Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Fly Me To The Moon (You're Less Likely To Kill Me)

A report just out concludes the the Columbia shuttle disaster in Feb 2003 was not survivable. The sad fact is astronauts were safer flying to the moon atop the gigantic Saturn 5 rockets than they were in the comparatively simpler missions to Earth orbit.

The first major failure occurred in January of 1986 O-rings designed to keep the hot gasses inside the right-hand solid rocket booster (SRB) failed due to extreme cold. The resulting breakup caused the loss of Challenger and all seven crew before the vehicle even left Earth's atmosphere. Physicist Richard Feynman revealed the primary cause of failure at a press conference by keeping a sample of the O-ring material in a glass of iced water to the surprise and embarrassment of NASA management.

Unlike Challenger, Columbia actually carried out her mission but her fate was sealed before the orbiter had even cleared the tower. A piece of insulating foam broke away and pierced the heat resisting tiles under the left wing. Although NASA were aware of the incident, it seems that no one bothered to tell the crew.

According to the BBC, the 400 page "Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report" concludes the accident was not survivable. They had around 41 seconds after realising the craft was in trouble before the vehicle finally broke up and tried desperately to rectify the problem. Some of the crew were not wearing the bulk helmets and gloves that might have kept them alive longer; others were not even strapped into their seats.

NASA Deputy Associate Administrator, Wayne Hale, concludes soberly that lessons had to be learnt, urging spacecraft designers everywhere to study the, "hard lessons which have been paid for so dearly."

The agency had not lost a single astronaut in any of the manned moon missions (although the crew of Apollo 13 came perilously close) and several others lost their lives in during training.

Has space travel become too routine? In both cases there's a body of evidence pointing at cost cutting in key areas and, frankly, poor management. Either way we should never forget the courage demonstrated by those who offered and finally gave their lives for the betterment of humanity.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sarah Palin: MILF to GILF

Whore slapper tart Daughter of the one-time Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin has given birth to a son, Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, People magazine reports.

It's not particularly newsworthy that an 18-year old girl has a child - happens all the time. However, Sarah Palin is the moral voice of Alaska, an ultra-conservative right winger who opposes abortion and promotes family values such as marriage (man-woman marriage, not the other kinds) and the couple are planning to marry in 2009.

Hoopy-fucking-do!

Wait a minute - traditional family values? Marriage?

That makes poor little Trip Jnr. a bastard (as in born out of wedlock) a label he will have to carry for the rest of his life. If that wasn't bad enough, he's also likely to be a creationist-republican. I'd rather be a bastard - oh wait...

This stable door has been open so long, horse hasn't just bolted (to borrow from Douglas Adams) it's gotten buried in soft peat and been recycled as fire-lighters. In neo-Conservative eyes, you grow up THEN get married THEN you have sex (for the 1st time) THEN you have children. Unless you cut out the awkward middle-man (commitment) and just say, "fuck it, let's breed."

This Palin family reaction is typical goalpost shifting - while they preach one thing, when they are caught doing something else, they just sweep it under the rug and pretend it was all OK.

Staggeringly, this "private matter" is being ignored by conservative America which is a shame - if they would only pull their heads out of the sand they could actually see what a disgrace the people they vote for are.

Credit Crunch's Sharp Teeth

The credit crunch continues to bite - after years of credit madness, the scythe of reason is cutting swath through the those that relied on it too much. High street names that has already fallen victim to this seemingly unstoppable force include Zavvi, Wolwoorths, Adams, The Officer's Club and now Olan Mills.

I had thought that Olan Mills had gone under some time ago after the local branch stopped calling me.

Wait, did I mention that?

Seemed like not a week went by when the sorry bastards from Mills' sales department didn't ring me up and offer me something. Unlike a normal store (Zavvi, Woolys, Adams) Olan Mills' modus operandi was to offer clients sweet deals on the proviso that they gave up five of their friend's personal telephone numbers - so they could offer a similar deal.

Cold call them in other words.

Didn't matter that I'm an accomplished amateur photographer and member of a highly respected local photographic society; didn't matter that I had more gear personally and access to more skills than their entire studio had. Half my friends are professional photographers! All that mattered is that my wife or I could come in for a makeover and sitting.

Much as I feel sorry for the support staff and customers, I'm not sorry to see these fuckers go out of business. An American import - Olan Mills' operation worked like a dodgy double-glazing company and the way it extracted personal contact details from people was shameful.

The photographs were rarely up to much either: formulated to look attractive using soft light, a limited selection of accessories such as a the clich├ęd feather boa and massive over-softening. Olan Mills' photographs were mass-production and damaged the business for real photographers who actually employed skill and experience to produce decent portraiture.

Farewell and good riddance.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Bishops Can't See The Irony

Next to the state and possibly the monarchy, probably the wealthiest landowner in the UK is the Anglican church. The church of Rome is similarly rich.

Yet what do they actually do to accumulate this great wealth? Very little.

I'd like to say, they do sod all, but they do perform certain ceremonial duties and I have to admit that there are still people who desperately need something to cling to.

Yet today, in another foot-in-mouth feat of (Douglas) Adamsian irony, five top Anglican bishops are have criticised the government for failing the poor. Bishop of Manchester the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch said that Labour is "beguiled by money" and "morally corrupt".

Hey buddy - look in the fucking mirror will you!

I don't see either church handing out millions of its accumulated wealth to the poor. Sure, they preach to their followers to "give generously" (often to them, of course) but do they give any back.... errrrr....

Now I won't argue that in recent years, Labour has lost the plot. But in recent years, led by Tony Blair, the party has massively extended the City Academies programme. This education initiative was supposed to help the poor by building massively expensive, state-of-the-art super schools in the heart of deprived areas.

Hot on the heels of Sir Peter Vardy, Bob Edmiston and Graham Dacre offered to sponsor academies. Each one a car dealer, each a "Christian" and all three amazingly rich - a factor fuelled almost entirely by the consumer credit explosion. In all three cases these "Christians" only had to stump up less than 10% of the cost of the schools, got to set the agenda while the taxpayers got to carry the rest. For ever.

Then what happens? The offspring of well-to-do families are bussed (or more usually driven) in while the poorer children are pushed to one side. All this does is widen the gap between rich and poor - and the naturally better performing richer kids make everyone hail the Academy a success - where the opposite is true.

The Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Tom Wright said:
"We have not seen a raising of aspirations in the last 13 years, but instead there is a sense of hopelessness. While the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer."
Yes indeed - like three representatives of your flock that I've just mentioned, Reverend.

Jesus would be ashamed of the lot of you.

UPDATE (29/Dec/2008):

Liam Byrne MP came out punching, he said "Labour had fought hard to narrow the gap between rich and poor." And Sir Stuart Bell, MP, the Church's own Commons representative, called the bishops' claims "nonsense".

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Daily Mail Contradicts Itself

Peter Hitches is a journalist with strong views and he doubts evolution:
"For in my view the theory of evolution is done no favours by its fervent supporters. Interestingly, it's not comparable to other major scientific theories (like the theories of flight, gravity and relativity) to which its supporters always link it. These can be used to predict events, and are testable. Evolution is a theory about the distant past, unobserved and now unobservable."
In this single paragraph, Hitchens both makes an interesting point and then reveals amazing ignorance of both evolution and the scientific method.

First to his positive observation that people like Richard Dawkins (and hell, even folks like me) constantly bang on at people like him to leave it alone and let us study it.

He's right, we do: but with bloody good reason.

Evolution represents probably the greatest scientific discovery ever made but like many other major discoveries it threw a massive scientific clog into machinery of the great Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The modern-day theory of evolution, so called neo-Darwinian theory is what most scientists regard as the definitive (if incomplete) version; and it's this incomplete bit that pro-theists like to drive wedges into.

Anti-evolutionists, creationists - call them what you will don't want replace evolution with a better natural theory, they want to replace it with a story written four thousand years back by a bunch of nomadic Jews.

Which is why we get so utterly pissed off.

This alternative to evolution is no more an alternative than a slice of plastic is alternative to a sandwich. An alternative to a sandwich would be, say a nice, juicy Aberdeen Angus burger topped with melted cheese and a dill pickle... oh wait, it must be nearly lunchtime here.

It takes Hitchens just a dozen words to prove how strikingly ignorant he is about the whole affair:
"Evolution is a theory about the distant past, unobserved and now unobservable."
WRONG!

One theory about the distant past that a majority of scientists agree with is the Big Bang. We can observe the remnants of Big Bang in the cosmic background radiation - the very low temperature afterglow (about 4 degrees kelvin) of the cataclysmic event that brought our universe into being, yet we cannot - directly - see the event itself. Only a very few scientists actually disagree with Big Bang although small details are frequently debated. We don't have all the answers, yet Hitchens and his ilk don't, err, bang on about it.

Big Bang does not contradict a theist world view - whereas evolution does (sort of). There's a small matter, ignored by creationists that does allow room for God, if you must, called abiogenesis: the creation of life itself - we still don't know for sure how life came about. The famous Miller-Ulrey experiment looked promising, but failed to produce concrete results.

Evolutionary theory does not concern itself with abiogenesis - it only cares about how organisms developed from the simplest form of life into what we are today.

Hitchens can't grasp this.

Evolution is not a theory of some distant past: it's a theory of the development of all life. It is directly observable and it does make testable predictions. Darwin's contemporary, Karl Popper, solidified how theories work by making them falsifiable.

I have a theory that all sheep are white because all the sheep I have ever observed are white. This theory would be valid unless someone could find a black sheep. Even if I could produce a billion white sheep, a single black one would destroy my theory.

If, for example, a dog gave birth to a litter of cats (without human intervention) then evolution theory would be destroyed in an instant. It doesn't happen. Evolution is pretty safe as a theory among respectable scientists.

Journalists like Peter Hitchens are still wrong yet the Mail allows them to vent their spleens at regular intervals about stuff they know less than nothing about. In an amazing change of pace, the paper prints this Salute to Charles Darwin by the respected scientist, Desmond Morris, which is a remarkable about face .

They've also run the story I covered here several days late, but refreshing to see nevertheless with all the evidence including some I didn't include.

My guess is there's someone standing in over the Christmas holidays and the normally dumb service will be resumed shortly.

Too Late Nanny State

In a move regarded by some as trying to close the stable door after the horse has run off and died of old age, Culture secretary Andy Burnham, MP has demonstrated shocking ignorance of the Internet. The father of three told the Telegraph that standards were needed to protect children from unacceptable imagery and videos.
"You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading," he said, presumably alluding to the Ken Bigley execution video although there have been others posted by Islamic terrorist groups.
No shit, Sherlock! When asked about film-style ratings for websites, Mr Burnham shockingly revealed a complete ignorance of the subject:
"That would be an option." He said, "this is an area that is really now coming into full focus."
Perhaps no one told him that we've being doing precisely that for many years. Safesurf, for example, has been managing voluntary website content since 1995 and most other providers (particularly the smut pedlars) already clearly mark all offensive content. Game sites that carry violent imagery (such as advertising for the PEGI-18 rated Gears of War) already check the user's age.

Trying to enforce such a system is unworkable: the Internet is simply too damn big and just because one remote website operating out of Mydadisstan, is promoting Islamic terrorism, we can't just block every single site coming from the region because apart from the technical difficulties, it goes against the principals of free speech and freedom of expression.

The best and most effective censor in the world is informed choice.

In "A Clockwork Orange", Alex (played by Malcom McDowell in the Stanley Kubrick film adapatation) is exposed to masses of imagery while his head is firmly clamped in place and his eyes pinned open.

Alex has no choice - but we do.

The BBC reports on a poll carried out by the children's charity, the NSPCC which found that 75% of children had been exposed to images that had disturbed them. It doesn't elaborate.

I'm frequently disturbed by the verbal abuse and endless conflict in the popular TV dramas Eastenders (BBC) and Coronation Street (ITV) yet they are broadcast before the 9pm watershed without so much as a "by your leave" even though they occasionally garnish a knuckle-wrapping from viewers when they cross a perceived line.

I have informed choice and I choose not to watch them but remain convinced that some of the problems I face within my own family are as a direct result of my nearest and dearest spending hours glued to them.

The question remains of whether children can make an informed decision of what they are exposed to on the Internet. Observation of my children is that they can and do - although that did not prevent me installing a modest parental control filter as a belt-and-braces approach.

Nevertheless the best parental control remains a decent parent.

No amount of software is going to stop your 12-year old son looking at gaping arse, mature lesbian strap-on hardcore if he tries hard enough. He's just not going to do it if you happen to be stood right behind him. Girls, on the other hand, are more interested in inane teenage chatter - so a simple keystroke monitor is a great bonus, but sotftware and common sense is no replacement for having the computer in a well occupied family area.

Parents who abdicate their responsibility are the ones we should blame - the rest of us can manage perfectly well without MPs getting hot under the collar and trying to make a name for themselves.

Now I have go change my socks because I just stood in cat sick. Take that Andy Burnham.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Ted Baehr is Wrong About Everything

According to Newsmax, a survey showed that 70 percent of people the UK doubted the biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ. But, says "Bigoted" Ted Baehr, we are all, "gravely mistaken"

Excuse me while I recover from the paroxysm of laughter there.

Baehr, founder of The Christian Film & Television Commission ministry goes on to say:
"Christianity is true as well as historical, factual and intellectually sound"
Now excuse me for wondering, but where do these people get off making statements like this? It's pretty obvious that if people realist they're been sold a bottle of snake oil, they're going to go elsewhere - and that means that Baehr's network would be in trouble. He's hardly a impartial witness: quite the opposite.

He's also apparently a complete buffoon as this quote from the same article implies:
"Not only can you have complete faith in the New Testament documents and what they say about the virgin birth, divinity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and teachings of Jesus Christ, but you can also rely on what they say about non-Christian places, people, and events, such as the names and titles of Roman government officials."
There's a small matter of several articles of pure faith in that sentence - not to mention and this is a brilliant clincher - the recent discovery that the original NT documents do not contain any reference to the resurrection. Uh oh. Sort of buggers that argument. The earliest text that we know of stops well short of anything about Jesus coming back to life, and stops at the bit where the disciples found the empty tomb.

The bit about resurrection was added later.

In more right-wing bollocks, Good News Daily reports that Disney is dropping the nauseating Narnia movies due to budgetary constraints, but goes on to say:
"The franchise stems from the classic, beloved, seven-part young fiction series THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA written by acclaimed Christian author C.S. Lewis, who defended the Faith against atheists and other pseudo-intellectuals."
So now they're saying if you don't have faith, you're dim. Oh yeah, that really works just like the straw man. Guess who wrote that... none other than, Ted Baehr. Yes folks, Baehr isn't just ignorant, he's actually a flag waving bigot to boot. He should try and practice a bit more of what he preaches.

PLOT SPOILER

If you are enjoying the Narnia books/films, then you won't want to know that they end with the children discovering they are all dead and in heaven. The lion was Jesus all the time - well who knew?

Depressing. Truly depressing.

Dail Mail is Confused by Snow

Must be a slow day at The Mail as a Canadian woman makes headlines after surviving for three days in snow. In what it calls a Christmas 'Miracle', the second one today, the Mail extols:
"Donna Molnar, who disappeared during a heavy blizzard, was discovered under two feet of snow wearing only ordinary clothing. Rescuers were stunned to find the 55-year-old Canadian still breathing after enduring temperatures as low as -15C."
It's great that she was found alive, maybe a little surprising but not really a miracle and not at all unheard of.

Mrs Molar, who is reported to be suffering from depression had lost family members over the festive period. When she went missing in the middle of snowstorm, friends feared the worst. Her abandoned car was discovered over the weekend - it's not clear at this stage how long she was out in the open or when she was buried by a snowdrift.

The Mail continues:
"...almost three full days after Molnar went missing, volunteer Ray Lau’s dog, Ace, became excited by a scent he had picked up in a field. Under heavy snow and high winds, the animal would normally be unlikely to smell a human presence."

So the Mail is almost implying that Mrs Molnar has been under the snow for three days - we already know that for at least some of that time she had been in her van. We can take it as read that she was in dire straits, but what of the dog and this heavy snow?

The canine sense of smell is many times more sensitive than our own and the Mail's assertion "the animal would normally be unlikely to smell a human presence" is bullshit either through ignorance or the the fact it weakens the story. Trained dogs routinely find skiers trapped under feet of snow after avalanches and by the story's own tacit admission, Mrs Molnar wasn't deeply covered.
"He [Ace] began nuzzling something hidden there, barking furiously and Mr Lau, who followed on his tail, then saw a gloveless hand and a woman’s face half-obscured by a black hood."
So in fact, at least some of Mrs Molnar was only covered by a thin blanket (making Ace's job a bit simpler): and what about that black hood - that sounds like outdoor clothing?

But the officer in charge, Mark Cox appears to have the key, telling the Canadian Globe and Mail, reportedly saying:
"Never even come close to something that was this unlikely. It really is incredible how she survived it. I’m shocked."
Which leaves me wondering how much experience he has at this - if he actually used those words - journos have nasty habit of, well, frankly putting words into people's mouths. The Mail is on a roll now:
"Bizarrely, police believe Mrs Molnar, who works in the nearby city of Hamilton, might have been kept alive by the snow acting as an insulating blanket."
BIZARRELY?! Dear god, doesn't anyone at the mail understand basic thermodynamics... oh wait. I take that back, of course they don't.

We know from the report that Mrs Molnar suffered frostbite to several fingers and hypothermia, which isn't that surprising, but the mail reports that she endured temperatures of -15c. Did she?

There's a couple of things at work here and the police report is right on the money. It's perhaps paradoxical that the best way to survive a blizzard is to bury yourself in snow. It's not so much the snow that kills you - it's the exposure to wind chill as the driving wind carries your body temperature away.

By actually covering yourself in fluffy white stuff (which is also full of stagnant air) you insulate your body from the effects of the wind and therefore receive some degree of protection. In fact, the insulating nature of snow means you can stay comparatively warm. Suffocation is a more likely consequence, but as the temperature drops our respiration slows so we use less of the precious air in our icy tomb.

Moreover, did anyone actually have a thermometer against Mrs Molnar's body? Of course not, those -15c temperatures (which are not all that extreme) would have been at ground level - most likely at night and probably using wind chill for effect.

While I wish Mrs Molnar a speedy recovery, I wish the Mail would try a bit harder.

Touched by a (Camera) Angel



Among the usual suspects, the Daily Fail Mail carries this story of a child who made a remarkable recovery after being touched by an Angel. The Mail says:
"Colleen Banton, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was facing the agonising decision of taking her daughter off a life-support machine when the 'miracle' occurred."
At least the Mail has included the quotes suggesting that someone down there still commands a quantum of scepticism. It goes on to quote Mrs. Banton:
On the monitor, there was this bright light,' she said. 'And I looked at it and I said, "Oh my goodness! It looks like an angel!"'
Of course, that's the only explanation. The Mail continues:
"A first attempt at capturing the image with a digital camera was unsuccessful: 'The first picture wouldn't take,' she said. The second time she succeeded, and the mother-of-two sought solace in the image while her daughter's oxygen mask was removed."
Apparently, everyone was stunned as the oxygen mask was removed and the teenager continued to breath for herself. Some two weeks later, she was fit enough to be discharged in time for her 15th birthday on Christmas day.

The Mail goes on to quote the typically religious American lady:
'If they doubt it, that's fine... But I know what I saw, and the picture's untouched. I didn't make it up. That's just something that I believe. I believe that more people have changed since this happened. I know I have. I look at things differently than I used to – because I know God is in control.'
If God's in control why was this poor child born five weeks premature with hydrocephalus? Why is it she's suffered life-threatening illness throughout her short life and why is it that tangible medicine has continued to keep her alive?

Yes, I'm a cynical bastard. So let's take a closer look a the facts which are pretty short on the ground since we only have witness statements to go on.

Even the Mail is confused:
"The unusual light appeared while her daughter Chelsea was fighting for life on a ventilator"
How do we know this light just appeared mysteriously? Simple - we don't.

All we can see is a bright light on the monitor on a picture that's already distorted by the camera angle and the goldfish bowl CRT and wide-angle of the CCTV camera.



The green lines I've added here show the approximate true lines of perspective and the purple ones trace a corner that's fairly close to the camera. I don't know the dimensions involved, in particular the width of the corridors at this junction, but you can see how distorted everything is to begin with.

So to the light. Any decent photographer will tell you bright light - or glare - is a pain in the bum. There are several types of glare - lens flare is probably the most common, but by no means the only one: and it's not what we're seeing here. This is classic overexposure bleed typically associated with electronic recording.

By roughly tracing the edge of the bleed it's easy to see how it follows the lines of the doorway.




You can see from this that the glow appears to drop away when at the edge of the painting and also slightly along the bumper rail. It follows the metal bumper on the door too.

What we have here is a reflection from a bright source just outside of the camera's view - but you already guessed that, didn't you. This is further confirmed by the way the light reflected from the area also pools on the floor.

So could it be an angel after all then - just out of shot? There's certainly a light source, but since hospitals are full of bright light sources - this is a far more tangiable explanation than the sudden appearance of a supernatural construct. The glowing effect is simply caused by the way the overexposure flare falls off.

This next image is just for fun (but watch it pop up around the net!)



This bit of Photoshoppery is courtesy of a photographer friend, but you can see how convincing it is - it took about 30 seconds to complete the illusion: and it's deliberately slightly inaccurate.

Belief is a very powerful thing. Many of us need to believe in something greater than ourselves to give our lives purpose - or to blame when things go wrong. This lady's genuine belief has distorted a very simple trick of the light into something supernatural.

So what about her daughter's miraculous recovery? That's good and I'm genuinely pleased for the family, but I doubt the story's accuracy.

Witnesses are notoriously unreliable - even without the added confusion of strong emotions and beliefs. We only have the report's word that Chelsea was at death's door. Reporters often play around with the truth to make the mundane into the fantastical.

Mundane stories don't pay their wages and they have to eat.

Misquotation, distortion and exaggeration are orders of the day if you're a hungry journalist and a mother desperately seeking answers is paydirt.

Your mission, should you chose to accept it is to keep on questioning everything you read.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas (Credit Crunch) Message

One of the things I hate about Christmas is the way that so much airtime is given over to the religious nutters. Look, Christmas was nicked from the poor Pagans - it's a celebration of the winter solstice. No one knows when (or frankly even if) Jesus was born - the odds of him being born on 25th December on our calendar are about 365-1 against.

I love the idea of being around family and giving of gifts (because I love to give) but the supernatural message is lost on me. The churches cling on to it because they don't have a lot to offer frankly in these days of manic consumerism.

But they've been handed a gift this year.

Most of the west is suffering a massive downturn and they're milking it for everything they can get. Lots of hand-wringing about how we should be good to each other and how Jesus said this and that... the usual stuff. Credit is hard to come by and the effect of the greed that governments allowed to run unchecked for decades has finally burst a bubble and we're in a recession - a bad one.

So you will forgive me for observing that not all so-called Christians are so thrifty. Sir Peter Vardy, a favourite of god-bothering former British PM, Tony Blair built a multi-million pound car business thanks to cheap credit: and became enormously rich into the bargain.

He got out when the going got good and once commented that the lord (God) had given him a "very full cup" which made me want to vomit.

God, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Vardy is a businessman and with some good judgement and shrewd decisions, he rode a tide of easy credit and explosion in personal debt to dizzying financial heights. I have my doubts he would fair so well selling cars in the current financial climate where even the car-makers are having to be bailed out by governments.

But Vardy doesn't do motor cars now - he jumped ship, becoming even more personally wealthy than before and ploughed some of his gains into another sure thing: City Academies - and it's his belief in promoting the supernatural that brought him onto my radar. (The guy is a snake-oil salesman and we're letting him decide the future of some of our children!)

At the same time the very practices that made Vardy so eye-wateringly rich are being decried as wicked from virtually every pulpit in the land: by senior members of his own sect.

BBC reports Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester as saying:
"Society is facing an inevitable come-uppance for its 'buy now, pay later' culture."
I wonder how Sir Peter can sleep at night knowing that his millions come from precisely that? Rather well, I expect.

Bring Back GoreSat!

Al Gore may not have invented the Internet, he might not have even made the most convincing documentary on climate change, but the guy's heart certainly seems to be in the right place. At the end of the last century (less than a decade back) NASA scientists, jaded at the prospect of putting folks on the moon (been there, done that), came up with the idea of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) - aka Discover. Gracious, these acronyms get cheesier.

The idea was for DSCOVR to stream a live colour image of the blue marble we call home from about a million miles away and help model how climate change is affecting us. The nickname "Goresat" comes from the politician's support for the project since inception. Gore wanted to steam the data live onto the Internet 24/7 so we could watch in awe at the jaw-dropping beauty of Earth from space.

But the Bush "administration" put the clog in. DSCOVR would have put a smoking gun into America's hand proving that its reliance on oil is fucking with the planet - and Dubya, a god-bothering climate-change denying idiot and his cronies weren't going to let that happen on his eight year snooze watch.

Writing for the BBC, Dr Christopher Riley curator of the online Apollo film archive project, Footagevault, says:

"Today, the satellite still rests in storage at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland awaiting a more enlightened presidency to give it a green light. Perhaps, under a new administration, and to mark the 40th anniversary of humankind's first vision of the Earth from space, that time has now come."

We can only wait and hope.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Pope: "Catholicism Must Save the World From Gays and Trannys!"

In his end of year dribble speech to Vatican staff the 81 year old pontiff has suggested that saving the world from gay folk is as important as saving the rain forests.

Funny how they can freely and openly attack people for being naturally programmed a particular way and yet when someone criticises their unquestioning belief in the invisible, they cry blasphemy.

Homosexuality may be abhorrent to these folk, in fact it offends many atheists and agnostics too - unless they are red-blooded males watching a two or more 20-somethings getting all steamy together. Erotic lesbianism is OK... But that's homosexual sex.

So what's wrong with two dudes falling in love?

I know the problem. Folks can't get their heads around the way gay men make out. This has nothing to do with reproduction of the species (although that's what the religious would have you believe.) It's because they can't abide what goes on in the bedroom (or in George Michael's case - somewhere else).

Like or not, accept it or not, but being gay is part of the human condition - and it's not just restricted to humans.

Sexual attraction involves many parts of the brain and for the most part we don't fully understand it, what we do know is that some people are sexually attracted to members of the same sex. They can't help it because they are made that way; they didn't consciously choose to nip into the closet one day never to return.

Sexual orientation is determined in the womb.

If you believe in God, it's God's fault that some men and women are gay. If you believe in science on the other hand, it's natures fault.

Either way we have absolutely no right to try and rid the world of them: and the organised churches have even less right than that; and what really grinds with me is that a bloke who has, by definition never even experienced an orgasm, is considered a suitable person to tell the rest of society how to think.

As Rodney Carrington observed, "I think I'll go in the closet now. I'm tired of all that pussy, gonna get me some dick now."

UPDATE:

Now I'd missed this, but the Christian post reports:
the Pope said, “It is not man who decides who is a man or woman but God.”
Clearly, and as typically usual, the intellectually challenged corpse worshipper, has missed a fascinating point about transsexual behaviour: and since one of my best friends was afflicted this way (and even confessed to me before telling his then model girlfriend) I do feel a little better informed than he is about the subject.

We'll call him Dave - not his real name.

Dave and I were computer programmers and pretty good mates. He was very handsome, articulate and well-mannered. But he wasn't in the least bit camp.

He came to my birthday party and made me feel like a true guest of honour. We (the small selection of office staff, including Dave) wined and dined while I did my "Siadwell" impression and drunkenly put pinhole burns all down the front of my favourite shirt: that I'd just received that very evening.

Some weeks later, we were talking at his place and he explained that he had a secret and over the next few hours poured out the details of his feeling like a woman trapped in a man's body. He hated his penis and longed to wear woman's clothes: he'd already bought himself some stuff which he delighted in showing me. We went into a lot of detail including the pictures of the operation he eventually planned to have where his penis and testicles would be reformed as a vagina and vulva. Although they were in monochrome and early versions of today's op., they were enough to make me wince a little inside.

I was the first person he'd confided in and I felt honoured: to this day, I feel honoured that I was the person he "came out" to if that's the right word.

Dave was probably in love with me and although I considered him a trusted confidante, I had never considered him anything else than just one of the lads - yet here he was confessing the need to become a woman.

You may be wondering why I didn't feel phased by this. (Many hot-blooded males in their 20s would take serious offence or horror to be told by a friend that they were gay - but this was even more earth-shattering.)

No that was just, Dave. If he wanted to be a woman, then that was fine with me and as blogger is my witness, he never made a move on me. We understood each other. I looked at him and saw another guy, he looked at him and saw a woman - trapped in a man's body.

This is key.

Transexuals are not gay, indeed the condition is recognised in psychiatry as a gender dysphoria. It is not homosexuality but an entirely different condition the causes of which remain unclear.

As far as Dave was concerned, he was a woman. He had the outward physical characteristics of a man including the musculature, Adam's apple and so on, but inwardly - his sense of self - told him he was female.

So what's God got to do with this?

Ancient people had very strange ideas about sex. In Jesus's day, for example, it's widely considered that they believed that men ejaculated some form of embryos and that the woman only acted as an incubator. This lends some credence to acceptance of the virgin birth myth: god just appeared and planted the "seed". What those people didn't know was that a pair of gametes are required to create an embryo - one from each parent. Gametes are involved when plants reproduce sexually to - but in plants, the seed is an analogue of the embryo.

However, even though modern Christians cannot ignore modern biology (unless it suits them to) they still consider that life is a divine creation. This leads into to some horrid arguments about the sanctity of life versus a woman's right to choose which I'm not going to address here. My opinions should be clear from my other writing.

So let's work from their teaching: in the book of Ecclesiastes, if memory serves, it is written that it's wicked and sinful for a man to lie down with another as if it were his wife.

Make love, in other words.

However, from what I can recall, there's nothing in the bible that actually says you can't remodel a man (or woman's) body into the opposite sex.

This is not really the issue.

The simple people who wrote those words, so alien to thinking people and so precious to modern evangelical Christians, simply thought that gay folk (and transsexuals) had a choice.

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

When comedian Rodney Carrington cracks jokes like:
"I think I'll go in the closet now. I'm tired of all that pussy, gonna get me some dick now."
He's alluding to precisely this. We can't chose to be gay, any more than we can choose to be black, white, indigo, man or woman - and we can't choose to be transexuals either.

So if we can't choose to do something (using the free will, they are so fond of telling us God gave us) then the decision was made for us.

God made gay people and God made transsexuals.

I didn't work out this logic, the Bible does in concert with what we know now.

Crap - looks like I'm stuck with pussy after all.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Today I'm Going To Be: A Doctor

They're an odd breed, journalists.

In most professions you train for a long time to acquire the skills required and then spend years moving up the ladder.
"Experts are not born, they are hewn from the bedrock of endeavour and the granite of experience."
When I wrote that, back in the early 90s, I was considered an expert on computer that today few people have even heard of. It took many years to acquire the knowledge to be specialist in that comparatively narrow field and as a friend of mine wryly observed on me being introduced as an "expert":
Expert: an "ex" is something that was and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure.
Um... a few years later, I refined that into:
A specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less. So the ultimate specialist is someone who knows absolutely everything about absolutely nothing.
Richard "Holier Than Thou" Littlejohn and the cringe-making Peter Hitchens (to name two) are specialists: of the worst form - they're journalists.

The trouble is they have taken upon themselves the mantle of, well, whatever suits. One day they are doctors writing about MMR (a common theme in The Mail) another they are evolutionary biologists telling us that Darwin was wrong (Hitchens) and on yet another day, they become mystically transformed into climate experts and tell their readers that people like me are climate Nazis (Littlejohn).

Not one of these idiots possess anything remotely connected to a science degree and yet they choose to tell vulnerable people all matter of tosh they pick up unchecked from Wikipedia, or more usually thin air.

If I went to an airport and demanded to fly an jumbo to Hong Kong, I'd be escorted off the premises by security and probably handed to men in long white coats. Yet I can fly a jet - I just don't hold necessary licences. There's the small matter of those pesky months of intensive training, hideously difficult exams not to mention the £30,000+ cost.

There was a time when journalists checked their facts but somehow that's got lost to the mists of time. There was also a time when specialists were allowed to write and discuss their specialities - not any more. Now anyone with the journalist's mantle is free to write whatever bullshit they want: hell, they can even make shit up because on the (very) rare occasions they get caught, the fines are minute.

The author Mark Twain (I think) once observed that if you don't read a newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read a newspaper, you are misinformed. In those wise words, I think that ignorance might just be bliss.

Even our elected politicians command less trust than the newspapers. While I'll grant you that some of our honourable members are, well a bit dodgy, at least they are subject to some degree of scrutiny and can easily lose their jobs. The same, unfortunately, is not true of most journalists.

Believe nothing - check everything.

Report: Academies Not Panacea

In a report which will be regarded by many in education as predictable and embarrassing for ministers, the Sutton trust has found that no less than 72% of the £25M+ super schools do not pass muster for the governments own benchmark.

Further and also predictably, the BBC reports:
"It [the Sutton Trust] also suggested rises in achievement corresponded to falls in the proportion of pupils from deprived backgrounds."
No shit Sherlock!

Academies are a fucking shambles. They are a massive waste of money that let lunatics (if well meaning lunatics) like Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Foundation get a foothold into something that should not belong to them. While Vardy himself denies being a tub-thumping Creationist, there's absolutely no question that his enforcer, Nigel McQuoid is.

McQuoid famously allued to being decended from monkeys (i.e. that he didn't want children to think that they came from or are related to our primate cousins). Problem is, as is typical with relgious twits, he confused APES with monkeys.

Humans are apes, albeit a highly advanced ahd largely naked version, but apes nontheless. McQuoid doesn't like that idea - he prefers to think of himself as something special: creation of a loving god... etc. The man's an idiot and I wouldn't put him in charge of the family piss-up, let alone a school.

McQuoid/Vardy's King's Academy opened near me a few years ago and caused a storm. Poor kids dropped out (or were thrown out) and the rich kids got in. The percentage of pupils on free school meals (i.e. the less fortunate) dropped markedly and results went up.

BBBC reports:
Schools minister Jim Knight said: "It is important to note that the number of children on free school meals (FSM) in academies has actually risen compared to the under-performing schools they replaced.
Are you listening, Lord Adonis? What about you, Jim Knight?

Funny - that's the complete opposite of what the independent report says and the complete opposite of what I see on my drive home from work... there's plenty of very expensive metal driving out of King's Academy! The poor kids from "Hemo" are mostly going to the other schools further away.

Academies DON'T WORK! Open your eyes and give the poor a chance - all you've done with this failed experiment is prove what we all predicted: money does not make for a better education if you concentrate it all in one place.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Pope Praises Gallileo: Still Picks Cherries

Pope Benedict XVI has praised the astronomer, Galileo for his work in helping us to better understand the universe and the fact that we live in a heliocentric solar system where the Earth is a rather insignificant rock. If we didn't live here, we'd probably not be that impressed by it.

His predecessor reportedly remarked in in 1992 that the catholic church's treatment of the great man was a "tragic error."

Tragic error? There's a fucking understatement. Thanks to the Roman Catholic church's mind buggering ignorance and unwillingness to adapt, the cause of astronomical science was put back decades and perhaps more.

Benedict XVI is a modernist of sorts - he's not daft enough to come out and suggest the Earth is flat or the Earth is at the centre of the solar system (making it the Terra system) or even the universe. He's smart cookie and just expands his views a bit to fit with modern thinking.

God's still real, but now we can use Gallileo's discovery to observe God's work.

So that's OK then.

That's the problem with these assholes. They need to justify their jobs - after all they get paid for promoting the biggest bunch of bollocks in history of, well, history.

Every time we figure out how something else works (evolution was a good example) they shit themselves and have to either deny it (as the Americans are fond of) or wrap it up in a nice box of God's doing.

It's a lot harder to burn people a stakes these days - people tend to notice.

That's the great thing about the God concept. No matter what we figure out about our surroundings, one God fits all a bit like one of those Magic Gloves you get down the Sunday market.
It rains - god did it. (No guys, that's precipitation).

Precipitation? God made clouds!

Clouds - that the weather and God made the seas!

Water. No guys that's hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen and Oxygen? God made them.

No they are atoms. Listen guys, Oxygen is made in stars and hydrogen when the universe was created.

AH! But God made the universe!

FAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRK!
and then there's this:
Life - god did it. (Wait no, it was evolution).

Evolution? God did it!

Abiogenesis - see, you can't explain that, so God must have done it!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Daily Mail: "Ming Emperor Had Swiss Timepiece"

OK, I admit I'm having a laugh at the Mail's expense, but this is the sort of dubious BS that it prints on a daily basis, so why shouldn't I?

The story now starring all over the net although I can't find an original source, is that a couple of archaeologists have found a swiss-made ringwatch in some rubble while excavating a tomb. The key bit is here, where the writer records:
"They believed they were the first to visit the Ming dynasty grave in Shangsi, southern China, since its occupant's funeral.
It's fairly obvious they are mistaken. Says Jiang Yanyu, former curator of the Guangxi Museum:
'When we tried to remove the soil wrapped around the coffin, suddenly a piece of rock dropped off and hit the ground with metallic sound.'
Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this. Perhaps it was a time traveller? But you'd have thought a couple of things would have occurred to them, notwithstanding that time travel is paradoxically impossible, the simple fact that the clumsy bastard could would have brought a more accurate electronic timepiece - not a early 20th century clockwork version.

I can see it now: "Flux capacitor: check! FTL drive: check! Antique clockwork timepiece: check!"

Oh do behave - the most worrying thing about this is that so many new sources are sufficiently slow to actually print this as news.

Let me spell it out for you O-C-C-A-M-S R-A-Z-O-R. The idea that when there are several conflicting theories, the simplest one is usually the correct one.

Christ, these people get on my nerves.

Great American Hubris: Still Wrong

EEK! Was Al Gore wrong?



According to my ultra-conservative source, even the Democratic leaning CNN is starting to doubt the prevailing scientific theory that global warming is entirely man-made.

I'm not a meteorologist, but I've lived long enough to see the climate change. When I was a child, white Christmases were a regular thing an summers were long, dryish and warm. Things have changed.

Left-wing Americans like Gore have promoted the idea that global warming is entirely man-made whereas the right-wing like Dubya have lived in some form of denial.

Gore has a point, he just makes it badly and we all know that Dubya is religiously-driven fucking idiot. You can get details of Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth here but be cautioned that the film has a tendency to exaggerate: something that Dubya supporters have seized on.

The Earth's been here for 4.5 billion years give or take (or only 6,000ish if you believe Ken Ham and idiots like him) and for a large part of that, it's cooled down from a molten blob into what we see today.

Our home's molten core is still pretty hot and reminds us on occasions when it breaks through the fragile crust and forms massive volcanoe, but for the time that life has been on this planet the majority of our heat has come from our sun.

Due to our orbital eccentricity, solar orbital distance and heat lost to space, the planet's temperature has remained fairly constant over that time: warmer at the equator where it's close to the sun and cold at the poles where it's further away. Yet strikingly, the difference between the warmest and coldest places on Earth is quite dramatic: tens of degrees centigrade. We experience seasonal changes (particularly at the far north and south) because the Earth is tilted a few degrees from vertical.

We know this because life as we know it cannot survive outside of a comparatively narrow range of temperatures. While simple bacteria can survive and even thrive in extremely hot water for example, the higher lifeforms require far more modest temperatures.

Our planet, our home is an ideal temperature to sustain and nourish life as we know it (although this is in part an effect of the anthropic principal).

OK. So what about global warming - is it happening or not?

The majority of Americans, or American politicians anyway, don't want to think so. Such is the state of their denial, they refused to sign up to the Kyoto treaty. (Neither did India, China or Russia). Another excuse suggests that the Kyoto protocol causes economic stagnation and that following such a path allows the non-signatories to get an unfair economic advantage.

But global warming is a fact.

The scientist and the weatherman in the video above both miss (or ignore) an important point about evolution.

Not evolution of a species - evolution of a system.

There are more people alive now than have ever lived and we are changing the planet in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine. Chaos theory tells us a lot about that.

It's not just our cars - it's us! We are net consumers: we're not putting anything back. We're cutting down the trees that scrub the CO2 from the atmosphere and that leaves us with a net imbalance that the planet cannot absorb: it's never had to in its 4.5Bya history.

Sure, the sun is warming the planet. If it should experience a slight blip in output, we'll feel it for sure, but if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise, the heat energy cannot escape regardless, the planet will warm and climate will change.

We are to blame and no amount of American naval gazing and well-meant bullshit won't help.

Plant a tree and observe your environment.

Mother nature is old and wise - listen to her and listen well because our future depends that we do.

Head over the Lay Scientist to see what right-whinger, God-botherer Richard Littlejohn writes in the Daily Bullshit Mail. Original article here and please try to understand that while there are people just as stupid as Littlejohn, they don't have the opportunity to sell their ideas as facts.

Friday, 19 December 2008

BBC Fined £95,000: but who pays?

The great British public, that's who.

Competitions ran as far back as 2006 were pre-recorded so there was no way that viewers could win despite being charged premium-rate calls. However, thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded (essentially an annual television tax) the BBC isn't actually paying: the poor British public is.

Fuck that.

If presenters, producers and others are going to play fast and loose with the rules, they should be sacked. Not suspended, not wrist slapped, but sacked for gross misconduct.

Job done. No excuses. No buck passing and no fining people twice.

Ah--Ah-Chooo! Damn I'm horny!

A scientist from Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, has discovered a link between sexual arousal and sneezing.

Although reports of the condition are extremely rare, its thought that this is due to a crossed wire in part of the old brain (the bit at the back of our head) that controls autonomic functions such as breathing, temperature control, heart rate and so on. Sexual arousal is similarly automatic (even if it requires a stimulus) so the scientist considers this a probable explanation.

A more commonly reported complaint (about 1 in 4 people) sneeze when exposed to sunlight - suggesting a similarly crossed-wire between the optic system and sneeze reflex.

Somewhat bizarrely, the BBC reports, our noses also contain erectile tissue leading to a condition know as honeymoon rhinitis where men and women experience stuffiness during arousal. (The same condition is also a well-known side effect of Viagra.)

I have to ask, albeit rhetorically and with a tongue firmly in cheek, is this where the phrase "fuck nose" descends from?

Fuck knows.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Another Cleveland Police Scapegoat

Suzanne Holdsworth will be celebrating Christmas with her family this year. For the last three years, this mother of two has been banged up after murdering a two-year old toddler by banging his head against a banister in a fit of rage.

She's free because Cleveland Police failed in its duty of care - not just to poor Kyle Fisher, but to all the people it serves.

In spite of the poor child's obviously abnormal skull, indicative of hydrocephalus, and several other brain abnormalities including a drooping right eye, and a hole the size of coin behind it, Cleveland police brought trumped up charges against the only person to be in the room when he fell terminally ill from a fit.

The babysitter.

No one thought to ask anything of the child's mother, a teenager herself at the time - who it is alleged once locked Kyle in a bedroom so she could have a night out.

It must have been the babysitter.

No one thought to question the several day old bruises.

Those must have been down to the babysitter.

No one checked the banister for blood or DNA where the child's head had, allegedly been battered.

Because police knew the babysitter did it.

No one bothered to check the child's health or his tendency to epilepsy.

That would have meant the babysitter was telling the truth and the police knew better. Even though, as the BBC reports:

"The retrial heard evidence that four nights before he died Ms Fisher left Kyle home alone, locked in a bedroom by tying a belt to a broom handle to block the door. Ms Fisher admitted that she had been a negligent mother. The court heard evidence that Ms Holdsworth was, in contrast, a caring mother to her two daughters, Leslie and Jamie-Leigh, who have never questioned her innocence.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Renzo Guerrini, a paediatric neurologist at the University of Florence Children's Hospital, said:
"In my opinion there is compelling evidence he had some head injury before this night. This might have been trivial but sufficient enough to produce bleeding on the brain which triggered the epileptic seizure which because of Kyle's brain condition was possibly prolonged."
Leading the investigation into Kyle's death, was Det. Supt. Tony Hutchinson, the supercop who brought serial liars John and Anne Darwin (the "canoeist" and his wife) to justice. Labels like this may have led to the sort of "never wrong" hubris that cost an innocent woman years of her life and her young children, the loss of their mother for that period.

Science teaches us that we should follow the evidence trail and never make assumptions - even about our own cleverness. Lord Kelvin, the man credited with discovering Absolute Zero, was prone to such mistakes. Just eight years before the Wright brothers made a powered flight, he declared that heavier than air flying machines were impossible; and also famously said that radio had no future. (He also believed in God - which speaks volumes to me but perhaps that's just my internal cynic.)

Cleveland police infamously followed the science (as presented to them) during the 1980s child abuse scandal. Sometimes science gets it wrong - but in that case, it wasn't the science that was wrong, but the person presenting it. Dr Marietta Higgs (who is still allowed to practice with children!) had developed and latched on to a dumb-ass theory called the anal-dilation test. Families were devastated and, by the time the truth came out, Cleveland - and its children - could never recover.

This time they chose to ignore the science and, coupled with an apparently lousy defence, there was a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Many of the professionals involved here are to blame. Some of the doctors involved early on were not specialists; the police failed to be thorough in their investigation - I don't want to suggest they ignored the lack of evidence - I don't know.

Worst of all: what of the defence team? Where they asleep?

Didn't anyone think to question even the most basic assertions that this Kyle, a child the jury were told was a happy, normal and healthy toddler was in fact a very poorly infant. A fact that's mind-buggeringly obvious from a simple photograph.

Perhaps everyone now can take time to heal this most egregious of wounds and poor little Kyle can rest in peace.

Assume nothing: question everything.

Sick of Hannah Montana

Am I the only parent who's sick of seeing that sugar-coated smile and perfect hair that is teen sensation, Miley Cyrus?

Cyrus, precocious daughter of one-hit-wonder Billy Ray, is everywhere. I can't escape from her. Bugger me, please give me a break.

I have a couple of teenage daughters (one of whom is completely taken with the hidden superstar, Hannah Montanna) so entering the living room after school and before bed is a tenuous dance preceded by some careful listening at the door for some tinny American squawks.

Why, you might ask, should I have a problem with the ultimate queen of clean?

It's because she's an actress and like all characters, her lines are written for her. What we (or rather our children) see is not Miley Cyrus, it's a phoney; and the real Miss Cyrus is heading off in a different direction.

It's not the controversial photos taken by Annie Leibovitz that bother me; Cyrus-Disney Inc.'s PR machine covered that to death, it's the other photographs that surface from time to time including one of Cyrus posing seductively on a webcam (she was 15 at the time) and another taken by a Pap showing her licking her teeth at her then boyfriend (she was 16).

Cyrus is a Christian (OOOOH please, get me the sick bucket) just like another MTVeen favourite, Jamie Lynn Spears (younger sister of Britney "no-knickers" Spears) of Zoe 101 fame. When Spears infamously became pregnant at 16, the PR machine denied the story, "She was a good Christian girl, and wouldn't do that sort of thing."

Well she did and she was, subsequently giving birth to daughter, Maddie Briann Aldridge.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a minute that Cyrus is pregnant, just that we only have to look at how child stars invariably descend into drugs and worse when age closes in and fame fades. Examples include the dreadful Macaulay Culkin and Drew Barrymore but history is littered with them.

What I am concerned with is that we're giving vulnerable kids the wrong idea about reality - just like soap operas and daytime bullshit-pedlars like Jeremy Kyle do for adults.

(Good grief, I'm starting to sound like my dad!)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Sorry folks, You Can't Sue God

Poor old God gets a rough ride these days, but at least no one can sue him/her/it.

Everyone's invisible friend is tangible enough to rain down fire, hail and brimstone; powerful enough to command the frogs to fall from the sky, but not it seems real enough to attend court. For that, we have to rely on real people - with jobs. Solicitors in fact and in this case, ambulance chasers.

Blame the blame culture whines Reverend Dr Alistair Stewart-Sykes bemoaning the decision to cancel a performance of Handel's Messiah in a century old building. (I'm paraphrasing here, what he actually said was "While we regret the cancellation we must abide by the law.")

Health and Safety is of paramount importance - I mean, no one wants the place to come down on the assembled throngs. But wait a minute, surely that would be God's fault.

Not a bit of it.

They have to have insurance in case someone stubs a toe in the dark and sues the place for every brass penny it's wheedled out of the parishioners for ten decades past.

I just love the way these people cherry pick what suits them. If the place falls down, it's God's will but the insurance will pay, but if the place falls down and kills a bunch of folk that's still God's will but the insurance won't pay.

I say: put your faith where your mouth is, Reverend. I say you're selling snake oil.

If this loving God of yours is so powerful, the place won't crumble to the ground and no one will get hurt. You have nothing to worry about. Not a jot. Who cares what the law says, God is the ultimate power in the universe - says you.

Funny how faith abandons people when reality strikes.

One day Stephen Green goes on holiday...

One day a Jew, a Hindu, and Stephen 'Bird Shit' Green all arrived at their hotel to find that there had been a mix-up with the bookings, and that there was only one room left for them to share.

The manager explained that this room only had two beds, but that there was a barn at a neighbouring farm which the farmer, an old friend of his, would let one of them sleep in free of charge. They complained a bit, but since there was nowhere else to go, the Jew graciously said he'd sleep in the barn.

The Hindu and Green were just settling down to sleep in their room, when there was a knock on the door. It was the Jew. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'but there's a pig in that barn and because I'm Jewish I feel uncomfortable about sharing the barn with it.'

'No problem,' said the Hindu. 'I'll sleep out there instead.' So off he went to the barn, leaving Green and the Jew to share the room. They were just settling down to sleep, when there was a knock on the door. It was the Hindu. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'but there's a cow in that barn and because I'm a Hindu I feel uncomfortable about sharing the barn with it.'

Green grudgingly agreed to give up his bed and stomped off to the barn leaving the Jew and the Hindu to share the room. The Jew and the Hindu were just settling down to sleep, when there was a knock on the door.

It was the cow and the pig.

Tony Blair is still confused

In an interview for the BBC, Tony Blair continues to live in denial that his faith actually scares the shit out of a lot of us. The fact that he's now joined the largest Christian cult is nothing surprising, his letterbox-mouthed spouse has been Catholic for years and his family are being raised with invisible friends.

What is amazing (or perhaps it isn't) is that Blair (or B'Liar as many call him) admits in one breath that he feared a palaver if he admitted to being a God-botherer while in office, yet in another he thinks that people: "in one sense, are a little comforted if they think the person leading them has some sense of spiritual value," he said. "Probably we could have been a little more adventurous on this without bringing the house down."

You know, I rather wish he had.

Blair rose to power with a grin. He is, I cannot argue, charismatic but he's about as much use to the world peace his puppeteer, George 'Dubya' Bush.

It's simple. In all likelihood there is no god. We can't prove a negative, so the best we can hope for is to attempt to find evidence of some supernatural force.

There isn't any.

Not a jot. Not a single solitary drop in the ocean (because if there were, I wouldn't write this).

We simply don't know how some things work and how some things came around - the Big Bang event, the origins of life (even though Miller-Ulrey came close) and so on.

Invisible friends and belief in things that contradict what we can prove give me chills. I don't really care if Bob around the corner thinks the world is flat, but if the bloke running my country thinks that, then I've got serious cause for concern.

Either Tony Blair is a liar or he's self-deceived and either way, I'm glad he's not running Britain any more.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Scientist: "Rom Coms Spoil Your Love Life"

Wait whaaaaat?!!

You mean that Sleepless in Seatle wasn't real? Four Weddings and a Funeral wasn't based on a true story.... Oh my world is shattered.

But seriously. According to Dr Bjarne Holmes of the Heriot Wat University in Scotland, Romantic Comedies give us a false sense of what's actually real.

I think Dr Holmes might actually be on to something too. Drippy comedies are one thing, but some forms of TV - Eastenders comes immediately to mind - are supposed to be mirrors of real life. Yet they mirror one of the most miserable, argumentative bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. Fact is, most of us wouldn't want to meet them.

They don't swear a lot - only because the watershed forbids it, but the violence and conflict is portrayed with true relish: and complete disregard to the viewers who perceive it.

Could it be that watching Eastenders or Corrie is actually bad for your metal health? There are certainly some (albeit tenuous) links between CRap music and violence; evidenced again most recently by the arrest of one Dizzie Rascal.

I'm against censorship and pro free speech, but I have to wonder if telly really is partly to blame for the breakdown of society. Perhaps these dramas are so close to real life (as are Rom Coms) yet magnify particular areas: interpersonal conflict, that they actually are colouring people's perception.

Of the people I know, those who don't watch Eastenders (in particular because it's one of the worst offenders at prime-time) are far less likely to be confrontational at work or outside.

Ironically, it may be the programmes that seem the least likely to cause harm that actually cause the worst. Few people try to ape the antics of Arnie and Stalone but how many young adults (not to mention older ones) mirror the disgraceful behaviour of soap characters? Don't dismiss this out of hand - I suspect Doc. Holmes might have opened a big can of worms.

I'm just a miserable git by nature, so I can't count myself.

Update: I just got through an entire episode of Holby City (BBC TV) and not once were the magic paddles used: which makes a change.

Seems like every week these mysterious descendants of Baron Frankenstein's workshop magically bring some poor soul back from the brink. Any doctor will tell you that's a bunch of fetid Dingo's kidney - "defib" machines only work in a small minority of cases and even when they do, patients rarely make a complete recovery.

Lucky for us, Holby City is only a fiction; unlucky for doctors though, people actually think this shit works like it does on the telly box - and therein lies a problem. Us ordinary folk go around believing that if our loved ones should fall into ventricular fibrillation, the magic "zapping" machine will make them all better.

Like I said, perhaps Doctor Holmes has a point.

Monday, 15 December 2008

If it sounds to good to be true...

then, as the saying goes, it probably is.

Of course that didn't stop city superwoman Nichola Horlick bleating "foul" when she got caught up in a "Ponzi" scheme. Like a pyramid scheme, money from new investors is used to pay the existing ones giving the appearance that large sums of money can be made with very little effort.

Like most of these city types (the RBS and HSBC are also implicated), Mrs Horlick is quick to blame everyone else when things turn to shit rather than shouldering some of the blame for being greedy.

Horlick is blaming the regulator (which should have spotted Bernard Madoff's misdeeds much earlier) for losing 9% of Brandean's total fund.

This is true. The regulator should have stopped Madoff years ago, but it didn't.

Nevertheless, fund managers also have to bear a large portion of blame. They take a shitload for making decisions with our money even when those risks don't pay off.

Fuck you superwoman. You took a risk and you got bitten on the arse. It's your fault and the buck stops with you.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Mary Kenny Is a Christian: A Dumb One

Mary Kenny writes in the Irish edition of the Independent that atheists are miserable.
"I've never yet met an atheist with a sense of joie-de-vivre (unless, in the case of one well-known public atheist, a certain drunken cordiality) most of them seem to be miserable blighters."
And you Christian types have it all sewn up, don't you, you smug bastards...

Kenny is dumb. Her argument is fallacy and filled with weasel words and she has the temerity to include the story of Baby 'P' almost as if faith could've fixed it.

Fuck you Mary.

Atheists aren't miserable, we're pissed off at people like you looking down your enormous hooters at us. You think you carry the moral high ground yet you allow no one else to tred that same path if their views differ.

Wrong.

Belief does not lead to morals and more than lack of it does otherwise. That's called CHOICE and it's something you idiots would rather we didn't have.

Bible Shock! You Don't Know Your Facts.

Joe Kovacs is making waves with his new book, Shocked By The Bible

There are no real surprises from the main facts revealed in Kovac's book from what I can see, the blurb lists a few:
  • Jesus said no one has gone to heaven except Himself
  • The Bible doesn't say Jesus died on a Friday or rose at sunrise Sunday morning
  • "Christmas" is not mentioned in the Bible
  • No wise men at all visited baby Jesus in a Bethlehem manger
  • The practice of decking a tree with silver and gold is actually condemned by God
  • "Easter" has vanished from modern Bible translations
  • "God the Father" is never mentioned in the Old Testament
  • There were not just two of each animal aboard Noah's Ark
  • God sought to kill Moses
  • The Bible talks about sex with angels. And sex with animals
  • There's a character in the Bible called a "dumb ass"
  • The Bible calls the devil "god"
  • The worst case of hemorrhoids in history is recorded
  • Moses did not write the Ten Commandments
  • Jesus did not come to make everyone understand His message
  • The Bible tells you not to eat your dog or cat for dinner
  • A "live forever" diet is mentioned
  • The Bible does not say Eve bit into an apple
  • Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not Jews
  • God never said "Let Me make man in My image"
  • Jesus had a group of "other" apostles in addition to the famous 12
  • Animals had meaningful discussions with people
  • Jesus made personal appearances on Earth in the OLD Testament
  • Women's breasts are celebrated in the Bible
  • Underwear didn't disintegrate despite 40 years of heavy use
  • God ordered the slayings of thousands of men, women and children
  • God twice sought to kill His entire nation of chosen people
  • Nagging wives are mentioned in Scripture
  • God ordered many of His own people to get divorced
  • There's a person who didn't eat or drink anything for 80 days
  • God ran lotteries
  • A giant, outdoor nightlight blazed every night for 40 years
  • Jesus wasn't the only guy to walk on water
  • Someone tried to buy the Holy Spirit
  • There are magic tricks in Scripture
  • Elijah the prophet did not cheat death by riding a chariot to heaven
  • The apostle Peter was married

Well D'uh!

So fucking what? The surprising thing about this sort of dumbster reading is that it needs to exist at all. It only proves what atheists like me have been saying for years. Most "Christians" don't know shit about the book they quote at us.

It's fiction. Badly written fiction without plot or form edited by people over centuries with loads added and removed to suit the mood of the day. Now get a life.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Child Dies From MMR! Oh, wait, No It Didn't

I don't really have the medical know-how to cover this one in the detail that my respected colleague, Ben Goldacre can so I'll let him give you the gory details.

Bad Science

If you don't fancy reading Ben's post (which is detailed and excellent) I'll give you the skinny.

As ever, the usual suspects reported (wrongly) that a child had died after being given MMR as this report in Metro demonstrates.

MMR was safe before Andrew Wankfield suggested otherwise and it is safe now. Get over it.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Karen Matthews Guilty

Karen Matthews has been found guilty of kidnapping her own daughter.

Frankly, what can I say?

Some people should not be allowed to breed.

Not This time, OJ!

OJ Simpson is sorry.

He says he's sorry for bundling into a guy's room along with a couple of his mates, armed with guns and held a couple of dudes up, making off with a bunch of sports memorabilia.

BBC News reports that in sentencing Jones to 15 years, Judge Glass commented:
"You went to the room, you took guns... you used force, you took property... and in this state that amounts to robbery with a deadly weapon."
So OJ is sorry all right. Sorry that he's going to have watch what the fuck he's doing when someone drops the soap. In 1995 I watched in horror as he walked free from court after prosecutors failed to make a case against him for the murder of his former wife and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

OJ was later found guilty in civil court and now, finally, he's going to make some sort of reparation and at 61 years old now, I'd be surprised if he ever gets out again.

Perhaps now Mr Goldman can rest in peace.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Acadamies Failing The Vulnerable

I've never been fond of the City Academy system. Giving control of our children's future to educational trusts form from religious nutters and businessmen leaves a knot in my stomach.

Says the BBC:
"..based on 24 early academies shows that the proportion of pupils entitled to free schools meals is down by seven percentage points to 35%.
This is precisely what all of the naysayers (me included) have been shouting for years: to mainly deaf ears across all three major parties.

City Academies are slowly but surely changing our education landscape: and not for the better.

There's a big difference between a rich family and a poor one - mobility. Pushy parents tend to come from more wealthy families - the sort of people who can afford to move into the catchment areas near to Academies as they appear. Little wonder these people are pushing the deprived kids out - and ironically, those same kids are left to go to the run-down schools whose funding has been spent on the Academy.

Rather than creating opportunity for the deprived, this is actually creating a very real class gap in educational opportunity between the haves and the have nots.

This experiment needs a non-partisan, critical examination now and it needs to be halted before it can't be reversed. I'm not holding my breath though.

Climbing Mount Bullshit

BBC news reports that a Think Tank has come up with the idea that so-called soft "A" levels may be a barrier to entering a decent university.

No shit!

The amazing thing is that it took a think tank to do it: surely that should be patently obvious to anyone with sufficient brain power to gain entry to higher-education.

Jeez Louise, that's what the old 11+ did: it separated the promising kids into the grammar stream and put the rest of us (me included) into Secondary Modern. "A" levels are perceived as the same thing. Three A*s at A level should be enough to get you into a good Uni - but wait.

A levels aren't all the same thing - it isn't a standard test. And just as some mountains are easier to climb than others, some A levels are easier than others.

Science A levels (even, if rumour is to be believed, have been gutted) are always going to be harder to pass than the arts. Not everyone is going to be able to grasp the concepts - my own weakness was mathematics. As hard as I tried, maths was an impassible path for me.

NASUWT's Chris Keates, said: "It is completely demoralising to teachers and young people to be on the receiving end of this complete denigration of the exam system. There are enormous demands placed on teachers and young people following A-level courses. We should be celebrating the standards that are achieved, not constantly seeking to cast doubt on their validity."
Bullshit!

Keates' position is defensive without actually looking at the real problem - standards are falling. This doesn't come from me but from the repeated reports from universities complaining that students are unable to perform basic maths (for example).

This is sort of robust discussion we need to have if future generations are going to be any use in our increasingly technological world.