Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What I Did On The Weekend

Long-time readers may recall I’ve written about homeopathy once or twice before.

Just in case you were unaware, the quick version is this:

Homeopathy is a pretend medicine by which cynical practitioners exploit the placebo effect and confirmation bias to bilk gullible people out of their cash.

So last Saturday, to demonstrate that there’s nothing in Homeopathy, some fellow skeptics and I participated in the global 10:23 campaign.

And we all took a massive overdose of the stuff.

The point was to make a public statement about what homeopathy is.

Or rather, what it isn’t.

I’m the guy in the awesomely cool sunnies.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I Still Like Portello


A lone BLOGGER stares at the screen of an open laptop. He notes the date of his last blog post and with a disbelieving look, checks his watch to confirm the current date.


The BLOGGER opens the LiveWriter application on the laptop and looks blankly at the blank WYSIWYG interface.


The BLOGGER begins to type. Hesitantly at first, then with more confidence.

I shouldn't even offer an excuse as to why it's been so long. I don't really have one. Besides, any attempt to offer one would probably come off as self-serving and patronising. The fact is, I haven't felt like it.

The BLOGGER'S WIFE, an attractive, intelligent, kind and understanding woman enters the room.

Who are you talking to?

No-one. I wasn't actually talking. I'm just typing. This is a meta-exercise in blogging using the form of a film script.

It sounds pretentious.

It could be. That's why it's a good idea to have a sympathetic character point that out. Representing the idea that it's pretentious within the piece itself can put the audience on side.

Yeah, definitely pretentious. Anyway, when did you start blogging again?

I haven't really. The other thing I'm trying to do here is work out what I want this blog to be about.

You're over the whole skepticism and atheism thing?

No, not at all. I'm more active than ever in both those areas. And I still write about skepticism over at the Victorian Skeptics blog. I just think my focus needs to change. Writing on topics like that was about exploring my own understanding of them. And while my understanding has grown, it's also changed.

Maybe that's worth writing about.


What about all the other stuff? Like the Dead Pool. And holiday snaps.

Well, the Dead Pool has its own blog ...

Which you've also neglected.

... and I think photos and whatnot work better on Facebook and Twitter. Mainly because it's easier to ignore them there.

Film reviews and general nerdiness?

There'll always be a place for that.

The BLOGGER pauses and looks again at the screen. After a few seconds, he closes the laptop.

Cup of tea?

Love one.


Sunday, 25 July 2010

3 Stories of Sacrifice Way Better Than Christianity

The Christian narrative goes something like this:

Adam and EveSin entered the world with Adam and Eve.

Four thousand years later that sin was paid for, and mankind redeemed, by the blood sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s all perfectly pleasant (unless you happened to be on the receiving end of Yahweh’s wrath in the 4,000-year interim), but did it really happen?

Passion of the ChristFundamentalist Christians will blithely state (with zero justification) that it’s all historical fact.

Moderate Christians who (ironically) know their bible better than their fundy cousins, are more hesitant to do so.

That raises a problem though.

If it didn’t really happen, then what … ?

QuestionIs it just an elaborate metaphor? Is the mere story of Jesus’ sacrifice so iconic that it merits all this attention?

Surely not. As a sacrificial story, it’s far from impressive.

Despite Mel Gibson’s special effects budget, Jesus’ suffering was no worse than any other enemies of the Roman Empire.

And unlike his fellow crucifees, Jesus got to go home afterwards, as if nothing had happened! Some sacrifice.

If you really want to talk sacrifice, and I mean sacrifice with genuine human consequences, then I’ve got some stories much more worthy of analysis from the pulpit.

CCasablancaasablanca [1942]

Stuck in an African backwater, Rick is given the opportunity to keep his long-lost love or contribute to the war effort. It tears him up inside but he chooses to give up both the girl and his sacred neutrality.

I’m fine, I’ve just got something in my eye.

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko [2001]

To save Gretchen, Donnie has to give up his own life. But with time spinning around like a psychotic 4-year-old he has to do it before she ever actually meets him.

So she never knows what he does for her.

And finally …

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight [2008]

Gotham needs its hero, but Batman will have to be that hero without any recognition. Worse, he’ll be hated and feared by the people he’s helping. He knows this, and he goes ahead and does it anyway.

I love this last one. It kind of makes Jesus’ constant demands to be revered and worshipped seem a little pathetic, doesn’t it?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!

Today we’re sending a message that we will not be intimidated. Today, everybody draws Mohammed!

The lunatic fringes of the Muslim faith want to claim that images of their prophet are off-limits. And they will enforce this edict with threats of violence.

Screw that.

I don’t care if images of your prophet are sacred.

Mohammed Likes Portello

Yes, this is about disrespect. And if it offends you, that’s fine. You’re allowed to be offended.

I’m constantly offended by the influence of religion on our government and our culture.

But this is about something more important than respect.

This is about meeting threats by violent fanatics with what they deserve … mockery and laughter.

Friday, 2 April 2010

And A Very Good Friday To You

Good FridayWelcome to Good Friday, in which Christians worldwide gather in their places of worship to celebrate the torture and killing of an ancient Jewish Rabbi.

(Why that’s apparently “good” is anyone’s guess).

This year they seem to be in a bit of a lather though, with a number of ministers using the platform to take pot-shots at those pesky atheists.

Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen declared Atheism to be a form of idolatry (to what, I wonder?) and made this astonishingly stupid statement:

“[Atheism is] about our determination as human beings to have our own way, to make our own rules, to live our own lives, unfettered by the rule of God and the right of God to rule over us.”

… which is so patently ridiculous it’s not even wrong.

The statement can’t even claim to possess meaning unless Jensen can demonstrate that this “God” he’s talking about actually exists.

Then he said:

“… we are not dealing here with cool philosophy up against faith without a brain.”

Actually, I think we are. But that’s not even the point.

Atheism is no threat to anyone’s faith. I’ve never met an atheist who wants to ban religion or force everyone to worship Saint Dawkins.

But atheism is a direct threat to the assumed authority of the clergy and, by extension, a huge threat to the political and financial power of the church.

I suspect that might be Jensen’s real concern.

Faith and Reason

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Advertising Atheism

AtheistFollowing its debut in London, we’ve had a number of successful (if low-key) Atheist bus campaigns around the world.

The recent Rise of Atheism convention got me thinking … how we can keep the momentum going?

How do we engage the proverbial man-on-the-street with the ideas of Atheism? After all, religion is so pervasive in our society.

Sometimes it seems that no-one thinks twice about a man in a dress doling out flesh cookies to kneeling acolytes. But suggesting that this Jesus character and his cosmic Dad might not be real?

That’s just weird. Apparently.

Religion has been so successful in engaging the public because they elevate emotion above facts.

Demanding actual demonstrable truth hamstrings us from the get-go. It would be so much easier if, like religion, we could simply make shit up.

So let’s leave aside the anti-theological academics. Let’s advertise the positive emotions associated with Atheism.

One of the slogans originally planned for the Australian bus campaign was this:

Atheism. Sleep in on Sundays.

That’s along the right kind of lines.

What about this:

Atheism. Genuine Freedom.

Or this:

Atheism. Surely you don’t want to spend eternity with Christians?

So what do we think? Any other ideas for snappy slogans?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Me and a Bunch of Celebrity Heathens

In addition to all the wonderful and thought-provoking talks at this weekend’s convention, there was the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of celebrities.

Now when I say “celebrities”, I’m obviously not talking about Paris Hilton or Robert Pattinson.

I’m talking about actual people who are actually famous because they actually have something worthwhile and interesting to say.

And so I, wishing to bask in their reflected glory, wandered around and got myself photographed with them.


The very charming Catherine Deveny.Catherine Deveny

The lovely Jane Caro with The Chaser’s Julian Morrow.Jane Caro and Julian Morrow

The hilarious Lawrence Leung. (This was actually following a discussion on the finer points of Rubik’s Cube solutions).Lawrence Leung

The other Chaser in the room, Mr. Craig Reucassel.Craig Reucassel

The man I was most keen to meet, the legendary PZ Myers.PZ Myers 

 A man whom I’m convinced can make me smarter just by being in the same room, philosopher and awesome hair model A.C. Grayling.AC Grayling


The truly excellent and also none-too-shabby hair model Steve, aka NonStampCollector. (Check out his videos. They’re ace.)NonStampCollector


And finally, the one and only Sean the Blogonaut.Sean the Blogonaut

There were one or two others I sadly didn’t get a chance to meet, like Dan Barker and that strident UK biologist whose name escapes me.

Still, that’s a pretty good collection of happy snaps.

Oh, and many thanks to Jasmine (aka @purplefae) for doing the snapping!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Global Atheist Convention 2010

The Rise of Atheism The dust is settling after Australia’s biggest ever gathering of atheists and the godless delegates are making their godless way home.

The convention was a great opportunity to meet a bunch of people I’ve only known via Twitter and Facebook. It’s wonderful having conversations not restricted to 140 characters at a time.

Organisers managed to avoid divine wrath (and, as Sue-Ann Post said, dodged a PR bullet by not being scheduled during last week’s apocalyptic storm). Protests were limited to a couple of ragged creationists out the front complaining that Dawkins won’t debate them.

It’s like complaining that Michael Schumacher refuses to race against The Wiggles in their Big Red Car.

Media coverage this morning ranged from the excellent and informative (in The Australian) to the snippy and biased (Barney Zwartz in The Age … why do they get him to write this stuff?), and if you’re keen for a blow-by-blow you can check out the #atheistcon hashtag on Twitter.

Highlights for me were Taslima Nasrin’s incredibly moving story about her exile from India when her government decided the rights of Muslim extremists mattered more than her freedom of speech.

Also great were PZ Myers on the inevitable conflicts between science and religion, and Dan Barker talking about his move from evangelical Christian preacher to prominent atheist activist.

All in all a fabulous time was had by all. And me, I’m taking away a definite mood of optimism for a bright and secular future.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Austraya Day

Ah, Australia Day 2010.

Lest we forget that day 222 years ago when the British took ownership of Australia’s east coast and decided it was a good place for a prison.

ThongsOf course we’ve moved beyond that (to a certain extent) and now we celebrate our national day by going to the beach, having afternoon barbecues and studiously avoiding domestic beer.

The other favourite activity (for me, at least) is being embarrassed by ostentatious displays of nationalistic pride, particularly as the past few years have a seen a resurgence of the patriotic bogan.

You know, the ones that think “Australian” is some sort of tribal name, wield the flag like gang colours and proudly display a “Fuck Off We’re Full” sticker on their Holden ute.

TattooWho doesn’t cringe inside when they see a cartoonish representation of the Southern Cross emblazoned across the torso of a guy for whom it was clearly a toss-up between that and a naked chick wrapped around a dagger?

Having said that, it’s better that the Australian-flag-under-torn-skin motif.

So on this day, let’s be cautious about our national face becoming one of hostility rather than welcome.

But let’s also remember that Australia is all about diversity.

And that even includes the dickheads who think it isn’t.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A quick plug for Celebrity Dead Pool 2010

2010DeadPoolTemp It’s a bit late, but nominations for Celebrity Dead Pool 2010 are now open!

This is the ever-so-much-fun game where you nominate a list of 10 celebrities you predict (or hope) will die in 2010, and then watch the obituaries expectantly for the next 12 months.

Does that sound like fun? Yes it does!

All the details you need are here, and if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out last year’s nominations here.

Don’t delay! Send in your nominations now for some groovy ghoulish fun.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Blasphemy Matters

Atheist A few months ago the Irish Government passed a law making blasphemy illegal and blasphemers liable for a fine of €25,000.

The law officially went live on January 1, and Atheist Ireland have come out of the gate swinging, publishing a list of their favourite 25 blasphemous quotes.

Fun fact: the first two quotes on the list are by Jesus Christ himself.

Let’s be clear about this … protecting the right to blaspheme is not about protecting atheists’ right to poke the bear and make fun of religion.

The point is that free speech is sacred; so much more sacred than any religion.

And what’s more, the right to blaspheme is a cornerstone of freedom of religion. It protects religious believers.

All you Christians … don’t you realise that proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah is a blasphemy against Judaism?

All you Muslims, don’t you realise that elevating Muhammad above Jesus is a blasphemy against Christianity?

And Scientologists, don’t you know that L.Ron’s stories are a blasphemy against all the truly great science fiction writers out there?

Blasphemy is important. Blasphemy matters.

And this law needs to be repealed. Now.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The End is Nigh

Not in any apocalyptic sense.

We are, however, approaching that magical but arbitrary point at which we add one to the “year” meter and spin the “months” counter back to the start.

This time around we’re even adding 1 to the “decades” meter, but this doesn’t seem to mean much more than a bunch of navel-gazing “best of the decade” articles popping up in the old dead-tree media. (Kid A was the best album? Really?)

While that’s all very well, the math nerds among us prefer the Mayan calendar, based as it is on the highest common multiple of various astronomical cycles. That bad boy ticks over every 394 years or so, with the 13th cycle ending on … December 21, 2012. (#insert creepy organ hit, preferably a minor chord.)

Of course this rollover of the Mayan calendar is no more likely to herald the end of the world than our equally-arbitrary “event” of 12am on January 1, regardless of what Roland Emmerich may tell you.

But the end of the world notwithstanding, the start of a fresh calendar is a cause for celebration. We’re starting a fresh page. Turning over a new leaf.

All the celebration is probably a throwback to ancient times when it wasn’t clear that the world wasn’t ending, but of course we’ve moved beyond that (haven’t we Roland?).

As a culture we’ve replaced begging for a divine hand to once again raise the sun, with drinking too much and making resolutions we’ll invariably fail to keep. That’s progress, I guess.

Which brings us to my new years’ resolution. It is to never again leave more than a month between blogs.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Read the goddamn slogan, guys!

As a follow-up to their successful “There’s probably no god” campaign, the British Humanist Association has been busily putting these posters up all over the UK:

Please Don't Label MeIt’s a call to cease the indoctrination of children, and something that should be applauded. What’s more, you’ll notice that “atheist child”, “agnostic child” and “humanist child” all appear on the poster as inappropriate labels.

But in an amusing twist, some commentators on the pro-indoctrination team (such as neo-charismatic Gerald Coates) have gleefully pointed out that the kids in the advertisement are Evangelical Christians!

While this is just a moronic comment on one level (in other news, the girls in the Tampax ads aren’t really menstruating as they ride horses and frolic on the beach), it shows a much much deeper level of stupidity, or wilful obtuseness, on the part of people like Coates.

Way to spectacularly miss the point, guys.

Just let me get this straight … are you saying that … it’s a mistake to use these children because they’re … what’s the label you’re applying? … Evangelical Christians?


Friday, 20 November 2009

Calling All Literalists

Atheist Religion seems to be on the minds of some of our politicians, and for once it’s something other than dog-whistling for easy conservative votes.

Last week Coalition leader-in-waiting Joe Hockey made a speech to the Sydney Institute about the evils of religious ‘literalism’, and this week senator Nick Xenophon called Scientology a ‘criminal organisation’ that should have its tax-exempt status revoked. (I agree, but why stop at Scientology?)

I’d like to think it’s because the increasingly vocal atheist community is getting noticed as a potential vote-winner … but sadly, ‘tis not the case.

Hockey has no time for atheists, despite taking the same line as Dawkins on fundamentalists. The interesting thing though, is that he has no time for theists either.

Hockey wants to promote a kind of touchy-feely deism, where scriptures can be accepted or ignored as you like and God doesn’t intervene in the world in any meaningful fashion.

Sounds a lot like atheism doesn’t it?

It strikes me that that’s what moderates like Hockey effectively are. They just choose to eschew the label.

Why? Maybe it’s the desire to distance themselves from the Dawkinses and Hitchenses of the movement. Or maybe it’s the inexplicable desire to continue considering the bible a source of meaning and purpose.

Either way, I’d like to see more moderates calling out the literalists in their midst. But I can understand why many don’t.

After all, to remove the literalists from Christianity is to remove the movement’s core support base.

Without those who consider God an extant interventionist force, and the political and financial clout they bring with them, Christianity would be just another school of philosophy.

And not a particularly interesting one.