Archive for July, 2008

Well, this is some bullshit right here.

Britain’s Chief Rabbi says that the “loss of religion” is the root cause of Britain’s “broken society.”

With an equal amount of evidence, logic, or justification of any kind to back this claim up, I declare that the true cause of our broken society is that insufficient pancakes are being eaten. Also, our crappy weather would improve if people stopped buying so many McFly albums, teen pregnancy rates would plummet if people switched from Coke to Pepsi, and Morris dancing cures cancer.

There’s just not a single reason to believe that “depression, stress, eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse” are consistently less common among people who believe in some fantastical sky-being or other than in those of us who are quite content with the real world. If I’m wrong, show me a study.

And even if he’s right, it’s religious belief in general that will apparently cure what ails ya, and he’s calling for people of all faiths to work together. So, it doesn’t even matter whether your invisible heavenly creature is actually there or not – praying to a made-up fictional deity is supposed to have just as positive an effect on your health, and your ability not to get addicted to drugs, as it would if you were one of the lucky ones whose magical omnipotent overlord is really out there.

God is completely irrelevant. Just make damn sure you believe in him one way or another.

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I’m still waiting for one of these stories to turn up where I don’t want to slap everyone involved. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my own position is just ill-defined and demands too much from all parties, or I should just applaud good decisions when I can even when they seem to be made for wrong-headed reasons.

14-year-old Welsh Sikh cannot be excluded from school because she insists on wearing a religious “bangle”, a high court judge has been dragged away from dealing with actual crimes to decide.

I think the “no jewellery” policy the school had in place which caused all the trouble sounds like a pretty crappy one. I can imagine they might want to restrict some particularly flashy, obnoxious, or dangerous forms of self-expression, but if they really can’t be flexible enough to let a girl wear what sounds like a small and completely inoffensive piece of metal on her arm, then I think they kinda suck. C’mon, you’re not quashing any rebellious tendencies by cracking down on this, and nobody else’s religious sensibilities are being offended by this girl wanting to wear a bangle. At least, nobody who’s not a retard.

But at the same time, if it’s decided that the school has the right to impose a particular dress code on its students, then anyone’s religion is their own damn business and nobody’s obliged to give a shit if you want special treatment for it. It’s an insane precedent to set, and if we’re going to go down that road then I’m going to start looking for a deity to worship who considers paying parking fines a sacrilege.

Bah. I need some calming toast.

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Yes, now it’s easier than ever to write disturbing fanfic with slash pairings of your favourite theoretical models of the physical laws underpinning the universe.

First there was Physical Theories as Women, and the corresponding Physical Theories as Men. And now…

0. Newtonian gravity is Ron.
Solid, dependable, good long heritage.
It has its limits, but is surprisingly powerful.

1. Electromagnetism is Snape.
You must master E&M, but so many have irrational fear or hatred of it.
It leads to deep unification and glimpses of fundamental symmetries, and is strangely beautiful yet powerful.

And so on through to Hermione as string theory, and a special mention for Voldemort’s Aryan physics. It’s brilliant, but it may end up revealing more about the author’s ‘shipping tendencies than the physical theories in question. By this system, Snape is “strangely beautiful”, Harry is “apparently orthogonal to [Snape], yet incomplete without [him],” and Draco is Snape’s and Dumbledore’s love-child. Oh, and Hermione “may contain all the other fields within [her]”. All of which is just adding fuel to many scary and confusing fires.

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A cute, cuddly, fluffy, friendly bunny rabbit on a kids’ TV show wants to kill and eat Jews. This is all insanely messed up, but the idea that “vulnerable British children” could be brainwashed by watching clips of this on YouTube is pathetic. It’s plenty scary enough that this is regularly on TV in Palestine, and people phone in demanding the rabbit’s hands be cut off in accordance with Sharia law; Western society would be in real trouble if our own culture wasn’t a little more resistant to being infected with such violent ideas through clips being watched on fucking YouTube. If we were that worryingly susceptible and fixated on every video we ever watched online with a fanatical religious fervour, the Statue of Liberty would’ve been replaced by a giant likeness of Rick Astley by now.

In yet more news that makes me want to smack even the people who aren’t being bigoted twats with a clue-by-four, not only is some prick suing a publishing house because the Bibles they publish condemn homosexuality as a sin (it’s the goddamned Bible, what the hell were you expecting?), and not only is he trying to claim that these particular references, in these particular editions, are directly responsible for a range of evils from “his poor relationship with his family” to the murder of Matthew Shepard, but he’s also publishing a book of his own entitled 365 Reason’s to Study the Bible, with a fucking apostrophe in the plural. Gah.

Catholics – along with, I would guess, a majority of most religious demographics out there – don’t actually unthinkingly obey all the commands on acceptable behaviour handed down from on high. Specifically in this case, they’re generally quite happy to use contraception however they like, regardless of what His Popiness says. It’s not just atheists who don’t need a god to act as their source of moral law and provide a reason to behave well. People rarely have trouble coming up with their own set of ideas of things like “good” and “just” and attributing them to their chosen deity. My gay-friendly Christian friends point to the bits of the Bible about loving everyone, others point to the bits about punishing homosexual behaviour with death. It says more about people than any actual divine wishes.

Please God, let there be world peace, an end to poverty and hunger, and more than fourteen episodes of Joss Whedon’s new show before it gets cancelled. Oh, and most importantly, please bring gas prices back down below $4 a gallon. Yep, people are organising prayer meetings by the petrol pumps to ask God to sort out the energy crisis. No doubt he’ll get all the credit when people eventually find a practical solution, or when anything slightly good starts to happen, and the lack of correlation between what his believers ask for and what actually happens in the world will continue to go entirely unnoticed. It’s just how they do things.

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Greta Christina raises some interesting ideas, stemming from the incompatibility of the three favourite “omni”s of a number of religions, particularly popular within Christianity. God is often said to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, but this obviously raises a few problems which are yet to be satisfactorily resolved, like the problem of why he’s doing such a crappy job of it if he’s so great.

And although many religious people will vigorously defend this idea of a deity with a trifecta of awesome who still regularly lets people die in a fire (and depending on your theology regularly sends them to burn for eternity as well), it seems they’re often willing to allow some leeway in at least one of these criteria, even if they don’t acknowledge it. She suggests that different branches of Christianity can essentially correspond to different sets of values placed on these “omni” factors – that is, which they truly maintain their god must possess, and which they can hypothetically allow to slide a little.

I think it’s an interesting way to think about things, and to bear in mind while approaching people’s stances on their god. Most people I know would probably be most willing to forego a little omnipotence: they want God to still be good, and not ignorant of humanity’s plight, but believe that sometimes we have to help ourselves because he won’t (or can’t) instantly provide for all our needs. Or perhaps omniscience is the one you’re most willing to let go a little: although there are no limits to your god’s powers or to his willingness to help us, his attention has to be drawn to our needs through prayer, and ritual, and groups of people singing loudly in big buildings, or else he just won’t notice us.

Or, he knows exactly what’s going on down here and has the ability to do as he damn well pleases, but won’t hesitate from sending your ass to be pitchforked for eternity if you cross him. And although even the nuttiest, most hateful sects of fundamentalist asshaberdashery still tend to proclaim their god to be loving and generous, the benevolence of God is clearly less of a priority to those who happen to know that they’re on the right side of the brutally authoritarian regime. I think it says a lot about a person if the assets they value most in an overlord are power and dominion, and not so much justice or mercy.

Which factors are most important to you? What do you look for in a deity?

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It is finished.

Remember PZ Myers? He’s the biology professor and big-time internet scienceblogger I talked about a while ago. You know, the dastardly, God-hating atheist. The one so appallingly, unspeakably evil that he kicks puppies steals people’s ice cream regularly abuses children and uses his hugely influential global institution to cover it up and escape prosecution dared to suggest that death threats might be a bit of an overreaction to some kid not eating a small piece of bread when he was supposed to. But in spite of this atrocious wrong-doing, the many Catholics who perceived themselves the injured party forgave him with typical Christian kindness took reasonable steps to address the issue offered some sort of reasonable resolution acceptable to all parties sent further death threats, by the hundreds, to PZ and his family. But this act of loving charity, of which Jesus would no doubt be proud, was not enough to soften his cruel heart, and earlier this week he went ahead with his abominable hate-crime against another equally precious and valuable small piece of bread.

Okay, I’m all sarcasm-ed out, so I’m just going to segue clunkily into lecture mode. In the end, all he did was stick a nail through it (inspired by this image of a similar blasphemy by those insidious Jews) and chuck it in the bin, along with some other generic rubbish. By strict Catholic doctrine, this is probably a Very Bad Thing to do. Even outside of Catholic doctrine, this could still be quite a dick move, if meant as nothing more than an offensive and deliberately provocative gesture of contempt to something that means something to some people.

But that’s not what it was, and this is where so many people are missing the point. Myers wasn’t simply saying “Ha, this is what I think of your sacred cracker,” and spitting metaphorically on something precious to many people. This wasn’t an attack on Christianity, or an assertion of hate or disrespect to all those who practise it. I can’t speak for PZ, but it seems clear that he was trying to highlight the triviality of the whole controversy, and of the one action that kicked it all off, and of the staggering lack of perspective exhibited by anyone who thinks their outrage gives them such moral superiority that they can start calling for people’s murder over a small piece of bread.

As he’s been saying all along, it’s a frackin’ cracker. “Desecrating” it means nothing. Zero material harm has been done here. You’re welcome to your unusual, unorthodox, or just plain wacky ideas about what any arbitrary object means to you, but you can’t expect anyone else to have even a modicum of respect for these ideas if they’re not founded in reality. This cracker – either one – was nobody else’s property, nobody else’s domain to decree what may or may not be done to it.

He also threw in a few pages of the Qur’an into there along with all the other trash. And a few torn-out leaves from Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, too. Because why the hell not? It means nothing. No ideas have been demeaned, no belief systems have been weakened, nobody’s moral centre will tumble down. I could totally rip up an entire Dawkins book and throw it out with the days-old lasagna I’ve got lying around. It’d just a symbolic gesture to demonstrate that, you know what, I can do this, and it changes nothing. And unless their ideology is dangerously running amuck, then so it should be with Catholics and their Jesus-wafer. When people are making death threats over a small piece of bread, this seems like a gesture worth making, if it can help remind ourselves of what actually matters. And if it takes a cursed heathen atheist to do the job and stand up to the dangerous ideology in some small way, then that’ll just have to do.

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Protestor glues himself to Prime Minister. A 24-year-old student invited to a reception at Downing Street smuggled in pouches of superglue in his underwear, emptied them into his hands, and announced: “Do not worry, this is a non-violent protest. I have actually just superglued myself to the buttons of the Prime Minister.” Then he went on about climate change for a bit until Gordon extricated himself. Brilliant. Am I cynical to think that in America he would’ve been tased into a coma within half a syllable of that speech?

Soldier-hating anti-charity council won’t give some guy £500 to help him put on a fund-raising event to raise money for a charity for wounded soliders, and then probably goes on to kick some puppies. Except, they later realised this was an “error of judgment” and are now completely behind the event, so all that’s bollocks, but don’t let’s stop writing angry headlines about political correctness going mad just because of some awkward facts.

Speaking of headline writers being dicks, a story about how we address the problem of obesity, and considering alternative approaches that might be more effective than lecturing people about their weight and vilifying them for it, including reward schemes and free weight-loss classes, is summarised as “Hug a fatty, says minister”. Yeah, that nicely summarises the issues at hand without trivialising anything, well done.

A guy who’s taken a longer walk on the Moon than any other human says NASA is covering up many alien visits to Earth. He was being interviewed by Kerrang! Radio, bizarrely, and claimed that, after sixty years of mystery, some secrets are finally coming out. Just because he’s been up in space a bit and achieved more awesomeness than my own life is ever going to match, doesn’t mean we can’t respectfully ignore him when he’s being silly. The Evening Standard finds news of the aliens’ advanced technology “chilling”. Yes, they were also the ones advocating the fatty-hugging just now.

Let’s see them get something right, at least. Space is gorgeous.

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So I saw The Dark Knight.

Short, spoiler-free review: Fucking. Awesome.

And Heath Ledger had more charisma in his tongue than I am ever going to accumulate over a lifetime of being me.

Later, I may speculate on film adaptations of comic-book and graphic novel superheroes generally, and the extent to which disbelief can be suspended for the sake of a world which runs under such different rules from our own. It’s an interesting subject, and I have thoughts about it on several different movies which it might be fun to compare and see if I can draw any particular conclusions. But that’s later. For now, go see The Dark Knight.

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Seen on the train today: a slightly Hispanic Johnny Depp, who I mistook for a girl and thought “nice hair”. Twice.

No proper blog today. Back into the swing of it tomorrow, hopefully. I’ve really been on the wagon lately, and I’m determined to keep this going. Thanks to everyone who’s dropped by.

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Bonus post for you today, just alerting your attention to a new page added to the blog (like a post, but fixed in a timeless, eternal state). It’s about songs that have made me cry, and it’s over here.

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