parked cars

I have a dropped kerb and a driveway. Actually, technically they belong to my landlord, but that's just splitting hairs. I think it's a parking offence for someone else to park in front of my driveway, I'd have to check the law for that, but really, I'm not too bothered about that. My neighbours park in front now and again, and since they always move their car when I ask them, it's not a problem.

Other people seem to have a problem with it, though. My other next door neighbour put a note on my mother-in-law's windscreen when she parked in front of their drive once, and even went to the extreme of getting a clamp put on someone's wheel once. Much swearing, shouting and shoving resulted.

Last night, I went out for a meal with my partner, and her cousin and her friend Racquelle came over to babysit the kids. This morning, the old lady across the road knocked on the door and demanded in no uncertain terms, that Racquelle move her car, which was parked maybe two feet into the old lady's dropped kerb.

"Yack yack yack, I paid this much to get the kerb done, people are so rude these days." No please can you move your car, no thank you for moving the car. Now, is that a way to make a reasonable request? I ask you.

To her eternal credit, and probably in no small way due to the alcohol consumed the previous night, Racquelle moved her car, and also told the old girl to piss off.

People. Come together. Can't we all just get along? Pur-leeze.

We're moving in a couple of weeks anyway, which is probably none too soon.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Jeremy Hunt. Rhymes with something, can't quite think what it is

Jeremy Hunt, Conservative Culture Secretary, has decided to take a leaf, nay a whole branch, out of the Fox News handbook, and outright accuses the BBC of liberal bias.

Hunt said it was clear to most people that more BBC employees would vote Labour or Lib Dem than Conservative. He also said that the corporation had been out of touch with public opinion in the recent past and shown leftwing bias on issues such as Europe, immigration and Northern Ireland.
 I don't think he could be seriously suggesting that the BBC commission a public survey to determine what issues it covers. In any case, with correspondents like Nick Robinson and Robert Peston, I think BBC news coverage is far from being biased to the left.

Unlike America, we benefit from having a television media that is obliged to cover a variety of opinions, and that's a good thing. Otherwise you end up with crimes against humanity like Fox News, which shamelessly twists news into its own selfish agenda.

But the classic move of conservative politicians, both here and in the USA, is to try to whip up a storm against the alleged "liberal" media, and masquerade as the injured party. Poor right-wingers! No-one wants to let us spout our lies unchallenged. And this is what Hunt wants to do. It was always on the cards that the Tories would try to harness the BBC fir their own purposes. The opening salvoes have already been fired, and expect more attacks in the future.

Al Franken skewered the whole liberal bias myth in his book Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them. We are fortunate to have a mass media that at least tries to create the appearance of being non-partisan. Let's not let these Jeremys spoil it for their own ends.


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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Clapham South's Quote of the Day


At last, a quote worthy of the name. Now this would brighten my day up no end, were I starting it from Clapham South.

Clearly some supervisor has been reading this blog. I'm more influential than I thought...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

John Lennon died 30 years ago today

Very strange to think that he'd be 70 now if he lived. The Beatles were the first band I really became obsessed about, annexing my dad's record collection which took in almost all of their albums (apart from, oddly, Sgt. Pepper).

Lennon espoused all sorts of causes during his time - peace, love, avant-garde art, transcendental meditation, but he always seemed to have an ability to cut through all the crap and express exactly what he thought. On the "Imagine" film of his life, there's a clip of a man who had turned up at Lennon's mansion, apparently believing Lennon was speaking to him through his songs, specifically "Carry That Weight".

Lennon, though, swiftly disabused the man of the notion. "How could I have been speaking to you? I've never even met you."

He did record a load of old tosh in his time (Revolution 9, Two Virgins, practically anything after 1975) but I loved him best when letting go and rocking out.

Leyton Orient 8 (yes, that's "eight") Droylsden 2

Maybe Lisa Kogan was right, maybe miracles do exist after all. What the hell happened here? I didn't go to the game (it's a school night, so I can't take the kids) but I wish I had now.

Almost unbelievably, we were 2-0 down and heading for a giantkilling of sorts when we pulled a goal back through Chorley, Tehoue equalised late on, and both Tehoue and McGleish grabbed hat-tricks in extra time.

Unfortunately, both Chorley and Forbes were sent off, meaning we'll be missing our defensive partnership for at least one match. So I suppose it wasn't a miracle after all.

The best description I saw of the match was on Facebook, where one friend commented:
"it was like watching a cat toy with a mouse. A slightly inept, lame cat, agreed". Up the O's.
Norwich, fear us.

12 reasons even a skeptic can be skeptical about

Pharyngula's highlighted an article from Oprah.com citing 3 mysteries that science, apparently, can't solve. (I think it was 6, but they were cut upon the realisation that science had, in fact, solved them.)

Being the inquisitive type, I clicked through from that article onto one by a Lisa Kogan which promised "12 reasons why even a skeptic can believe". Bearing in mind Carl Sagan's maxim "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", I dived in headfirst.
The effect is jaw-dropping. "Look, honey!" I whisper, "Mary Poppins is suspended in midair!" My darling little 7-year-old glares at me as though I am certifiably insane and whispers back, "Mommy, that's an actress and I can see the strings."
So your daughter's already smarter than you are. Good start.

To cut a long and coma-inducing story short, here are her 12 reasons to believe, handily set out in month format.

January: Lisa falls while ice-skating and doesn't break any bones.

February: Lisa and her partner's relationship has endured for 17 years.

March: Lisa has lost four pounds.

April: Eva Cassidy's voice.

May: The season of spring, more precisely
the sun and cherry trees and open windows and linen skirts and iced cappuccinos that cost more than my father's first car.
June: A baseball umpire admits his mistake in calling a batsman safe (something like that, I fail to comprehend America's bizarre sporting rituals. You should have stuck to cricket).

July: A Christian Republican promises to support Obama on immigration reform (but only if he's right, the conditions for which remain unspoken).

August: Lisa has forgotten how long it's been since she saw Dennis Quaid in an apparently forgettable movie.

September: Lisa's friend is pregnant and looking forward to the "miracle" of birth.

October: Another friend helps people who have cancer but no money.

November: Thanksgiving dinner passes without the extended family at each other's throats.

December: A tapestry from the 17th century hangs in a cathedral (looks like she was getting a bit desperate for evidence).

Tonight I will sit down with Julia and tell her the story of my year spent searching for miracles. "The thing is," I'll explain, "nobody really has to go looking for a miracle because it turns out, they're usually pretty close to home." They come tiptoeing in while you're watching a no-hitter or folding laundry or tapping a rock-hard pumpkin muffin against the kitchen counter. They're in tapestries that survive hundreds of years, and parents who survive the morning onslaught, and people who don't have enough food to make it through another day, and somehow make it anyway.
Oh yeah? What about the tapestries that didn't survive, and tha families that broke up, and the cancer patients who died anyway, and the women who had miscarriages, and the people who put on weight, and...

Don't be fooled, Julia. Question what your parents tell you, listen to reason, look for rational explanations, and remember - the woo-meisters, fakers and charlatans are out there, still trying to deceive you. Be on your guard.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Clapham South's Insight of the Day





More wibbly New Age toss to start your day with. Why are there never any interesting, or useful quotes?

Here, I'll start.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.

Carl Sagan


There, that wasn't too hard.

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Monday, 6 December 2010

Making the illogical leap of faith

One of my friends recently confided in me (by which he told me over the phone, rather than on Facebook for all the world to see) that he took spiritual and superstitious explanations of the world seriously, because of an experience he'd had when he was younger. He used to play (as did I, obsessively) a football management computer game called Championship Manager, in which you choose a football team to manage and guide them to glory - or ignominy, as the case may be. But he fervently believed that he could go into another room, sit in a particular position that somehow felt right, and this action would influence the result of the match on the computer - it would allow him to win.

He didn't go into great detail about any other such experiences he'd had, although I'm sure, being of such a persuasion, they must have occurred to him. But that seems to be the basis for his beliefs in things like the theories of David Icke, and other supernatural explanations for existence. It's experiences like these that drive him to believe in some higher power - that there must be soem purpose to our lives.

I disagree. I dislike trying to skewer someone's obviously cherished beliefs to their face, but question marks were flashing in my mind even as he spoke.

For one thing, a football management game isn't strictly a game of chance. You pick your team, choose your tactics, and let them loose on rival teams. I know, because I spent countless days of my life doing the exact same thing. Gradually, you build up expertise, and buy better players, until you've got a team capable of beating the world. This was my experience. I could then have happily started a match, gone off downstairs to make a cup of tea, and returned to the screen to find a 5-0 victory awaiting. There was no luck involved, it was almost entirely perseverance and knowledge.

I don't suspect he did a controlled, blinded trial either, he just trusted in his feelings. Ben Goldacre posted on the illusions of control this weekend - it's terribly easy to fall into the trap of believing that somehow, skill, or some other agent, had a part to play in an outcome that on reality was only the result of blind chance. It's a simple task for our brains to weed out results that don't fit our preconceived ideas, and record only what conforms to what we expect.

Two other of my friends told me about an experience they'd had going to see a psychic medium show - they'd gone with their respective partners, and had ended up with tickets sitting next to each other. It doesn't take much for people to be impressed - what if they'd been sitting on seats on the other side of where they were sitting? Or a row in front, or behind? How big was the hall, exactly - how many chairs? Mathematically, what was the likelihood that they would end up sitting, if not next to, then very close to each other?

Mathematics can play a huge part in convincing us that some agent is causing a coincidence, rather than pure blind chance. The birthday problem is a great example of this. Assuming that everyone has the same chance of being born on any given day of the year, it only takes 23 people gathered in the same room to create a 50% probability of two of those people sharing the same birthday. Raise that number to 57, and the probability rises dramatically, counter-intuitively, to 99%.

Correlation does not always imply causation. A and B might invariably occur together, but that does not mean to say that A 'causes' B. B might very well cause A. Or an as yet unconsidered variable, C, might cause both, or perhaps a combination of D and E. Or maybe A and B might be entirely unrelated. But we so often make the illogical leap of faith to confirm our beliefs and superstitions.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Do something practical if you want to contribute

There's a campaign going around Facebook to change your profile picture to that of a cartoon character from your childhood in support of the NSPCC.
Change your profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood andinvite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (Dec 6) there shouldbe no human faces on facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is acampaign to stop violence against children.
Deliberately ignored the crimes against grammar.

I don't get it. Exactly how is this going to stop, or even alleviate, violence against children? Is someone going to see a picture of Captain Planet on Facebook, take a second glance at the child they were just about to beat (or worse), and think to themselves, "Nah..."? Unlikely.

I don't doubt that many are doing this out of good intentions, but I just find it a hollow gesture. Child abuse is ingrained in not just our Western society, but practically all societies around the world, and probably most which have ever existed. It's easy to dredge up the example of Sparta, whose elders would dash any babies not up to scratch off the nearest cliff.

Personally, I do my bit to prevent child abuse by a) not abusing my children or any others that I come into contact with, and b) keeping them away from the Catholic church.

If you really want to do some good, why not foster some children who have suffered? Or, if that's not your boat, and it's certainly not something for everyone, donate some money to the NSPCC.

Speaking of which, there's already a terribly good cause to donate your money to, and it's a win-win situation.
The proceeds from the December 2010 sales of ‘White Wine in the Sun’ are going to The National Autistic Society.
Tim is delighted to be supporting this charity again this year, because he feels it is a poorly funded area, with its causes and treatment still not well understood.
This is a captivating song and a beautiful and intelligent exploration of why Christmas can still be meaningful even without religious beliefs. There’s just the right amount of sentiment and some very gentle humour illustrating Tim’s feelings about Christmas and the importance of family and home. It is a heart-warming song and may make you a little bright eyed.
See, not only does your money go to the National Autistic Society, but you also get the Greatest Christmas Song Ever to listen to. Buy it now, how could you be so heartless not to?

Leyton Orient vs Carlisle United

Postponed due to bad weather, another fixture to join our pile-up that we started by drawing with Droylsden on Monday night. We don't like making things easy for ourselves, do we?

The trouble with atheists... they're just too damn smart

Victoria Coren embarrasses herself in the Observer this week, and not just by comparing the Archbishop of Canterbury to Patrick Swayze.

Apparently she's one of these "thinking" believers you (don't) hear so much about.
There is a new, false distinction between "believers" and "rationalists". The trickle-down Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position.
Apart from the rogue "false" (how on earth did that get there?), correct so far, except, Victoria, it's not just Dawkjns who's responsible for the prevalence of atheism today, it's more a consequence of greater education and questioning of the traditional religious authorities, who rather like their flocks childish and ignorant, thank you very much.
I interviewed the comedian Miranda Hart recently. She told me she believes in God but was nervous of being quoted on it.
"It's scary to say you're pro-God," she said. "Those clever atheists are terrifying."
"Oh, nonsense," I said. "Let them tell you it's stupid to believe in something you can't explain. Then ask them how an iPad works."
Ah, but we don't claim the iPad, marvellous invention that it is, to have created the entire universe in six days, capable of hearing the combined thoughts of 6 billion people simultaneously, and be waiting to pass judgement on our mortal souls when our bodies conk out.

The rest of the article comprises the usual, wheezing arguments against atheists - the only "logical" position is agnosticism (it isn't), religion isn't the only cause of violence (no, but it's bloody good at it), religion is the source of morality (it isn't), religion provides comfort and consolation to the dying (what, when you might have hell to look forward to?), human life would no longer be sacred (it never was in the first place).
Unfortunately, there seems to be no serious intellectual resistance. Last weekend, there was a huge religion v atheism debate in Canada. On the sceptics' side: the brilliant, witty, fast-thinking author Christopher Hitchens. On God's side: Tony Blair.
Terrific. That was hardly a match-up to challenge the idea that non-believers are rationalists and the faithful are self-righteous cranks with mad, starey eyes. You'd be better off sending in Gillian McKeith.
Not got the message yet? It's not a coincidence that the atheists are the smart ones.

I do have one thing in common with Coren, though. If I met the Archbishop of Canterbury, I'd probably be stumped for what to say to him as well.
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Friday, 3 December 2010

10 Reasons Why My Life Is Richer For Not Having Faith

1. I have Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays free.

2. I can grow (or cut) my beard whenever I please.

3. I don't have to worry about the precise method used to kill the animal whose cooked meat occupies my plate.

4. I don't look at a cockroach and think, "I hope I don't turn into one of those when I die".

5. Wine is, rather than part of an ancient cannibalistic ritual, only a good way to get drunk.

6. My foreskin is intact.

7. Instead of wondering what plans the deity has for me today, I can make my own.

8. I can experience whatever I choose without having to worry about whether it's offensive to a god.

9. I question, I doubt, I weigh up evidence, and I need take nothing on blind faith.

10. I know that I, my partner, and my children are amazing because we are products of billions of years of evolution, and there are endless discoveries, already made by others, or yet to be made, that will amaze me further. And I've got the rest of my short, natural lifespan to enjoy them.


Any other suggestions?

Send her victorious...

For the first time, I can sing God Save The Queen without the nagging sense of unease. 
The Queen, who is supreme governor of the Church of England, said: "In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none."
Bit old news, but I didn't notice it til it was posted on Pharyngula.

Not all good news, though.
But, recalling the words of Pope Benedict XVI from his UK visit last September, she said churches "and the other great faith traditions" retained the potential to inspire "great enthusiasm, loyalty and a concern for the common good".
Ultimately, she has to tread a careful line between opposing positions, in order to keep the monarchy in place. If she comes out firmly on one side or the other, she's going to find it very hard to carry on as Queen.

At least she does acknowledge that us atheists and secularists aren't fire-breathing baby-eaters. Once Charlie gets his butt on the throne, we're going to be assailed with all sorts of bombastic bullshit.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

We don't gets ta host Big, Big Cup

In the news today, England lost the vote to host the 2018 World Cup, and miss on on the chance to see games played in front of near empty stadiums because of the vast number of unclaimed corporate tickets, to have FIFA make vast sums of money tax free from the use of British football infrastructure, to see our national team fail yet again, this time on home soil, to make any sort of meaningful impact on world football, and to watch self-important, jumped-up, preening, greedy little men like Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner prance about and take all the credit (and money).

We should be breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Just remember, Jack and Sepp - Napoleon and Hitler ended their days with bad memories of invading Russia.

Happy Cthulhu Day!

Well, as happy as possible, remembering that we're all one day closer to being gruesomely consumed by a cephalopod monster from the depths of the Pacific Ocean.



But it's not all bad news. Don't forget to sing that old favourite while remembering that some have not even heard the corrupting, eternally evil message of Cthulhu, "Do They Know It's Cthulhu Time At All? (Feed The World To Cthulhu)".

Anyway, we can all shiver together in fear of our impending consumption, and try to shorten the excruciating pain awaiting us by playing games that do please the Tentacled One, like "Pin the Tail on the Lurking Fear", or simply dancing naked round a fire that is fuelled by the mutilated body of a goat.

Lastly, it's important, I feel, that unspeakable terror isn't just for Cthulhu Day. It's for the rest of our miserable, wretched, carbon-based lives.

Happy Cthulhu Day, people.

Religion, Skepticism, and me

I was brought up as a Christian. My parents were, are, Methodists, a fairly restrained branch of the faith, and I dutifully went to church every Sunday, was a member of the Boy's Brigade, went to various Christian holiday clubs in which the Bible was studied - at one point, I could recite all the books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, in order ( in contrast, now I can barely get past Leviticus. And let's face it, who'd want to?)

In all that time, I never once had what might be called a religious experience. All that praying (in church - I don't recall ever asking God for guidance while I was alone), communion taking, Bible study (and I was part of competition winning Bible study teams) I can say that I never felt the presence of God, or anything else supernatural.

On the other hand, I did develop strong liberal tendencies, at odds with religious expression. I recall, in a religious studies class at secondary school, when I was about 15, arguing that abortion should be a matter for the individual woman in question. One of the other students asked me if I was a Christian, and without thinking, I replied "Yes". Immediately, I doubted my statement. That was the end of any lingering religious faith. Soon after, church on a Sunday was replaced with long walks, or visits to the gym. Religion disappeared from my mind.

Reading The God Delusion last year made a huge impression on me. I think it was the first time I'd read anything on the question of God's existence that actually struck a chord with me. The passionate logic, the relentless rationality, was almost thrilling to read. Suddenly, here was someone explaining why religion left me so cold and unpersuaded.

Skepticism came into my life as an extension of that first encounter with Dawkins. I eagerly devoured further skeptical reading material - blogs like Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence, and Skepchick, podcasts like Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, articles by Christopher Hitchens, and many other sources.

Skepticism grounds me. It's taught me how to weed out the hocus pocus, and the woo, and the plain misleading. It gives me a reference point - I know which sources I can trust, not because of blind faith, but because their logic and reasoning make sense to me. It's shown me how to question information and perspectives, and that my own beliefs need to be challenged and modified when necessary.

I will continue my journey in life, not travelling down every dead end that presents itself and not with an absolute knowledge of my course, but with a reliable compass and a confident hand on the tiller. Maybe someone might gain inspiration from me, as I have from so many others.


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Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pavlov would be proud

Proof that behavioural conditioning works:

My dogs just charged the front door upon hearing a doorbell on TV (Garfield, if you're interested. Or even if you're not.)

Our own doorbell hasn't worked for months. Chalk up another victory for learned behaviour.


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Personally, I'd be very ashamed

There's a campaign starting up in the UK called Not Ashamed.

The Not Ashamed campaign provides an opportunity for Christians across the UK to stand together and speak up for the Christian foundation of our nation, motivated by the conviction that Jesus Christ is good news not just for individuals or for the church but for society as a whole. Indeed, He is the only true hope for our nation.
The Not Ashamed campaign is being organised by a group named Christian Concern. Here are some of their values, as quoted from their website.

Abortion
Since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, there have been over 7 million abortions in the UK. This is a tragedy. As well as the loss of life it has led to a general disregard for the sanctity of life in society. In addition, there is accumulating evidence of the serious consequences of abortion on mothers including potential damage to their physical and mental health. At Christian Concern we resist abortion and aim to inform women of its dangers.
Choosing not to mention, of course, the millions of foetuses aborted naturally every year:
Between 10% and 50% of pregnancies end in clinically apparent miscarriage, depending upon the age and health of the pregnant woman.[7] Most miscarriages occur very early in pregnancy, in most cases, they occur so early in the pregnancy that the woman is not even aware that she was pregnant. One study testing hormones for ovulation and pregnancy found that 61.9% of conceptuses were lost prior to 12 weeks, and 91.7% of these losses occurred subclinically, without the knowledge of the once pregnant woman.
Islam
The influence of radical Islam is growing in the UK and as an ideology it seeks to shape our political and social landscape. From the introduction of Sharia law and Islamic finance to the implications on freedom of speech and women’s rights, the presence of Islamism in the UK has great repercussions for all of us.
Oh, and you're not seeking to "shape our political and social landscape" at all?

End of life
At Christian Concern we believe in life, not death. There is currently sustained pressure by a minority of vocal campaigners to weaken the law on assisted suicide and change public opinion on assisted suicide and euthanasia. This would be to the detriment of the whole of society, especially the disabled and terminally ill.
As Bill Hicks pointed out, why aren't these people out barricading the cemetaries? Exactly how are the lives of the terminally ill improved by having their suffering dragged out? And isn't it a good thing for them to die, so they can meet Jebus faster?

And, of course, countless examples of homophobia, pretending that their sky-god is somehow enraged by two, insignificant human beings doing something sexual without his express say-so.

This from their statement of faith:
4. Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, has been cut off from God spiritually and is subject to physical death and is under God's wrath and condemnation.
You speak for yourself. I'm guilty of nothing, and your concept of "sin" doesn't apply to me. Keep your hateful values to yourself - if I were you, I'd e very ashamed indeed.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

God? Nothing to do with it

The rescue of the trapped miners in Chile was reported around the world, and, never ones to miss an opportunity, the respective churches in Chile have all tried to claim credit for the successful rescue.

"God has spoken to me clearly and guided my hand each step of the rescue," said Carlos Parra Diaz, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor at the San Jose mine. "He wanted the miners to be rescued and I am His instrument."
Yards from where he spoke Caspar Quintana, the Catholic bishop of Copiapo, prepared an altar to celebrate an outdoor mass for a small congregation of miners' relatives and phalanx of TV cameras. "God has heard our prayers," said the bishop. "I have received comments of encouragement from all over the world. Let us give thanks."
A litte bit further up the hill of Camp Hope, the improvised settlement of miners' families, rescuers, government officials and media, an evengelical preacher, Javier Soto , wandered from family to family with a guitar and songs of praise. "He listens to the music," said the pastor, gesturing to the azure sky.
Sadly, mining is a highly dangerous occupation, and the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River mine in New Zealand are now believed to have died, following a second explosion in the mine.

I don't think there will be many churches rushing to claim credit for their god this time.

Peterborough 2 Leyton Orient 2

Another game, another recovery to draw 2-2. Didn't go to see this one, but from my memory of Peterborough I haven't missed much.

An unusual, Chorley- and McGleish-less team, came from behind twice. Tehoue started this time, but didn't have the impact of recent substitute appearances. More plaudits for Jason Brown in goal - yes, he let in two again, but he kept his nerve to save a penalty late on.

All in all, not a bad result against a team who have a reputation for goalscoring. We're now 19th - it's still tight down there, we need to push on before we get overtaken by those below, or left behind by those above.

Peterborough

  • 01 Lewis
  • 02 Little
  • 04 Langmead
  • 16 Bennett
  • 25 Williams
  • 07 Wesolowski
  • 21 Davies (Mendez-Laing 90)
  • 26 Clayton
  • 09 Mclean
  • 10 Boyd
  • 24 Tomlin
 Goals
  • Mclean (pen) 18
  • Mclean 61
  • Leyton Orient

  • 32 Brown
  • 02 Omozusi (yellow card)
  • 03 Whing (M'Poku 46)
  • 05 Brown
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 13 Daniels
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith (yellow card)
  • 11 Revell (Walker 90)
  • 18 Tehoue (McGleish 72)
Goals
  • Revell 43
  • Smith 86
 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

This is a post in denial of the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

Woke up this morning, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and made my way downstairs, without for a second considering the grisly implications of Prince William's choice of his dead mother's engagement ring for his bride-to-be.

Made a cup of tea, and a bowl of porridge, and watched live coverage of the Pakistan/South Africa Test match, ignoring the blanket news coverage of the happy couple's impending nuptials.

Picked up my kids from school. I discussed their homework, how they were getting on in their various classes, and the structure of English league football, and the consequences for the structure of English league football of Leyton Orient's 2-2 draw with AFC Bournemouth at the weekend, without once mentioning the fact that our future king will next year celebrate his wedding at Westminster Abbey on April the 29th.

Checked my emails - some stuff from Ebay. Work related matters. Facebook updates. Nothing remotely connected to privileged heirs of the realm, and their betrothed.

Five months to go. I only hope I can keep the level of disinterest up.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Like dolphins can swim

Watched the X Factor last night.

I know, I know. I'm not proud. I've got kids, that's my excuse.

Anyway. "Heroes", by David Bowie, is the latest victim of the Simon Cowell juggernaut, in the name of the British Army charity, Help For Heroes.

I hate this. A great song, having the context and nuance wrung out of it by a bunch of talent school wannabes. "Hallelujah" was hard enough to deal with. Have they gone too far this time?

It's instructive that they missed out some of the lyrics. "Heroes" (and the quotation marks are part of the title, symbolising the ironic sense the song was meant to be taken in) to me is a song which celebrates a young couple embracing by the Berlin Wall, beneath that concrete monolith which served as a proxy for the crushing dominance of the Russian Army and the Cold War in general (actually, the couple in the song were producer Tony Visconti and his lover, which Bowie admitted a few years back).

The anthemic nature of the music stands in complete contrast to Bowie's howling, wailing, almost pathetic vocal. You know that the couple in the song are doomed, but they don't care - there's ultimately nothing heroic about their actions that will stand the test of time, but they can be heroes, to themselves, just for one day.

And you
You can be mean
And I
I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers
And that is a fact
Yes we're lovers
And that is that

We're nothing
And nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying
Then you better not stay
But we could be safer
Just for one day
Doesn't really fit for a song about disfigured soldiers. Couldn't they have used "Hero" by Mariah Carey?

Here's the original, anyway.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Leyton Orient 2 Bournemouth 2

I find it interesting that a 2-2 draw can feel so different depending on how it came to you.

Bournemouth supporters will be kicking themselves after conceding two late goals, and losing a match they were winning comfortably. We, on the other hand, bounced up and down like demented kangaroos upon Jonathan "We Like" Tehoue's late equaliser. Much chanting of "Who Are Ya?" and "East, East, East London" did occur.

In fairness, it was a pretty even match, marred for us by two lapses of concentration at the start of each half which resulted in Bournemouth's two goals. I thought Jason Brown didn't do too badly in goal for his first game of the season - he made a few good stops and generally looked quite confident given his two misses, although blessing the posts before the start clearly didn't work.

He certainly did a lot better than Bournemouth's substitute keeper, who came on for the last 18 minutes following an injury to their number 1, and promptly conceded 2 goals. Cheers, lad.

Russell Slade's bizarre decision to stick Revell (6ft 3in), our top scorer, on the right wing, and Dean Cox (5ft 4in) in the middle, was obviously not working after 20 minutes, so why it took until halftime for him to change things around is beyond me. Mpoku threatened a lot on the left, skinning his man more often than not, but we need a bit more end product from him - his freekicks brought little in the way of chances, and one shot hit the North Stand roof rather than the crossbar.

Congrats to Jonathan Tehoue though - he always makes an impact as a sub, bustling and working like a good centre forward should, and his two goals were tucked away with precise finishing. All in all, a worthwhile point, although better tactics and greater concentration could have provided all three.

Leyton Orient

  • 32 Brown
  • 02 Omozusi
  • 04 Chorley (yellow card)
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 13 Daniels (Brown 67)
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith
  • 27 M'Poku (Walker 90+4)
  • 09 McGleish (Tehoue 61) (yellow card)
  • 11 Revell
 Goals
  • Tehoue 85
  • Tehoue 90+2
Bournemouth

  • 01 Jalal (Stewart 78)
  • 05 Pearce
  • 15 Smith (yellow card
  • 16 Wiggins
  • 04 Cooper (yellow card) (Bartley 41)
  • 07 Pugh
  • 08 Robinson
  • 17 McQuoid
  • 18 Arter (yellow card) (Feeney 75)
  • 19 Hollands
  • 27 Bignall
Goals
  • Pugh 2
  • Pugh 48