Monday, 27 August 2012

Monday Morning Musings #5

So supposedly ‘Atheism+’ is a thing now. Apparently we atheists can’t support multiple at the same time and so must form them into one super-cause. Fair enough, then.

Looking at the images from some of those protesting the Scottish Government’s support of equal marriage, I realise just how much of a generational thing this issue is; even when I looked pretty hard I couldn’t see a single young face amongst the protestors. I mean, there’s always going to be those who don’t like it and want to get rid of it (just like there’s always going to be racists), but I’m thinking that a decade or two down the line most people will look back on those who protested against gay rights so hard and laugh at their backwardness.

The late Christopher Hitchens’ wife, Carol Blue, has released an edited version of her afterword for the book ‘Mortality’, the last book we’ll be seeing from the Hitch. Worth a look; it’s a nice read.

The National Secular Society (whose history I’m reading far too much about at the moment) is currently underway with the Reform Section 5 campaign, aimed at lobbying the government to remove a clause from the Public Order Act that outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”. If you’re in London I believe they’re holding a demonstration on the 30th; it’s a cause worth supporting.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

From What I Understand From Science, the Doctor Akin Referenced Is Crazy Too

It must really suck to be Todd Akin right now.

After all, it’s not everyday that you practically kill your bid for the Senate in one massive political snafu.

Yet the fallout from the remarks he made about rape on Sunday continues to hurtle down like meteors. He’s been condemned by both Obama as well as Romney and Ryan, not to mention the fact that the story’s gone viral; give it a few more days and most people with an internet connection will be associated the name ‘Akin’ with ‘sexist twat’.

If somehow you’ve missed this merry little clusterfuck unfolding, here’s the breakdown; Akin, Missouri nominee for the Senate and Republican, appeared on a talk show and had his to say about abortion and rape:

“People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question’… It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”[1]

Why yes, that nice Republican nominee did indeed just state that women don’t usually get pregnant from proper rapes; the particularly nasty subtext of this statement is that he’s implying any woman who does get pregnant from rape somehow deserved it. Let’s not get into what a horrible idea categorising rape is; Obama’s got me covered on that one, actually.

Let’s instead return to those doctors Akin was talking about.

Turns it it’s probably just one doctor; Dr. Fred Mecklenburg, to be precise. In 1972 he wrote an article entitled ‘The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective’, which has since been the cornerstone of many an anti-abortionist’s repertoire. It’s from this article that the belief that a woman exposed to the trauma of rape “will not ovulate even if she is ‘scheduled’ to” comes from.[2] The article claims that a pregnancy resulting from rape is “extremely rare”, apparently because the trauma a woman suffers during such an attack prevents it from occurring.

‘Quite an extraordinary claim he has there’, I hear you understating, ‘what evidence does the good doctor have to back it up?’

Not a whole lot, you’ll be unsurprised to learn. Mecklenburg cites a couple of statistical examples (got to love a good bit of statistic-ing) from the city of Buffalo, NY, which at the time had apparently not had a pregnancy from a confirmed rape in decades; such evidence can be dismissed because rape is one of the most under-reported crimes out there, rendering many associated statistics pretty unhelpful.

Even more bizarrely he claims that rapists themselves are likely to be infertile because of “frequent masturbation”, which is like arguing that faeries are totally legit because this werewolf you met one time told you so.[3]

Probably the strangest, and easily the most controversial, evidence Mecklenburg gives would be evidence apparently gathered by Nazi scientists in concentration camps. No, seriously. Nazi scientists working in death camps. To quote from Raw Story:

“Nazis reportedly tested the theory “by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock-killing, to see what the effect this had on their ovulatory patterns. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate,” the article said.”[4]

Admittedly arguments stand or fall based on their merit alone, but you have to admit that there’s something really unsettling and distasteful about citing evidence garnered from death camps.

Mecklenburg’s article has been taken apart by the wider scientific community. It’s pseudoscience and half-baked theory that cites… well, pseudoscience and half-baked theory as evidence.

Akin quoting this as his source for his bizarre and unpleasant views just damages his case further.

Not that he really had one to begin with.

[3] As Above

Monday, 20 August 2012

Monday Morning Musings #4

Centuries from now, imagine if archaeologists studying those weird 21st Century types stumble across one of our annual calendars. Now imagine if people who really don’t understand how the calendar actually works find out that it apparently ‘ends’ on the 31st of December and build a doomsday theory around the idea that we predicted the end of the world centuries ago. That’s essentially what this whole Mayan apocalypse nonsense is.

If a British public official ever made a statement suggesting that rape victims who get pregnant from their attack somehow deserved it, they’d likely be hounded out of office and casts out into the political wastes for being a douchebag. Across the pond, however, if a public official makes such a statement there’s a depressingly large percentage of the US population who’ll agree with him. It boggles the mind.

I really hope I never stumble across a blog like elevatorgate again. Okay, so you don’t like Rebecca Watson or Surly Amy, and you think FreethoughtBlogs is shit. Fair enough, but for fuck’s sake keep it civil; you don’t have to be a prick about it.

Witch-hunting might be relegated to our past here in this side of the globe, but over in Africa it’s still a serious issue. Isn’t it odd that witches usually turn out to be young children, elderly types or people who can generally not defend themselves, as opposed to physically-fit adults?

That 'Faces of Atheism' idea is back on the rise again, countering the whole 'Faces of Mormonism' thing the LDS Church is pulling. It's a pretty cool idea; sadly I'm hideously ugly and will make your face fall off should you look upon me shy.

Friday, 17 August 2012

eBay to ban the selling of supernatural items

Come the end of the month, the supernatural is no longer welcome on eBay

Good news, everyone.

In it’s 2012 Fall Seller Update, eBay has apparently announced it’s intention to exclude the selling of paranormal and/or supernatural goods and services on it’s online marketplace. According to what I’ve read so far, they’re excluding such things as:

“Advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic services; prayers; blessings; Psychic, Tarot, Reiki and other metaphysical readings & services; magic potions; healing sessions.”

All this means that as of the 30th August anyone attempting to peddle openly paranormal or supernatural items and services on the site will have the sale removed. Honestly I’m a little surprised that eBay has previously let this sort of thing slide, but that’s admittedly just being a little negative; it’s nice to see a large online presence help to prevent people from being exploited by psychics and other charlatans.

A step in the right direction, all in all.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Selling Themselves Short?

Given that the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics wrapped up over a day ago this post is perhaps a bit late, but timeliness has never been my strong point.

So here’s a post about the Olympics, you unlucky people.

Despite my confusion regarding it, religion is often a big part of sport. Just look at all that bollocks with Tim Tea-face or whatever he was called and you’ll notice that a lot of athletes to often hold a serious connection with god. I found myself contemplating this as I watched Christian Taylor interviewed after winning a Gold medal in the Triple Jump event.

This is a chap at the peak of human physicality, an athlete who’s at a standard where he can take a Gold at an Olympic event (which is to say, he’s extremely strong). Reaching such a stage has taken months of painstaking hard work. The training and practice, the blood, sweat and tears that this guy has put in is nothing short of incredible. He’s had the unflinching support of people like his coach, who’s urged him on through the darkest hours of self-doubt and desperation, and his family, who’ve likely (I’m not pretending to know this guy, don’t get me wrong) been there with him since the start.

And yet the first thing Taylor says on camera after winning is “how blessed” he is, and how he thanks god for his victory.

I just can’t feel that he and the athletes like him are selling themselves short when they make statements like that.

God didn’t put all those hours of training and practice in; Taylor did. God wasn’t the guy training him, urging him on all the way; that was Taylor’s coach. All in all, god really didn’t do much in Taylor’s training and racing, so it’s confusing as to why he’s the first person thanked in the victor’s interview. Surely there’s far more worthy candidates deserving of mention?

I’m sure there were plenty of people competing in that event who prayed long and hard, yet it was Taylor who won. That’s note because god has favourites, that’s because Taylor was the better athlete. He personally put in the work, he personally was the better competitor, and thus he won. I’m all for modesty, but if ever there’s a moment to be vaguely chuffed with yourself it’s when you’ve just taken the Gold.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that this is just a personal opinion. I’m sure Taylor derived a considerable amount of confidence in thinking that god had his back during the long hours of training. It’s just I think it’s a shame these guys are giving away all the credit to some deity who just sat there and watched impartially.

They’re the ones who did all the work, after all, and so they’re the ones who deserve the praise.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Monday Morning Musings #3

People have the capacity to be muppets, no matter what side of the religious divide they fall into. I really think people need to bear that in mind sometimes.

I've got more respect for the Westboro Baptist Church than I do for people who dance around the issue and try and come up with supposedly legitimate reasons to dislike gay people. Just don your fucking 'GAY PEOPLE MAKE ME FEEL ICKY' t-shirt and be done with it already, guys; at least then you're being honest.

Looking at the Anti-Vaccine Movement, I can't help but feel that they're far too US-focused. Seriously, a lot of their claims boil down to “THE MEDICAL INDUSTRY IS JUST TRYING TO MAKE MONEY OFF US”, but in a country like mine, where we have this sweet National Health Service, that sort of posturing doesn't really fly. I should really do a blog post about this sometime.

Those Conspiracy Theorists are almost as quick off the block as Usain Bolt; Lady Atheist pointed out that there's already conspiracies circling regarding the shooting in Aurora, claiming that it was somegovernment super-soldier project or something equally fucking ridiculous. Can't knock them for punctuality. Just for everything thing else about their views and theories.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Freethought Sidetracked

“Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along?”
- President Dale, ‘Mars Attacks!’

I didn’t want to get involved in this shenanigans. I’ve been doing my utmost to avoid the whole debacle that just seems to keep on unfurling regarding Freethought Blogs and the controversy surrounding alleged sexism at sceptical and freethought conferences. In part due to lack of interest and in part due to lack of understanding.

But this doesn’t seem like an issue that’s going to resolve itself any time soon so I figured I’d chuck my ten cents in on the matter.

So let’s get this controversy train a-rollin’.

I’m going to try and avoid getting into the nitty-gritty of the arguments and insults being slung back and forth between Team FreethoughtBlogs and Team Fuck Those FreethoughtBlogs Guys; people better versed in those conflicts have already written about them, and I wouldn’t be adding anything of worth. If you don’t really know what the hell I’m rambling about I’d recommend heading over to vjack’s blog ‘Atheist Revolution’; he has a number of posts devoted to the topic.

As an outsider looking in as all this mud gets flung about, I can’t help but feel that this is would make for a nice wake-up call for anyone na├»ve enough to think that freethinker types are somehow immune from the curse of petty tribalism and human stupidity. Looking at [some of the recent updates] I can’t help but feel that communication has really broken down at this point. No-one’s really talking about the issue in an attempt to resolve it anymore; it’s just name-calling and insults for the sake of it.

This is hardly behaviour that one would want to associate with people who pride themselves on being able to think rationally to the point of calling themselves freethinkers. The issues originally raised are important; it would be nice if people could re-focus and get back to solving them. But watching all this arguing unfold, I’m not really seeing many people out to solve the problem; I’m seeing both sides flinging insults back and forth and generally acting like children rather than academics and critical thinkers.

Debate within movements is good. It’s the lifeblood of ideas; it’s what generates new theories and keeps people interested. But you cannot call this healthy debate anymore; this is a divide that grows more serious every day, and it’s perhaps high time people started aiming to fix it rather than furthering it. All we’re doing is weakening our position and making the atheist/sceptic/freethought movement look silly and tribalistic on an international scale. This bickering has been going on for well over a year, now; it needs to stop.

Seriously, guys, can’t we all just get along?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Monday Morning Musings #2

I listened to part of a radio show yesterday morning trying to show how important faith was in the Olympics. A show that predominantly focused on Christianity. At the time I thought the irony was delicious, but in hindsight Christianity attempting to pinch religious festivals from older faiths seems entirely in-keeping with its history.

Last I checked /r/atheism has well over a million subscribers now. Which is cool and all, but it’d be nice if cool places like /r/skeptic could get some love too.

There’s a preacher out there who claims he can cure people of cancer by kicking them in the face. I wonder what wondrous cures his fists can bestow?

Any supreme deity who decides that wasps and hornets are both awesome ideas is clearly a complete bastard. If you look at the whole evolution idea, however, they’re just more proof that the biggest bastards survive on this earth.

People are still going on about the whole Freethought Blogs scandal thing? Seriously, guys, we need to stop flogging a dead horse and move on; if you don’t like the way PZ Meyers runs things, don’t bloody read it.

And finally, this:

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Sorry, Conspiracy Theorists, The Moon Landings Were Legit

Question: did we really put men on the moon? Answer: Yes, yes we did.

Ever since we first put a man on the moon, some people have spent a lot of time trying to claim that we didn’t.

Likely first initiated by Bill Kaysing, a NASA librarian who wrote the book ‘We Never Went to the Moon’, the moon landing hoax movement is still prevalent to this day;[1] as late as 2001 Fox TV (a wonderful, reliable and totally unbiased source of news, information and opinion) was broadcasting documentaries entitled Conspiracy Theory: Did We Really Land on the Moon?[2]

Verification of these landings that are conclusive enough to satisfy most people has been notoriously difficult; in 2009 there was “tantalizing evidence the flags from Apollo 17 was still standing, but the images were just barely too fuzzy to know for sure”.[3] A frustrating experience for everyone involved but fear not, because just three years later we might finally have some verification.

Just a few days ago the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera captured the pictures shown below:

Turns out the landing site of Apollo 16 is still very much still there; even the footprints and the flag.

Some pretty impressive stuff, all in all, and some very solid evidence to show that we did indeed make it to the moon.