Why sunbathing in the park is a bad idea

As I write this (Sunday 5th April) the Health Secretary has said on the Andrew Marr show that if people don’t follow the social distancing “rules” the rules may have to get even more strict even up to banning all outside exercise. A London borough has also closed a park because they say people were “abusing” it. At the same time some people are saying the “rules” are stupid and illogical and penalise young people and people in flats.

So why does the government say it’s safe to walk in the park if keeping 2m apart but if I want to sunbathe even if we’re all 3m apart they say they’ll close the park?

This is a fair question and I hope I can go some way towards answering it here but first I want you to completely forget about the idea that some behaviour is safe and some behaviour is unsafe. I know that is how the government is portraying things but that is because they want (in my view mistakenly) to keep things simple.

At the risk of you thinking I’m talking about something else entirely, the mistake they are making is presenting something as binary when, in this case, it actually is a spectrum

ALL behaviours carry a risk of transmitting virus particles from infected people to uninfected people but the level of risk varies enormously depending on how we behave. What we are talking about here is estimating the relative risk of various behaviours and making a judgement as to what level of risk is acceptable.

Lets imagine three ways you could behave on any given day and look at their relative risks by making some, I think, reasonable assumptions.

  1. Staying at home
  2. Going for a walk in the park observing 2m distancing
  3. Sunbathing in the park observing 3m distancing from other sunbathers

Staying at home is the least risky behaviour but that delivery from Tesco could be contaminated. The risk is very small but my point is the risk isn’t zero. It isn’t “safe”.

During your walk in the park you will be well separated from others most of the time but when you pass people or stop to chat even when 2m apart there is a chance of virus particles passing between you. The risk is small, that’s why the government says stay 2m apart but, again, the risk isn’t zero and it is significantly higher than staying at home

Now lets look at Sunbathing. 3m separation must be “safer” than 2m right? Well yes the relative risk of transferring virus at 3m is lower than 2m but there are other factors in play here.

  1. Time. You are likely to spend much, much, longer sunbathing than most people will spend having a walk. Increasing the time increases the risk
  2. Numbers. You will probably be surrounded by other sunbathers. If they form an efficient hexagonal be-hive grid you will spend that longer time surrounded by six other people. Even a less efficient grid means you will be surrounded by at least four other sunbathers

The effects of increased time and increased numbers more than make up for the increasing the social distance to 3m and the end result is that sunbathing behaviour is considerably more risky than just going for a walk.

You will notice that I have not used numbers, I’m not qualified to make this analysis quantitative but I hope it makes sense none the less.

The Government however has first-class statisticians and scientists who can and do put in the numbers. That is what they are doing when they talk about modelling.

So what they (government) are actually doing is ranking behaviours by relative risk.

[Least Risky]     HOME  —–>  WALK  —–>  SUNBATHE    [Most Risky]

And making a judgement that the risk of a walk is outweighed by the benefits but the risk of sunbathing is not. You might not agree but that is their judgement. And although it is not an exact science, lets be honest, they are much more likely to be right than you or me.

So maybe don’t go sunbathing no matter how tempting it is. You will likely just end up getting the park closed and making things worse for everyone.


My son pointed out that, in his opinion, closing the park is a bad overreaction to sunbathing and football. I completely agree with him. The point of this article is that sunbathing 3m apart is more risky than taking a walk and that the reaction probably will be parks closing, not that the reaction should be parks closing.

Other measures that keep spaces open but prevent people upping the risk too much should be taken. I’m no expert but some that spring to mind are:

  • One way systems to reduce close contact at entrances and exits
  • Advising people that 2m is the minimum separation required not the “safe” one
  • Possibly rota-ing to allow access at different time slots for different groups

I think lobbying councils, MPs etc to improve management of open spaces is an excellent idea.

But sunbathing cos you think you know better than them probably isn’t

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Thoughts about Veganism

There are several people who’s podcasts I admire and listen to regularly ( I even bung them a few quid via Patreon every now and then and so should you)

One of them is Stephen Knight, the Godless Spellchecker. On his latest podcast he “talks to Dr. Melanie Joy about ‘Carnism’. We cover the environmental and psychological impact of animal slaughter, the vegan movement, synthetic meat, myths about nutrition and much, much more!”  it was fascinating and I urge you to listen to it. It raised lots of thoughts and questions in my mind, and one big doubt. So here we go.

When you look at the definition at the top of the page it’s hard to see why anyone could be anything other than vegan. After all who is in favour of exploitation and cruelty? And yet most of us stubbornly remain meat eaters.

Melanie Joy thinks it is because of a whole ideological belief system which she calls “carnism”. I don’t really buy that meat-eating is an ideology but she makes some very valid points about how so many of us continue to eat meat and wear leather while claiming to be caring, compassionate and even animal lovers.

Along the way Melanie & Stephen effectively deal with some of the myths and stories us carnivores tell ourselves. Among them are what Melanie called the three “N”s IE. It is Nutritious, Natural, and Necessary to include meat in a balanced diet

[Edit 02/10/2017] On re-reading I think I mis-remembered and mis-represented the three N’s. They weren’t Nutritious, Natural and Necessary but Normal, Natural, and Necessary. I have re-written the next three paragraphs 

Normal: I think this is a weak part of Melanie’s argument she seems to think that people only treat meat-eating as normal because they are insulated from the brutal realities of what she calls an “atrocity” by the hidden ideology of carnism. In our society the brutal realities of the slaughterhouse are hidden away but this is a relatively new development and there are many societies where this isn’t so yet people still eat meat. On the other hand there are also many societies where vegetarianism is “normal”. My argument would be much simpler. Anything that 90% + of people do is, by definition, normal but, as with naturalness below. There are many “normal”s, and normal doesn’t equal good

Natural: I though they were less convincing here. All the evidence suggests that humans have always been opportunist feeders and have happily tucked into meat when it was available. I think that makes meat eating “natural”. I think they did hit this particular nail on the head later though, when they noted that natural isn’t necessarily good. Civilisation consists in no small part in resisting the urge to do what is “natural”

Necessary: This hinges on whether meat is required for a healthy, nutritious diet. It is perfectly possible to have a healthy fully nutritious vegetarian diet. Veganism requires a bit more care but can still be perfectly nutritious. The existence of many thousands of happy, healthy vegans demonstrates this.

The argument that meat-eating is bad for the environment is also pretty convincing. In pure energy, terms getting your calories from vegetables is much much more efficient than passing those vegetables through other animals first. It’s not quite as simple as that but the environmental case for at the very least reducing our meat consumption is pretty sound.

So having disposed of myths that veganism is unhealthy and shown that at least reducing our meat consumption is good for the environment we turn to the ethical issues.

I don’t think anyone can claim realistically that our methods of animal farming and slaughter are anything to be proud of. I think they could, and should, be dramatically improved but, in this discussion, that isn’t really the question is it. The question is does switching to veganism reduce or eliminate the suffering of farm animals?

The argument that “If we all became vegans overnight all those animals would be slaughtered immediately” was quickly dismissed in the podcast as a ridiculous hypothetical but I think that misses the point. whether it is overnight, in ten years, or in a hundred years, the endpoint is the same. and that endpoint is not farm animals that don’t suffer, it is the non-existence of farm animals. This is my big problem – the idea that veganism is a good thing for the animals as well as for the humans.

Farm animals are not pets, they are there to make money. If there is no money to be made they won’t be there. You could argue that their non-existence is in some ethical way “better” that their continued existence and continued suffering. I think that is a reasonable argument, I’m not sure I would support it but it is supportable.

During the podcast Melanie occasionally used our changing attitude to slavery as an analogy for our, hopefully, changing attitude to animal exploitation and suffering. Now calm down please don’t do the whole “how dare you compare X with Y” melt-down. She was using a perfectly reasonable analogy about changing attitudes. She wasn’t “comparing” farming to slavery – and neither am I. I am, however, going to extend the analogy though so, again, please don’t go into melt-down – it’s an analogy.

The elimination of slavery was unequivocally a good thing both for the slaves and the slave owners, but would it still have been a good thing if it had meant the genocide of the slaves themselves? In the end the ex-slave owners would be better people there would be less suffering in the world.

I suppose what my question boils down to is

The elimination of “exploitation and cruelty to animals” may well be good for humans but can it be considered good for the animals if it leads to their non-existence.

Comments welcomed – especially from Stephen and/or Melanie



The Godless Spellchecker podcast: EP#101 – DR. MELANIE JOY – CARNISM

Melanie Joys book: “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, And Wear Cows”

Beyond Carnism: https://www.carnism.org/

The Vegan Society: https://www.vegansociety.com/

[Edit / second thoughts about Veganism 03/10/2017]

Thanks to every who has commented. You have all made good points and I think they have helped me sharpen my thinking on this issue. I will try to summarise my thoughts now.

  • Veganism is a rational, practical, safe, and healthy way of living that is a reasonable response to our “industrial” treatment of animals which entails much unnecessary suffering
  • There are significant health & environmental benefits to a significant reduction in meat-eating.

However . . . .

  • It would be possible, though expensive, to eliminate most of the animal suffering involved in livestock farming. The lives of farm animals could be made “better” than the lives of most wild animals in the “natural world”.
  • I think my initial thought that Veganism is really for the benefit of humans is correct. Veganism does aim to reduce or eliminate the total amount of animal suffering, but only by reducing or eliminating the total number of animals.
  • While many vegans/vegetarians are well aware that the aim of their actions is the elimination of farm animals I still have a feeling that many others think that their action will improve the living conditions of farm animals – which it wont. I don’t think they are consciously aware that they are signing up to the extinction of sheep, cows, pigs, hens, horses etc. See this from the Vegan Society’s web site
  • I think the vegan ideology has a blind-spot when it comes the realities of life for wild animals and only really see the suffering caused by humans. They seem to have a rather romantic view of “the natural world” and think that the suffering of wild animals is somehow less painful than that of farm animals. See this from the Vegan Society’s web site

I think whether you consider the aims of veganism/vegetarianism to be morally right or wrong hinges on how you would answer this philosophical question

  • Is non-existence preferable to suffering?
    • To which the obvious answer is
  • That depends on how bad the suffering is

This question actually crops up more than you would expect. Obviously, in questions of euthanasia, suicide, and assisted dying but also when you have to decide if it is time to put-down your old dog or cat and even in the justification for certain types of abortion.

So, no definitive answers but I’ve learned a lot about the question.

Thanks for all your comments – keep them coming if you want to.

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In Defence of Multiculturalism and Political Correctness (sort of)

Over Christmas, as usual, I got into some political discussions with my family. With my youngest son, Bob, the conversation went into the territory of multiculturalism and integration. Bob lives in London which I think gives him a rosier picture of multiculturalism than mine. Cosmopolitan areas of London are very different from highly self-segregated northern towns like Rochdale and Bradford. As usual we were probably both right and both wrong but later it got me thinking about a couple of things that to some people (including me to some extent) have become “dirty words”. These things are  Multiculturalism and Political Correctness

I am old and I can remember some things that a lot of people can’t, here are some of them:

Once upon a time . . . .

  • A comedian once told the following joke – on television: “Why do paki’s smell? – so blind people can hate them too”
  • People routinely used the words nigger, sambo, paki, rag-head, mick, jock, poofter, homo, tart, bird, and many more and the people these words referred to were considered overly-sensitive if they objected.
  • A taxi-driver told me an area where I was thinking about buying a house was a great place – and the local Liberal Club was a good place to drink “cos they don’t let paki’s in”
  • You couldn’t buy spices, or curries, or Chinese, or even Italian food in supermarkets
  • Eating out for “ordinary people” meant fish-n-chips, Wimpey, or (if you were a bit posh) a Berni Inn
  • “Shirt lifters” used to meet in public toilets to “bum” each other – this was illegal
  • Advertisements for jobs, any jobs, could specify if only men or women could apply
  • Everyone on TV was white and spoke like the Queen
  • Nobody on TV was gay – unless they were a ludicrously camp comedy character
  • There was a BBC TV program where white men would black-up and put on a “minstrel show”
  • Later, there was a BBC TV program where the white neighbor called his black neighbor “sambo” – this was called a joke.

I hope these things shock you, they should, they shock me and they are my memories!

I don’t bring these things up to ridicule the past but to show how much improved is the present. These changes were brought about partly through legislation but mostly via cultural pressure, through the twin concepts of Multiculturalism and Political Correctness. Yes – they used to be GOOD things, they really were.

I want to talk about how they used to be good things and how they have now been poisoned – and need to be replaced.

Multiculturalism used to mean that when immigrants came to the UK they didn’t have to transform themselves into carbon copies of the people who were already here. This was a good thing, it was progressive thinking, and it broadened the minds and horizons of the immigrants and the “indigenous” alike. It meant that when I walked up the street where I lived in Bradford I could hear reggae, prog-rock, sitars, brass bands, Irish folk songs and all sorts of other music coming out of the windows of the big Victorian terraces. I could also smell all kinds wonderful smells coming out of the kitchen windows, and hear many and varied accents and languages in the Upper Globe pub most evenings. It was here that you could find out which new, local, shops sold the spices to make the wonderful smells and which shops sold the imported LPs with the songs you had heard.

This all sound like some kind of paradise – it wasn’t. We didn’t all love each other, we didn’t really mix all that much, but we rubbed along OK. That it was no paradise is obvious if you look at the Upper Globe now http://www.closedpubs.co.uk/yorkshire/bradford_bd8_upperglobe.html it was burned out in the Bradford riots of 2001 and never re-opened.

But it was accepted by everyone who considered themselves “progressive” (before that also became a dirty word), which was basically everyone under 40, that progress meant more mixing, more mutual understanding – including mutual criticism, more learning from each other. In short progress was to be found in more integration and less segregation.

In parallel with the idea of racial and religious multiculturalism the ideas of Political Correctness meant, initially, that certain words shouldn’t be used because the people they described found them demeaning and insulting. Gradually this pressure to think about the language we used made us think more about the people who this political correctness was “protecting” and they became, to the open minded among us, just people, very much like ourselves. Also, the relative absence of these words from normal everyday language meant that children and young people were much less likely to casually pick up the prejudices of their parents.

All this has meant that, in what seems to me to be a very short time, we have gone from the “Black n White Minstrel Show” to “Luther”, from blackmail and court cases to joyous gay marriages, from Berni Inns to everyone knowing their balti from their biryani, from secretary to Home Secretary.

Everything in the garden is not, of course, rosy. There is still a way to go regarding equality for all sorts of minority groups but that should not blind us to to the huge progress that has been made, even in one lifetime.

But all of this progress is under threat from the very things that brought it about. Political Correctness and Multiculturalism. I am NOT saying, as the Daily Mail does with the regularity of a tolling bell, that it has all “gone too far”. I don’t think it’s gone too far – I thinks its gone to places where it was never intended to go.

I think these terms have come to mean that which they were never intended to mean, indeed almost the opposite of their original meanings.

Multiculturalism originally meant that all cultures should be open to, and influenced by other cultures so that people could be enriched by the best of all cultures and abandon the worst. It has lead to the opposite, a cowardly cultural relativism where all cultures are equal and cannot be criticized. Where each culture demands to be left alone to ignore all others and to insulate itself from “contamination” by others which might damage it’s purity and authenticity. The truth is that what started as a laudable attempt at genuine multiculturalism is rapidly becoming an excuse for it’s opposite – multiple, insulated, mutually suspicious, oppressive, monocultures.

Political Correctness is perhaps best summed up by the phrase “you can’t say that” and it was meant to stop people casually, and sometimes not so casually, using words and phrases that were insulting and offensive to the people they described. It was meant to stop people talking about paki’s, sambos, and chinks. It was also extended to include words used to describe other groups like homosexuals – queers & poofs, and derogatory words for women – birds & tarts. There were those who attacked this political correctness by saying that these words were not derogatory, that those who objected were being overly sensitive, that shows like the “Black and White Minstrel Show” weren’t insulting to real black people at all. The response to this was to say, quite rightly, that it is up to black people, not white people, to decide if the word sambo is offensive or not.

Over time this worked well, members of various minorities became known by the names they chose, and this affected how people thought about them. They became individuals who were given the respect, or at least the politeness they deserved as human beings. To the point where a Conservative led government passed a law to allow gay people to marry just a few years after their kind of love had been against the law

Sadly however Political Correctness, like Multiculturalism, also went to a place where it was never meant to go. It has now reached the point where some people define anything they disagree with as offensive and claim that “you can’t say that”. It is now used to suppress all kinds of free speech and legitimate criticism of ideas and ideologies.

This poisonous coupling of Political Correctness and Multiculturalism has given birth to some pretty vile bastard offspring too, such as:

  • Islamophobia: Originally meant to describe anti-Muslim bigotry. Prejudice based on religion rather than race. Now used to facilitate the suppression of the criticism of the ideology of Islam itself.
  • Safe Spaces: Originally meant to protect vulnerable people from verbal or physical attack. Now used to protect certain groups from hearing anything they might disagree with
  • No Platforming: Originally meant to deny an amplified voice to those encouraging or promoting violence. Now used to prevent everyone else from hearing what certain groups might disagree with
  • Native Informant: Originally meant as an academic version of Uncle Tom, a traitor who sells out to the oppressors of his people. Now used to describe anyone who thinks his own culture may not be perfect and is open to ideas from other cultures. The native informant can then be safely deemed “inauthentic” so their ideas can be safely ignored without actually thinking about them.

All this has lead to some pretty awful real-world consequences:

  • Jewish, Muslim, and Evangelical Christian schools where children either learn nothing but their religion or learn everything through the distorted lens of their religion. This leaves them hopelessly unequipped for modern Britain. But that’s OK they say because they won’t be part of modern Britain, they will live in their own little bubble, insulated from everyone else who doesn’t live their way
  • Blind eyes are turned to backward, illiberal, and sometimes brutal and illegal practices such as forced marriage, segregation in public spaces, honour killings and FGM
  • Groups of Islamists, including veiled women, openely campaigning against democracy itself on British streets
  • People seriously campaigning for blasphemy laws in 21st century Britain
  • People who want their culture to change, who think it can be improved, people who are genuinely progressive (another word which now means almost it’s opposite) are condemned as “porch monkeys”, “native infromants”, “inauthentic”, as some kind of “traitor” to their in-group.
  • The insanity of a young student refusing to share a platform with Peter Tachell and calling him a trans-phobic bigot
  • The feminist and LGBT societies of a university voicing their support for a group of Islamist thugs who tried to break up a talk by Myrayam Namase and intimidate her into silence
  • A black female student telling a white male one that he can’t wear his hair in dreadlocks because they are part of HER culture that he has no right to “appropriate”

So what can we do about this? What can genuine progressives as opposed to the “regressive left” do about it?

I don’t have a simple answer I’m afraid but one thing we must NOT do is be quiet. We must speak up in support of others who still believe in what Multiculturalism and Political Correctness were originally for. We must support those people whatever colour they are, whether they are on the left or the right of politics.

We can no longer use the terms Political Correctness and Multiculturalism, they have become too poisoned. There are many alternatives though, words and phrases that still represent the ideas that can lead to the kind of world that most of us still want, and believe in. Here are some of those words:

Freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of and from religion, liberalism, democracy, equality, the rule of law – with one law for all, universal human rights, secularism, honesty, rationalism, politeness, tolerance.

OK they’re all a bit old fashioned right? Maybe but at least they still mean what they used to mean and they are our our only hope. So speak up for them and support others who do the same. Especially the minorities within the minorities and those brave souls who speak up in countries where it can cost them dear, even sometimes their life.

Some of them are here, there are many others. Find them – support them:

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Open letter to my bishop

Thank you Kathleen, You have restored my faith that there are plenty of religious people who “get it” and see through, and are disappointed by, their leaders in this case – well said

Kathleen Jowitt

Dear Bishop,

I write to express my profound discomfort with various aspects of the Church of England’s conduct over the past few days, as the news story regarding the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement has unfolded.

Firstly, I note that the DCM agency was entirely within its rights to run or not to run any advertisement it chose. I think that its blanket policy to avoid religious or political material is sensible, and, one assumes, designed to avoid exactly this kind of mess. It is no great effort to imagine the reaction in the tabloid press had another faith group or a secular body attempted to run a similar advertisement. I consider that the Church’s attempt to present this decision as a ‘ban’ and an ‘attack on free speech’ is dishonest and I am ashamed to be associated with this disingenuous act.

Since the agency’s policy is to avoid religious or political…

View original post 259 more words

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Tax – Forget the Non-Doms, it’s Ex-Pats we need to be taxing

I want to ask a question in this piece and, I hope, answer it. I have touched on this topic in a previous post when Brits were being evacuated from Libya but, with the election coming and the recent discussion about Non-Doms, I thought I would revisit it in a bit more detail. That question is:

Should British citizens continue to pay British taxes even when they are living and/or working abroad?

I think they should and I hope I can make a decent case for why, but I want to make clear what I am suggesting which is:

  • Brits working abroad should pay British taxes on their residual income after paying the local taxes for where they are living.
  • Those eligible could self-assess and submit tax returns and payments exacltly the same way that people with variable incomes do now.
  • The personal allowance for those working abroad need not be the same as for those working at home.

The usual answer to that question is that they shouldn’t pay because they don’t enjoy the benefits of those taxes. I want to challenge that view by going through the biggest parts of expenditure in turn and looking at them with ex-pats in mind. The figures I am using come from this pie-chart for central government spending 2014. You can find it, and the data behind it here


26% Pensions £143 billion

  • Some of this the state pension. The state pension is not paid out of a pot of money built up from contributions, the tax people pay now is used to pay the state pension now. Most ex-pats will return to the UK and eventually claim this, or will have parents who are currently receiving the state pension – so why shouldn’t they pay the tax?
  • Most of the rest is public sector pensions which the government is responsible for because they are, in effect, the employer such as MPs, civil servants, teachers etc. Your average ex-pat is probably working in the private sector and so won’t be receiving one of these, but the average person in the UK is also working in the private sector so they won’t be getting a public sector pension either – but they still pay their taxes

23% Health Care £127 billion

  • This is almost entirely spending on the NHS. Ex-pats, being British citizens, are entitled to free treatment on the NHS. While they are abroad they will probably pay for routine, minor, medical treatment where they are but, should they require long term or expensive treatment they can, and do, return to Britain for that free NHS treatment. It is also a fact that most of the costs of NHS treatment is spent during a person’s last few years of life when the ex-pats usually return to Britain. So why shouldn’t they pay the tax when they are young and healthy, like the rest of us?

11% Welfare £58 billion

  • This includes all the things you would expect. personal services like care for the sick and elderly, and benefits like social security, tax credits, and housing benefit. Now the ex-pat is certainly not going to be accessing those but, as with pensions they may well be later in life and may have relatives claiming them now, and, again a healthy, well paid person living in the UK will not be receiving these benefits either, but they still pay their taxes.

8% Defence £44 billion

  • The primary reason for defence spending is to protect the country from invasion and/or destruction from foreign forces. I assume that most ex-pats would quite like there to be a Britain for them to come home to. It is also the case that when there is trouble where the ex-pats are living, as was the case in Libya, it is expect that the armed forces would be used to get Brits out of harms way, so the ex-pats are actually more likely to benefit directly from defence spending. So why shouldn’t they pay the tax

8% Education £42 billion

  • It is true that ex-pats are quite likely to pay for their children’s education while they are abroad, either by sending them to public school back in the UK or in local English language schools. However I suspect most of them went to school themselves at sometime and, yet again what about the people back home, some of them don’t even have any children, but they still pay their taxes.

In summary, an ex-pat working abroad has no more reason be exempt from tax than anyone in Britain, provided that person is

  • Well paid
  • Healthy (or in BUPA)
  • Childless (or privately educating their children)

I just see this as an extension of the argument for taxation in the first place. Tax is the price we all pay for the benefits of citizenship. We don’t pay just for what we need, we pay for what all of us might need, and we never need some of those benefits – be grateful, smile, and pay up.

I don’t know how much money this would raise, but I think it might be quite a lot. It would also remove one of the arguments against higher taxation on the very rich, that they will just move abroad to avoid paying.

I happen to think I am incredibly luck to be a British citizen. look around the world and realise just what a privilege it is. I think we should all be glad to pay our taxes.

I am not an economist (you can tell can’t you) but I don’t think these ideas are stupid ore economically illiterate – as always I would welcome criticism and comment.

And, if any of the political parties are interested – I’m available  – reasonable rates – happy to pay top rate income tax . . . .

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Humans are so much better than their Gods – thank heavens

NoahjpgNoah’s Ark seems to be very popular these days, there has been the recent “blockbuster” film staring Russell Crowe and there is an upcoming big adaptation for the BBC staring David Threlfall. I have always been rather fascinated by the story of Noah’s Ark. As a young child it was the usual thing with cute pairs of animals going into a big boat, what’s not to like? Later on I started think about the story more and, importantly, I started thinking about the people and animals that didn’t make it onto the ark. I never really thought about whether it was “true” or not. As I’ve described before in “Atheist reflections on apples, genesis,and growing up” they were just bible-stories, they were just there.

But as I thought about it I started to imagine just how terrible the events described in this story really are. If you are having trouble imagining it just check out some of the reports of the Tsunami of 2004, then multiply the misery, death, destruction, stench, and appalling suffering a thousand fold and that might give you some idea of what it would have been like.

So, here’s a quick summary of the story which appears, in some form, in all three of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions.

  1. God saw how great wickedness had become and decided to wipe out mankind
  2. One righteous man among all the people, Noah, found favour in God’s eyes.
  3. God gave Noah instructions to build an Ark to save his family and two of each of all living creatures
  4. After they entered the ark, rain fell on the earth for a period of forty days and nights.
  5. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days, and every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.
  6. This genocide included every blameless child and baby in the world
  7. The waters fell and the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.
  8. After a further 8 months Noah and family left the ark and offered animal sacrifices to God
  9. God decided the sacrifices were good and promised not to kill everyone again and invented the rainbow as a “sign of this everlasting covenant”

And there you have it. The deliberate and brutal drowning of every human being on earth except for one favoured family! And this act was carried out by God. The good father-figure in the sky that we are meant to worship!

According to scripture, God does this kind of thing regularly. Sodom and Gomorrah, bears ripping up kids who take mickey out of prophets, and all various evils visited on Job so he could win a bet with Satan, to name but a few. This God also intends to torture unrepentant atheists like me for all eternity after I die. And don’t forget the suffering and destruction yet to come when we reach the “end of days”.

In my opinion religion, as represented by the supposedly perfect scriptures, is utterly vile. To quote Richard Dawkins

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But my point is that no normal Muslim, Christian, or Jew would dream of behaving like this. Most are tolerant, even respectful, of other religions. They wouldn’t destroy whole cities no matter how badly the citizens behaved. They wouldn’t even want to torture me forever because I disagreed with them about God either.

There are of course notable exceptions. The Westboro Baptists are pretty vile and ISIS are busy proving that there is nothing so vile in scripture that they won’t do it in God’s name.

But my point is not how vile these religious texts are. My point is how the overwhelming majority of the followers of these religions are perfectly decent, tolerant, peaceful, people.

If you type Islam is Perfect but I am not into Google you will get more than 20,000,000 hits usually in the form of a longer quote something like I’m a Muslim, Islam is perfect but I am not. If I make a mistake, blame it on me, not on my religion. It will also get millions of hits on Facebook or Twitter. You can find this kind of apologism for all the Abrahamic religions. It is for example the position taken my Mehdi Hassan, who has on many occasions said that the dreadful barbarism carried out by Islamists is not the fault of Islam, which is perfect, but the failure of some Muslims to understand and live up to that perfection.

This is about as wrong as it gets. People are infinitely better than there Gods, as they are described in their scripture.

Most people have actually already outgrown literalism. Theyknow that their scripture is a very long way from perfect. They know it deep down, that’s why they don’t actually get their morality from their scripture.

If they could just admit it to themselves and say so publically they would be in a better position to argue against the extremists.

So please – stop pretending your scriptures are perfect – rejoice in your humanity – you are so much better than your scripture.

And this particular atheist is grateful (to you not your God) for that.

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The battle for evolution in Scottish schools

In many ways the Scottish education system has a better reputation than the English/Welsh. If they handle this well they can enhance that reputation. Handle it wrong and it could become a laughing stock.

Leaving Fundamentalism

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee will be hearing from members of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) and Scottish Secular Society (SSS). Earlier this year, the SSS started a petition urging the Scottish government issue guidance on the teaching of creationism in schools. In England and Wales, there is clear guidance that creationism and Intelligent Design are not valid scientific alternatives to the theory of evolution, and should not be taught as such. In Scotland, there is no equivalent document.

This is a problem, because as we’ve previously seen, there have been significant inroads by creationists in some Scottish schools. Fortunately in that case, there was a decisive win for science. But what that case showed was that creationism genuinely is an issue in Scotland, and it will continue to be so without clear guidance. So you might think that the SSS petition, backed by three…

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Yes – Keep the pressure on Israel. But dont be fooled by Hamas

I didn’t want to write this post, I really didn’t. I think the situation in Gaza is an appalling human tragedy. One that Israel is largely responsible for. But I think I have to.

Some of the stuff I am going to write will certainly annoy some people so I am going to nail a few things to the mast before I start.

  • I think Israel’s current actions are totally disproportionate and shameful
  • I think Israel should stop ignoring UN resolutions
  • I think Israel should retreat to the 1967 boundaries
  • I think Israel should dismantle all its settlements beyond those boundaries
  • I think Israel should share the sovereignty of Jerusalem
  • I think Israel should lift its blockade (with the exception of weapons)
  • I think 90% of the people protesting in support of the Palestinians are good people

OK, now that has been said lets look at some facts.

A couple of months ago Isis invaded Iraq. Since then they have killed thousands of people, mostly Muslims. They have performed public beheadings, crucifictions and stonings. They have told Christians that they must convert, leave, or pay the “I’m not a Muslim Tax”. They have stated openly that they intend to basically take over the world and put an end to “Un-Islamic” practices like equality, human rights, liberalism, and democracy. And kill anyone who gets in their way.

As far as I know there have been two anti-ISIS demonstrations in London with attendances in the low hundreds, I have linked to reports about them below.

  1. Anti ISIS protest (well anti Saudi really)
  2. Kurdish Anti ISIS protest

The current crisis in Gaza has resulted in approximately 1,500 deaths at the time of writing. Despite several shaky, short lived cease-fires hamas continue to fire rockets into Israel ans Israel continues to bombard Gaza.

The “Pro-Palestine / Anti Israel” demonstration in London apparently put 45,000 people on the streets. As I have said above I think most of these people are genuainely concerned to save lives and believe that basically Israel is in the wrong, but the decent, humanity of those involved is being used and abused by Islamists with a very different agenda.

Israel is increasing being portrayed as “fascists”, “Nazis“, and of course “baby-killers” and the words genocide and holocaust are also being bandied about.

Typical of this is illustrated by a twitter exchange I had with Yvonne Ridley. She had repeatedly called what the Israelis were doing a genocide and said it had to be stopped before it became a holocaust. So I responded, pointing out some statistics.

  • Rwanda – 1 million were killed – 70% of the Tutsi population.
  • Nazi Germany – 6 million jews were killed – 60% of the European jewish population.
  • Gaza – 1,500 killed – 0.08% of the population

Yvonne asked what figure would constitute genocide for me. I said a lot more than 1,500 what figure would she suggest. She the changed tack somewhat and said that what the Israelis were doing was like a “9/11” every day. I pointed out that “9/11” killed 2,600+ in one day and so far Israel had killed less that 2,000 in a month.

If you want you can read the twitter exchange with Yvonne Ridley here.

It’s worth looking at that last point again.

The 9/11 terrorists managed to kill 2,600 people in one day with a couple of civil aircraft. Israel is, as we are constantly told, “a nuclear power with a huge modern army and airforce”. yet in three weeks of almost constant air raids they have killed 1,500 people. But we are expected to believe that this is a deliberate genocide?

The truth is Hamas are an Islamist organisation, in the same vein as ISIS, Boko-Haram, and the Taliban, and they are exploiting, and prolonging the suffering of the palestinians they claim to be protecting. This shouldn’t surprise us, its what Islamists do.

  • They exploit democracy in order to destroy it and impose Theocracy
  • They exploit liberalism to impose illiberal customs
  • They hide behind human rights legislation while trying to destoy human rights
  • They exploit common humanity to persue the destruction of Israel and all Jews

Before you go off-on-one read again what I said at the begining. I think Israel is guilty of many things, but not “war-crimes”. They are not Nazis, or “baby killers” and this is not a genocide.

So be careful what you say in your tweet and be careful who you stand with on your demo because, although you want to free Palestine and save children’s lives, behind you, grinning and waving the black flag of ISIS, is a real fascist.

He is preying on your humanity. He wants to suck the life out of life itself. He thinks the holocaust was a good thing. He has sworn to finish the “good” work started by Hitler. And every time another commentator says it’s a genocide, and every time someone calls Israelis Nazis,  and every time another Gazan child dies, his plan advances a little further, and his grin gets a little wider.


What were Hamas doing in Gaza during this time?

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Do something about Tredennick and raise policy standards

David Tredennick MP has apparently “spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and is convinced it could work.” This is nothing new for David, he has in the past championed homeopathy and suggested that surgeons should avoid certain operations at the time of the full moon.


It’s funny isn’t it?  – No it bloody well isn’t.

The voters of Bosworth made David an MP (please voters – sort that out next year) and, worse, his fellow MPs put him on the commons health committee and the science and technology committee.

This kind of thing is the very reason I write this blog, and the reason I started the Geek Manifesto Pledge. But there is something much more practical that I have done and I would urge you to do the same.

A group of academics including Chris Chambers of Cardiff university, who did a Geek Manifesto pledge for Welsh Assembly Members, are creating what they call an Evidence Information Service (EIS) to give evidence based advice to politicians both on demand, and as proactive briefing notes. And they need your help to make it work.

They are looking for “local champions” to interview their local MP to find out what would make them welcome and use the service. I have interviewed mine, and I was pleased by his enthusiasm for the project. he seemed convinced it would be both useful and used. They have 100 volunteers and 35 interviews “in the bag” so far, which is good, but they need more. If this service is well designed it could make a real contribution to improving political policy making in the future, and these interviews are important to get the service right from the start.

The commons has broken for the summer recess and this means a lot of MPs will be spending a lot of time back in their constituencies which means they are much more likely to have time for an interview.

Please help – this is a chance to make a real, practical, difference. It probably won’t stop Tredennick being a total clown, but it will help all the others who are not, and it will mean he has no excuse.

Use the links below to find out how you can make a real difference.


Things have moved on, Chris and the team are no longer looking for local champions, they are now “seeking your confidential views as an academic on your attitude to and experiences of evidence-based policymaking, the usefulness of the EIS and your potential contribution.” from “Academic/Researcher/Professional” s

You can contribute here https://t.co/39dw69GaXJ




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Why calling values British (or Islamic) is nonsense. Don’t wrap values in a flag.

I have written before about how religious people sometimes condemn other people, or behaviour for what I think are the wrong reasons, you can read about it here, but I think I have to revisit this issue because of the whole “British Values” thing. I think allowing gay people to get married if they want to is liberal, tolerant, and morally right. But until last year it was forbidden by British law, and guess what, it is STILL un-Islamic, un-Anglican, un-Catholic, un-Judaic, and many people would still say un-British.

I am a Humanist but when I was arguing in support of equal marriage I didn’t argue that to be a good Humanist you have to support it. Humanism describes (most of) my values it does not determine them. The BHA supports an opt-out system for organ donation, I think they are wrong on this, that doesn’t stop me being a Humanist or, indeed, a member of the BHA. The trouble with allowing beliefs to hide, in groups, behind labels is that people are taught to belive the labels rather than the values. This can have disastrous consequences.

Imagine a very religious Muslim boy growing up in Birmingham. He believes, because all Muslim authority figures tell him so, that Islam and the Koran are perfect, not good, perfect. It is impossible for Islam or the Koran to be wrong in any way. If I want to convince this boy that beheading, stoning, wife-beating, and going to butcher people in Syria and/or Iraq are right I don’t have to convince him that any of these things, individually, is morally justifiable. I just have to convince him that they are Islamic. If I want him to despise democracy and free-speech, I only have to convince that they are un-Islamic. If his Imam is worried about him and tries to change his mind he cannot argue about the unfairness, suffering, or brutality because he, the Imam, also believes that Islam and the Koran are perfect. All he can do is try to convince him that these actions are un-Islamic.

Then along comes David Cameron, worried about what might, or might not, be being taught in the lad’s school. Does he say what they are teaching is wrong? No he says it’s not British.

So the voice in this lad’s ear is now saying “See. If you are going to be British you have to be less of a Muslim. You may have been born here but they will never accept you as one of them. And if your Imam, or Maajid Nawaaz, says different that’s because he has sold out – he’s not a proper Muslim”

Both the Islamist and the PM are playing identity politics in this poor kids head. By wrapping their beliefs or values in a black flag, or a union jack, they both avoid having to actually justify any of the beliefs and values they are peddling in terms that actually say something about the beliefs themselves rather than the identity they are wrapped in. This kind of argument is know as the “No true Scotsman” falacy. it is a favourite of many religions and is the very essence of blind patriotism.

The young lad in Birmingham isn’t allowed to decide about things on their merits, he has to be “truly” British, or a “proper” Muslim.

One of the things Maajid Nawaaz consitantly argues is that people should think for themselves and get into real politics rather than Identity politics. That’s why he can condemn stoning people to death without refering to the Koran. He is a Muslim, but he can condemn stoning because it is wrong, not because it is or is not Islamic.

This kind of thinking is by no means confined to religion it can be seen in all kinds of identity politics Stalinism, Nazism, the french Front National, and many others but is is particularly found in religion because they can claim to be absolutely perfect as they are obeying the laws of God. This is why faith schools are so wrong. No matter how good some of them are. Not because they teach people to behave badly but because, by definition, they have already decided the answers to questions that people should be free to decide for themselves.

In extremes this can mean the denial of evolution and presenting nonsense as scientific fact, or that people who love others of their own sex deserve to be killed. not because of evidence or logical argument, but because that is what WE believe.

So give the young lad in Birmingham a break. Don’t tell him a 1400 year old book is perfect and don’t tell him that British values are the best despite years of religious buchery and the slave-trade because . . . well . . . Magna Carta.

Tell him there are many opinions on just about everything and that he is free to make up his own mind. He can be his own kind of Muslim, his own kind of British, or even his own kind of Humanist

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