Archive for February, 2010

When life gets tough you find out who your friends are

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 | Life, Thoughts

For those who don’t know I was stuck down ill on Tuesday night. I managed to claw my way back into work today but that was probably a mistake given how I am feeling now.

In any case last night didn’t help. Having not really slept properly since Monday night I finally managed to drift off in the early-ish hours of this morning having gone to bed about 11pm. And by gone to bed I mean tried to sleep, I didn’t actually get out of bed at any point yesterday save to make myself some food.

Anyway, I had finally dozed off when I was awoken at the sound of my UPS beeping like crazy at 3:30am. The power had gone out.

Needing to sort out my computers I reached for my torch, carefully positioned on my bed side table for such occasions. Of course being ill and knowing I needed plenty of fluids I had carefully positioned a glass of orange juice next to my bed.

Of course, it went flying spilling it’s contents over the top of my bedside table as well as the wires and printer sitting below it. And of course I couldn’t see to mop it up because we didn’t have any power so none of the lights were working.

So here I am, cleaning up the mistakes of last night despite the fact I’m physically exhausted and despite the fact I still have loads more to do tonight before I can sleep.

But at least through it all, I know I have you. All of you. Everyone of you, each of you different and each of you amazing in your own special way. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. Never leave me, Dairy Milk.

Depth of field

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 | Photos

While my photography skills are far too amateur for me to call myself an amateur photographer, on reviewing the photos I got back from London I was quite pleased to find that some of them turned out quite interesting, particularly those where I had managed a short depth of field utterly blurring everything but the focal points.

Sikhism in review

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 | Humanism, Religion & Politics

Last Friday we were joined by a representative of the Sikh faith at Perspective.

While Sikhism is often seen as preferable to the major monotheist religions, I think it falls into the same trap as Paganism in that it mixes some good stuff in with a load of rubbish and then tries to use the plausible aspects as all true. At least Christianity offers you wholesale bullshit, you either accept the whole idea of Jesus or you don’t, there is no trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

First off, I want to say that in general, the concept that most people used to describe it this time (which is actually something I coined last year 😉 ), that Sikhism is just “Humanism plus god”, I agree with. I was perhaps a bit harsh in my initial review in The Old bar on Friday night about my thoughts on it. However, I stand by my stance that it is very much disagreeable.

Firstly, it has a concept of god, or “the Devine” but it doesn’t actually define what this is. According to the speaker, their holy book contains about 4,000 pages explain what god isn’t, but never explains what god is. This seems very confusing an ill-defined when it comes to building a belief structure around it.

It has the concept of a traditional family unit – you are commanded to get married and have kids. This is common among many other religions, especially Catholicism and Judaism and inevitably leads to an intolerance of homosexuals and even on a more general level creates judgement in the community of those that don’t choose to live as a traditional nuclear family.

They don’t cut their hair or shave. There is just no reason for this. You might be able to come up with some justification as to why this is done in terms of being one with nature but any such justification would almost certainly indicate you should do this with all your body – yet they are quite happy to cut their nails or shower for example.

Finally, they fall back on the favourite religious past time of trying to suppress and control natural human behaviour in order to exhort control over the follower’s life.

The best example of this is that Sikhs are forbidden from indulging in anything that could be harmful to their bodies – such as drugs, alcohol or meat. Not only to most people naturally crave these things but actually, there is nothing wrong with having meat or alcohol as part of a balanced diet and many studies have shown that they have a positive impact on your health. Particularly because I have Sikh friends who regularly eat at McDonald’s (having the vegetarian option of course but it’s still fast food1) so the rules then seem to become rather less meaningful.

1 I should point out that McDonald’s does not identify as a fast food restaurant. I use that term to describe the kind of food McDonald’s serves but they never call themselves it so don’t get arsey next time you’re waiting a whole three minutes for your food and making sarcastic comments like “you call this fast food?” because we don’t call it that, we never promised you it would be fast, we’re just so damn good at it that nine times out of ten we do have it all ready in under a minute.

Violent video games don’t lead to violent crime

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I was recently in a discussion about whether violent video games led to violent crime or not.

The main argument from the other side was “well, it’s just obvious isn’t it” and, on a slightly more substance based strand, “kids just think violence such as they experience on a video game is normal and acceptable.”

My argument was that there simply isn’t any evidence for this. I wasn’t going to chase it up or anything but I have work to do that I’m procrastinating from and as I saw a related article in the news just now, I thought I would double check my facts.

A quick consultation of the encyclopedia helpfully points out the bottom line – that Harvard Medical School and the British Medical Journal have both done studies into this topic “have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity.”

The fact is the evidence shows there isn’t a link between violent video games and kids going out and committing violent crimes.

But I would also goes as far as to say that, if you put some thought into it, it’s actually obvious that there isn’t a link. I think there are two main reasons for this.

The first is that Wikipedia also points out that over the past 20 years violent crime has been consistently in decline whereas sales of video games have been consistently growing. If there was a link we would expect that as more violent video games were sold, violent crime would increase. But it doesn’t. In fact it goes the opposite way. I’m not suggesting that violent video games actually decrease violent crimes but it certainly is evidence against the idea that encourage it.

Secondly, society hasn’t really got any more violent than it used to be.

Video games may be a relative new comer (although of course the ZX81 is actually older than I am) but the idea of violent games certainly isn’t. For years kids have been running around playing cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, playing with toy soliders and toy guns. Indeed my dad has often told me that one of the must have toys of his era was the Johnny 5 Gun, so called because it had five different modes of shooting. The only difference today is that kids run around a virtual world connected by their X Box Live rather than doing it in real life – which is arguably far more real than in a computer game.

Given these two reasons alone, it does not seem intuative that the popularisation of video games including some which are violent, would automatically lead to violent crime – and you would be right, because the evidence backs up that it doesn’t.

Humanist Community of Leeds launches

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | Foundation

Today saw the first meeting of the Humanist Community of Leeds. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank everyone who came down to the event and made it a big success. Everyone I spoke to said they enjoyed themselves and was looking forward to the next one.

If you haven’t heard about the Humanist Community of Leeds, it’s a new group which aims to bring humanists together for a relaxed social occasion each month as a secular alternative to church. After all, you don’t need to be religious to enjoy the company of others.

The next event is taking place on Sunday 7 March and I hope you can join us for it. It will follow a similar format of news and videos, a short talk and Sunday lunch following the event. See you there!

I’ll give it to you straight, like a pear cider made from 100% pears

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | Events, Reviews

Last Saturday I headed over to York to see Stewart Lee.

The opening had Simon Munnery opening for him who was in my opinion as good as Lee himself, especially when he moved onto Dawkins. “I’m writing a new book called The Salad Delusion. There’s no such thing as salad – it’s just different ingredients on a plate.”

Afterwards Stewart Lee came back to the stage for his new show, If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One. Yes the criticisms are true, he did spend around twenty minutes talking about how he wished Richard “The Hamster” Hammond was dead but then again, it’s just a joke, like on the Top Gear! In any case, highly recommend for fans of Stewart Lee ;).

Everybody loves Dawkins

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | Humanism

On Tuesday we held our annual debate at Atheist Society as to whether Professor Dawkins had been a positive or negative influence on the whole atheism discussion.

To my surprise almost everyone came out in a huge sea of support for Dawkins and rightfully so too!

Paganism and curry

Sunday, February 7th, 2010 | Events, Religion & Politics

On Friday we invited the Pentagram society to Perspective to talk about Paganism. It was a very interesting talk although I have to say I’m not a fan of Paganism, or certainly that brand of Paganism because it’s too wishy washy new age. While religions such as Christianity are clear they are making crazy claims in a take it or leave it fashion, the views expressed were very much trying to force a square peg into a round hole and say it fits.

For example one of the things suggested was that what we called magic thirty years ago is now called neuro-linguistic programming and so a lot of Paganism is things science simply doesn’t understand yet. That would almost be an argument if it wasn’t for the fact that NLP is for the most part unproven bullshit. More importantly it really smacks of when alternative medicine practitioners try to attribute something that clearly doesn’t work but they are still trying to sell as being something to do with quantum theory, taking advantage of the lack of public understanding of the topic.

It was also interesting to witness the fact they couldn’t actually work out what they believed in. Most religions have differences in their beliefs – just look at the amount of different denominations of Christianity (or even Islam which now has more and more developing despite stricter controls over it and even, unbelievably, Scientology) but they do at least have some common beliefs. 100% of Christians believe in Jesus for example whereas the Pagans didn’t seem to be able to give us anything they could say 100% of Pagans believed in which, as Chris Tedd did, raises the question “how do you even know your a Pagan?”

Finally I also felt there was a lack of internal consistency in the beliefs, probably resulting in the fact that they can’t really work out what it is they believe in. For example they started by talking about reincarnation and then later talked about talking to dead ancestors so Heini raised the question “how can you talk to dead ancestors if they have been reincarnated?”

A much better approach to take to the belief system I felt was the one presented to us at last year’s session on Paganism where out speaker basically said “I’m not going to lie to you, we made it all up in the 60s, but it works for me.” Never the less, it was a very interesting evening and well worth attending.

Charity quiz night

Sunday, February 7th, 2010 | Humanism

We held another charity quiz night at A-Soc last Tuesday. Unfortunately there was a lack of turn out but those that did brave the cold all enjoyed themselves and a vast array of raffle prizes resulted in a lot of winners – some people even winning twice! Most importantly of course, my team took home the win for the quiz and by quite a long way too . Even more impressive for the rest of the team when you find out that Nicola, who claims to be doing a biology degree, couldn’t answer any of the biology questions 😀 .