Sunday 24 October 2010

The New and Improved Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense

I thought I'd try and continue the great work started by Wowbagger The Infinitely prolonged and have a go at insulting everyone. To this end, I have reworked my Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense by adding some fancy Java scripts and a short vitriolic dictionary description of each little piece of nonsense.

Just click on the image below and then hover the mouse over each element.

Thanks to the Skeptics Dictionary for much of the research.

Monday 18 October 2010

TAM London 2010: A Critical Review

There were some absolutely fabulous talks at TAM London this year.

I’m not going to write a detailed run through of all the speakers as I did last year, but I did especially enjoy Susan Blackmore, Paula Kirby and Marcus Chown. Tim Minchin’s new material was obviously brilliant. The “Amateur Transplants” were an unexpected delight and of course I thoroughly enjoyed the interviews with Graham Linehan, Andy Nyman and Alan Moore (even though I was rather knackered by the time we got around to Alan).

However, if you will forgive me, I thought I’d focus on the far fewer number of less positive aspects.

The premiere of the animated movie of Tim Minchin Skeptical masterpiece “Storm” was wonderful. Having seen the trailer, I knew it would be. DC Turner has done an absolutely brilliant job. However, as much as I enjoyed the film and as happy as I was to applaud Dan and Tracy for their great work, there was only so much self congratulatory back-slapping and audience Q&A’s about a short film I could sit through. Incidentally I love Pulp Fiction too, but I could be arsed with the director’s commentary and all the other extras on the DVD.

I got the feeling I may not have been alone. As the Q&A’s dragged on there was a noticeable murmur amongst the polite audience that was clearly picked up on on stage, resulting in the audience being asked if they would like to continue the session or get Tim to sing a few more songs instead. A suggestion that despite being preferable by the majority was wholly unfair on an artist who had clearly not been forewarned of the possible need to prepare any additional material. This seemed like a good time to make sure I wouldn’t have to take the late train home.

On day two I completely failed to grasp the connection between Melinda Gebbie’s lovely ladies jazz comics and a Skeptic conference. She was a fine speaker and a great talent, but the only relevance I could see was that perhaps the subject might have just happened to have been a topic of interest to one of the organisers. Still, if I organised a Skeptical conference and was able to get Robert Plant to come along and talk about the recording of the 4th Zeppelin album, I’d probably indulge myself too.

Next in the firing line is Joise Long. Josie is a fine comedian who I always enjoy at Robin Ince’s "9 lessons and Carols for Godless People", so I was a little bemused as to why she didn’t do one of her great comedy turns on the Saturday night rather than throwing her out of her depth into an Alan Moore interview that the perfectly researched and amiable Neil Denny would have handled better without the interruptions.

So I came away wondering if it was the above picky and admittedly trivial points that made a great conference not quite as great as last years, or was it something else.

As much as I am delighted that a sceptical conference can now herd a thousand sceptical minds into one hotel, I just felt there was something missing.

Perhaps I am becoming more blasé, or perhaps the TAM London Mega Church by its very definition cannot recreate the intimacy of your local SitP Chapel.

Perhaps I just wasn’t making enough effort. I accept that I am somewhat socially inept and after a busy week and a long conference I may well have just been too tired and grumpy to make the effort to talk to enough new people. So despite a much appreciated shout-out from David Allen Green and the wonderful and genuine surprise of my very own Skeptic Trump card, I failed to leave on quite the high I had anticipated.

I’m Sorry I didn’t get the chance to chat with as many people as I would have liked to. I’m not sure if I just missed you in the large crowd, or if you just failed to venture too far from the green room, or if you were priced out of the conference entirely.


Oops I almost forgot. Delighted Rhys Morgan won the award for his brilliant work highlightening MMS. I voted for him, and I'm thrilled so many others did too.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Skeptic Trumps: Crispian Jago

I had a rather nice surprise when I settled into my seat for for the second day of the TAM London Skeptics Conference this morning.

I looked up in the packed auditorium to see to words "Would Crispian Jago Please stand up" in large friendly letters on the main screen behind the stage.

As I stood up, this appeared:

I received a full confession from Daniel Pope shortly afterwards.

Many thanks to Neil Davies for secretly drawing my caricature, Simon Perry for putting the image on the screen and of course Dan for planning and creating the card itself. (He even managed to track down the obscure font I used at the top of the cards).

And I'm even wearing my Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense T-Shirt!

Thanks guys.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

A Handy Alternative Therapy Flowchart

Believe it or not, I don't really have a particular interest in alternative therapies, I just can't help picking at the scabs of alt-med credulity.

However, if perchance you are a little disillusioned with allopathy, here's a handy little flowchart to help you find the ideal alternative therapy to meet your needs.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Why I Keep Banging on About Paedophile Priests and Papal Propaganda.

Of course I want justice for the victims of paedophile priests. I want the Vatican to be shamed into releasing its files on sex abuse cases to the proper authorities where they can be investigated in the same way as any other sex offender. I want the perpetrators to be brought to appropriate and fair justice and most of all, I want the marginal but significant institutionalised culture of abuse within the Catholic Church to be smashed.

But as a so-called “aggressive atheist” I clearly have an additional agenda too.

I hold my hands up.

I do have an additional agenda. I want to affect a sea change in the public perception of religious morality.

Let me start with a few Bible quotes all taken from the “Good News Translation”:

If a slave owner takes a stick and beats his slave, whether male or female, and the slave dies on the spot, the owner is to be punished. But if the slave does not die for a day or two, the master is not to be punished. The loss of his property is punishment enough.
Exodus 21 (v20-21)

When you go to attack a city, first give its people a chance to surrender. If they open the gates and surrender, they are all to become your slaves and do forced labour for you. But if the people of that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army. Then, when the Lord your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it. You may, however, take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city. You may use everything that belongs to your enemies. The Lord has given it to you.
Deuteronomy 20 (v10-14)

If a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she shall be burned to death
Leviticus 21 (v9)

If a man has sexual relations with another man, they have done a disgusting thing, and both shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death.
Leviticus 20 (v15)

And finally from the New Testament, Jesus speaking …

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law;
Matthew 10 (v34-35)

The purpose of the above quotes is not to try and convince you that the bible is completely full of hateful, immoral bigotry. Although there are frequent examples of intolerance, narrow-mindedness and chauvinism in all the monotheistic holy texts, there is thankfully a reasonable selection of wholly laudable advice on being nice to each other and loving thy neighbour with which to fill your bible study class.

Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, Humanists and moderate Christians, Muslims and Jews can no doubt all see that the messages in the above quotations are ones that we don’t really want to push too hard in these more enlightened times.

The average Sunday School teachers will invariably find a far more suitable piece of scripture that will instil a sense of morality into our children that we are all a lot more comfortable with.

But like much of the public, the selective Sunday School teacher above probably sees her faith and her scriptures as the root of an enhanced morality that can help us lead a better life.

She has however quite clearly self-selected a valuable set of worthy morals from a much wider scripture. This selection could only be achieved by deferring to a higher humanistic set of values prevalent in her culture. A set of values that has evolved out of those primitive ideas to become more inclusive and less divisive.

Yet we persist in the public myth that religion is the corner stone of our morality and the media enforce this myth by continuing to defer to religious voices to represent the perceived moral high ground.

But what’s the harm? If moderate religions are selecting relevant, compassionate and virtuous verses of their scripture to promote a world in which we should all be a bit nicer to each other, why not?

A familiar and valid argument against the promotion of this false religious superior morality, is that it harbours the religious extremists and fundamentalists who condone their honour killings, child witch torturing and terrorism, in the honest belief of the superiority of their religious morals over currently fashionable liberal ideas.

However, I would like to consider the far wider spread harm that can be caused by seemingly less extremist religious leaders to which we have erroneously granted the authority of our moral guidance.

In the past, when forward-looking religious minds embraced the culturally evolving liberal morality, greatness was achieved. Slavery was abolished and civil rights advanced by great men and women of faith who perhaps unconsciously valued their humanistic morality over many contradicting biblical texts.

But more recently, as Church attendance declines and liberal morality gallops forward, many devout religious people are unable to keep up with the change and fall back to the comfort of the unquestionable written word of God. A position from which they can piously condemn the rising antisocial behaviour reported in the Daily Mail as a direct result of a loss of the Nations faith.

Consequently we are now seeing the rise of divisive religious policies based on a more literal interpretation of the scriptures. We see the scientifically nonsensical notions of creationism and intelligent design popping up, we see the setup of more and more faith schools free to teach the religious doctrines of their sponsors, we see a desire to restrict the basic human rights of homosexual couples, we see the continued oppression of women within the Church and we see the revamped promotion of deadly contraceptive advice that smacks more of a strategy to outbreed the competition.

And much of the success of this religious backlash has been accomplished under the false pretence of its superior morality.

Hence my reasons for chipping away at the bogus moral foundations that underpins the justification of illiberal religious agendas.