Friday, 14 September 2012

This is the end...

...but the beginning of something else.

I have decided, with a heavy heart, to abandon all of my activities in the skeptic and Atheist communities with immediate effect.

I find great comfort that there is a new generation of writers and people willing to get stuck into the increasing tide of pious nonsense that the world is confronted with. However, I don't think that this blog serves the purposes I originally set out to achieve. In fact, it only reminds of probably how far I have failed to see the bigger picture.

The real fight against the injustice of religion being given such a lofty status in our social discourse is taking place in demonstrations in the real world. Blogs can only serve a certain purpose; after a while, they become as decadent and self serving as the religious hierarchies they seek to dissemble or shake up. I'm not the first to notice that, after a while, there are people who only seek to further their own profile.

I, for one, distrust those who like to talk about themselves in the third person on their own blogs. It's creepy, a little sad and I'm simply tired of it. There are also those who refuse to see an argument from another side and it's their way or the highway. People are just taking themselves too seriously and I'm simply wary of falling into a similar trap.

So this blog will no longer be updated. The articles will remain as I am proud of how I wrote them. In time I imagine that this will be culled along with any other blogs that fall into "disrepair". I guess that by keeping this here it gives me some sort of gentle reassurance that it was not all in vain.

I have so many other interests that I am deciding to dedicate my life to. I have a family, a new career in the health profession and my Strongman lifting 'career' which I hope to be successful in.

Thank you to all readers who have stopped by this blog and commented either on here or in emails. I have enjoyed conversing with you all.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Muslims stole my bacon sandwich

It's a pretty provocative headline for, well, any headline writer. To people like the EDL's Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Lennon) it would probably be used in the next pamphlet or banner that the group decide to release.

In fact, I think it would be a good exercise for a satirist to set up a blog and make up stories to see how many get taken as "gospel" by the EDL's cronies such is their lack of general intelligence. However, at times, the EDL's leader provides hours of entertainment and none more so than when he tweeted:

As a result, the #creepingsharia hashtag went viral and the inevitable happened; Tommy became the unwitting victim of what has been one of the funnier stunts in Twitter history.

I have to admit, I have some sympathy with those who argue that Islam is a violent and ugly religion. I temper this by saying that, at their worst, all religions can be guilty of the same. This does not make the people who follow that religion violent or extremist but, I do take Sam Harris' line:

"How do we recognize religious moderates in the first place?"

The trouble with Islam is that it tends to be embedded culturally and psychologically and thus is defended in such a way that one risks being accused of some heinous crime should they dare criticise the lunatic ravings of a 6th century warlord. The question that people should be concerned with is whether Islam, should it truly want political power, can justify it's beliefs which are "divinely" scripted? If it can, with evidence of Allah, it would indeed change the face of the planet... make no mistake about that.

If any religion was able to offer evidence of it's truthfulness faith would no longer be required. If Allah was to be proven with scientific, empirical evidence this would indeed change everything we know. Western culture would be finished. 

What was once faith, would be fact.

However, Islam has had centuries to offer this evidence and it's not likely to be offered any time soon (same goes for any other religion of course). So those arguing for the political adoption of Sha'ria (and those people are not hard to find) are doing so without a scientific or reasonable basis; this in turn makes it somewhat difficult to overturn centuries of British law and customs. Our parliamentary democracy is not going to be discarded for Quranic diktats unless there is some reasonable proof for everyone to be subjected to what was written.

But the same applies for any religious institution doesn't it? Yet millions follow these religions without, seemingly, any scientific or rational basis for doing so. Well part of the reason is that religions tend to be familial or cultural. And these tend to be powerful factors which require longer explanations. But people are often incredulous at how a person is sucked into what, on the face of it, appears to be complete and utter nonsense. 

But religions are followed by millions right?

Well, there is power in numbers for sure but that's a poor reason to suggest that those beliefs are based in fact. That so many people can fall for the delusional (or often sophisticated) ramblings of another is nothing new. Satya Sai Baba is a guy who convinced (or duped?) millions of people into believing that he was performing miracles. Yes, in an age of unparalleled  of scientific progress Sai Baba convinced people that performing a coin trick was somehow evidence of "divine power"

Looking like the lost Jackson brother, one would think he would have had time to have performed a miracle on his haircut. 

But then I guess a haircut like that is good for hiding coins or other nondescript items to fool people with. 

The guy was a fraud like any other mystic or preacher than has gone before. That he was able to convince millions in the 21st century says nothing more than a fool and their money are easily parted or that, in a more general tone, people are gullible and tend to conform.

The Asch Experiment offers an amusing way in which people tend to follow others without thinking for themselves - AKA the "herd mentality).

However, whenever people said that Satya Sai Baba was a GOD, just remember that there are others who claim that their own figures of worship should be revered based on similar eye witness accounts and what we would call Chinese Whispers. No religion, to my mind, is exempt from this charge.

So while the #creepingsharia trend offers a welcome insight into how Twitter is best at self-regulation, as opposed to being the place from where legal proceedings tend to emerge (see here and here), there is a message which is being lost where Islam is becoming a genuine concern for people in Britain. 

The question is whether this concern is justified or if people, or groups like the EDL, are following the groupthink mentality of those who continue to worship Satya Sai Baba? Perhaps it is a case of both. Perhaps it is not. I welcome comments on this question.

But my bacon sandwich WAS stolen. 

By a 7 year old. 

And he's not a Muslim.

And I control his pocket money. 

Now that is power.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Harassment Laws & Free Speech II

I do not want to rehash a scene which has already been forensically examined over at Spiderplant Land.


@Sir_Olly_C, a blogger, who holds his local council to firm account was arrested, charged under the Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and, before even being found guilty, was slapped with a restraining order.

Welcome to free speech in 21st century Britain.

I have previously made my thoughts very clear about how the harassment laws in this country are designed to stifle free speech. It seems now that these laws are being used to their fullest effect. I suspect that Parliament did not intend for these laws to be used in the way that they are. Genuine criticism must never be stifled or interfered with.

If the Communications Act 2003 is going to be used to stifle freedom of speech based upon the level of offence that a person feels then perhaps more politicians should be locked up? I am frequently offended by the lies and the way that they treat their constituents with utter disregard.

I am not seriously promoting a policy of widespread committals here, but if a persons level of offence is all that is needed to bring a crap case to court then we are heading for a very depressing period in British history. 

The situation is quite clear and the battle lines are being drawn; if you criticise a person or an organisation, however legitimately, you are going to be on the end of these anarchic laws. Mark my words, more people will become aware of the legislation which enables them to close down dissent and with harsh repercussions for the "offender".

Support @Sir_Olly_C any way you can. Retweet using the #FreeTheBexleyOne hashtag and lets hope more people get behind him.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Christianity Under Attack

As I am writing this it is around 10pm on a Friday night. Yet the morning headlines have already been written. In particular, the Daily Mail has offered us something quite profound for the masses to get hysterical over.

The headline has been generated because of a landmark ruling in the High Court. The report is here. Here is an excerpt...

"Atheist former councillor Clive Bone started the case against Bideford town council in July 2010, claiming he had been ‘disadvantaged and embarrassed’ when religious prayers were recited at formal meetings.

Backed by the National Secular Society, he insisted that the ‘inappropriate’ practice breached the human right to freedom of conscience and discriminated against non-believers, making them feel ‘uncomfortable’.

The society claimed council meetings should be ‘equally welcoming to everyone in the local community’ and should therefore be ‘religiously-neutral’."

The emphasis is mine but I see in no way how this position could discriminate against any person. Religiously neutral. It protects every viewpoint. No prominence of one religion over another. Sounds like a perfect set of circumstances to thrive in.

"Communities Secretary Eric Pickles described the ruling as ‘very illiberal’.

He said: ‘The ruling is surprising and disappointing. Christianity plays an important part in the culture, heritage and fabric of our nation."

It is not illiberal... it is religion neutral. That Christianity is part of our heritage means nothing whatsoever. It was part of the culture of the British Empire to utilise slavery but it would have been a crass argument for its retention pre-Abolition.

"Harry Greenway, a former Tory MP and ex-chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast, said: ‘If people do not want to attend prayers of this nature, they can stay away instead of meddling and busybodying with other people’s beliefs.

‘Non-believers are not harassed in this way by believers. Why cannot the non-believers show the same kind of tolerance?’"

Perhaps Harry Greenway might like to read the paper he is being quoted in which reported that a street preacher got off scot-free after screaming out pious abuse at a gay couple. Yup, the believers really keep their faith to themselves.

The trouble is, people like Greenway always play the victimisation card. The trouble is that the most oppressed minority in the history of mankind has always been those without faith who have had to see societies ripped apart over arguments about whose god is better or whose holy book contains the right information.

So no, Christianity is not under attack. It is simply having to conform with a modern and progressive society which states that all religions are equal. It might be a painful process but it is necessary.

Only people with faith could suggest that their own religion deserves prominence. No Muslim, in their right mind, would argue that a Hindu society deserved their religious customs to be observed because of time honoured traditions. The same applies here in Britain.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Psychic Vegetable

Sometimes, in order to make yourself stand out in a crowd, you need to offer something different than the rest.

Sally Morgan achieves this effect by introducing post-death sex changes into her Genuine Psychic Routine©.

Uri Geller demonstrates his godly powers by carrying out the useful, and potentially life saving, function of bending nothing but common household utensils. Actually, I'm wrong. He only bends spoons. Spoons which he selects prior to a show. Spoons which no-one else is allowed to interfere with. But he's Genuine© too.

So when someone comes along saying that they can read vegetables, you know that you have to take their claims seriously. 

Jemima Packington discovered a gift for fortune telling while cooking one day in the family kitchen. She successfully predicted that if the vegetables were placed in an pot with sufficient water covering them, and the oven to cook them in was sufficiently hot enough, that these vegetables would form something called a "stew". The result was breathtaking. A fully formed stew appeared in that pot. 

What Jemima did not predict was that the stew tasted crap. And the family let her know in no uncertain terms. But she was onto something. She felt it in her bones (they always do). 

Much time was spent in the greengrocers over many months finding the perfect vegetable. All of her predictions were 50/50 at best and sometimes worse. They were all scarily close to the psychics arch nemesis... Doctor Confirmation Bias. The thing was, none of these vegetables harnessed her energy properly and were prone to error. 

One family gave their house away on the roll of a tomato for example.

Another person left their job because of a cucumber (unfortunately their now 'ex-boss' had to spend days in a special unit having it removed... the less said about that eh?).

Disappointed with her efforts she went back to making crap stews and coming up with these crazy predictions that the sun would come up tomorrow and that plants might grow given sufficient sunlight, water and soil. Scarily, these predictions continued to come true much to the astonishment of scientists and sceptics across the world.

The thing was, there was already another generic vegetable making psychic predictions on the scene: Russell Grant.

Jemima needed a special vegetable. One which would tap into her powers like no other. One day, after visiting the greengrocers just after closing time, she was ushered into the back room where the greengrocer opened a special briefcase. In this briefcase the magical asparagus was revealed in all its glory. He handed over the legendary Asparagus officinalis with all of the sacred rites and rituals that were required and handed down through generations. 

No other person in history had managed to contain it's phenomenal power. Somehow, it seemed that this particular greengrocer and Jemima were destined to meet. 

She now wields this sacred vegetable like no other.

She can even make them levitate!

Her success rate in predicting the future as a result of using this magical grocery item is phenomenal. It's just we only tend to hear about those predictions after they have happened. 

Many stories have been put forward as to why this is and the most commonly held theory is that the Asparagus contains such energy that when bonded with a formidable psychic mind (like Jemima's) it puts her into a deep silence until AFTER an event has happened. 

Do not trust those with tarot cards. Do not trust those who bend spoons. When your life is down the shitter, there is clearly only one way to know what the future holds. 

And especially do not trust these charlatans!!!

On a more interesting note, I was able to obtain a quote from Jemima via my spirit guide Dailus Mailus:

Jemima told me that the current MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is clearly a Gordon Brown lookalike and that the efficacy of the Asparagus' psychic con trick woo woo magical powers remains unabated.

Feel the force people... feel the force.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

UCL and Freedom of Expression

The UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society has been asked by the UCL (University College of London) to remove an image of Mohammed, worried that it will "offend" Muslim students.

I'm therefore asking anyone who reads this blog to go here and sign the petition.

Mohammed wasn't depicted banging a goat for goodness sakes. But the UCL complaint seems to only consider the view that it would upset Muslim students. Is there a good reason why the image of Jesus would not offend Christians?

The UCL need to think carefully about the road they are going down. And consider how ridiculous this really is in the grand scheme of things...

UPDATE 19/01/2012

The President of the UCL Atheist Society has resigned.

"Robbie stepped aside because he signed up as president to organise events and run a student society," said Michael Paynter, secretary for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

"He did not appreciate the stress he would be under when dealing with a controversy like this, so he wanted to make way for someone else."

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is continuing with its protest against the image, saying it has wider implications.

Adam Walker, the association's national spokesperson, said the two student groups had worked well together in the past and said the offence was unnecessary.

"There is no need to print these things other than to cause offence and history has told us that these things cause offence."

No-one has the right not to be offended. And with logic like that on display, I would think that the Muslim Youth Association might be better of finding someone more equipped intellectually to cope with their press responsibilities. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Marc Stephens... phoney or fruitcake?

The "big" story towards the end of 2011 was the activities of the Burzynski Clinic in the US and those of the curious Marc Stephens who, rather than engage with the criticisms of the clinic, decided to stalk a 17 year old sceptic called Rhys Morgan by posting a picture of his parent's house in his email correspondence.

Rhys Morgan collecting an award from the sceptic Jedi Master James Randi

(There is a debt collection company I will be 'outing' in the next few weeks who also engage in this practice to intimidate potential debtors or, more often than not, random members of the public.) 

I digress.

I won't go too much into the Burzynski issue, because this rebuttal of his methods here is exemplary, suffice to say that trying to cure people with urine is quite an ancient woo woo and that I believe the actions of the clinic cause serious harm to the public. By that I mean his methods are not credible and people are giving his clinic thousands of pounds (or dollars... all money is the same to that fella it seems) for a therapy which is not efficacious (i.e. not proven to work or, more accurately, is BS). 

Buzynski could be a well meaning doctor desperate for a cure for cancer. I won't say he isn't. But in the face of the evidence that his methods do not work when empirically tested he is doing serious harm to his patients. No question. The evidence shows his methods do not work. How much clearer does that need to be?

But of course he is making money from this. LOTS of money. And he doesn't seem to mind taking money for something which, when peer reviewed, does not work. That, in my mind, makes him a charlatan. A snake oil salesman. But he's a snake oils salesman who won't stop; even in the face of the scientific criticism of his work... he carries on, convinced that his method will work one day or, from the evidence us sceptics have, that more people will be tempted by his very polished sales patter... we need something like this to dismiss nonsense:

Buzynski is either deluded or a crook. There's really no other way to put it. I'm sure he is well meaning on some level but the efficacy of his treatment should have told him long ago that he is on the wrong track. How many more people have to die before he is considered a public health risk?

I am certain about on thing... Marc Stephens is a crooked piece of shit. This is the "internet lawyer" who was employed by Burzynski to respond to the criticisms of his work. Stephens is the guy who has literally been doling out legal threats left, right and centre for the past few weeks. According to the Burzynski clinic, he was sacked after the fallout from the threats directed to Rhys Morgan.

Is he potentially a rogue employee or a defender of Burzynski frothing at the mouth when given some power to enact a damage containment exercise? Is he someone who looked at Britain's libel laws and thought...

Mr. Burzynski, the state bar forbids me from promising you a big cash settlement.
But, just between you and me, I promise you a big cash settlement

It's interesting that since being publicly sacked he has continued dishing out the threats since and, in particular, to the blogger Ken White over at Popehat (an excellent blog by the way). 

In fact, it was White who convinced me it was worth writing about this when he wrote:

"Thuggish lawsuit threats calculated to chill dissent only work when people refuse to fight back. Let's fight back."

I agree, we need to fight these churlish threats and treat them for what they are; egotistical stunts designed to close down dissent.

I'm already in the High Court defending libel proceedings and have only wrote a couple of posts on my blog since to keep something of a low profile and, mainly, because the case is incredibly stressful and has taken me away from what I would consider a normal life.

It's taught me you should be careful what you say. And it has had the effect of me having to really think about what I write and how I write it. However, this issue is too important to ignore. For an adult to intimidate a young guy starting out in the world of scepticism (and gaining a positive reputation) by posting details of his address and sending a photo of it is nothing short of criminal as far as I am concerned. It's an act of cowardice. It's the act of a pathetic individual desperately seeking to justify their existence. 

Now I'm sure that Rhys could have withstood a rational a reasoned debate were he wrong about what he was reporting. When you start writing in a adult world you need to be able to handle the responses you get. I'm very confident that Rhys would have been able to engage with Marc on a level playing field or even one slightly tipped against him. However, to intimidate someone using the law and use tactics similar to that of a stalker is where a line should be drawn and I'm happy to defend Rhys and any other blogger using whatever means available.

In any event Marc Stephens has been caught out and shown up for what he is. And with his refusal to supply details of his legal registration which, at the time of writing, does not exist, he is more than likely a wannabe who is too lazy to put the work into law school. Taking the short cut never works. 

He could well be someone on the Burzynski payroll or, quite simply, a lonely keyboard warrior who needs attention. 

Cyber Threats 'R' Us... 

Either way, he needs to be shown that people are not intimidated and they will not be bullied, especially by morons like him.

Ken White has my support with this and as soon as I am able I will ensure that I devote some more time to raising the public's awareness of Burzynski's scientifically flawed, and therefore unethical, clinical method (Antineoplaston therapy) and the perverse actions of the shyster Marc Stephens.

If he wanted a fight, he picked the wrong crowd.