Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Top Ten symptoms of what I would call god-bothering.
(I saw this on
James Randi which has a link to the This is True site but it's actually on jumbojoke.)

#10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

#9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that humans were created from dirt.

#8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

#7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the male first-born babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" – including women, children, and trees.

#6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods consorting with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

#5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of the Earth (4.55 billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is about a couple of generations old.

#4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering, and yet you consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

#3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor “speaking in tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" your choice of religions to be the correct one.

#2 – You define .01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers, and consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% failure was simply the will of God.

#1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but you still call yourself a Christian.

Friday, October 13, 2006

How to tell if you are dreaming

I can't remember where I heard it but one of the ways to tell if you are dreaming is to read something and then try to read it again - if it has changed then you are dreaming. The context I heard this in was about realising that you were in a dream and exercising some control over the direction of the dream. There's some stuff in a similar vein (about lucid dreaming) in Wikipedia.

The nearest I came to this was when I was dreaming a few nights ago. I can't remember much about the dream other than that I had a large map with me; remembering the tip about trying to read, I began to look at it. I can remember distinctly that the words were in different fonts and sizes next to little dots, squares and circles - just like you have on a map to show the difference between hamlets, villages, towns, cities and counties - but all the place names were interrogative words like Where, Which, When, Who, etc. It was at that point that I became fairly sure that I was dreaming.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What are eyebrows for?

Today, in Liverpool, we have what I would describe as Manchester weather: grey and dreary with lots of rain. The sort of conditions I associate with November in Manchester, UK or indeed in Hangzhou, China.

It started off as an electrical storm in the dark before dawn, which slowly made its way over our house. At one point there was a flash and an almost instantaneous crack of thunder, which scared the willies out of everyone. Later when I tried to log on to our laptop, that I realised that it was running on battery power rather than via the adapter; it would appear that there had been some kind of electrical surge which blew the fuse in the plug - leastways, I hope so, as I'd rather buy a new fuse than a new adapter.

So at lunch time, I walked into the centre of Liverpool to buy a fuse thinking the rain had abated; alas, I was wrong and returned very wet. As I came into the building I realised that my eyebrows were holding a considerable amount of water - Ah! so that's what
eyebrows are for!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Straw Veils

Jack Straw (if you don't know: he's an English MP) has stirred up some controversy by expressing his dislike of veils as worn by your more traditional sort of muslim lady (see Reuters). This has already had some come back for him (see Voice of Reason). Personally, I think that if Mr Straw doesn't like veils then he should not be made to wear one.

I listened to a programme on the radio whilst driving to work a few weeks ago, it was about the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979; one of the interviewees observed that prior to the revolution, her mother rarely left the house because she felt unable to go out without a veil (which the Shah had banned); after the revolution, her mother, and the many other traditionally minded women in Iran, suddenly had access to public space again.

So, whilst I agree that the wearing of full-facial veils does create a barrier (and that is part of the point of them), I do wonder if a move to stop people wearing them will, rather than opening up communication between groups, actually stifle communication as women feel they are no longer able to come out in public.

James Randi

James Randi is a professional magician and exponent of critical thinking, who has spent many years exposing the nonsense behind the paranormal. He did an excellent TV series in the UK in 1991, where he investigated various paranormal claims. Anyone who can actually demonstrate a paranormal effect (e.g. finding water by dowsing) under a mutually agreed protocol (e.g. where the dowser doesn't know where the water is beforehand) can apply to win his $1 million prize (no one has won it yet).

I emailed him quite a while ago about a Ricky Gervais podcast in the Guardian that used critical thinking to good comic effect. I'd quite forgotten about it but then last week I was prompted to email him again about a comment in his newsletter of last week. When I logged on to my yahoo mail at home I found a reply to my original email apologising for the fact that it had been filtered off into a spam folder. What a co-incidence. Anyway, I mailed off my minor point about use of psychic helpers by chess players and suspected that this would be the end of it.

However, I was even more amazed when I logged on to his website and found he'd printed my email (Chess Brouhaha) - perhaps there wasn't much news to cover this week.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I'm sure the small number of people who read this blog are already aware of the road traffic accident and hospitalisation that befell JP as described by dB (who is much closer to the event than me).

When I was coming to the end of my sojourn in China, early last year, I had to remain in China for a few months after my wife and kids had returned to the UK; I was very fortunate to be sharing an apartment with JP immediately after they had gone. This gregarious and lovable chap helped me to switch into work hard/play hard mode rather than just moping around lamenting my fate (although I got to do that as well as there are so many hours in the day). The limited role I've played in propagating information to JP's colleagues has allowed me to feel I was part of his support network in some small way.

After all the ludicrous, madcap and nerve-racking things that have happened to us all whilst in China, after all the drunken exploits, near-misses in taxis and white-knuckle rides to the airport, and especially after all the improvements to road safety (new traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, making people wear seat-belts, etc.), it seems so bizarre that JP could have suffered such an accident right outside the office. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person.