Friday, 25 May 2012

Happy Towel Day

Hope you know where your towel is

The 25th of May is a day to commemorate the life of Douglas Adams, all-round awesome guy and author of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, who sadly passed away long before his time in 2001.

Miss you, Douglas.

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)”
- Douglas Adams, ‘The Hitchhiker’ Guide to the Galaxy’

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dear North Carolina: Please Stop Being Horrible To Gay People

It’s been a bad month for fans of basic human rights in North Carolina.

Early in the month the state became the thirty-first to issue a Marriage Protection Amendment (it’s amazing how well they manage to dress up a ban on homosexuals getting married, isn’t it?), and what is particularly worrying is the amount of Bible-thumping the proponents of the ban seem to be guilty of.[1] The founding fathers would be turning in their graves if such a thing were possible, and homosexuals living in North Carolina no doubt feel further isolated and alone in their increasingly homophobic communities thanks to this deplorable piece of legislation.

Yet it seems that the lovely Pastor Charles Worley feels that they have not suffered enough. And he has an even lovelier plan in mind for how to “deal with” homosexuals:

“Build a great big, large fence - 50 or 100 miles long - and put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals - and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. Feed 'em. And you know in a few years, they'll die out. You know why? They can't reproduce.”[2]

No, I’m not making that up. I wish I was, but I’m not. Charles Worley stood up in front of his congregation and said that. Don’t believe? Just watch the video and experience the stupidity and ignorance for yourself in its full, unadulterated glory.

The overwhelming ignorance, stupidity and unpleasantness of such a statement can be pretty hard to process; I find it absolutely baffling that a fellow member of my species could stand up in front of people and say such horrible things. Yet this phenomenal bigot apparently has a history of making such remarks; in 1978 he was lamenting the fact that you could no longer hang homosexuals “from a white oak tree”.[3] I guess that it is good to know that Worley is a consistent asshole if nothing else.

One can easily draw parallels between Worley’s suggestion and the death camps of the Third Reich, and this is not the first time the suggestions regarding homosexuality by religious officials have drawn such comparisons; in 2008 Peter Mullen suggested we brand homosexuals with tattooed health warnings.[4] Perhaps a serial number would be better, Mr Mullen? And Mr Worley, maybe you could dress the “lesbians and queers”, as you call them, up in striped clothing when you lock them up in your not-concentration camps? Or better yet, the pair of you could just embrace the whole thing and start wandering around in SS uniforms; that seems to be what you are going for, after all.

Gay marriage should not be this big of a deal. We are not campaigning for the right to get married in churches; you guys are welcome to your little ‘no gays allowed’ club. We are campaigning for ‘civil marriage’, something which religion should have no factor in. This is a basic human right; why should homosexuals be treated differently from anyone else? You are not ‘protecting the sanctity of marriage’, you’re ruining something beautiful for two people who love each other. What damage can gay marriage do to this ‘sanctity’ you bang on about that Rush Limbaugh’s four marriages[5] and Britney Spears’ fifty-five hour marriage have not done already?

People like Charles Worley can be allowed to make such statements unchallenged. He has a right to say such horrible things, certainly, but we have the right to call him out on being such an unpleasant human being. There are several ways in which you can help do so. If you’re in North Carolina the Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate group are planning to peacefully protest outside Worley’s church, the Providence Road Baptist Church, on Sunday the 27th; go along and lend your voice to the cause.[6] If you’re not so close but still want to do something you can still lend your support to the group, and you can help further by raising awareness of Charles Worley and the sort of things he is saying; share the video with your friends, your Facebook feed, your Twitter followers. Let the world see what an unpleasant person this guy is.

These sort of bigoted, homophobic arguments and ideas must be challenged and those who make them must be opposed. It does not matter if you are religious or non-religious. It does not matter if you are gay or straight.

If you are a decent person you should not be willing to stand idly by and let this sort of thing be said.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Douche of the Week - Derek Acorah

"TV Psychic" Derek Acorah claims to have spoken to the spirit of Madeleine McCann

“By the way,
Why is it okay
For people to pretend they can talk to the dead?
Is it not totally fucked in the head
Lying to some crying woman whose child has died
And telling her you're in touch with the other side?
That's just fundamentally sick
Do we need to clarify that there's no such thing as a psychic?”
- Tim Minchin, ‘Storm’

I don’t like psychics.

I especially don’t like TV psychics.

There’s something uniquely sinister about people who are willing to appear on national television and make utterly ridiculous claims about being able to talk to ghosts and commune with some spiritual ‘otherside’; the sort of person who tells you that, for a nominal fee, he can reach across the gap between life and death to let you know that daddy forgives you and that everything is alright. Whether delusional or confidence artists, they are charlatans who pray upon vulnerable people, frequently exploiting the deaths of loved ones for profit.

It’s just so obviously nonsense. These psychics have been debunked time and time again. Yet some people still seem to listen to them. So yes, I will happily admit that I rank television psychics on a similar level to television evangelists, holocaust deniers and wasps.

Television psychic Derek Acorah, however, seems to have decided that being a fraud is not enough for him and this week has dived right into the deep end of douchebaggery. How has he done this?

Well, he’s gone and told The Sun that he’s been contacted by the spirit of Madeleine McCann, the child who disappeared five years ago.[1]

It’s important to note that the McCann’s still believe that their daughter is still alive, and the police investigation regarding her disappearance is still underway. How much progress they are making is not for me to judge, but Acorah seems to be doing his utmost to shatter the hope that their child might yet still be okay when he says things like, and I quote:

“I know her parents are convinced Maddie is alive and I’m really sorry - but the little one has been over in the spirit world for some time.”

Truly classy stuff.

Acorah has a history of trying to cash in on tragedies and deaths in order to peddle his particular brand of pseudoscientific nonsense; in 2009 he hosted a live séance to “search for Michael Jackson’s spirit” on Sky.[2] Dredging up a tragedy such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is more than just a step too far, however; it’s a bona-fide leap across the line of common decency and his actions, quite rightly, have provoked national condemnation.[3]

The response from Acorah has been rather predictable; initially we saw him furiously trying to deny it with claims that The Sun had misquoted and misrepresented him.[4] Yet whether from a guilty conscience (unlikely) or from the onslaught of public anger (almost definitely), he apologised for his statement yesterday.[5]

It’s worth stressing that this guy is a proven fraud; his show, ‘Most Haunted’, was debunked by one of it’s own cast members back in 2005.[6] Acorah himself hasn’t really had much of a TV career since leaving the show, and so I cannot help but think that this McCann farce was perhaps his attempt at throwing himself back into the limelight. It’s certainly backfired if that’s the case.

So congratulations, Derek Acorah, you are this week’s biggest douchebag.

Now please go crawl back into whatever hole you spawned from and stop trying to profit from other peoples’ tragedies.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

No We're Not "Born Atheist", Don't Be Silly

A baby, no doubt busy thinking on existential matters.

Atheists are apparently as guilty of making stupid statements as anyone else. No surprises there; we are just people, after all.

Occasionally I’ve heard the idea that “everyone is born an atheist” bandied about on the internet or amongst friends, so I thought I’d take a break from all this studying to address this quickly. Because it’s a pretty silly idea when you look at it closely.

First things first, we need to define what exactly ‘atheism’ is. Offering up a definition of this concept is actually pretty easy, however. To put it simply, atheism is the rejection of theism, or the idea of the existence of god/gods. That’s really it. Nothing more, nothing less.[1] To have no understanding of gods or the supernatural is a different thing entirely; to be an atheist, one must reject theism.

Now let’s consider this idea that we are born atheists.

To be an atheist (that is, to reject the concept of the supernatural or divine) one must first be capable of comprehending what the supernatural or divine is; we need to have an understanding of theism in order to decide that it is worth rejecting. Such a mental process is beyond that of an infant, and runs contrary to the idea of tabula rasa (the blank slate).

In short, babies cannot be atheists. Because babies cannot comprehend the idea of a theist in order to add the ‘a’ to it.

We are not born anything. It takes a long time for the brain to develop enough in order to start grappling with such concepts as religion and the rejection of it. Thus assigning these concepts to babies in an attempt to make a point is ridiculous. A baby cannot be an atheist, just as it cannot be in favour of the war in Afghanistan or a Liberal Democrat supporter. Why?

Because it’s a baby, for fuck’s sake. It’s busy doing baby things. Like crying. And sleeping. And eating. And waking it’s parents up in the middle of the night with strange gurgling sounds.

Statements like “we are all born atheist” might sound funny or clever upon cursory inspection, but when you actually get down to it they’re rather childish and detrimental to the cause those who use them are trying to support. Such phrases are easily deconstructed and therefore bad arguments; using them will make you look stupid when you are debating against any half-competent religious apologist.

So when it comes to the origins of atheism in the human psyche, just bear in mind that it comes about a lot later than infancy. And that saying otherwise can very easily backfire on you.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How Magic Is Real And I Am A Wizard

So having borne witness to this gem (seriously, go read it first; it's a textbook case of flawless religious apologist theorising) in Norman Geisler and Frank Turek's book, ‘I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist’, I thought I would give this particular brand of unreasoning a try.

1.      Truth about reality is knowable.
2.      The opposite of true is false.
3.      It is true that magic exists. This is evidenced by the:
a.       Beginning of the Universe (‘A Wizard Did It’ Argument)
b.      Design of the Universe (‘A Wizard Did That Too’ Argument)
c.       Design of Life (Bill O’Reilly’s Law of ‘You Can’t Explain That’)
d.      Moral Law (‘No Seriously Dude, Wizards’ Argument)
4.      If magic exists, then wizards are possible.
5.      Wizards can be used to confirm the existence of magic (ie. A wizard casting a kickass spell to demonstrate the existence of magic)
6.      I am totally a wizard. This is evidenced by:
a.       This old book I have here. It says I am totally a wizard. It’s all old and stuff; you can trust the book.
b.      Some guy who watched me do magic once. He wrote on this piece of paper saying how I really am a wizard. You cannot talk to him these days, though. He went on a quest to Atlantis (it’s real too).
c.       This guy is totally legit. Why would I make something like this up?
d.      Plenty of people have seen me do magic. It’s not like it’s possible I’d be out to deceive them, is it?
7.      All these reliable and totally infallible sources say I am a wizard.
8.      The fact that I am a wizard is further confirmed by:
a.       My life being the fulfilment of a bunch of prophecies made by Alaister Crowley back in the day. Crowley is a reliable source on these sort of things.
b.      My totally awesome and incredible magic spells. You have to believe in them first before I can show them to you, though.
c.       My magical powers of precognition and magical monster battling.
9.      Therefore, I am a wizard.
10.  Whatever I (a wizard) teach about magic is true.
11.  I teach that there is such a thing as magic, and that it is what created the Universe and stuff.
12.  Therefore it is true to say that magic is real, and that I am a wizard (and anyone who says otherwise is false).

See? Makes perfect sense.