Saturday 29 January 2011

Wife Beating and Bible Bashing

Thus far I have resisted the temptation to blog too much about Stephen Green, head fruitcake at the UK's very own fundamentalist conservative Christian pressure group. I always felt that mocking the poor fool would feel too much like just picking on a mentally retarded child. But after yesteray's sad but entirely unsurprising allegations in the Daily Mail, I thought I'd look into the case a bit more.

Reports that Stephen "planned to make a piece of wood into a sort of witches broom" for the specific purpose of beating his wife, and that he had "hit her until she bled" don't sound overly positive for Stephen. But lets ignore the rhetoric and spin of the Daily Mail and take a look at it from his side, and more importantly let's take some advice from the good book.

Lets start with Ephesians 5:22-24 (from the King James Version)

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."

This biblical wisdom unequivocally tells us that Mrs Green should really be submitting herself to her husband's God given authority rather than making all this fuss about it all. In fact, it really was rather naughty of her to speak to the media in the first place, after all it does say in 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 (NIV)

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

So lets not be too harsh on Stephen, he's just diligently and literally following the teachings in his preferred instruction manual, and who knows, perhaps Christian Voice could even get a sponsorship deal from Stella Artois following all of this unnecessary furore.

Bugger, It seems as though my attempted parody is completeley redundant with this advice from a "genuine" Christian website:

“…sometimes in marriage the grave and solemn responsibility to politely tell the wife to be quiet and stay in her place falls upon every husband.

Being fickle and temperamental, women do not always respond to gentle words so at times a swift, backhanded slap across the face must be applied to them. This usually gets their attention and sets order straight.”

Thursday 27 January 2011

The James Delingpole Hockey Stick

I plucked some made up statistics from my arse regarding the percentage of bloggers between 1st January 2011 and 23rd January 2011 who think that James Delingpole is a bit of a tit. After this week’s Horizon on 24th January I then plucked another set of made up statistics from a different source and spliced the two data sets together to form the following graph.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Don't mention sodomy! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

The Christian owners of a Cornwall hotel who unlawfully refused to allow a gay couple a double room have appealed.

If they lose their appeal, I wonder if the gay couple might return for another visit, and if so, how might it play out ...

Peter Bull: May I say how pleased we are to have some homosexuals here now that we are all bound by the European Convention on Human Rights? I didn’t vote for it myself, quite honestly, but now that we’re in, I’m determined to make it work, so I’d like to welcome you all to Cornwall.

Steven Preddy: May we have two onion bhajis, please?

Peter Bull: Certainly! Why not, why not indeed? We are all friends now, eh? All in the double bedroom together, old sexual discriminations forgotten, and no need at all to mention sodomy. SORRY! Sorry. What was it again?

Martyn Hall: A prawn cocktail.

Peter Bull: Oh, prawn! That was it! When you said "prawn", I thought you said "bum sex". Oh, y— Oh, bugger! Oh, yes, completely slipped my mind! Yes, I'd forgotten all about it. Barrowman, Winton, and all that lot... Oh, yes, completely forgotten it, just like that. (He looks around for a moment in confusion.) Sorry. What was it again?

Martyn Hall: A prawn cocktail!

Peter Bull: Oh, yes, Derren Prawn. Yes, of course. And McKellen too, he's another one I can hardly remember them all.

Steven Preddy: And a Steak Pie!

Peter Bull: Stephen Fry, yes, yes, and, uh, Matt Lucas that was another one.

Monday 24 January 2011

BBC in Fairy Controversy

Following an earlier controversy with Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain’s comments on astrology during “Stargazing Live”, the BBC now finds itself in even more serious hot water with the more significant dispute recently raised on “Springwatch Live”.

Chris Packham and Kate Humble have unleashed the wrath of Britain's fairy believers with their comments about the validity of woodland fairies on BBC2's "Springwatch Live" show, with the result that the Fairy & Folklore Society of Great Britain have started a petition they plan to send to the BBC.

The section of the program that caused the fuss has been described in truly harrowing terms by 'respected fairy believer' Dame Agnes Conan Doyle, in an e-mail that was published by the Woodland Fairy Blog.

"If you didn't happen to see it, there were two presenters, Chris Packham and Kate Humble. All was going well until they got to a part where they were observing a foraging badger and Chris was explaining that badgers feed on earthworms, frogs, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, seeds and berries but not woodland fairies on account of the fact that fairies are just made up. He then went on to add "Let's get this straight once and for all, there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden" The other presenter, Kate Humble, then agreed and said "in the interests of balance on the BBC, yes fairies don’t exist."

Shocking stuff, I think you'll agree.

The Fairy & Folklore Society will be requesting that the BBC make a public apology and a statement that they do not support the personal views of Chris Packham and Kate Humble on the subject of fairies. We also request that the BBC will commit to making a fair and balanced representation of fairies, hobgoblins, leprechauns, astrology, and the Easter Bunny when aired in the future.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Shit Happens

In addition to the Ad hominem logical fallacy, you may well have noticed that I’m also rather found of the reductio ad absurdum. This is perhaps a hang over from my day job where I try and reduce complex IT systems down into discrete functional areas that can be fully exercised across all possible paths.

With this is mind, I shall attempt to argue that the totality of our human irrational beliefs, including all superstitions, pseudosciences, paranormal beliefs, religions and inefficacious alternative therapies can be reduced to a single cause that can be summed up in two short words, shit happens.

Every week people will cross their fingers, touch wood, read a horoscope, pray to an invisible all powerful supernatural being, take a sugar pill, visit a psychic or inexplicably shove a foreign object up their arsehole.

And every week someone will receive a phone call from a friend they were recently thinking of, someone one’s bad back will feel a little better, someone will actually get the job they applied for, someone will meet the person of their dreams and fall in love and someone may well even win the National Lottery. I confidently predict these things will come to pass, because shit really does happen.

It’s easy as an objective observer to look at these events from a distance and sneer at the individual who shoved an onion bhaji up his ring-piece on Friday evening, won the National Lottery on Saturday and then subsequently repeated the ritual each week in his confusion of correlation and causation. But these things happen regularly, and each time a new tedious yet utterly compelling anecdote is born.

Now of course, I’ not really suggesting that the mystical and unmistakably power of shit happening is the source of this wonderment. If this were the case surely science would be investigating this remarkable phenomenon? Well of course it is, it’s just that the mathematicians who are investigating it prefer to refer to it as probability. A science so fascinating, yet utterly counterintuitive that many prefer to reject its logic in favour of an alternative explanation that farts in the face of the laws of nature.

What I suspect is at the root of the remarkable phenomenon of shit happening, is in fact merely an incredibly complex set of variables at play in the natural world. A set of variables so immense that my futile attempts to quantify the possible test paths using the recognised white box testing methodologies of software testing used in my day job, would be wholly inadequate.

Indeed the possible configurations of the natural world as understood by science are so vast that it would be far more surprising if shit didn’t in fact constantly, happen.

So although my hypothesis of shit happening does nothing to explain the real natural cause of seemingly unlikely things, I think it provides a far better fall-back solution whilst we impatiently await science to figure out the specific natural path of the currently pending mysteries. After all, I find it a far more satisfying fall-back than deferring to a singular irrational supernatural excuse.

Shit happens, get used to it.

Friday 21 January 2011

A Great Year for Skeptics in the Pub

Winchester Skeptics in the Pub (SitP) is one year old this week and we will be celebrating by moving to a new and bigger venue in the heart of Winchester town centre.

Dave Hughes and I hooked up shortly after the first TAM London (following the realisation that we only actually lived a few miles apart), and after telephoning Simon Perry for a few tips on setting up our very own SitP; we convened in a pub in Basingstoke. Over a few drinks we began to hatch our cunning plan for the Hamphire Skeptics Society to extend the Skeptics in the Pub franchise to the good people of Hampshire.

Having opted for Winchester as a good central Hampshire location, we embarked upon a pub-crawl to scout out some suitable public houses that might be willing to tolerate a monthly evening of scientific scepticism.

We visited a number of traditional old English drinking establishments on our quest for a suitable venue, imbibing the local fare as we went. Our intoxicated journey led us to the “Slug and Lettuce” where we viewed the 150+ capacity function room on the 1st floor. We briefly shared illicit fantasies about how nice it would be to be able to fill such a venue. However, as we were not at all confident in generating a huge amount of interest, we opted instead for the Royal Oak, a quaint old pub in the town centre with a “haunted” cellar that could snugly accommodate 20-30 geeks with nothing better to do of a Thursday evening.

Shortly after agreeing on the venue we received confirmation from Simon Singh that he would be delighted to come and give our inaugural talk, and it quickly became apparent that the “haunted” cellar was unlikely to be able accommodate the growing throng of people registering their interest. A few last minute phone calls and visits by Dave fortunately secured us the use of the dinning room at the Roebuck Inn.

The initial meeting was a great success, with almost 100 people turning up. The high of the first night was followed by a fantastic year of events including talks from Richard Wilson, Deborah Hyde, Martin Robbins, Simon Perry, Dr. Andy Russell, Andy Lewis, Prof. David Colquhoun, Prof. Chris French, Frank Swain, David Allen Green and a live recording of the Pod Delusion Christmas Special Podcast.

Indeed it was a great year for Skeptics in the Pub in general with a host of other branches springing up all over the country almost at pace to match the rate at which churches are closing.

We now have high hopes for 2011 and have already set out an exciting schedule of events that includes many talks from blokes off of the telly. We hope to be hosting Adam Rutherford, Prof. Jim Al Khalili, Jon Ronson, Chris Lintott, Prof. David Nutt, Mark Stevenson, Les Rose, Matt Parker and Dean Burnett as well as many other events still in the pipeline for this year.

Although the Roebuck proved to be most accommodating during our first year, due to problems with their roof, the pub will be closing down this week. The cost of repair will in all probability make it economically unfeasible for the owners to reopen the pub in the immediate future, hence necessitating the need for a new home for Winchester Skeptics in the Pub. I did ponder if we could perhaps start a pub roof fund and stick a giant thermometer outside. We could have a pub fete and have a cake stall and a raffle and a White Elephant Stall and I could make some jam and and … No maybe not.

So, another pub-crawl this week with the ever-helpful assistance of James Thomas led us once more to the upstairs function room at the Slug and Lettuce. Following a year of frequently rammed events at the Roebuck, filling their capacious function room no longer seems so daunting. So we will be holding our first Winchester Skeptics in the Pub of 2011 in the Slug and Lettuce in Winchester town centre were we will be welcoming Andrew Copson, the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association to talk on the history and importance of the humanist movement.

We are keen to make Winchester Skeptics in the Pub as inclusive as possible, and we are very much aware that a pub environment may be limiting to some potential attendees. Sadly, the Slug and Lettuce also does not have wheelchair access to the first floor, so before committing to this venue on a more permanent basis we will have to weigh up all the options.

Many thanks to all our speakers from our first year, and for everyone who came out to the events, we really have started to establish quite a community and with the help of Daniel Pope, spawned the first Skeptics in the Curry House (SitCH) that now regularly concludes our monthly meetings.

If you are able to get to Winchester on the last Thursday evening of the month then you would be most welcome to come and join us.

See you at Winchester Skeptics in the Pub, £2 on the door, no need to book.

Feel free to post links and comments below on how its going at the other branches around the country.

Thursday 13 January 2011

The Turin Bicycle

The Bicycle of Turin or Turin Bicycle (Italian: Bicicletta di Torino, Pedale Sacro) is a two wheeled vehicle propelled by foot pedals bearing the initials “J. H. C.”. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy.

The origins of the bicycle are the subject of intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians and researchers. Some contend that the vehicle is the actual bicycle used by Christ, as referred to in numerous literary references and still in common parlance today as an exclamation of surprise.

Many others contend that the artifact was created in the 1970’s at a factory in Worksop, as indicated by radiocarbon analysis performed in 1988 which placed the artifact between Tuesday and Thursday of the first week in September 1974. The Catholic Church has neither formally endorsed nor rejected the bicycle.

However, recent research and chemical tests have revealed that the actual pedal used for the 1988 radiocarbon dating was probably a replacement pedal refitted to the vehicle in the 1970’s by a kindly nun. Theologians have also concluded that the biblical accounts of Christ reveal much travelling and would suggest that the distance covered by Christ as relayed in the gospels are consistent with the need to replace the pedals, making the authenticity of the bicycle murkier than ever.

The infamous image of the original discovery of the Bicycle of Turin (visible in the photograph directly below the remains of the actual cross Christ was crucified on), has nonetheless been criticised by many archaeologists as unreliable having been originally published by a satirical blogger on his lunch break shortly after performing a Google image search.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Hello, I'm an Atheist: Pascal's Wager

I know these are a bit lame, but hopefully I'll have a better idea soon. In the meantime ...
BTW, forgot to mention earlier, apart from the Carl Sagan quote in the previous strip, the words are my own and nothing to do with the shooped individuals - I expect they would have come up with something a bit more eloquent.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Science, Reason & Critical Thinking in 2010

Writing this blog in 2010 has been both an immense pleasure and a bloody pain in the arse.

When my befuddled brain aimlessly stumbled across a cunning idea to look at a news item or a piece of pseudo-scientific or supernatural nonsense in a vaguely amusing or satirical way, the posts invariably wrote themselves. And the resulting number of page views and global feedback was at times quite intoxicating.

However, like all drugs the intoxicating high inevitably subsides and one has to resort to trawling the inter-webs for the next hit.

As I am currently in between ideas I thought I'd just reminisce on some of the highs from 2010 whilst I patiently await inspiration.

Perhaps my personal favourite post of 2010 was The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. A wholly unoriginal idea that mysteriously came to me shortly after reading a tweet from a rather obnoxious clown pointing me to a periodic table of swearing. Having immediately spotted how easily this format could be commandeered to comic effect to represent pretty much anything, I had a quick google to check if anyone else had bothered to knock up a periodic table of bullshit. As no one had, I bravely shouldered the responsibility myself. The post was quickly cobbled together initially in MS Word and then conveniently given a push start by a kindly passing TV Science superstar who re tweeted the link 5 minutes after posting, while it was still riddled with typos, spelling mistakes and duplicate symbols. I have had ideas for other items that could be nicely represented on a periodic table, but have so far resisted the temptation to milk the concept dry.

Flushed with the success of the periodic table of Irrational nonsense, I racked my brain for another iconic image to bastardise to my own nefarious ends, and thought of the London Underground Map. Again, another wholly unoriginal idea, although I was only pointed at the Great Bear after I had completed the first draft. This particular post has taken longer to put together than pretty much every other post in 2010 combined. Furthermore, my brilliant idea of adding a nice little mouse-over image for each scientist has turned out to be a colossal task that is still in progress. I'm also still not happy with the contents of the map. I do intend to update it at some point to recognise some more recent Nobel laureates.

However, one of the primary reasons for starting the blog in the first place was to tweak the nose of religious nonsense. And whilst I try and steer clear of specifically targeting religious believers in general, I do enjoy a good pop at the Pope as much as the next rationalist. What's more, I thought I really ought to mark the Pope's 2010 UK tour with something that points out both the lunacy and dangers of his authority. The Twat in the Hat came about whilst thinking of some of my old favourite childhood books I could parody to this purpose. Whilst my rhymes themselves demonstrate a clumsiness and disregard for meter second only to Adrian Mole, it was still one of the most enjoyable pieces to write.

The idea of parodying the Mr. Men books also came at a similar time and sat in my pending folder for a period of time originally intended as a vehicle to take heartless pop shots at a number of religious beliefs on each page. However it failed to progress as I had no idea what Mr Credulous should look like. Then following Councillor John Dixon's infamous tweet, I rewrote the ending and culled about half of the original pages, and then after re-listening to the old Tim Minchin ditty, "If you open your mind too much your brain will fall out" I finally realised what Mr Credulous should look like.

But I wasn't done with Pope Benny yet, and whilst perusing facebook for inspiration I spotted the Pope's formal and rather dry official facebook page. I thought this would be much more entertaining if the Pope used facebook to post his innermost personal thoughts. With that idea in mind, it was a relatively simple task to knock up a faux facebook page for the Pope. Incidentally, I understand the National Secularist Society got a few complaints after including a link to my papal facebook mock-up in one of their weekly news letters. It was also far too easy not to cobble together a few more posts along the same lines featuring comments from Osama Bin Laden and Her Majesty.

Other posts have of course proved to be less popular. I rather liked my idea of having Malcolm Tucker as a papal advisor, but apparently most people didn't agree. But curiously what I thought was a rather mediocre alternative therapy flow chart, hastily knocked up whilst the wife was watching Midsomer Murders, went on to become awfully popular.

Going back to the start of 2010, the ten23 campaign had many of us targeting the magic water of homeopathy. Homeopathy is a satirists dream, as it's absurd concept is so ripe for ridicule. And of course I couldn't resist jumping on the band wagon with some suggested packaging for Boots and other manufactures, another Ladybird book, the leaked ten23 video, confessions of a ten23 safety officer and the parliamentary select committee on homeopathy paraphrased with python.

But despite all the fun we hand poking a shitty stick at those crazy water wizards and other newage fruitcakes, the skeptical highlight of the year came on April 1st with the astonishingly liberal judgement at the court of appeal in favour of Simon Singh. This gave me the opportunity to finally add the happy ending to my Ladybird Book of Chiropractic Treatment and English Libel Law that is so badly lacked and gave me the opportunity to plunder the python archives once again.

In contrast, one of the skeptical low points of the year, was Dr. Evan Harris losing his seat in this years general election, just as the Lib Dems are finally getting their grubby little paws on the levers of control and sadly proving themselves no better than any other bugger.

But the most page-views on this blog in 2010 came from the combined Skeptic Trump cards thanks to the brilliant illustrations by Neil Davies and skeptical heavyweights like Stephen Fry, Dara O'Briain, Dave Gorman and Phil Plait kindly linking to their cards on this blog. Although we have sort of run out of steam with the Skeptic Trumps, there are a few notable skeptics still not included that we may hopefully rectify at some point. Also, I've had a number of requests from various people enquiring about purchasing a physical copy of the cards, an idea I haven't entirely given up on yet. Many thanks to vast majority of the Skeptic Trump card subjects who have responded so positively to their cards, and apologies to Rebecca Watson who thought she looked like she was having a seizure on hers (personally I thought she looked kinda cute). Oh and apologies also to Neil Denny who's new trump card has not yet materialised due to a slight cock-up involving an author and lawyer who happens to share the same name. Still I'm sure Neil takes solace in the fact we have now included his co presenter Padraig Reidy in the deck. But most of all thanks to Daniel Pope, Neil Davies and Simon Perry who managed to spring an unexpected Skeptic Trump card of my own on me at TAM London. And finally on the subject of Skeptic Trumps, I've not yet heard from Ricky Gervais.

Well that just about wraps it up for 2010 but I fully intend on continuing to take the piss out irrational nonsense as and when it arises in 2011. See you then.

2010 Quotations Quiz

Here's my quotations round from last nights 2010 New Years Eve dinner party quiz featuring my favourite quotations from last year. Tori managed to correctly attribute all 12 quotations to the correct people. First commentator with all 12 correct answers wins bugger all.

"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

"They should never have put me with that woman. ... She was just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour,"

“I agree with Nick”

"England today is a secularised, pluralistic country. When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you'd landed in a Third World country."

"I feel nothing but shame. My intention was not to attack or defile the Cenotaph.”

"You’ve never had it so good”

“We’ve Gotta Stand with our North Korean Allies”

"I cannot explain why I did this, it is completely out of character and I certainly did not intend to cause any distress to Lola or her owners.”

“I mean there's enormous pressures to harmonize freedom of speech legislation and transparency legislation around the world”

"We need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can't stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event."

“I know we lost trust, I know we lost touch, I know we need to change. Today a new generation has taken charge of Labour, a new generation that understands the call of change.”

"Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that has made Catholic education infamous throughout the world. He and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority. His authority.”