Friday, 7 November 2008

All aboard the complaints bandwagon!

After the recent "Manuel-gate" incident, where Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left some rather offensive and inappropriate remarks on Andrew Sachs' answer phone (and for which both apologised to Sachs, Ross was suspended and Brand quit) people seem to have gone into a complaints frenzy, desperately seeking things to take offence at.

Often they don't even go to the trouble of watching the supposedly offensive thing at all, they just read about how offensive it all was and launch into a bile-spitting fury of righteous indignation, usually in behalf of another person or group who they feel would be very offended by what was said.

Obviously these complaintards don't think the persons or groups they believe would be offended are capable of complaining themselves, so these patronising individuals take offense vicariously, and then complain on behalf of those unfortunates they think would probably have been offended.

Absolute twattery!

If you see something on tv, or hear something on the radio, that offends YOU personally then by all means go ahead and put in a complaint if the offense caused to you is beyond what you can tolerate (and we all have to tolerate a degree of offense - you can't be completely thin-skinned in a society that values freedom of speech - sometimes people are gonna say things you don't like - handle it!). That's fine!

However, if you didn't see the tv show or hear the radio program, then don't be so arrogant and presumptuous as to put in a complaint about it. It didn't offend you. You didn't see / hear it.

If read about it in the paper, and from what the paper says you think you'd have been offended by the programme in question, then it's your lucky day - you avoided watching something that would have offended you - brilliant!

From this situation you may just be able to justify writing in to the paper with your opinion, but you can't justify writing a complaint to the makers of the show, because if you had a shred of honesty you'd have to start that complaint with "I am writing to complain about your recent show, which I did not see....", and a complaint like that serves only to show the writer is an idiot.

It seems that people don't follow basic common sense in such circumstances however - after Jeremy Clarkson's recent joke about truckers murdering prostitutes (the implication that murdering prostitutes is a routine part of a truckers job is obviously a joke - you surely didn't think Clarkson was really suggesting this was actually true did you? Did you? If you really thought he was slandering truck drivers then you need your head checked) the BBC received a few complaints from people who'd seen the show and thought the joke was in poor taste (perhaps it was...but it was on Top Gear....if you're the sort to take offense at arguably poor taste jokes it really would be in your own interest to watch something else instead!). Fair enough, some people didn't like it, and made their feelings known to the BBC.

Over the next few days, when the story had done the rounds in the media, the number of complaints had risen to 500. Now, unless 90% of Top Gear's viewers record the program and watch it a day or two later, this doesn't quite add up. Assuming they don't, this means that hundreds of people have written to complain about a program they did not see and therefore were not offended by. Madness!

While these people have every right to make their (second-hand) opinions known in public discussions, they do not have any grounds to complain to the program makers because they didn't see the program. There may be some among them who having read about the supposed offence in the program decided to watch it for themselves (on Youtube perhaps) to confirm it offended them as much as they imagined it might- fair play for at least watching the source material before complaining about it....but there's a problem here.

These people have deliberately sought out an opportunity to take offense. They thought a particular item on a show may offend them and went out of their way to watch it and take offense at it. If it ended up offending them, so what? They deliberately inflicted that offense upon themselves, so they should write themselves a strongly worded letter complaining about the offense they have bought upon themselves.

Where do I stand on these two incidents?

Well, on the Clarkson one I have no sympathy for the complainers at all - Top Gear is well known for its lack of "PC", and if you watch it you've gotta expect a few inappropriate remarks...they're a key part of the show's appeal!
Comedians around the country regularly use material far more "offensive" than Clarkson's joke - if you think Clarkson should be fired for his joke then by the same token you should be demanding almost every comedian in the country be fired as well (and don't start with the "Clarkson's joke was before the watershed" nonsense - we're talking about how much the JOKE itself offended YOU - scheduling is a seperate issue).

On the Manuel-gate incident I have a little sympathy for those who heard the show and complained. What Ross and Brand did was undeniably out of order, and if you heard the show and felt it was out of order you were well within your rights to complain.

I didn't complain about it because I didn't hear the show, and the offense was not directed at me. If Andrew Sachs was offended (which he was, and quite legitimately) he had the right to make a serious complaint - it was his privacy that was violated, and the offensive comments were targeted at him and his family. I don't have the right to take offense on his behalf and then complain about that offense to the makers of a program I didn't hear. I'm glad Ross was suspended without pay, and I'm glad Brand chose to resign, and I'm glad they admitted their wrongdoing and apologised.

The lesson to be learned here is simple:

Do No Seek Opportunities To Take Offence, Or You Will Likely Be Offended

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama wins!

Congratulations to Obama, who has won the US election.

Whatever else he achieves, he's succeeded in keeping Palin well away from the White House for at least 4 years, and that is a great result all by itself.

But I think we can expect more good things to come from Obama.

Monday, 3 November 2008

US Election - Don't forget to vote!

If you have a vote in tomorrow's presidential election in the US make sure you don't waste it!

Make sure this doesn't become a possibility:

Being a Kiss fan is great, but it doesn't automatically mean you're capable of being the second in command of the free world:

Or the first in command for that matter!

Friday, 24 October 2008

US Election - Dance off!

When it comes to debating skills, intelligence, integrity and potential to lead effectively Obama is a clear winner. But should we value those qualities?

Perhaps we should judge the Presidential hopefuls by their dancing abilities. Shamone! - Watch more free videos

Quite close on the dancing front, so I guess people will have to make up their minds based on the qualities listed earlier.

For those who would be less likely to vote Obama because of the colour of his skin (i.e. "racists"), I include a "suitable for racists" version of him to help ease you through it because tragically racist votes count so Obama needs yours.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Sarah Palin - just say no!

If you get a vote in the upcoming US election, please use it wisely - the world can't afford for Sarah Palin to become Vice President (or worse, President).

She thinks being able to see Russia from Alaska counts as "foreign policy experience" and she thinks dinosaurs co-existed with humans 4,000 years ago.

The world has endured 8 years of idiocracy, it cannot afford 4 more.

From the Huffington Post:

From Thunderf00t:

From Matt Damon:

From CNN's Jack Cafferty:

More from Thunderf00t on Sarah Palin (and John McCain):

I'm Alltruism and I endorse this message!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

TWA Joke

A businessman got onto a TWA flight and sat down. After take off, a stewardess in TWA uniform came over and said "would you like anything to drink sir, we have wonderful TWA champagne, very good TWA wine, delicious TWA coffee..". Lacking the patience to listen to her go through the entire TWA drinks menu, he interrupts and says "I'd just like some of your TWA Tea please".

She slaps him.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Good bye cruel world?

A lot of people with little or no knowledge of particle physics are terrified that the world will end tomorrow when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is activated.

Ignoring the evidence from numerous other tests, the opinion of experts in the field, and the fact that far more powerful collisions regularly occur in the atmosphere anyway, the ignorami fear the LHC will produce a black hole capable of destroying the entire world.

If it does, I am of, course, more than willing to offer my most sincere apologies to the ignorami ;-)

It's a safe bet that the LHC won't destroy the Earth (if you bet that way and turn out to be wrong, no-one will be around to say anything), but its not quite so certain that the experiments will confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle that, if it exists, would explain why certain other particles have mass.

Here's hoping that the LHC produces some good insights into the nature of our universe!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Loki's List - Pranks to try at home, or in the office!

Loki was a Norse god, a mischievous prankster and deceiver...regularly playing tricks on unfortunate mortals as well as on his fellow gods. The spirit of Loki lives on today, in people playing tricks on one another across the globe – from silly friendly jests to genuinely cruel or dangerous pranks.

I'll avoid the really nasty ones and give a few pranks you can try on your friends.... although I can't promise they'll necessarily still be your friends afterwards!

A Day At The Office

A lot of us spend far too much of lives trapped in an office...sometimes we have to break up the monotony with a prank or two. Be careful though, you'll be working with the victims until one of you quits (unless you get yourself fired of course ;-) )!

The Flipper – a mild trick that probably won't get you into TOO much trouble, but will usually get a few laughs, and a few groans of frustration from the victim. It works on most Windows XP computers – wait for a colleague to pop off to the water cooler, then quickly go to their PC and press Ctrl-Alt-DownArrow. This will turn their screen upside down!

The confused look on their face when they return should be priceless, but make sure you help them turn it back the right way once the deed is done – Ctrl-Alt-UpArrow should put things right!

The Post-It Pandemic – a terrible waste of stationery, but usually good for a laugh. Wait for a colleague to pop out for lunch, then take every Post-It (or alternative self-adhesive note brand of your choice) pad you can lay your hands on and decorate their PC, making sure to get good coverage – there shouldn't be anything exposed once you're done. For maximum results, entirely cover their PC, desk, chair and office cubicle with a layer of Post-Its!

The Possessed PC – this one works a treat if you're sitting near to the victim and can see their screen and hand movements. When they're away, disconnect their computer mouse (but leave it on their desk) and connect yours to their PC instead. Try and mimic their mouse movements so that they think they're still in control, but then randomly move it and load things. This should confuse them! Alternatively, leave their mouse connected and connect your keyboard to their PC instead – abuse keyboard shortcuts to close windows just as fast as they can click them open, or if they load a word processor, type them a message. With a bit of luck, you'll freak them out quite nicely!

At Home (preferably not your own!)

Here's a few pranks to try at home. I've tried a few of them back in my student days, so I can vouch for their effectiveness ;-)

Toilet Trauma – a moderately nasty prank, so be sure only to try it on people you know will be ok with it. All you do is take a sheet of Cling Film (or transparent food wrap of your choice) and stretch it carefully over the toilet bowl, making sure to avoid any creases to maximise its invisibility. Put the seat down, and await the screams from the next person to use the lavatory!

Felt-Tip Facial – if one of your student buddies passes out drunk on the sofa, you owe it to them to find a set of felt-tip pens (preferably the non-toxic ones!) and decorate their face. Derogatory words, crudely drawn spectacles and moustaches, rosy red cheeks and even a full drawn-on beard are the order of the day here – let your creative juices flow! If felt tips aren't available, shaving cream beards or sliced cucumber glasses are perfectly suitable alternatives! If you're lucky, the victim won't look in a mirror before leaving the house the next day! ;-)

Shampoo Switcheroo – a nice simple one – simply empty the victim's shampoo bottle (if you're not feeling very cruel, wait for it to be near-empty anyway), and partially refill it with ketchup or mayonnaise. Head back out of the bathroom, and await the screams!

That's enough mischief for one feel free to try them out on your friends, but don't blame me if they're a little less friendly afterwards...blame Loki! ;-)

Saturday, 28 June 2008

All True Guide To Norway

An Englishman Abroad: Alltruism goes to Norway

I have recently returned from a visit to Norway, the homeland of my viking girlfriend.

It seems that Norway has changed somewhat since viking times (and for some reason the education about Norway that we get in the UK covers only viking times).

Long gone are the giant, wolf-hide draped axe-men that my school-given knowledge of Norway led me to expect. I didn't see any berzerkers, and was not asked to quaff mead or beat the Gods in an eating contest once, despite having been there nearly a week. Raping and pillaging were conspicuous only by their absence, and the only shield-bedecked longships you can find there today are in museums.

The thing that first struck me about Norway is that it is more civilized than the UK in almost every way - toilet flushes work better, heated floors are standard, mixer taps work, there's a cheese-slicer (which the Norwegians invented) in every kitchen, the milk cartons have a handy transparent indicator on the side so you can see how much is left, ikea style and lamps are everwhere, there's no violent chav culture, the people are more trusting - the mailboxes for a whole street are all together, and not locked, yet people don't steal each other's mail like they surely would in most parts of the UK.

On top of all that, there's modern art everywhere...even in isolated, uninhabited regions high up on the mountains!

The example to the right, I'm reliably informed, is not some druidic relic from ancient days, but was put there fairly recently, probably after a committee had a talk about it.

Quite why they decided on this particular spot, high in the mountains amidst the glaring white isolation of the tundra, I don't know. Square polo, nowhere to go? Stick it up in the endless whiteness of the tundra!

Even the scary looking death metal fans are usually cheery and friendly, unlike the glazed-eyed dance-anthem loving chav thugs of the uk. Some of them do have quite bizarre facial hair though, which suggests that the viking spirit is still in there somewhere.

The carparks are cleaner, with more efficient ticket systems plus simple, friendly ways to help you remember where you've parked (the Carrot level, the Cat level etc). Even the oven chips cook twice as fast as the ones you get in the UK. Brilliant!

Norwegian public transport is great, and really drives home just how awful it is in the UK. The Norwegians have bendy buses that run on time and have a better way of getting tickets, and as an added bonus they are clean and well maintained!

Also, a tiny amount of snow doesn't bring it all to a grinding halt. In England it takes approximately 1cm of snow to bring all transport to a grinding halt and plunge the nation into chaos.

In Norway, they keep going in all but the most horrific conditions. The mountain roads are lined with poles, at least 10 feet tall. This is to help the snow plows find the road when it is hidden under snow, so that they can clear it. Only when even the poles are completely buried in snow will the Norwegians grudgingly admit defeat and close the road.

Houses in Norway are made of wood. It seems that there are only 2 little pigs in the Norwegian version of the story (with no brick houses in sight), but there's presumably more wolves.

This shouldn't work, but amazingly, it seems that it does. The wooden houses of Norway are warm and comfortable, despite the unforgiving weather.

Some of the blondes (and blonds) in Norway don't look like the blondes here - they don't have roots and their eyebrows match....freaky! It's almost as if they were born with hair so pale, which, as we in the UK know, is impossible - the palest naturally occurring hair colour is a kind of mousey brown.

Another striking difference I noticed was the shoes - the Norwegians have a very different taste in shoes to us Brits, and seem to fall into two categories - hiking shoes (for obvious reasons in their mountainous habitat) and bizarre shoes (brightly coloured and quite small, and seemingly not mass produced as I never saw two pairs even slightly similar to one another).

Vegetarians don't exist in Norway. There is a sense when ordering a vegetarian pizza that the friendly people taking the order want to add at least a bit of meat out of genuine pity for you, after all, without meat its not *really* a meal now is it?

Food packaging design is one of the few areas where the Norwegians seem to be lagging far behind the UK, with lurid designs and dodgy-colour images of the food that will bring a tear of 70s nostalgia to any Englishman's eye.

When Norwegians go for a holiday in Norway, they leave their wooden houses nestled amongst the mountains and head out for...smaller wooden houses, nestled amongst much bigger mountains!

Here's a view of some of the highest mountain peaks in Norway - the photo really doesn't convey the sense of scale - these things are huge:

The towns are clean, most of the buildings are easy on the eye, and you get a sense the people really care about these things, unlike in the UK, where the architecture and poor standards of cleanliness accurately reflect the "can't be bothered" culture.

A sign of the Norwegians' understandable pride is the number of Norwegian flags dotted around the place. These seem to say "I'm proud to live in this beautiful country". Of course, there's a few British flags dotted around Britain, but these seem to say "I'm an overweight racist who always wears football shirts", which is not quite the same thing.

The beer there is good, but expensive - especially if you're from the relatively poor United Kingdom. £5-6 for a beer is common. Even the rip-off merchants at the airport only charged slightly more, at £8 for a pint (actually just over, at 0.6l).

Although part of this vast price difference between beer prices in the UK and Norway is due to Norway being a significantly richer nation, beer is still more expensive there even when you factor this out. As well as being more difficult to afford, any alcohol stronger than beer is also harder to obtain - only the state-owned monopolies (called "Vinmonopolet") can sell wines and spirits, and these have fairly limited opening hours.

Although the lack of the convenience of being able to pop down to the offie on a Saturday night and pick up a couple of bottles of wine might seem like a step backwards it actually seems to work quite well - overall, the Norwegians seem to have a more sensible attitude to enjoying alcohol than the "oi oi daaahn in one!" binge-drinking culture that has left most of the British population as drooling, brawling cretins.

Also on the plus side, they don't generally use the incredibly stupid brim-measure system we are unfortunate enough to have to endure here in the UK, so you have a fighting chance of getting to your table with most of your precious beer still in the glass, and less chance of spilling someone's pint and getting your head kicked in.

They used to say "the sun never sets on the British Empire", and that wasn't far from the truth - there was always a part of it where the sun was up. The British Empire isn't quite what it used to be (I blame the decline of tea-drinking and the increasing use of coffee), but perhaps Norwegian summers can take over its duties in the phrase.

The sun literally never sets on the Norwegian summer. Its quite odd - bright daylight right up to 10PM or so, and even at 2AM its still quite never really feels like its night time at all.

Unfortunately, the price for the extra daylight in the Norwegian summer is paid back every winter, which has only brief glimpses of daylight followed by darkness that covers most of the day (and all of the night). If you don't have SAD, spending a winter in Norway should give you a fair chance of developing it. But hopefully when the Norwegian summer comes along, you'll be cured again!

The Norwegian language is a total mystery to me, as a staunch monolinguist (i.e. an Englishman). Although I can't understand (or correctly pronounce) a word of it, many written words of Norwegian do bear an uncanny resemblance to English words given a bit of a Scandinavian polish (a couple of accent marks, extra Ks and some vowels juggled around a bit).

This does give the strange impression that the people responsible for these words were just writing in English but striving to convey a Scandinavian accent. One example of this is the Norwegian version of the Kit Kat called Kvikk Lunsj, which means, as you might have guessed, "Quick Lunch". See, I told you about the extra Ks!

Although most of the Norwegians speak English rather better than many English natives, for some reason sign-writing duties seem to be passed to the individuals with the worst grasp of the language:

"Squeeze Danger!" sounds like a good Pepsi Max slogan to me!

I fought the glacier...and the glacier won

(Under construction)

All True Facts: Norway

Norway is actually the flattest country on Earth, but was dramatically redesigned by King Olaf the Modeller in the late 16th century. The famous mountains are hand-carved from polystyrene (you can see proof of this - the white bits near the tops are where the paint has come off due to wind and rain erosion. The mountains are repainted every spring, but by winter the violent weather will again have started revealing the white of the polystyrene as it tears off the paint).

as you can see, the harsh wind and rain up in the mountains has eroded large areas of paint!

Fox's Glacier Mints are made from glaciers that crushed Viking peppermint farms in the 1200s, saturating the ancient ice with a strong minty flavour.

Norwegia cheese is made from bits of Norway, mined from the Fjords, causing their current depth. Norwegia literally means "wedge of Norway".

The country was saved from an attack by thousands of evil spirits in the late 80s, by 4 guys with special backpacks. In gratitude, the Norwegians decided to incorporate the logo of these intrepid Ghostbusters into their language as an extra character - ø /Ø, which is pronounced "ur".

Friday, 27 June 2008

Religion and Politics - Gay Rights and Abortion

Should religion and moral views be handled politically?

The question itself is a little ambiguous – obviously the state (“politics”) cannot make you hold a certain view and cannot make you believe in a particular religion – such personal matters simply cannot be handled politically.

One's personal religious and moral views are relevant to others only when they are translated into actions – a view that remains inside one's head is invisible to politics.

It is only the behaviours that result from religious and moral views that are relevant politically, and influencing (and restricting) behaviour for the good of the society and its people is politics' raison d'etre – the alternative is anarchy.

Unless you are an anarchist then you must accept that the behaviours that result from religious and moral views must be handled like all other behaviours; that is to say they must be regulated and restricted - to a greater or lesser extent - by the politics that is the basis of our society.

I think most of what I've said above will not be controversial – almost everyone accepts that there must be some restrictions on our freedom in order for that freedom to be meaningful, and almost everyone accepts that freedom (within limitations) is something positive and worth striving for.

It is the extent of those restrictions / limitations that divides opinion, and indeed for the entire length of recorded history, societies have been strengthening and softening the restrictions imposed upon their people. Over time, there has been a tendency for change, on average, to be more in the liberal direction (less state intervention and more personal freedom). This trend may have been reversed in much of the Western world in recent years with the instigation of the “War on Terror”.

While morality can be more “shades of grey” than just black and white, the state has to legislate one way or the other. People who feel the state should not be getting involved in matters like gay marriage seem to overlook the fact that the state has to either allow it, or prohibit it – there is no middle ground there. The state doesn't necessarily have to take a moral stance, but it does have to make a call one way or the other.

The real issue is how the state decides what is to be prohibited.

Such decisions are based on many elements – reason, religious beliefs, morality and pragmatism, to name but a few.

One of these, religion, is obviously not a sound basis for a society deciding what freedoms to restrict. Those who state that society has no business telling us what is right or wrong should realise that right and wrong are meaningfully determined only in relation to other people – aka society.

Also, as mentioned above, society prohibiting something doesn't necessarily constitute society making a moral judgement – it can simply be a pragmatic one (one recent example would be the banning of drinking alcohol on public transport in the UK – society is not saying there is something intrinsically wrong about drinking alcohol there, but in practical terms it is better for society to prevent it and thus prevent the violence, accidents and other problems that it was shown to play a major part in causing or aggravating).

It is religion that has no business telling us what is right and wrong – why trust the Bronze-age writings, warped beyond their original context and meaning by millennia of societal progress (not to mention numerous key mistranslations on the way to their current forms), of the Bible or Koran over reasoned thought, modern ethical philosophy and pragmatism?

It is a fact that secular nations (that is to say nations that are secular in practice, even if not constitutionally secular) are generally more pleasant and more prosperous than nations where the religious laws are the law of the land.

Societies that choose what freedoms to restrict based on informed judgement using reason, contemporary science and ethical philosophy rather than out-dated and often mistranslated ancient texts are going to be better places for reasonable people to thrive.

However, some of the current issues dominating this topic of debate are gay rights and abortion. I will focus on these two issues.

Firstly, gay rights (and specifically gay marriage) – this one is easy – of course gays should have the same rights as the rest of us. Denying gay people the same rights as everyone else is morally no different to denying rights to people based on their ethnicity, their having big ears or their having ginger hair.

The only objections to gays having the same rights as heterosexuals are based on:

a) mistranslated Bronze-Age scriptures and

b) the “yuck factor” - e.g. In contemporary Western society many heterosexual males find the thought of the act of two men having sex quite “yucky”. But they tend to exhibit a lot less “yuck factor” at the thought of cute girls getting off with one another. This may explain why lesbianism isn't mentioned as a sin in the Bible, written as it was by males.

A lot of homosexual males presumably find the idea of heterosexual sex just as “yucky”!

Of course, just because people find something “yucky” doesn't mean that that something should be made illegal. I personally find childbirth and cleaning up other people's bodily excreta particularly “yucky”, but I'm very glad that we have midwives and nurses!

In the case of gay couples adopting children, I think that, as in all adoption cases, the interests of the child should come first. If there was evidence that being raised by a homosexual couple was disadvantageous to the child then I'd oppose it. I've yet to see such evidence, and moreover have no reason to suspect such evidence would exist.

Abortion is a trickier issue, and a good example of the difficulties of imposing legislation, which is largely “black or white” - “legal or illegal” - on issues that are really more “shades of grey”.

The common complete anti-abortion argument is flawed – it essentially states that human life is sacred from the moment of conception, thus avoiding the difficulties of the “shades of grey” by making all abortion “wrong”.

However, this argument breaks down with a contemporary understanding of evolution (unless you extend it to all living species including plants and bacteria, which is absurd) – species aren't the rigid, separate things Creationists would have us believe. “Human” refers to a narrow part of the continuous spectrum of possible genetic combinations, which brings us right back to the “shades of grey” problem once again.

It is only by happen stance that there isn't a continuous spectrum of living intermediates between humans and chimps – if there was, legislators would have to draw the cut-off line between “human” and “non-human” somewhere, but exactly where would be an arbitrary decision, and no doubt a controversial one especially to families where some of the children were deemed “non-human”. Perhaps this sounds contrived, but the very same thing happened in South Africa with the line between “white” and “non-white”.

Abortion then, being a “shades of grey” situation (either species-wise or in terms of the age of the potential baby), is a complex issue to legislate on, but clear abortion legislation is vital due to its potentially drastic effects on both people and society.

Destroying a recently fertilised human egg isn't taking a human life in the normal sense of “human life”, it is taking only a potential human life – a zygote doesn't have any of the qualities which come to mind when we think about what “human” means to us – it can't feel emotion or pain, hope or despair, laughter or anger (and most spontaneously abort naturally and unmourned in any case) and doesn't have a “personality”.

But a new-born baby can do a lot more of these things – it can feel pain, and does have a personality – and I think every decent person agrees that killing a new-born baby is wrong. Between these two points is a grey area, but a society has to draw a line somewhere – and while all the best available evidence needs to be considered, the exact location of that line is going to be largely arbitrary.

The interests of both the mother and the potential child need to be considered. If the potential child is unwanted, and the parents unwilling and unable to raise it effectively, it may be that aborting the collection of cells before it develops to the point where it becomes capable of suffering is the right thing to do.

Also, in societies where abortion is illegal, abortions are still conducted, but often crudely (and later in the pregnancy), causing more suffering.

More generally, evidence suggests that increases in the numbers of children born to parents who didn't want them and were financially and emotionally incapable of raising them well are connected to increases in social disorder and crime.

Allowing people to abort unwanted children could thus potentially save lives and increase the quality of life for people, without causing suffering (as the zygotes / embryos are incapable of suffering as we understand it). If you can easily increase happiness without causing suffering, you need pretty good reasons not to do so. In the interests of society, and the protection of its people, abortion is at worst a necessary evil.

In an ideal world abortion would not be needed, but in the real world, it is.

Politics governs the real world, and has to legislate accordingly. Religions should only determine what their followers should and should not do – they should not seek to force others outside the faith to follow their rules.

It is the job of politics, not religion, to decide what people within society can and cannot do, for the benefit of all

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

All True Word Meanings

Words are funny old things.

People tend to give them whatever meaning they feel like at the time. Especially people who work in advertising.

However, here's what some of the words and phrases commonly used by advertisers really mean:

exotic = "contains mango"

tropical = "contains pineapple"

refreshing = "water-based"

revolutionary = "they come, and they go...round and round but nothing really changes"

probiotic = "its like a futuristic cyborg fighting against the forces of ill-health. And a bit yogurty"

new and improved = "due to industry regulations, and lawsuits from next of kin, we have been forced to stop using the older ingredients"

indulgent = "this product will make you fat and dramatically increase your odds of a heart attack"

organic = "still covered in mud" in the case of vegetables, and "expensive" in all cases

low-fat = "higher in sugar"

fat-free = "really high in sugar"

Free from artificial colourings and preservatives = "contains artificial flavourings"

may decrease the risk of heart disease = "we have no idea if this might reduce the risk of heart disease, and don't want to find out in case, as we suspect, it doesn't"

designer = "looks odd and costs a lot, but it must be good, right guys?"

rustic = "poorly made using inefficient methods"

real women = "slightly overweight and extremely out of shape"

family pack = "enough for one real person"

Serves 6-8 = "serves 1-2"

Edit 5/6/2008

Juice Drink = "an almost homeopathic dilution of juice in water, topped off with artificial sweeteners. 9 out of 10 packs will contain at least 1 molecule of juice

May contain Nuts = "almost certainly doesn't contain nuts, unless it is an obviously nutty product, but given that a) people will sue over anything and b) philosophically, nothing is truly certain, we felt it wise to add this disclaimer"

Contents may be hot = "the contents are probably tepid or luke-warm at best, but to protect us from litigious and seemingly rather stupid gits we are obliged to point out that our coffee may be hot. "

Enjoy as part of a healthy diet / active lifestyle = "this product is bad for you, make sure all the other products you eat are much healthier, and do lots of excercise, or this will make you massive"

Value = "you get what you pay for, and you didn't pay much for this did you..."

Monday, 26 May 2008

Hovind Scale Calculator

The Hovind Scale - Calculate Hovind Factors with ease!

Note: This is just a back-up version of the original Hovind Factor Calculator which you can find here.

The form fields on this blog version are cut off as they are too wide to fit, but if you click on them they will expand to show the full options!

Belief In Scripture

Scientific Illiteracy




Hovind Factor:

True Believer™ Rating (TBR):

The Hovind Scale is used to rate Creationist statements about the nature of reality and assign a value to how ignorant, scientifically illiterate and / or outright dishonest they are.

It was designed by the forumites of, and one of them set out the details on their blog here.

It is named after the convicted fraudster and Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind.
He is currently serving time because of his "overly flexible" attitude to the truth, and before his incarceration was regularly lying for Jesus.

Honesty is the main factor in determining the Hovind Factor - a truly honest Creationist cannot get a Hovind Factor of more than 20. Creationists who knowingly seek to deceive will score highly.

Since honesty can be hard to determine (unless there happens to be supporting evidence like court records), and since many zealots are truly sincere in their beliefs, this calculator also includes the True Believer™ Rating (TBR)
which simply removes the Mendacity factor from the equation and scales up accordingly to
give a maximum score of 100 (if Mendacity is rated at maximum, the TBR will equal the Hovind Factor).

Once you have ascertained the Hovind Factor, you can get a general idea of what level of Creationist you are dealing with by checking their score against the descriptions below:

100 - Utter Hovind - the person might actually BE Hovind (if he hasmnet access from his cell), but if they're not they are certainly talking complete and utter Hovind! Lies and ignorance knowingly combined and asserted as fact! The state of the art of Lying for Jesus.

90-99 - Positively Hovindian
- while not managing to be quite as ignorant or mendacious as the master himself, this person
still displays positively Hovindian levels of scientific illiteracy and dishonesty

60-89 - VenomFangTastic
- not quite up in the fully Kentian levels, as there may be some slightly mitigating circumstances
(youth or inexperience for example), but still a person who can be relied on to produce long winded and scientifically illiterate or self-contradictory arguments ex recto at a moment's notice

30-59- Profoundly Creotarded - This person likely has little or no scientific knowledge, and they are actively Lying for Jesus at every opportunity.

21-30 - Creotarded- A run of the mill Creotard, with a balance of ignorance, illogic and

12-20 - Partially
- Some very serious misunderstandings about reality, and a hint of zealotry beginning to rear its ugly head

6-11- Pushing The Limits of Decency - starting to go beyond what is reasonable, but dishonesty or scientific illiteracy are becoming too obvious to ignore.

1-5 - Surprisingly Decent
- a pretty good effort, with a combined honesty / scientific understanding far beyond
the typical Creationist zealot. You might well be able to have a sensible discussion with this person. Educated laymen with a genuine desire to explore the issues may well turn up in this category.

0 - The Blue Butterfly Effect - a well constructed and intellectually honest argument, informed by a comprehensive general scientific understanding and in-depth knowledge of the specifics of any relevant scientific work. If you want to debate this person, you'd better know
what you're talking about!

Online Hovind-Factor Calculator designed by
Alltruism from

Friday, 23 May 2008

The Hovind Scale

I created an online calculator to help work out the Hovind Factor of Creationist statements.

The Hovind Scale was created by the forumites of and described by one of them here. Today it received a mention on PZ Myers legendary blog Pharyngula.

As you can see from Google, it's rapidly become an internationally accepted measurement:

Google results for The Hovind Scale
Check it out here and calculate the Hovind Factor of any Creationist utterances you hear!

The Hovind Scale is used to rate Creationist statements about the nature of reality and assign a value to how ignorant, scientifically illiterate and / or outright dishonest they are.

It is named after the convicted fraudster and Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind. He is currently serving time because of his "overly flexible" attitude to the truth, and before his incarceration was regularly lying for Jesus.

Honesty is the main factor in determining the Hovind Factor - a truly honest Creationist cannot get a Hovind Factor of more than 20. Creationists who knowingly seek to deceive will score highly.

Once you have ascertained the Hovind Factor, you can get a general idea of what level of Creationist you are dealing with by checking their score against the descriptions below:

100 - Utter Hovind - the person might actually BE Hovind (if he has net access from his cell), but if they're not they are certainly talking complete and utter Hovind! Lies and ignorance knowingly combined and asserted as fact! The state of the art of Lying for Jesus.

90-99 - Positively Hovindian - while not managing to be quite as ignorant or mendacious as the master himself, this person still displays positively Hovindian levels of scientific illiteracy and dishonesty

60-89 - VenomFangTastic - not quite up in the fully Kentian levels, as there may be some slightly mitigating circumstances (youth or inexperience for example), but still a person who can be relied on to produce long winded and scientifically illiterate or self-contradictory arguments ex recto at a moment's notice

30-59 - Profoundly Creotarded - This person likely has little or no scientific knowledge, and they are actively Lying for Jesus at every opportunity.

21-30 - Creotarded - A run of the mill Creotard, with a balance of ignorance, illogic and mendacity

12-20 - Partially Creotarded - Some very serious misunderstandings about reality, and a hint of zealotry beginning to rear its ugly head

6-11 - Pushing The Limits of Decency - starting to go beyond what is reasonable, but dishonesty or scientific illiteracy are becoming too obvious to ignore.

1-5 - Surprisingly Decent - a pretty good effort, with a combined honesty / scientific understanding far beyond the typical Creationist zealot. You might well be able to have a sensible discussion with this person. Educated laymen with a genuine desire to explore the issues may well turn up in this category.

0 - The Blue Butterfly Effect - a well constructed and intellectually honest argument, informed by a comprehensive general scientific understanding and in-depth knowledge of the specifics of any relevant scientific work. If you want to debate this person, you'd better know what you're talking about!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Election Pledge - An end to unwanted teenage pregnancy

I've just been watching a program called Britain's Youngest Grannies. One of them has been a grandma since the age of 32.

Most of them wish they had not got pregnant during their teenage years.

But fear not - should I win the election and become Prime Minister I'll get this problem solved immediately.

Here's my solution:

Force manufacturers to put this:

into this:

...problem solved!

I take it I can count on your vote at the next election? ;-)

Leader of the All True Party - the only party that offers simple and effective solutions to all society's problems!

Friday, 9 May 2008

Darth Cormac

Amazingly, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, has , in the same speech in which he conceded Christians should "respect atheists", has suggested that he thinks it is dangerous to be governed by reason alone.

He was saying that societies ruled only by reason "were like those created by Hitler and Stalin".

It is hard to believe that someone who spouts such nonsense is permitted to hold a position of such power and influence. Using reason to govern our behaviour is a far cry from what Hitler and Stalin did. They were both distinctly unreasonable.

Darth Cormac seems to think that reason is a path to the dark side, yet being a Catholic he believes he literally consumes human flesh and blood.

Only someone who believes in an all-knowing sky-faerie could think that reason leads to being unreasonable. Go Darth!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


If Jack Daniel's wanted to target Christians:

Drunk on Jesus? Nope...drunk on Jack! ;-)

Monday, 5 May 2008

Celebrities: How Tall Are They Really?

I've been hearing a lot of people go on about how short all the Hollywood actors are, how Tom Cruise wears special shoes to boost his height etc. But could this be true?

Are all the Hollywood action heroes really suffering from inhibited verticality?

I've read the heights of various celebrities on various websites and magazines (don't ask why I read such horrific celebrity nonsense, the shame is still to great for me to answer!), but seeing numbers on a page doesn't really give a good idea of how they all compare to each other.

Therefore, in the interests of increased understanding, I have used the latest technology (Open Office 2.4 no less) to produce a highly scientific graph.

Thanks to the wonders of modern computing I can now present a meaningful comparison of celebrity heights - ever wanted to know how far up Shaquille O'Neal Gary Coleman's head would be?

I hope not, but if you did, then your question is about to be answered:

I've included myself as a comparison (I'm about average height, maybe an inch or so above it), and as you can clearly see a monkey up a pole (6 foot) comes up to about Shaq's neck.

I'm about half a head taller than both Cruise and Banderas, who are both widely rumoured to be tiny, but as this graph shows, actually are quite normal. At least as far as height is concerned anyway.

The top of pint-sized popster Kylie's head would come up to about nose height on both these Hollywood heroes, and to just under my chin.

She'd probably come up to just under the height of Shaq's nipples. Yes, see how modern technology can reveal highly useful (and not even slightly disturbing) information - even 20 years ago we would have had no way to find out how far up basket-ball stars pop-stars' heads would come (save getting them to stand near each other - a highly expensive proposition!), but now we can calculate it in the privacy of our own homes.

Who knows that wonders technology will enable in the next 20 years?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

International Starwars Day

Yes, it's May the Fourth, the most appropriately dated International Day of all time - International Starwars Day: May the Fourth be with you!

Starwars has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cultural phenomena of the last 31 years.

Since its release in 1977 people have been enjoying the space opera that is Starwars, now comprising of 6 films plus some spin-offs (Ewoks, Droids, Clone Wars, numerous computer games and more).

Some people even liked Jar Jar Binks, but they should not admit this in front of any hardcore Starwars fans since to them Jar Jar is anathema.

Many a grown man still harbours fantasies involving lightsabers and Sith Lords. Men between about 5 and 55 who deny having such fantasies are either liars or genuinely didn't see the films while they were young and impressionable enough to be instilled with the secret desire to be a Jedi Knight.

The Jedi religion has won many converts in the real world, with 0.7% of people in the 2001 UK Census declaring themselves as Jedi, and according to the survey results, Jedi was the third most popular religion in Scotland.

New Zealand had the highest per capita population of reported Jedi in the world in 2o01, with 1.5%. This would have made it the second most popular religion in the country, but tragically the spoilsports at Statistics New Zealand didn't count allow it to count officially. I sense that they may have been infiltrated by agents of the Sith ;-)

On Starwars day you should gather your friends around you and enjoy a special Starwars supper:

Starwars has also been parodied on many occasions - some of the best include:

Watch the video to "The Saga Begins" on Youtube. Definitely a hit I reckon!

I'll leave you all with perhaps the ultimate home-made lightsaber action this side of Tatooine - The Starwars Kid:

Raise a glass to the Force, gloss over the dodgy brother-sister kiss, and give one another Starwars-related gifts* (they probably won't be surprises though...if the recipient is a true Starwars fan they will have surely have felt your presents!).

Happy Starwars Day everyone....May the Fourth be with you!

*if you've got lots of spare cash then buy this R2D2 home cinema projector!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Think of the Kittens!

Catholic Angels

To the tune of Robbie Williams' (not Charlie's) "Angels":

and through it all she offers me protection
for sex with contraception
which the Pope says is wrong
so its eternal flames
forever they may roast her
I know the Lord will toast her
when God comes to call
she will forsake Him
She's reading Engels in bed.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Top 10 Inventions: Because Sliced Bread Ain't All That

When people are particularly impressed with a particular invention, they often say "wow, that's the best thing since sliced bread".

I've never understood this, as sliced bread really isn't that amazing when you think about it.

We've had bread for millennia , and knives too. We can easily slice the old-fashioned non-sliced bread should we so wish - it doesn't require lengthy training or unusually advanced manual dexterity.

In short, we've had the capability to achieve a slice of bread for thousands of years (although for cultural reasons people generally didn't bother until recently - they often used bread as a kind of edible plate - no washing up to do, genius! I suppose we have the Earl of Sandwich* to blame for the fact we now have to eat our bread off flat discs of baked clay).

The only advantage humanity has gained from the invention of (pre) sliced bread is that we can now make sandwiches slightly faster.

Hardly earth-shattering I think you'll agree, unless you're a caterer or a parent who has to make sandwiches for a dozen kids each day (in which case you might want to learn more about the invention of contraception, see below).

Since sliced-bread is a distinctly disappointing invention, I will present 10 of the greatest inventions of all time, so as not to leave you with a cynical attitude to inventions in general.

1 - Sanitation - Specifically soft toilet paper , clean running water and flushable toilets. A world without these is just too unbearable to think about. Shudder. Bears may do it in the woods, but thankfully we can do it in the privacy of a locked room, with a scent of our choice in the air and maybe a newspaper too.

And we can clean up afterwards without having to first find a suitable bunch of leaves and then evict any lurking insects from them. Truly one of humanity's finest inventions!

2 - World of Warcraft - because male teen-aged loners need people skills too! Members of this demographic are statistically unlikely to venture out into the world until their twenties, however much you try and coerce them to.

But when they do finally get dragged kicking and screaming into the World Out There, they'll need people skills. How can they get these when they spend their formative years with minimal contact with people outside their immediate family?

World of Warcraft, that's how! It may only be a virtual world, but the players are real people, and they can talk to each other. Hell, they might even encounter members of the opposite sex..truly a broadening of their life-experience!

There may be a few downsides when these WoW-raised chaps are released into the wild world, such as getting into trouble when they ask a new female colleague at the office if she wants to join up for a "5-man" later, but such minor problems are insignificant when compared to the social and organisational skills that can stealthily be ingrained in them through WoW.

3 - Effective contraception - because love is important, and like all important things, it needs to be made right.

A badly made car won't get you where you want to go. The same applies to badly made love.

Contraception (especially barrier methods which also protect from STDs) allows us to practice, without worrying too much about unwanted consequences. Practice makes perfect, and perfectly made love is groovy baby yeah!

As an added bonus in our over-crowded world, its good that we only bring new people in when we're ready and willing to make a good job of raising them.

4 - The Internet - because its good to share ideas. Even silly ones. Silly ones can then be shown to be silly, and we can keep the good ones (until a better one comes along of course!).

Also, it helps people communicate with others outside their normal groups, and might one day help us overcome our local and national prejudices and actually stand together for a better world. Super!

5 - Comfy chairs - in the days before we invented chairs (and stools, sofas etc) you had to either remain standing all the time, or sit on the ground, which in most places is bumpy, muddy or otherwise quite unpleasant.
You'll notice that in the popular picture of the ascent (actually the descent) of man, all our ape ancestors were standing and walking along.Now we can stop all that nonsense and have a nice sit down in a comfy chair!

And maybe a cup of tea as well. We can now do all of this whilst wearing clothes too!
That's what I call progress!

6 - Cups of tea - although the full power of tea to resolve any crisis and remove all stress seems to work only on the English (who can't function more than about 3 hours without a cup of this delightful infusion), tea is one of those things that is both healthy AND tasty.

Mmm, feel those anti-oxidants surging through your system!
When an Englishman comes back from a hard day at the office, he can relax in the knowledge that a nice cup of tea and a sit down will make it all better. Listen to this song about tea to learn how lovely a cuppa is. If there's a biscuit with it, so much the better!

7 - Cooking - this covers all kinds of food (and drink) preparation, from heating to mixing, blending and maybe even adding just a touch of lime.

Imagine if we could only eat truly natural food - that would give us raw meat, raw vegetables and raw fruit if you were lucky. All washed down with a nice sip of river water.

Unless you are a hard-core salad or sushi fanatic, this would be distinctly unpleasant!

Luckily for us, we have access to the wonders of cooking - biscuits, cakes, soups, pasta, roasted meat,cooked potatoes and all kinds of other good things. Yummy!

8 - Electricity - because its the closest we can get to magic. It makes almost everything in our modern world possible. If we want light, heat, music or interactive computer games, hey presto - flick a switch and there you have it, no effort (and only a modest fee) required. Its not magic, but it's not far off!

9 - The Discovery Channel - because there's just so much to learn about sharks and Nazis!

10 - Top 10s / Top 100s - these are a fantastic invention. For those who compile them, its a quick n easy way to make content, be it a tv show, a music chart or even an article on the Internet (cough).

For the viewers / listeners / readers, its a nice light piece of entertainment to while away a few minutes or hours. Winners all round! At least until they become recursive....eek!

Right, that's my Top 10 I've gotta grab a quick sarnie and run to catch a bus... thank goodness for sliced bread!

P.S. for those of you (the hard of understanding) who've been complaining that these things aren't really the most important inventions**, and crying because important things like the wheel, medicine, transport etc have been missed seems that, alas, I must point out that this top 10 isn't entirely serious.

Those who complain that the whole thing appears to have been knocked together in 15 minutes are of course entirely correct, and the inherent laziness in producing "Top 10" articles is laid bare in item number 10 of this very Top 10 ;-)

* Actually the Earl of Sandwich didn't invent the sandwich, but our name for it did come from his title.

** indeed, they aren't technically all inventions at all, at least one is a discovery.