11 May 11
The other day, I opened my browser and saw your logo. I was actually quite offended, even though I'd almost forgotten what said logo looked like, that you hadn't found some minor historical event or person to celebrate with an annoying animation. I have quite fallen in love with your animations, as they're so useful in the way they distract my eyes from the search-box, letting me go in happy ignorance of the tpyos I produce. This really does help convince me tat my typing has inproves. Well until, that is, I get presented with the results of the search that I thought I'd made, for an archaeological article dealing with 'digging' in 'Virginia'. Luckily I don't have a wife, so this hasn't even resulted in black eyes or divorce proceedings.
Particularly impressive, I thought, was your amazing graphic of the Great Exhibition, the other week. The way the large image of a magnifying-glass followed the mouse down, so that the transparent edge of the image covered a large part of the search box, preventing me from clicking the curser into it without carefully moving it away from the three-quarters of the box that were covered by something I couldn't actually see, was particularly impressive. Why, the first few times I clicked and nothing happened, I actually thought that there might be a problem with my mouse-button. Genius!
I remember that, back in the good old days, when 28k and 56k connections were ubiquitous, I actually began my habit of making your search-page my home-page because it was free of huge graphics, and therefore loaded really quickly. Oh, how I wish I could turn back the clock. Your amazingly annoying animations could then be even more annoying, as I chain-smoked half a pack of Camels, got the housework done, and nipped out to the shops, while waiting for your page to load.
Oooh! I just found out that some people still are on such connections. Some mobile connections actually still are that slow.
Jealous. So jealous…
Google, I thoroughly applaud your policy, which seems to be something along the lines of, "Something that's quite popular and rather fun when done very occasionally, can only be improved by shoving it down people's throats as often as bloody possible." This completely agrees with my idea that if someone likes a bacon buttie occasionally, then obviously they should be perfectly happy to eat nothing but bacon butties. Forever. With no ketchup.
Yours, most sincerely,
P.S. The way I find that I'm automatically signed in to every damned Google service that I subscribe to, after merely signing in to YouTube to click 'Like' on a video, or lambaste someone over their u'se of a greengrocers' apos'trophe on the comment-board,* is also extremely impressive. It's not like I actually wanted a choice in the matter of what I sign in to, and when. Blimey! That'd be plain daft of me, wouldn't it.
*I do not actually do thi's.
Dear Lowly User
Thank you for contacting our carefully hidden Customer Service
Broom Closet Office. How did you find us? No matter. Changes have now been made which ensure that the contorted trail of links you must have clicked in order to do so will now lead to a user-led message board, where you may exchange advice on using our services with other users who have little more clue about them than you do.
P.S. This email will self destruct, melting your hard-drive in the process, in sixty (60) seconds. Have a nice day. (smiley-face)
P.P.S. BWAH HA ha ha haaaaaa!®
"BWAH HA ha ha haaaaaa!" is a registered trademark of Google.™
Do not reproduce without permission.
Evil laughs of inferior quality are available at the user's own risk.
21 May 11
01 June 11
I've not been around on comment-boards much, the last few days. Here's why…
Been a busy few days for me. Saturday morning I got some hideous computer virus that played audio advertising at me, redirected my browser to pages full of adverts, and basically made the web unusable. Closing every unrecognised process in Task Manager worked for a couple of minutes, as did booting into safe-mode, but nothing I did got rid of it. So after a couple of hours of restarting, booting into Ubuntu, where I could at least look for suggestions online, and then back into Windows to try them out, I gave up. I reinstalled Windows.
Then came the inevitable hiccups. First off, it refused to reinstall the drivers for the LAN port (where the router plugs in) from my backup disc, so I had to dig out and install my old USB modem. Then I had the usual frustrating search for said drivers. "No, I do not want to install a program that will scan my hard-drive, tell me half my drivers are out of date (when I know damn well they're not) and then offer to download and install the 'newest' versions, if I pay x-amount for a program I'm only going to use once, just for the one driver I do need." The widget on the actual manufacturer's site, which only works in IE, fails to load properly because IE won't install the damn plug-in it needs to scan my system. Why can't they just provide a little box for you to type in the name of the hardware, and provide you with an installation .exe file? Would that be so damn hard?
Anyway, eventually, after giving up on that and going back to search the web again for ages, I come across a comment on a discussion board that alludes to the manufacturer providing a manual installation alternative, so I follow the link and end up on the same damn page I was staring at for so long in IE, and yes, down at the bottom, there's a single text-link, not highlighted at all, to download what they call a manual installation program
It installs, scans my system for missing and out-of-date drivers, and lists them. Hmmm. It lists them by bloody gobbledygook-name, not by what actual piece of hardware the damn things interact with. So, install the lot and hope.
Reboot. Notice for the first time that my Ubuntu partition has gone. Ah well, I didn't have any important stuff stored in there, and I happen to know that a new Ubuntu was released the other week anyway. Back to Windoze, for now…
Yayy! It worked! Make a restore point. If anything else goes tits up, at least I'll be able to restore to a point where I've got the damn router available.
Uninstall the modem software.
Install CCleaner and use it to purge all the temp files and stuff that all this installing and uninstalling so far has created, and all but the last restore point.
Install Office. Go back to Microsoft Update to find that, not only are there now loads of Office-specific updates (including for Outlook, which I hadn't installed. Tell it to ignore them 'n' never show me 'em again), but Windows actually has newer versions of the 'newest' drivers that the manufacturer's bloody update program supplied.
Reboot for the squillionth time.
The router doesn't work. Damn.
Take a look at device manager and lo-and-behold, the damn LAN port has a black on yellow exclamation mark by it. No driver installed.
Plug the modem back in, run the manufacturer's updatey thing again, and install the lot again.
I now have icons the size of Bill Donohue's ego, and menus that fill the screen top to bottom. The font-size is more normally seen in Times Square. The last time I saw an arrow the size that the mouse-ponter's now is, it had M5: TO THE NORTH (HERE BE DRAGONS!) wrtten next to it. This is not good. And no LAN connection.
Yayy! Back to where I was. Router's connected.
Back to M/S Uptate, take a look at the hardware updates. One of 'em's a new ethernet driver. That has to be the culprit. Install just that one. Yep, that's it. System restore again, then tell Update to never show me that piece of crap again, install the rest, reboot, and… Yayy! Have router.
Remind myself to:
Back to M/S Uptate for the inevitable security updates and patches that it'll now tell me I need, to fix the probems found after the updates I already have were released. Every optional update spawns entire families of these, along with further optional updates to the updates, each with their own little brood of update-spawn following in tow. I start to wonder if my entire life from now on wll consist of staring blankly at the Windows Update progress bar, wondering vaguely who decided that a progress bar should 'progress' in a series of jerks as each particular module is installed. (Hint: the function of a progress bar should be to tell the user how quckly the process is progressing, not to do absolutely nothing until the process is over!) Whoever it was, I'm betting they're now chief torturer at Guantanamo Bay.
Eventually (Come to my arms, my beamish boy!) I go to the update site and it tells me I have no updates remaining. (O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!)
Make A Restore Point!
I now have a useable computer again. And it's only taken about five times as long as normal. Time for all the additions and customisations that make it feel like my computer. Copy all the crap from the Documents backup disc back into My Documents, and head into My Pictures to find some wallpaper. Something soothing seems to be required. The Hay Wain. That'll do nicely. Yuck, the icons all have blue boxes round 'em. Soon fix that. Just apply drop-shadows. It doesn't work. And not only that but the attempt has somehow turned off Active Desktop. My shortcut icons are now nothing but little thumbnails that do nowt when clicked except sit there, smugly blaming me for their own inactivity. Lazy little sods.
Turn on Active Desktop. (Had to google that one.)
Now the icons still have blue boxes round 'em, but at least they work. Sod it, I'm not googling for that. System Restore time again.
"…unable to restore your system to…"
Oh expletive bleeping expletive! Blue boxes round me desktop icons would be annoying, but not dangerous. If the system restore service has gone haywire, then bog knows what else has gone with it. Forget the icons for now. This is important. Maybe it was the Active Desktop problem, or maybe installing too many updates between restarts has caused hiccups. In other words it might not be fatal. How to test?
Ah yes, turn off System Restore (this also deletes all previous restore points, which are now unusable anyway), reboot, and turn it back on.
Make a new restore point. I'm getting light-headed by now through lack of sleep, too much nicotine and too much coffee so, when asked for a name for the point, I name it, "This had better fucking work."
Install a couple of small freeware programs, just so there's a change to make when restoring to "This had better fucking work."
Restore to "This had better fucking work," and make another coffee while it reboots.
It 'fucking works'. TFFT!
Start googling the icons/drop-shadow problem. Turns out drop-shadows don't work if 'Lock desktop items' is ticked.' It's ticked. Why is it ticked? I never bloody ticked it, I know that, and it's s'posed to be unticked by default. And why should whether your icons are locked in place or not, have any bearing on the style and appearance of those icons? Who designed this crap? Bet it was the same twat that did the progress bar. Bastard! For some reason I'm picturing a golf player who hacked out a few lines of code between rounds on a Friday afternoon just before the deadline closed, and submitted 'em as 'tested'.
Install SETI@home via BOINC.
What's gone wrong now? Nothing! Bloody hell! New restore point, pronto!
Ah, SETI's having trouble downloading work-units. Apparently the project servers are down. This happens now and again, and it'll get 'em eventully. No worries. Still, it's nice to stay with the 'Nothing's going to bloody plan' theme, ain't it.
Start installing other stuff. Especially Billy, my favourite music player. This is when I notice I have two volume controls in the system tray. Weird. Seems the latest NVIDIA drivers come with a mixer and stuff. Or maybe not just the latest. It's possible that, in my caffeine-induced haze, I've missed an option to not have it show. Ah well, it does the same job as the system one and looks a bit prettier, so I remove the Windows one. This all goes to plan. By now, I find that strangely worrying.
Several other bits & bobs, mostly little freeware utlities and registry hacks. All is now plain-sailing. I really shouldn't find this worrying. I'm forever installing freeware to use once and uninstalling it again (except when I forget the latter, and it sits there taking up hard-drive space for months until I have a 'purge' day), and I never have all this trouble. Still, in light of how things are going so far, I can't help but wait for the seemingly-inevitable crash.
Right (a few hours' sleep and a day's work later), browsers. I've already done Firefox, as I happned to still have the latest installation file in my Downloads folder, so it got backed up with the rest of my documents. I download and install Chrome and Opera, but (for some reason) not Safari. And, here in the actual present-tense, I still haven't got Safari. Remind me to get that after posting this, will you? Thanks!
Off I go to my Browser Backups rewritable, and run the backup programs for each. All go well except Chrome's, which keeps telling me I don't have Chrome installed. I suspect it may be version-specific, which is a nuisance. Have to remember to make new backups when new browser-versions appear. It's not too worrying anyway, as I only have Opera, Safari and Chrome on the PC so I can test my page-code for compatibility.
Anyway, that's why I've not been around much the last few days. I 'spect I'll be tweaking things for a while yet. I've still not re-added Kindle, or several other little extras, but they can wait 'til I need them. Oh, and I need to visit every site in my bookmarks to get the little icons back. It's amazing, and you probably don't notice 'til they're gone, how much you rely on them as you scan down the list, to help you spot particular sites' bookmarks. (Still, it's a good time to weed ot the ones I never visit.)
Now, anyone want a coffee?
01 June 11
For some reason this story seems to have just impacted atheists and others on t'other side of the pond. I'm not going to say much about the subject here, as it's told in the women's own words and voices in the video playlist below. Their lives say infinitely more than I could manage in a hundred blog-posts. This was a documentary made in 1997, just one year after these institutions closed for good.
I would like to add one point though, that the documentary wasn't written to make, yet makes very well between the lines. This is the face that 'mild' religion takes when it has a real voice in government. This is no way-out conservative fundy sect, or far-off Islamic theocracy. It's mainstream, 'gentle' western Catholicism. And this is why I believe Irish atheists should be consulted and listened to more, when the subject of the impact of Cathoicism in the third world is discussed. They've lived through what the Catholic church does to people when it has power in the land. They know in their very bones.
08 June 11
Beautiful picture of the Endeavour's last landing, over at Astronomy Picture Of The Day. Kinda sad, too, as an era draws to a close. But things move on, and that's not why I mention it. No, I have a quibble with the description:
"In a rare night landing last week, Endeavour glided onto a runway…"
My problem is with the word, 'glided'. I know it's correct, but it doesn't sound right, like 'hanged'. (Actually, I can't think of a single time I've ever heard 'hanged' outside the context of capital punishment.) It's perfectly logical, and really what I ought to be arguing for is the eradication of its illogical counterparts, like 'slid' and 'hung'. Any child, or any adult new to the language for that matter, wanting to describe a friend's fall on some ice, but never having conjugated the verb 'to slide' before, would be perfectly justified in saying their friend 'slided'. But to us who've grown up in the language, it sounds like a childish mistake. So yes, logically, I should be arguing for the removal of 'slid'. But I'm not. I can't help it. I did grow up in the language, and 'glided' sounds just as childish as 'slided', to me. They sound, to my ear, like childish simplifications; like the application of logic to an inherently illogical subject.
So here's my very own new past tense for the verb 'to glide':
I glid, you glid, she/he/it glid, we glid, you glid, they glid.
Much nicer, and kind of poetic-sounding too, I think.
And the plural of 'fan' is 'fen'. Just ask any SF reader.
No, the past tense of 'to side' should not be 'sid'. That'd be just plain daft…☺
10 June 11
The lord alone (ahem) knows how many creationists I've debated online over the last three years or so. If we include ships-in-the-night, two- or three-post exchanges, I'd guess I'm well into triple-figures. If we count only long multi-post conversations, I'm probably in the low-to-mid-doubles. And I've followed so many similar, without taking part, that I'd hate to even guess. Either way, it's enough for one striking statistic to show itself. With very rare exceptions, they all lie. Mostly by omission, admittedly (though that's hardly any better), but a very few by commission.
"What is this lie?" I hear you ask. Well if you'll stop interrupting, I'll tell you.
They all present their case as if their belief constituted some form of deism, or a belief in 'some sort of god'. They argue for a designer-god; one who set the world in motion, and either designed all creatures as they now appear (this is by far the majority argument), or one who began the process of life, then sat back and watched evolution take its course (the minority, but this group does contain most of those who don't subsequently prove themselves liars). Even when arguing for the much sillier young-Earth creation hypothesis, they'll do their damndest to avoid any mention of Bible stories, talking snakes, Adam and Eve, and so forth. Oh no, this is 'science'.
What they don't say—and indeed, in many cases, will run five times round the mulberry bush before reluctantly admitting, even after you've confronted them with the topic—is that they're virtually always Biblical-creationists, with a belief in the specific god of the Bible, a six-to-ten-thousand-year old Earth, Heaven, Hell, men living in fishes, world-wide floods, the whole sh'bang. Yet every time I've ever either pushed them for their true beliefs, performed the obvious action of clicking on their name to check their blog out, if they have one, or just paid attention to the way they capitalise words like 'God' (which only needs capitalisation if you're using it as a proper noun, after all) or 'designer' (which they'll capitalise only if they see it as a substitute for a particular, named, god) and so on, that's exactly what they've turned out to be. Biblical literalists.
Quite why they feel the need to lie like this, even by stubbornly-held—and usually transparently deliberate—omission, I don't rightly know. Possibly they're aware, at some level, of just how ridiculous their actual beliefs are, and they feel they need to present the least silly-sounding version they can. What I do know is that they very often verge on denying their own beliefs for the sake of it, right up to the point where they're forced to either acknowledge them or lie by commission.
They'll spend hours, days, or even months arguing over small details of the theory of evolution, big bang theory, geology, and so forth, whilst neglecting to tell you about the huge unevidenced, improbable and often downright impossible things in their own oh-so-discretely-unmentioned Biblical 'hypothesis'. I once, for example, spent two days discussing the ins and outs of the K-T impact theory with a chap on YouTube (mind you, I learned a lot in the process from all the googling), where he presented some well-thought-out geological arguments and seemed to show that he was at least trying to work within known facts and available evidence; and then ran across his name under another video where he was arguing that the Grand Canyon was 'obvious' evidence in support of Noah's flood!
Now, I come to the table—as do most atheists I've seen in debate—with my cards in full view. My opponent knows I'm an atheist, and whether the subject be the beginning of the universe or of life, or the theory of evolution, or the existence of morals, whatever, I'll make my general position on it clear within my first couple of posts. Furthermore (touching on some other oft-seen creationist tactics), I'll do my damndest to reply to what someone means by their words, not twist and turn their meaning to suit myself. If I don't understand what someone means, I'll ask for clarification, not just assign my own meaning and proceed to stab a strawman to death. If I don't know something, I'll say so. If I turn out to be wrong on a point, I'll admit it. If I find I haven't made myself clear and that my opponent has taken the obvious, but mistaken, meaning, I'll apologise and correct myself. Neither of those latter are 'U-turns'. They're merely honesty. I would never jump on someone for doing the same and accuse them of weakness or unwillingness to stand by their words. We all make mistakes. The honest amongst us correct those mistakes and appreciate it when others do the same. But then, I'm more interested in imparting and receiving facts than I am in winning debating-points.
Anyway, the point is that I try my best to be honest in the presentation of my views, even when my answer will be 'I don't know'.
What a shame that those of Christian supposed virtue can seemingly rarely say the same.
P.S. The obvious question of why I bother. The answer comes in three parts. Partly for the fun of it and the sometimes unexpected google-trails of research it leads to. That's the easy one.
The second is slightly less obvious, or at least not as obvious as it might seem:
I once had a PM from a woman I'd debated on a YouTube comments board, saying that her conversation with me had played some small part in leading her to leave her church. She still believed, she said, but had decided that organised, as opposed to private, religion (the subject of the debate) was no longer for her. She was also, she went on, trying to weed out the worst of her church-bred attitudes, like instantly judging people by their belief or lack thereof, what church they attend, and so on. It was a long message, but that was the gist of it, and I've honestly never been prouder in my life than I felt as I read it. (By the way, if by some small chance you're that lady and are reading this, I'd love to hear how you're doing. I never saved your YT details, though I should have.)
That's a real rarity, however, and anyone who debates real fundies and creationists (the lady in question had been neither) and expects that sort of result, is going to be sorely disappointed. I certainly never expect even the small part I played in that one case to have such success again, in direct debate. But…
Every well-trafficked message board, forum and chat-room on the world wide web has more lurkers than actual posting participants. That's true whatever the subject in hand, but if it's a subject that creates debate, and often heated debate at that, the ratio will be more than usually skewed toward lurkerdom. Some people just don't feel confident enough to take part, don't feel they have enough information to make a contribution, or just don't like arguing, though they're still interested in what others have to say.
Now, you can bet your bottom dollar that anyone religious who lurks an atheist forum—or any other venue where such things are discussed frankly—without intent to argue, is there because they have questions they want answers to. Some large number of that subset will be there because they have doubts. Doubts about their own faith, or the validity of information they're getting from their pastor, priest, whatever. They are the target audience. Most of the ones who feel confident enough in their beliefs to debate, are never ever going to be swayed by a few logical arguments. The ones looking on from the sidelines, and already looking for advice, information, or just confirmation that they're not alone in their doubts, though, are already part-way there. With any luck, they'll see how silly the Biblically-literal worldview is, and how tortuous and vague are the arguments made by most creationists, or maybe they'll get that one piece of information that'll help them past the post. Or maybe they'll just be moved a little further on in their questioning. It's still good!
Part three is really quite simple. Religion has always had a privileged position, compared to other subjects. "Don't criticise," we're told. "The belief is personal to the holder, and you'll upset their poor fragile ickle egos by pointing out how bloomin' daft it all seems to an outsider." Fine. But. It's not personal, is it? It gets promoted in schools. Its leaders and 'lower management' are, often wrongly, often tragically wrongly, assumed to be people of good character whose word is worth more than that of an ordinary person. Its tenets get pushed into politics. Its views on many moral issues, especially those concerning sexuality and reproduction, are deferred to by broadcasters and politicians. Even here in the UK, a relatively non-religious country, one can't escape the obvious and not-so-obvious influences of religion, and especially—because it's been so long ingrained in the culture—of Christianity. All without a shred of evidence that its central tenets—the existence of god or gods, and of the human soul—have any validity whatsoever. So no, organised religion is not 'private' or 'personal', and no, I won't shut up and pretend that it's harmless and doesn't affect me. Whether it does any good or not for the reader, shouting my head off now and again about a subject that gets such an unwarranted 'hands off' is damn well good for me.
And this 'short' post-script is now, I believe, nearly as long as the actual script. Oh well.
11 June 11
We've all, I suspect, run into plenty of the 'It Gets Better' videos by now. There're certainly plenty of them, and they crop up on the occasional blog, as well as—which is how I came across this one—on the occasional unrelated video search. (If anyone knows a jive-tempo '50s rock 'n' roll song with a chorus something along the lines of 'eighty-eight keys going forty-five RPM', could you please let me know who it's by, label details, and anything else you know about it? It's driving me nuts! I think it's by somebody King, or The King Brothers, but I'm not at all certain.)
Anyway, normally I'd move on and not bother myself with it, not being part of the target-audience, but something about it caught my eye, so I clicked 'play' and sat back to watch. And I'm glad I did.
At this point I originally wrote several paragraphs going on about the whole 'It Gets Better' campaign, and bullying, both of gay kids and others perceived as 'different', but I read it back and it was stuffy and moralistic, and completely the opposite of why I liked the video, so forget all the moralising.
Quite simply, they put a smile on my face, and I want to share it.☺
13 June 11
I don't tweet and I'm not on Facebook, so I'm probably way late with this compared to most people. It turned up in my weekly StumbleUpon recommendations. Even so, and although it's probably well known to anyone who does tweet and Facebook, I couldn't let it pass.
Fifteen-year-old Alice Pyne is dying from cancer, and posted a 'bucket list' on a blog meant for her family and friends. The term comes, apparently, from the title of a film, and means 'things you'd want to do before you kick the bucket.' It's an amazingly 'trivial' list, for the most part, and includes things like visiting a chocolate factory ("and eating lots of chocolate"), owning a purple ipod, swimming with sharks, seeing her favourite band, Take That, and suchlike, but right at the top, her very first wish, is that she'd want more people to become bone-marrow donors.
The blog, as I say, and as she explains herself, was only really meant for friends and family, as a record of her thoughts over her final days, but it got picked up and tweeted, and quickly became one of the top trending topics (I think that's the right term) on Twitter; helped along, no doubt, by several celebrities picking up on it. The upshot of this is that the attainable items on her bucket list have been realised, many of them several times over, and her sister, who was due to take part in a charity run for cancer research, has raised, not the £1,000 she was hoping for, but at least £31, 000.
Some days, after reading my usual list of blogs about religious bigotry, conservative douchebaggery and such, I come away from the computer feeling like the internet is one huge cesspit. Some days, like today, I come away with the idea that it's the greatest force for good, for community, in the best sense of the word, that the human race has ever produced. In reality, of course, it's somewhere in between, but I'll take as many days like today as I can find, thank you. No, it won't change the world particularly, and yes there are many more people suffering all sorts of tragedy in the world than one fifteen-year old girl, but right now, for a few minutes, I don't care. This is what the internet should be about, and let's have more of it, please.
Right, I'm off to find out how one becomes a bone-marrow donor.
17 June 11
Usually, when I start one of these rants, I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to say, and how I want to say it. Then, as I write, side-issues and digressions pop into my head, and I just have to include those too. Which probably explains some of the many-claused and overlong sentences I end up inflicting on my readers. Sorry 'bout that! This time, though, I'm doing the opposite. I'm starting with a set of vague ideas—mostly stemming (unless I change horses midstream again) from a recent rereading of Marx and Engels' Manifesto Of The Communist Party.
Before I start, I want to state that I am in no way a communist, especially as defined by those who point to the authoritarian regimes of Mao, Stalin and the like. That said…
The basic ideal of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need' is, I think, a noble ideal to aim for, though probably unattainable. Various practicalities—which evidently escaped the starry-eyed intellectuals who flocked to 'the cause' between the wars—tend to rear their ugly heads. For starters, it treats all people as equal, when people most definitely aren't. I don't mean 'equal before the law,' which they are, or at least should be, I mean equal in outlook or desire. Some people, for whatever reason, crave power, riches, recognition or a host of other things, to a greater degree than the average person. Indeed, the very fact that we could (in theory) find an 'average' desire for (whatever) means that most people will be either above that average or below it. That's why it's an average, not an extreme. (Many people seem to forget this simple fact; especially, for some reason, when the questions of IQ and relative wealth are discussed.)
The ideal communist state would be one in which everyone did their utmost for the collective and only took what they needed. No one would try to play the system to get more out than they put in, or to ensure that their offspring got even more out while putting even less in, thus starting a dynasty of parasites. Nice. And also unrealistic to even the most casual observer of human nature. It might work in small communities, where those who don't like the system are free to leave it, or those who play it for personal advantage can be forced to leave it. It'll never work in country-sized communities, though, as the demise of Communist Russia showed (or the degeneration of China into capitalism in all but name). For starters, anything that big has to have administration, and for administration to be effective it has to have the authority to tell people what to do. And already we have an inequality. Those who exercise power will be those who want to exercise power, and it's a truism that the thirst for power is never slaked, merely assuaged. And, of course, being in a position of authority, the subset of real megalomaniacs will be in the best place to make sure they get more of what they want. And to stop that happening, along with more traditional types of crime, you need a police force of some description as well as a system of judiciary, which gives us two more lines of access to power in one fell swoop. What then? Well, oversight committees, I suppose, but quis custodiet ipsos custodes? It's turtles all the way down.
Nope, the whole thing's a bust from the get-go. Human beings are not jellies, and won't be forced into moulds. What you end up with is, in effect, not what would seem like a lefty's wet dream, but the most oppressive state you can imagine.
And that's just the obvious, gross effect. If we take the 'to each according to need' clause at face value, things get really interesting. Does that mean that my neighbour, or a total stranger, for that matter, can wander in one morning, enquire as to how far I have to travel, trump me with a longer distance and take my car; all without a by-your-leave? Or is there some official process they have to go through? (Back to power structures again!) In which case we both waste X-amount of time going through the red tape, only to discover that she doesn't need my car anymore, because it's too late for her to reach that urgent appointment. Or maybe the clause wouldn't be taken to such extremes at all. But then, where is the line, and who draws it? Who enforces it?
Back here in the non-imaginary world, we also have our inequalities, and I don't just mean in desire or outlook. And this is where Marx and Engels were, I think, right, though they dressed it up in pseudo-intellectual claptrap and, I have to say, some of the worst, obfuscatory and downright boring prose I've ever come across. (I've been told that they're actually quite readable, compared to much modern philosophy. I wouldn't know, and don't particularly care to find out.) And the inequality in question is financial.
The top (in financial terms) few percent of western society 'earn' more in a week than most of us will see in a year. And the top few of those will likely earn more in a week or a month then most will see in a lifetime. You'll have noticed the quotes around 'earn,' I assume. Just how is it that they 'earn' this income? They don't produce goods or services; don't even directly control those who do. Those at the very top manipulate abstracts. Abstract future profits, abstract money, abstract predictions of how they think a business or group of businesses ought to perform. They don't even own Marx's 'means of production.' They control the people who control the people who own the corporations who own the companies who own the factories which employ the people who produce the goods. And the people at the bottom who do the work, provide the goods, the medicine, the power, the education, the whatever, end up being laid off 'because profits are lower than expected', or worse, 'are projected to be lower than we'd like'. Not 'because we've made a loss, or will make a loss,' you'll note. Just that 'we'll make a £12 mllion profit instead of £14 million.' Boo fuckin' hoo.
People who could retire tomorrow, not take in a penny more—even in interest—for the rest of their lives, and still allot themselves more spending-money from their capital per week than we'd see in a decade, make decisions that force workers, or 'downsized' ex-workers, into situations where they have a choice between turning the heating on for a few hours or buying a loaf of bread. And you know what? Complain loudly enough, tell them they should contribute back to the communities of people who've been the bedrock of their fortune-making, and they'll brand you a communist and a 'big government' authoritarian.
I'm not one of those who thinks the only 'real work' is that which gives you an aching back or blistered hands, but I wish these people could be made to put in a month's work on a production line. Have to experience feet that ache so much that for the last hour or so of the shift they're almost all you can think about. Ditto back-ache. Or made to take one paid ten-minute break and try to down a decently hot drink in that time. That goes double in any job where protective clothing has to be removed and put back on before and after the two-minute walk to and from the canteen; call it four minutes to cue up for, buy, and drink a hot beverage. Oh, you get a half-hour break too, to eat a meal in. Isn't that nice. Pity it's unpaid, and you'll be penalised if you're even a minute late back. Mostly though, I wish they could experience the total, abject, mind-numbing boredom of performing the same robot-like action, generally a few motions that take less than five seconds, over and over and over again, with the line constantly sped up to the point where you can only just keep up with it, all day, every day. For peanuts. Not because the person doing the job is unintelligent or unambitious, but because they have a family to feed and can't afford the risk of failure if they try to move up the ladder.
The risk, I might add, greatly exaggerated by the speed with which those same financiers and their underlings will foreclose on a mortgage, or kick out tenants who can't afford this month's rent. Plus, of course, a pyramid has, by nature, more stones on the bottom layer than the second, more on the second than the third, and so forth. There just ain't room for that many people to move up. 'You don't like it? Get off yer fat arse and improve yourself,' we're told, but woe-and-betide anyone who would point out that most of us simply aren't paid enough to pay for any sort of meaningful training, or that there simply aren't that many upward options available, even if we could. Christ, on the other side of the pond, in 'the world's greatest democracy', Marx's proletariat are having a hard time getting something as obviously beneficial-to-all as decent universal health-care, because that's, you know…socialism. You think those who cynically block that really give a damn about the conditions the working class have to live in?
We were meant to be living in a golden age. Our medicines would seem quite literally miraculous to an earlier age. Through technology, we can talk to people all over the world in real time, keep our houses at year-round moderate summer temperatures and our food fresh for days or even weeks. Yet some people still have to scrimp for the price of something as basic as a loaf of bread, while others could lose the price of a bakery as well as the farm that produced the wheat, and still not suffer any more than a feeling of aggravation at the loss. And yet they tell us that they would be put upon by more taxes and more public spending.
I've no objection to some people being richer than others. I do have an objection to those who have never done more for their money than manipulate figures, or more likely paid someone else to do so, telling the people who provide the ultimate basis for that money's existence that they deserve their poverty, the ease with which their lives can be ruined through no fault of their own, and their all-too-often hand-to-mouth existence.
As I said at the beginning, this is more of a collection of vague ideas on a theme than a thought-out, pre-planned essay, so we now leap sideways to percentages.
Percentages are, I think, used in a slightly underhanded way. They make things look much more equal than they are. We're taxed by them, polled by them and get our pay-rises by them. Here's my problem with them, though. They don't equate to what we can do with the money we gain or lose by them.
Let's say that someone earning £1,000 per month gains 1%, either by tax-cut, wage-rise or a combination of both. What does that get her?
£10, obviously. That's roughly seven loaves of anything that I'd care to call 'bread,' as opposed to a mass of air-bubbles held together by limp dough-like structures. Not bad.
Now let's say someone earns £2,000. She gains, with the same percentage, £20. Hey what d'ya know? She can afford margarine, a block of cheese, a pot of jam and possibly some marmalade too!
Assuming that such simple sandwiches are all we aspire to, food-wise, look what happens when they get the same rise the following year. We'll assume inflation eats up the odd pound or two, so that in real terms they gain roughly £10 and £20 respectively, again.
The first person can now afford the cheese, jam, marge and marmalade too, but the second now has £20 to spare. She can save, buy luxuries, whatever.
Year three, and person A now has (in theory) £10 disposable, while person B now has £40.
Year four, and the gap widens still further to £20 versus £60.
See what I mean? The gain looked fair. One percent each. But in actual fact, and in terms of how much the gain can be used to improve lives, person B will draw further and further ahead.
But it gets worse.
The whole philosophy of capitalism can be boiled down to 'charge as much as you can get away with'. In this case, that means you charge as much as you can for necessities, based on what the lowest earners can pay for them. Every time person A makes that one percent gain, her shopping bill is going to rise to match (which is all that pay-rises which match inflation are supposed to do, after all). Person A is, in fact—unless she's lucky enough to find a better-paying job—stuck on what's aptly known as the bread-line. Person B, on the other hand, is still making gains. At the slower rate of about £10 a month per year maybe, but still gains. Person B, in fact, will at some point have enough extra to pay for an evening class, gain a hopefully well-chosen basic qualification, and jump right ahead. Forget the training even. A slightly more expensive suit for the interview could be all that tilts the balance, or turning up in a vehicle that's better maintained. Eat my dust, person A! Using wage increases by percentage to make real improvements only works if you're not at the very bottom, which is, ironically, where you really really need them.
So next time minimum and almost-minimum wage earners are awarded that oh-so-generous inflation-matching rise, and the pro-forma complaints from the better-off come rolling off the press, just stop and think who's actually gaining, when the 'equal' percentage-based pay-rise works its way up the pyramid. 'Cause it won't be the poor sods living on dry bread, I promise you that.
Nothing of the above is new, and others have phrased it better, but hell, I got it off me chest. And how do I feel now about Marx and Engels' great work? Well they got the problem dead to rights, but any bloody idiot could do that. Indeed many before them had. Their solution, however, was ill-thought-out, wordy, pie in the sky rubbish. Unfortunately a lot of people listened, and many in Russia, eastern Europe, China, and many other places, have paid the price.
What is the solution? I don't know. We live in a democracy, which kinda knocks on the head the idea of forcing people to do what we think they should without the process being mediated by politicians, most of whom—of all political colours—these days appear to be wannabe fat-cats in training, and wouldn't seem to be willing to leave the gravy-train unless forced.
I offer no solution. Just a rant.
Oh, and in case you're thinking I've strayed a bit from my usual anti-religious path, just who do you think finance the Tea Party and most of the other right-wing religio-political organisations? Who have the most to gain by financing organisations that want to keep those lefty, evolutionist, clean energy, evidence-following, equal-rights for all, socialist, climate-change pushing liberals out of power?
26 June 11
I don't like Darwinism.
That is, I don't like the term 'Darwinism'. Sorry 'bout that, but I hope it got your attention.
We don't call the theory of relativity 'Einsteinism', or quantum mechanics 'Planckism'. True, we do have daltonism. That doesn't refer to Dalton's atomic theory, though, but to colour blindness, which is perfectly in keeping with the tradition of naming diseases and other health conditions after the person who identifies them. (For all the faults—and there were many—of Victorian society, I do sort of romantically wish that I'd seen the days when an amateur scientist could make so many contributions to so many widely separated fields, as seems to have been the norm back then.)
Nope, apart from some exceptions like illnesses, if we name something after a person it's, So-and-so's law, or Whosit's theory of whatsit. (The Islets of Langerhans have always sounded, to me, like they should be a marshy area in the Zuiderzee.) -Isms, in general, are reserved for ideologies and social, philosophical or artistic movements. Thatcherism, modernism, liberalism, pointillism and so on. And that's just how creationists love to portray the theory of evolution. As a belief system, a faith, an ideology.
They portray Darwin, not as a scientist who got a lot of stuff right but also who, we can admit cheerfully, got some stuff wrong; but rather as an authority-figure who we must hold up as perfect in every pronouncement. That's how they think; and they think that we think the same way. Jesus, as portrayed in the Bible, cannot be considered to have a single flaw or to have uttered a false word or opinion, or the whole of his teachings becomes suspect; and our world-view, of evidence trumping authority, is as alien to many of them as theirs is to us. (I speak here of the everyday person-in-the-street believer, not the leaders of their cause. Many of the latter are, to my mind, charlatans and liars.) They expect us to be both offended and knocked onto the back foot, if they can expose a weakness in Darwin's work, just as they would be if they were shown, and they accepted, a flaw in Christ's teachings. The hundred and fifty years' worth of exploration and evidence-building that's followed since would fall, they think, if they knocked the authoritative foundation of The Origin from under it. Well, I say 'they'. There's another group too, who know damn well that they're using a misrepresentative term, but who know that their audience, the lookers-on from the sidelines, don't. And it's the lookers-on that we should have in mind. The ones who are willing to debate are, for the most part, too entrenched to back down, and—human nature being what it is—will become more so, the more of their opinions they expose to public scrutiny.
It's a minor point, I know, but I see many sceptics, atheists and even biologists accepting—even using—the terms 'Darwinism' and 'Darwinist'—and I think it does a disservice both to ourselves as a movement, giving the impression (or at least adding fuel to the idea) that we're presenting a belief system, not a scientific theory; and to the memory of Darwin himself, who would, I feel, have wanted to be remembered as the man who worked out a theory, not as one who created an ideology.
I'm not a Newtonist, a Copernicist, a Watson-And-Crickist, a Lavoiseist or a Galileist. No, not even—other creationist canards to the contrary—a Dawkinsist. Why should I accept the label of Darwinist?
29 June 11
The first of a series (possibly) of posts about things that, well, I just don't get. Some are trivial, some not, some lighthearted, some not; and the number of words dedicated to any particular subject is not intended to be indicative of which category it falls into.
The argument that facts shouldn't sway belief. Huh? What is true—by which I mean 'factual'—is true. Belief that gravity doesn't work wouldn't cause the believer to suddenly weigh nothing. I can understand wrongly believing something to be true or untrue because of lack of knowledge. I will, however, never understand someone wilfully believing things proven to be untrue. Heartfelt, scripture-hugging, opinion-based Truth-with-a-capital-T is nothing but woo, hogwash, bollocks, balderdash…
Cop-out mohawks. You know the ones. A normal haircut, pushed toward the middle so the hair rises up into a crest in the centre. What does it say? "I want to be a rebel, but only on weekends"? Not really a rebel at all then, eh?
The pope on sex. Celibacy is probably the least normal state of sexuality, yet he gets to tell millions of people what is and isn't 'natural' in their sex lives. Run that by me again…
Fixies. That is, fixed-gear bicycles. I get the idea of using these in racing or for training. What I don't get is why anyone would want to ride them in traffic. And why on earth, apart from a taste for masochism, anyone would want to use the same gearing for going up a steep hill that they use on the flat, is beyond me. And going downhill is even worse. You have two options; either pedal like Billy-o to keep up with the gravitational acceleration, or brake. Fuck. That. Shit. Give me freewheel anyday. No feeling is better, after slogging your way up one side, than coasting down the other. Bliss. (A caveat for those with an eye for flora and fauna. (You know who you are.) This is not an excuse for taking one's eye off the road and gazing about at the scenery, young lady!☺)
Racism. I get people who're genuinely anti-immigration, as opposed to those who use that as a cover for racism. I might not agree with them, but I can see where they're coming from. Racism, though? WTF? How the hell does someone's skin colour have anything to do with anything? I can't think of any way to elaborate on this, or of any possible caveats. It's so simple. Skin-colour. Makes. No. Difference.
Why alcohol, which makes people argumentative and leads to Bog knows how many assaults, is legal, yet marijuana, which makes the user giggle a lot and sit in the corner grinning, isn't. Okay, grass, used to excess, can cause health problems, but so does booze.
Seventies disco. Surely the oddest dance rhythm ever to become popular, given that—for any but unusually talented dancers—the only possible way to dance to it is to shuffle awkwardly from foot to foot. And there's no middle ground, either. Try anything more advanced than that, and the potential for looking like your drunken uncle at a wedding far outweighs any slight impression of coolness that might be engendered.
People who use physical threats on online message boards and in chat rooms. For starters, real 'hard' people don't use the sort of posturing language these people do. Real-world hard-nuts don't advertise before throwing a punch. And, well, they're in all likelihood hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the person they're threatening. This fact alone means they're not going to look hard, just bloody stupid and/or unable to come up with an intelligent put-down.
The pillock I saw a while back heading onto the motorway on a Honda Fireblade, wearing a helmet that probably cost a couple of hundred quid… with a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I'll couple him with the other potential loser-out in the evolutionary struggle I saw last Christmas, on a racing pedal-bike. Black-ice patches all over the damn place, and he's going at full-tilt along a winding heavy-traffic road, on tyres narrower than a fundy's world-view, in lycra shorts and T-shirt. Some people it seems, have all the sense, where self-preservation is concerned, of a randy male black-widow spider. Then again, the spider's at least surviving long enough to pass his genes on. And providing a decent meal. Something tells me that even those odd-balls who collect and cook road-kill aren't going to be particularly eager to try Biker Fricasée, or Cyclist Au Vin.
More to follow. Possibly.
07 July 11
A couple of days ago, this peice by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the self-styled 'America's Rabbi', appeared in the HuffPo. Apparently, Britain's going to the dogs, because of The Evil Atheists.™ Well, I couldn't resist…
Presented below is the article in question, with my comments added in black. You might want to read the original at Huffpo first, to see the pile of stinking excrement without my inclusions.
Britain today has become one of the most godless societies on earth. Yayy! Let's just hope the trend continues. Oh, and 'Earth' is a proper noun. Moron. Its principle religious exports today are thinkers who despise religion. From Richard Dawkins, who has compared religion to child abuse, to my friend Christopher Hitchens, who titled his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the British have cornered the market on being anti-God, (You mean anti-religion. How the hell could atheists be anti-something we suspect to a near-certainty doesn't exist? Still, 'anti-God' sounds nastier doesn't it. Who cares if it's true or not?) at least the Christian and Jewish varieties. Oh, we're anti- all the other ones too. It's just that the Christian religion has a particular hold on our society that the others don't have. Oh, and your insinuation that we suck up to Islam: not so. Many of us have a problem with the way Muslims are treated by our mostly xenophobic right-wing press, but that doesn't stop us criticising the religion or its effects; we just like to be even-handed with our condemnation.
While 92% of Americans believe in God, only 35% in Britain do and 43% say they have no religion, according to Britain's National Centre for Social Research. The number of people who affiliate themselves with the Church of England was 23% of the population in 2009 from 40% in 1983. In truth though, if Britain's Christian tradition is dying out, the leaders of the faith have only themselves to blame, for perpetuating the country's highly centralized religious structure. So, the recent drop in the numbers of religious people is attributable to a structure of worship that's been in place since 1534? Right.
Europeans are in the habit of making fun of American evangelicals as backward religious knuckle-draggers who believe that Adam and Eve ate apples with a talking snake. Well, that'd be because for the most part they are. But for all this condescension, (It's not condescension, Bubba, it's plain astonishment that so many grown people would believe such shite, coupled with outright loathing for the obvious liars who perpetuate the 'pro-life' rubbish, the 'Intelligent design' myth and so on.) evangelical Christianity in the United States represents the single largest voting block in the world's sole superpower. Actually that'd be the Catholics, by quite a margin. One out of five Americans describes themselves as a born-again Christian, something inconceivable in Britain. Thank ahem God. American evangelicals build mega-churches that draw thousands of worshipers, while British churches are empty enough to land jumbo jets. Pardon? That has got to be one of the most crappily thought-out similes I've ever seen! Who lands aircraft in buildings? Moron. Oh, the religious do. They call it glorious martyrdom (as long as it's done in the name of their religion). We call it terrorism. Leading evangelical pastors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen enjoy vast cultural influence among millions of Americans, while in Britain no religious figure could hope to excite the youth even fractionally like William and Kate. Oh, how little you know about British youth. The portion still of school-age, or working in jobs where their employer honoured the 'national holiday' were probably thankful for the day off. Can't say I noticed a huge amount of celebration of their Royal Paraistes' swapping of rings, though. But then, I suspect you're one of those annoying Americans who think British culture is 'quaint' and are surprised and vaguely disappointed that we don't all wear flat-caps and that we do have modern conveniences like electricity and a decent public health-care system. Well guess what, Britain ain't a Victoriana theme-park, and we don't need your fucking patronisation. (Yes, that was hyperbole, but only just. I've met too many patronising American tourists who think my country is some kind of Mary Poppins-esque history show, arranged for their pleasure. I also know that I have no real reason to assign the attitude to Boteach. I like digression. Deal with it.)
One key difference is that in America there is no official state church. There is no Archbishop of Canterbury, no Chief Rabbi, no official defender of the faith or state religion. Don't worry. One day, we won't have them either. Religion lives and dies in America like a commercial enterprise, and is therefore highly entrepreneurial. Religion in America is a commercial enterprise, especially the more evangelical brands, and especially the mega-churches. Oh, you still get those nice tax-breaks though, don't you. So it's actually a government-sponsored commercial enterprise. If pastors excite their congregants with a message that is uplifting and relevant, they can be sure that the pews will be filled next week. If they deliver sermons that send would-be worshipers off into deep comas, their churches will be empty the following week. Yep, "don't matter if it's true or not. Don't matter if it's just pandering to hate. So long as we get the bums in the pews and the cash in the collection plate." Isn't it rather arbitrary of your god, though, to leave the fate of the souls of millions in the hands of a kind of religious free-trade boom and bust market?
My British friends, of whom you now have several fewer, one assumes, argue that the demise of religion is a good thing, proving sophistication in sharp contrast to the religious hobos of America who speak in tongues and talk to dead people. I like these friends of yours already. Shame they don't do what all friends should do, and inform you when your blathering starts to make you look silly. I beg to differ. Oh wow! Didn't see that coming! In his 1997 book A History of the American People, historian Paul Johnson, who, if you represent his thesis correctly, I suspect to be a blithering idiot, makes the case that the remarkable growth of the U.S., from pioneering backwoodsmen to the most powerful and innovative nation on earth, was largely fueled by religious fervor. No, it was fuelled by capitalist greed, the want of living space and resources, and good old human curiosity to see what's over the horizon. From the piety of the pilgrims (For 'piety' read 'pissed off at people back home not wanting to be told what to do by a bunch of religious extremists') to the faith-based values of the country's founders, who were mostly deists, and did their best to keep religion out of politics, to the belief in manifest destiny and even the marketing of Coca-Cola as "the real thing," (Whut?) Americans tamed the wilderness with the faith that their nation was a new promised land, destined to illuminate the earth with the torch of freedom and the light of human dignity. Except it wasn't a wilderness. It was an already occupied land, whose inhabitants were murdered and forcibly expelled in order to further the 'manifest destiny'. Oh, and you know the original promised land? That was settled by the Jews in just the same way. Oh, and you know the modern version, the state of Israel? So was that. Well, I say 'was', but it seems to be an ongoing process. Still, the inhabitants of Jericho had no rights, I suppose, nor did American Indians, and nor do the Palestinians. After all, they're 'other'. They're not us. They believe a completely different load of made-up shite about the world. Why, they're almost not human at all. You'd think Jews, of all people, would be able to empathise with that. But nope. Same old toxic shit, over and over and over, 'cause Gott mit uns! Tell me again, how religion promotes peace, love and understanding?
British influence in the world has, in contrast, gone off a cliff over the last century. Yep, and seeing as much of that influence was in the form of an empire, ruled by force and economic (free trade, no less) bullying, most of us are pretty damn glad that it's gone. Hey, you still use our language, our court system and our universities, though. Oh, and the Commonwealth is still one of the largest international organisations outside the UN. I'd say that counts for something. And while there are many factors in this decline, I would argue that the new, militant atheism that is becoming characteristic of Britain is a key reason. Nope, economic pressures brought on by the world wars probably account for most of it. You know, the ones we joined when they first began. And don't even start me on the Lend Lease programme. Atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is an accident. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. It has nothing to say about how we should or shouldn't live our lives, or about what other philosophies we might wish to follow. While it has some brief, flashy moments, life is purposeless and meaningless. From a biological point of view, yes. Our lives have whatever purpose and meaning we give them. Oh, and just because you want a sky-daddy to give meaning and purpose to your life, doesn't mean that one exists. I might want to wander through the back of an old wardrobe and find enchanted lands. Hell, when I read the books, Narnia really existed, in my head. Only in my head though. There is no soul to illuminate and no spirit to enliven—just dead, decadent flesh. Hey, my flesh seems alive. Loved the way you slipped 'decadent' in there, too. Not that you show jot of actual evidence that it is decadent. It just alliterates well with 'dead', so it slips into the brain as poetically justified, without triggering too many scepticism alarms. Human love is a prank played by our genes ensuring the sexual propagation of the species, (Yeah, 'cause loving couples who don't breed don't exist, right?) and poetry and faith are shallow distractions masking the inevitability of our certain demise. Gawd but yer a gloomy bastard. Question: if this drivel is true, why do we see so many happy atheists? Ooh! 'Poetry and faith'. The two aren't an inseparable pair, you know. That whole sentence was an exercise in purple-prosed dreariness. Mind you, if all you have is opinions and no evidence, word-play is all you have left, I suppose. Men are insemination machines incapable of ever being truly faithful and women are genetically programmed to seek out billionaire hedge-fund managers, so much the better to support their offspring. So you're saying that this is all that would interest you, were you to lose faith; shagging and trying to marry up the social scale. What a nice chap you must be! Really, though. Stop telling us what atheists are like, when anyone can see that atheists aren't like that. You know, look at the evidence. Oh, and what's the difference between 'truly faithful' and 'faithful'? Kind of like that between 'pregnant' and 'a bit pregnant', I assume.
This decline of faith and optimism may account for why Britain—once the most advanced nation on earth, (Capital 'E' Earth, you dimwit!) which gave the world parliamentary democracy and its inimitable centers of higher learning—is today more famous for exporting reality shows like Big Brother (a Dutch export) and Project Catwalk. Oh, and all those science, art and history shows from the BBC that foreigners keep telling me they're so jealous of, but hey, let's just go with the lowest common denominator shall we? Wanna talk about Baywatch? For while religion affirms the infinite dignity of the human person, its absence robs life of its sanctity. How does religion affirm dignity? Last I looked, 'dignity' didn't involve cowering before a 'higher being' or begging it for favours. It didn't involve subjugating women, or refusing basic human rights to homosexuals. These things aren't just undignified for the women and homosexuals, or any other people deemed by the creed in question to be 'other'; oppressed and oppressor are equally undignified. What's unequal is that only one of them has the choice to change that situation. Exploitation for fame and humiliation and cash are the inevitable outgrowth. And none of these things has been done, with gay abandon, by religious people and organisations?
Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and ended it completely three decades before the U.S., with Christian abolitionists like William Wilberforce taking the lead against the abomination. Ah, this old chestnut. All you need to do is look for some historical Bad Thing that was abolished at a time when the vast majority of people—including the abolishionists—were religious because that was the societal norm, and then arbitrarily ascribe that abolishion to the very same religion that had been used for years or centuries to support the case for the Bad Thing being perfectly justified. Kind of like saying Galileo was a Catholic, therefore the Catholic church discovered the phases of Venus. But a century later (1807 to 2011 is a century?) Britain is better known for football hooliganism, the gratuitous depictions of women in its most-circulated publications and the demise of the family with one of the highest out-of-wedlock birthrates in the world. Oddly, I regularly communicate with folks all over the world, with people who feel comfortable enough with my sense of humour to jibe me about British stereotypes, yet football hooligans (now largely amalgamated into the oh-so-Christian EDL, by the way) and Page Three models have never come up in those conversations. As for 'out-of-wedlock births' (too squeamish to say 'illegitimate,' were we?) I'm fucking proud to live in a country where couples aren't forced into unwanted and probably loveless marriages, merely for having made the two-backed beast. People are people, and much the same all over the world, which causes me seriously to wonder how many shotgun weddings are happening elsewhere. How many young people are being forced into unions they neither want, nor will be able to sustain without pain and heartache? Indeed, how much violence within marriage is caused by pure frustration on the part of the husband, and put up with by the wife because she's been told by her family, friends and congregation to 'do the right thing', or that 'she's made her bed, and must lie in it'? Certainly, I've heard many such stories from my mother's generation, hailing from times when bastardy was a social stigma, and divorce not much better.
True, America has many of these same problems and a great deal more of its own. Oh, so you badmouth my country as a den of iniquity, a hell on earth, as you see it, then in the final paragraph, make a throw-away comment that it's not actually that much, if any, worse than your own. Just how much of the above would remain, if we cancelled out the 'equally bad' bits, then? Half your article? A quarter? A tenth? You don't actually say. But what you are saying, in light of this eleventh-hour qualifier, is "Well, I think Britain is kind of, vaguely, a bit, but not much, worse than us, but OMG THAY HAZ LESS RELIGION THAN US!" But the spiritual underpinnings of the American republic ensure that values are constantly debated in the public arena and soul-searching is a never-ending element of the American public discourse. Tip for you: follow the conversations on the comment boards of some atheist blogs. You'll see matters discussed ranging from television trivia to economics, to philosophy, to science, to lolcats, to, well almost any subject you can think of. We love the world, and find just about all of it fascinating. And there'll be citations a-plenty to evidence-sources. Then take a look at some Christian comments boards. Top-trending subject: almost invariably hate. Hatred of homosexuals, of atheists, of other creeds, of anything they don't personally like, backed up with citations of out-of-context snippets from the Bible. And they seem to have no interest in anything except showing off how damned pious they are, and how fucking little they know of the world outside their own tin-pot, one-horse town. So, yeah, public discourse would be lovely. And if you let the atheists in on it, you might actually have some that's worth a shit. It just goes to show how important it is to keep one's faith. Yeh, 'cause believing crap without evidence is so much nicer/easier than actually learning. Were Britain to rediscover its own, it might rediscover a lost sense of mission and a once-glorious sense of purpose. Why the hell does a country need to have a mission? Can it not just be, you know, a nice place to live?
So, in summation, we have a few bits of bottom-end pop-culture and stereotyping—both of atheism and British society—with no evidence produced to show that religion produces any of the benefits that Boteach ascribes to it, and no evidence, bar the author's hardly disinterested opinion, to show that atheism produces any of the problems he ascribes to it.
In short, he's managed to troll an entire nation. This might just be a record of some kind. Oh no, Ratzinger got there first. Strange bedfellows, the ex-nazi and the Jew. Gott mit uns, indeed…
07 July 11
IN OTHER NEWS: Thousands of families forced to buy toilet paper for the first time in 168 years.