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.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Carl Sagan Remembered and Remixed

I’m a couple of days late, but Monday was the birthday of the late, great Carl Sagan … one of the greatest science communicators the world has ever seen.

Sagan’s wonder at the beauty and majesty of the natural world was a wonderful antidote to those would proclaim that science is just a dry, dead discipline.

Most importantly, Sagan showed us that a sense of transcendence doesn’t require us to conjure gods and demons.

The universe is wonderful enough.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Scientology: Damaged Brand

One wonders what the Senior Worshippers of Xenu must be thinking.

Scientology With the French branch of Scientology being charged with fraud and a recent high-profile celebrity departure, the name Scientology has more than a few unsavoury associations.

Maybe that’s why they’re moving away from using it.

The streetside “Free Stress Tests” have always been conspicuously missing any reference to Mr Hubbard’s little cult, but now even their advertising literature is being edited.

Exhibit A: the leaflet for Narconon Melbourne I found in my letterbox this afternoon.


Narconon is a branch of the Church of Scientology, not that you’d know that by looking at the leaflet.

After all, it’s so friendly and generic! “Get off drugs naturally” … “overcoming addiction for good” …

“Banish your engrams and realise your true thetan self”.

No, wait. That’s what it doesn’t say. Maybe you have to complete a few more levels before you get to that.

Even the small print refers to “The Association for Better Living & Education”. How lovely.

The websites for ABLE and the google-baiting getoffdrugs.com.au don’t leave you any the wiser, unless you happen to recognise some of the celebrity supporters.

So what’s going on? Has Scientology always been like this? Or has their brand damage reached the point where they’ve decided to quietly abandon it?

Maybe they should do what some of our other “more respectable” religions have done: start a crusade, kill the heretics and take over the government somewhere.

At the very least, it should get them some tax breaks in Europe.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween and Houdini

Believe it or not, one of the best moments of the annual Skeptic calendar is a séance held on Halloween night.

houdinistamp Why? Because it was Halloween 1926 when Erik Weiss, better known to the world as Harry Houdini, died of a ruptured appendix. And every year since, we have tried to contact his spirit.

Not that Houdini believed in this sort of thing, of course. He spent much of the 1920’s debunking the mediums and spiritualists who were rampant at the time.

And that’s the whole point of the séance.

Before Houdini died he gave a secret message to his wife Bess which his spirit, if it were able, would repeat back to her after his death.

For ten years after Houdini died, Bess held a séance every Halloween to contact Harry and attempt to recover the message. But he never showed up.

In 1936 Bess declared the challenge fruitless and concluded that contacting spirits of the dead is impossible.

And right there, Houdini had managed to continue his debunking activities from beyond the grave.

Seventy years on the tradition continues.

He still hasn’t made an appearance, but every Halloween the Houdini museum in Scranton Pennsylvania conducts its annual séance.

This year the JREF is getting in on the act too, with a séance hosted by the great Randi himself.

If Houdini is going to pop back for a chat with anyone, it’d surely be Randi. So maybe this is the year. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 30 October 2009


A few weeks ago the main shopping strip of Yarraville was set upon by a mob of evangelical Christians. (What is the right collective noun for them? A faith? A pride?)

It was Potter's House, that most evangelical of the evangelicals.

In my home town they were notorious for restaging the crucifixion every Easter, with a dude in a crown of thorns carrying a cross down the main street.

And here we had a guy screeching unintelligibly into a megaphone. I was reminded of I Kings 19:12 where the Lord app>>>[ WARNING ::: DATABASE ERROR ::: CONTENT OVERRIDE ::: SOURCE: EXTERNAL ]<<<

> source terminal location: UNKNOWN

> source terminal identity: UNAVAILABLE

> source login information: ENCRYPTED

> message begins

the post you are now reading is designed to dull your senses to THE TRUTH.  do not live the life of the worker bee, the cog, the well-oiled piston in the MACHINE OF DECEIT!

k2_avatar there is a grand CONSPIRACY afoot.  you have been taught to believe that you are UNIQUE, one of a kind. THIS IS NOT TRUE. long ago, a cabal of scientists created technologies to ensure that ANYONE’S MIND AND BODY can be duplicated.

human cloning isn’t NEAR. it’s already HERE. discover the truth at http://JCHutchins.net

you are being DECEIVED. break free from the cogs, flee the hive, become A PROPHET OF THE TRUTH!

kilroy2.0 was here … kilroy2.0 is everywhere

>>> [ CONTENT OVERRIDE CEASES ::: DATABASE STATUS: RECOVERING ] <<<n a still, small voice as I take their flyer ... “it's not real. None of this is real.”

Maybe if the voice is small enough and still enough, one of them will listen.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Wrath of DDoS

The Rise of AtheismLast night the AFA’s Rise of Atheism website came under a denial of service attack.

When I last checked (two minutes ago) it was still down.

I feel I should be annoyed by this, but I’m not, and here’s why.

First, it’s given a whole bunch of free publicity to the Rise of Atheism conference (and please note that tickets can still be purchased here).

Second, it illustrates nicely the intellectual poverty of the enemies of freethinking and secularism.

Every religion is based on a tissue of myth and superstition, which falls to pieces when exposed to the light of reason. There’s no rational argument a believer can offer an atheist by which they might see the ‘error’ of their ways.

So given this evident truth, what are the committed theocrats to do?

The best, in fact the only, possible way to battle the advance of secularism is to intimidate, to silence, to attempt to shut it down.

They have no choice. If they didn’t do things like this, the power of religion in the world would quickly fade.

After all, reality has a well-known secular bias.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hey Hey Let’s Not Overreact

I wasn’t going to weigh into this debate, but here goes.

Let’s get one thing very clear: a white person putting on make-up and pretending to be a black person is not inherently offensive.

This may seem obvious, but I have a feeling that this ridiculous Jackson Jive skit is going to cause some to disagree with that.

Let’s take a recent example: a few weeks ago the US series Mad Men had one of their white characters perform a minstrel show to an amused garden party.

Far from being offended, The New York Times (that bastion of liberal politics) hailed it as one of the best episodes of the series. So what’s the difference?

Simple. The Mad Men episode was relevant, poignant, funny and meant something.

The Jackson Jive skit? It wasn’t funny and it meant nothing.

It may have been a sad indictment on the state of Australian television but it said nothing about racism in Australia. If you want to find evidence of that just google “stolen generations” or “Cronulla riots”.

The point is that any reference to old American blackface shows in the Jackson Jive skit is a projection on the part of Americans. The performers weren’t aware of it.

Should they have been aware of it? Maybe. But maybe they’re just not as steeped in American culture as some of their detractors. That’s hardly a crime.

The people who should have known better were the producers of the show.

What the hell were they thinking getting Harry Connick Jr, not just an American but a white southern gentleman, to judge this thing? Did it not occur to them that he might be offended?

What next? Getting Cat Stevens to judge a pork-pie-eating contest?

No wonder it went viral. US cultural sensitivity around this stuff is running hot right now. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

What I’m worried about is this falling over into knee-jerk censorship, whereby any white actor in black make-up is automatically deemed censurable.

That would be a bad reaction.

Worse, it would mean we were giving trash like Hey Hey it’s Saturday an influence that it just doesn’t deserve.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Invention of Religion

Ricky Gervais Ricky Gervais’ new movie The Invention of Lying opened in the US and UK last week.

Centred around a world where no-one lies, the man who discovers lying is king. And Gervais takes it to its logical conclusion and has his protagonist invent religion.

Sadly we’ll have to wait another month to see it here in Australia, but if the outrage it’s generating in the religious press is anything to go by, it should be a blast.

This petulant rant by one Marc T. Newman is typical of the response it’s getting.

While I doubt that many people will ultimately see the film, those who do will be struck by a very significant question: What if the existence of God is a lie? Despite the conclusions offered by the film, people must wrestle with the question on their own. But it is interesting that The Invention of Lying cannot even consistently commit to its own argument.

Newman’s argument is simply that the underlying morality of the film is meaningless without God, and therefore it’s contradictory.

If there really is no transcendent order imposed by God on human behavior, if there is no coming judgment where all will give account for their actions, then morality is nothing more than a fiction created by the powerful within a culture.

That’s right kids, without the man in the sky wielding a big stick we’d all be raping and killing each other. This attitude would be amusing if it weren’t so irritatingly common.

If anything, this article illustrates Gervais’ point beautifully. The movie is about the possibility that religion is just an elaborate hoax. You’d have to admit that’s at least plausible. And this weak little defence is the best Newman can offer? That’s telling, is it not?

The thing is that Newman, like so many of his brethren, is utterly unwilling to consider the possibility that his religion is a sham.

His worldview is so wrapped up with the core assumption that there’s an externally-imposed morality that to suggest any other possibility is to tear the very soul from his universe.

No wonder these guys find evolution so scary. After all, it can be easily used to show that morality comes from within, not from without.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

In Which Bill O’Reilly is a Douchebag

Apparently Bill O’Reilly thinks teaching science is science classes is fascism. Wait. What?

Dawkins makes some great points in this interview, but people not already on team Dawkins probably wouldn’t come away with any changed opinions.

The problem is a mismatch of styles. O’Reilly fights dirty. In pub-brawl terms O’Reilly’s the guy wielding a smashed bottle and ready to kick his opponent in the nuts.

Dawkins’ refined and rational debating style just doesn’t fit. There’s no reasoning with someone like that.

We need to get street fighting debaters like Christopher Hitchens or PZ Myers in there to smack O’Reilly down.

Opinions still wouldn’t be changed, but they’d do him over a treat.

Friday, 9 October 2009

5 Terrible Arguments For Christianity

AtheistWhen discussing the merits of the Christian religion with Christians, the same arguments tend to come up again and again.

I’ve gathered here a few choice selections. Please feel free to offer any others you may think of in the comments.

1. Pascal's Wager

Indicative quote: “If a Christian is wrong about atheism they lose nothing, but if an atheist is wrong about Christianity they lose everything!”

Quite apart from its vaguely threatening tone, this is just a mess of logical fallacies. First, it’s a blatant appeal to consequences.

Second, it’s a false dichotomy. The wager implies that Christianity and Atheism are the only two possible choices. What about all those other thousands of religions?

If this argument were to be applied consistently then the “best” religion, and the one we should all follow, would be the religion that offers the best reward.

On that basis, I reckon Islam's 72 virgins would give Christianity's puritanical “heaven” a run for its money.

2. Playing the Numbers

Indicative quote: “So many people believe it! It must be true!”

This one is obviously trivial but I thought it was worth a mention, mainly because it’s particularly amusing when offered in support of Christianity.

While Christianity just scrapes in front of Islam as the religion with the most adherents, you have to combine everything from Greek Orthodoxy to Mormonism under the one banner to do it.

The appropriate response to this argument is therefore: “so many people believe ... what exactly?”.

3. Anything from the bible

Indicative quote: Anything from the bible.

Here’s the thing. No-one, except someone who already believes in the bible, accepts it as any kind of authority. So using the bible to justify the bible is the worst kind of circular reasoning.

It’s like using the Star Wars movies to justify the existence of Darth Vader. Or Hayden Christensen’s acting ability.

4. The Incoherence of Atheism

Indicative quote: “Atheism is incoherent / illogical / silly / inconsistent.”

This one is my favourite. It’s a lovely attempt to simply cut atheism off at the knees and give the arguer a pass to ignore anything an atheist says.

It’s a little subtle, but the basic argument goes like this:

Atheists believe in purely material things, but logic itself is immaterial. Logic exists therefore atheism is wrong and Jesus really was born to a virgin and came back from the dead and will be returning to the earth soon.

Sorry, which was the incoherent argument again?

5. “Evidence”

Indicative quote: “It's a miracle! It must have been God that healed me / produced this bacterial flagellum / put the image of Mary in this cream bun.”

This is the big one, and it covers a multitude of sins.

Back in the day we had medieval pieces of the “true cross” and the Shroud of Turin to gull the peasants. Now we're a bit more sophisticated with claims of the healing power of prayer and intelligent design.

It’s all the same, though. It’s still just cobbled-together chicanery and sleight-of-hand, none of which has ever stood up to serious investigation.

An interesting subset of “evidence” is the eyewitness account, which is a very important part of Christian lore.

Two of my favourites are this nasty little urban legend (which I once heard preached from the pulpit as if it were a true inspiring story) and the assertion that hundreds of people saw Christ after his resurrection, so it must be true.

This latter argument just shows an inability to tell the difference between characters in a story and real people, but when you get right down to it, isn't that the very essence of Christianity?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Rise of Atheism

The Rise of AtheismTickets for the 2010 Global Atheist Convention aka The Rise of Atheism, are now on sale!

Get your tickets here, and along with them your chance to meet Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Catherine Deveny, Philip Adams, Peter Singer, Robyn Williams and … me!

(I’ll just be hanging around being a fanboy, but still … come up and say hi!)

In an early shot at media coverage, religion columnist Barney Zwartz had a snippy little piece in today's Age, announcing the convention and referring to Dawkins as the “high priest of atheism”.

Barney was clearly less-than-impressed at having to write the story in the first place and was trying to be clever. Unfortunately (for him) he just came across as a grumpy old man in a cardigan unable to see the world beyond his self-imposed religious filter.

Referring to Dawkins as a “high priest” comes from the same school of thought that gave us “atheism is just another religion” and “science can't answer all questions about life therefore this wafer turns into Jesus flesh when the man in the dress spits on it”.

Still, a plug is a plug.

Get your tickets now!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Shock: Kirk Cameron Promotes Darwin

Has ex-teen-idol-turned-evangelist Kirk Cameron gone mad?

He and his fellow Christians are going to hand out free copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species!

The stupid burns brightly in this one. I’ve picked out a few choice sections just in case you can’t be bothered watching the whole thing.

Kirk starts with a lament about the loss of religious freedom.

Our kids can no longer pray in public. They can no longer freely open a bible in school. The ten commandments are no longer allowed to be displayed in public places, and the Gideons are not even allowed to give away bibles in schools.

You’ve gotta love the way he comes bursting out of the gate with four out-and-out lies in the first 22 seconds

Kirk, take it from me. Your kids can pray in public all they like. They can read their bibles in school if they want to. You are free to display the ten commandments on public property (just not government property), and the Gideons have only been stopped from distributing bibles in public schools during class time … because that’s, you know, unconstitutional. Remember your precious Constitution?

Kirk continues:

Did you know that a recent study revealed that in the top 50 universities in our country in the fields of psychology and biology, 61% of the professors described themselves as atheists or agnostics.

Obviously including academics from other fields would have reduced the number to something less shocking. But still … only 61%? That’s not that much.

You have to love his next piece of logic, though.

No wonder atheism has doubled in the last 20 years among 19 to 25 year-olds.

That’s right, because 50% of the 19 to 25-year-olds now professing atheism attended the 61% of psychology and biology classes taught by atheists and agnostics. And that’s what turned them.

Then we get to the point. Kirk lays out his plan to distribute 50,000 copies of On the Origin of Species at these universities … featuring an all-new introduction by his friend Ray Comfort The Banana Guy!

Apparently this introduction will give the reader …

… the history of evolution, a timeline of Darwin's life, Adolf Hitler's undeniable connection with the theory, Darwin's racism, his disdain for women, and Darwin's thoughts on the existence of God.

Wow. I really hope I can get a copy. It should be hilarious.

Presumably the Hitler thing has been put in for shock value, but the bits about racism and disdain for women particularly tickled me. Is Kirk unaware of his church’s stellar record in these areas?

It also lists the theory's many hoaxes. It exposes the unscientific belief that nothing created everything. It points to the incredible structure of DNA, and the absence of any species-to-species transitional forms actually found in the fossil record.

I can guess what the hoaxes will be. Comfort will trot out Piltdown man and Archaeoraptor, all the while ignoring the fact that these have no bearing on modern evolutionary theory and besides, were exposed as hoaxes by scientists, not creationists.

The remark that “nothing created everything” means Kirk ignorantly conflates “Big Bang” Theory with evolutionary biology (while misunderstanding both) and his claim of no transitional forms betrays the fact that he’s never read past his mate Ray’s 50-page introduction.

Before signing off Kirk gives a rallying cry to the faithful.

Go there as a team and get the gospel into the hands of this generation, the hands of future doctors, lawyers and politicians.

Hang on. Doctors, lawyers and politicians? I thought Kirk was worried about the biologists and psychologists. So why them? It must be important. He lists them twice.

Surely this isn’t just a thinly-veiled promotion of evangelical Christian politics? An attempt to get converts who can influence the issues of abortion, liberal court appointments and church/state separation?

Say it ain’t so!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Why is Socialized Health Care Evil?

The health care debate in the US seems to be never-ending.

On one side we have Republicans loudly remonstrating against the evils of socialized medicine (US spelling deliberate), even though that's not what's being proposed. And on the other side we have the Democrats struggling just to articulate just what it is they're proposing.

While everyone seems to agree that the system is broken, no-one can agree on how to fix it.

The model proposed by Obama, which includes a “public option” of government-run health care to compete with the private insurance companies, seems sensible, so what is the Republicans' problem with it?

According to conservative journalist and Republican poster-boy Matthew Continetti it's because the public option is a slippery slope to socialized health care. This statement (made on last week's Real Time with Bill Maher) was left unquestioned, as if it's perfectly obvious that 'socialized health care' is a Bad Thing.

My question for US Republicans is this: why is this so? Apart from Cold War-derived cultural distaste for the word “socialized”, what's your justification for this view?

In the US you already have so many socialized institutions: defence force, police force … even your beloved fire-fighters.

These services are socialized because the benefits they provide are a group insurance against future events. It's not practical to price these services on an individual basis. No individual can assign a meaningful probability to whether, or to what extent, they will need to call on these services.

Education is also largely socialized because, like these other services, the advantage is not just realised by those who directly utilise it. Everyone benefits from an educated populace, just as everyone benefits from a defended country and safe streets.

So tell me please, all you US Republicans … why is health care any different?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Celebrity Dead Pool Has Moved!

After two years of sharing the stage here at I Like Portello, the time has come.

The Celebrity Dead Pool is all grown up and is moving on out.

Celebrity Dead PoolA shiny new blog (featuring custom design by an internationally-famous designer known as My Lovely Wife) has been set up over at Celebrity Dead Pool.

It’s a place where the Dead Pool can grow and mature, frolic and play, and have girls over far from the watchful eyes of its grumpy parent blog.

All previous Celebrity Dead Pool posts have been moved over and what’s more, instead of just monthly updates, I’ll be providing so much more! Obituaries of the recently deceased! Ruminations on the mortality of man! And …

Well, that’s pretty much it. You know the drill. Check it out. Add it to your feeds. Subscribe.

Go on. It’ll be fun. Promise.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Area Illusionist Plays With Numbers, Viewers

A few days ago illusionist Derren Brown announced he was going to predict the results of the UK national lottery.

Here’s how it went down.


When the explanation came out for how it was supposedly done, it was laughably silly.

Brown claims he had a panel of 24 people write down their predictions, and he took the average. It’s the “wisdom of the crowd” theory, don’t you know.

Like all good scams there’s an element of truth to it. This “wisdom of the crowd” idea is real.

If you have a group of people guess (for example) a person’s age or the size of an object, then the average of the crowd’s guesses tends to be reasonably accurate. And the more people in the crowd the better it is.

Here’s why that won’t work for lottery numbers: the crowd can see the person or the object about which they’re guessing. And a person’s age and an object’s size are not random numbers generated after the guesses were made.

The lottery is random. Random guesses are random. The average of random guesses is still random.

If this method worked then you’d be able to pick the winning number each week by looking at previous results. There are any number of “systems” already based on this idea, for which any number of scammers will happily relieve you of your money. And none of them work.

So what does this mean? Not much. It means that Brown’s a clever illusionist and this was a clever illusion. And it means he hasn’t really revealed how he did it.

What he has done is create a market for scammers to take advantage of gullible people, by selling them number sets supposedly generated using this method. Expect to see those appearing in your spam filter very soon.

But I’ve got a better idea. Brown has apparently been told he’s not allowed to play the lottery anymore. If that’s true, and if he really thinks he can do this, then I’ll personally submit his next ticket for the modest fee of $100,000.

How about it, Derren?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Misunderstanding Atheism

Atheist Moderators of religiously-themes blogs are notorious for filtering dissent or discussion.

It’s hardly surprising. Rational discussion is the natural enemy of religion as theological arguments tend to crumble and fade away in its presence.

Case in point: voluble Christbot Bill Muehlenberg at Christianity Today. He had a little rant the other day about all those annoying atheists and that awful Catherine Deveny (particularly this article) and won’t they just leave us alone and anyway atheism makes no sense because how can you hate something that you think doesn’t exist.


I submitted a comment which (surprise surprise) wasn’t published, but I’ve learned to keep copies of such things.

Mr Muehlenberg, you got so close to indicating an understanding of the atheist's position a few times, before veering off. Let me show you a couple of turns you missed.

"They do this of course for at least two reasons: to discount the overwhelming longing for transcendence found among mankind, and to discredit those who are believers."

The first ... no. Simply not true. No atheist is interested in discounting the longing for transcendence. They merely point out that our modern religions provide a very poor imitation of it. Your second point is closer to the mark, but you show a lack of understanding of this with this later argument:

"They spend large hunks of their adult lives getting all hot and bothered about someone they claim does not exist."

Wrong. They get hot and bothered about the claims of believers and the things believers do in the name of someone that does not exist.

The closest you get to actual insight in your article was this:

"Indeed, in a totally materialistic world, our genes end up explaining – and causing – everything we do, believe or value. We are simply the product of our genes."

It's a little over-simplified, but pretty close to the mark. What exactly is your problem with this position? Any serious argument against atheism needs to address why this isn't the case, and yet you just threw it out there as if it is self-evidently wrong.

Let me ask you this, Mr Muehlenberg ... what evidence do you have that this statement is not true?

I may be waiting some time for a response.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Dead Pool 2009 – August Update

Celebrity Dead Pool now has its own blog!
Find it at Celebrity Dead Pool 

Once again I’m very late with the monthly update and once again I have no excuses. I throw myself upon the mercy of the internet.

John HughesOn the 6th we bid a very fond farewell to cinema legend John Hughes. Passing away aged just 59, Hughes brought us the legendary Ferris Bueller and showed us just how pretty Molly Ringwald could look in pink (reasonably pretty, it turns out).

And of course Home Alone. But we forgive him for that last one.

Les Paul On the 13th music technology pioneer Les Paul passed away at the very respectable age of 94. He leaves behind a huge legacy including  multitrack recording, the famous Gibson guitar and well-earned 6 points for Debbie who had the foresight to tip him.

The 15th saw the death of nuclear physicist Louis Rosen, the “father” of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center and one of pioneers of particle accelerator technology. That’s the second time I’ve used the word “pioneer”. Think I can go for three?

Edward Goldsmith On the 21st we lost Edward Goldsmith, a professional hippy and founder of the British Green party. An environmentalist long before it was fashionable we have Goldsmith to thank for the idea of the self-sustaining biosphere and therefore (in a sense) the movie Biodome. But we choose not to hold that against him.

Also on the 21st Dean Turner, bass player of Geelong rock band Magic Dirt, died of a rare form of tissue cancer at the age of 37.

Ted Kennedy The 25th saw the death of Senator Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy. Unlike his older brothers John and Robert, Ted managed to avoid assassination. Opinions are divided as to whether he achieved much else. Hmmm. Too soon?

Finally, on the 28th we farewelled Adam Goldstein, a.k.a DJ AM, at the age of 36. While the official cause of death was an overdose of pain medication, speculation is rife that it was suicide. We eagerly wait the numerous albums he apparently had in the can prior to his death à la 2Pac and Michael Jackson.

And that’s it for August. As mention, 6 points are awarded to Debbie for the prescient tip of the late, great Les Paul.

The scoreboard looks like this …

Ty 64
Benn 64
Eliza 50
Rob 50
Russell 50
Debbie 6

… and we’ll see you all next month!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Australia and New Zealand Atheists Blogroll

Atheist Astute readers may have noticed the new blogroll in the right-hand column.

This was put together by Sean the Blogonaut, and offers a convenient one-stop-shop for atheist bloggers in Australia and New Zealand. As such it features some of the best atheism bloggers on the planet … and (in the case of blogs like mine) some amateur windbags with too much time on their hands.

Particular shout-outs go to Podblack, Bastard Sheep, A Drunken Madman, Dave The Happy Singer and OzAtheist, but it’s all good stuff and well worth your time.

One of our main tasks is to promote the next Atheist Global Convention, a.k.a. “The Rise of Atheism”, to be held in Melbourne in 2010.

Guests for the event include Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers along with local heroes Catherine Deveny and Phillip Adams.

It should be a blast. Stay tuned for further details.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

My Universe Is Too Big For Your Little God

Atheist To quote the incomparable Douglas Adams:

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space.

I often hear religious believers expound on the wonders of their faith and how it gives them a sense of transcendence; a sense that there’s something beyond this world and beyond our understanding and beyond and beyond and beyond …

It mystifies me when that kind of transcendence is found in religion.

The gods of our mainstream religions are just so small.

Take the Jewish god. He’s a petty misogynist obsessed with diet, fabrics and personal hygiene.

The Christian god (thought to be the same guy once he’d become a father and calmed down a bit) wants his followers to ritually cleanse themselves and demands legal marriage before any rubbing of genitalia can take place.

The Islamic god is also obsessed with sex, calling for adulterers to be stoned and women to cover their bodies lest the men around them fail to control themselves.

Just stop for a minute. Would an omnipotent and omniscient god really be interested in these things?

Look at the stars. Look at the Universe around you. Look at all the wondrous things these gods supposedly created.

We are a vanishingly small island in an unimaginably vast ocean of energies and forces.

Do you really think a being capable of mapping the galaxies cares how many times you wash your hands?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Homeopathic Vaccinations? Oh, Please.

This morning David and Kim (admittedly hardly paragons of scientific virtue) really dropped the ball.

Not only did they give a substantial chunk of air time to Isaac Golden, a “doctor” of homeopathy with some very strange ideas about vaccinating using homeopathy, their resident actual doctor Nikolai Petrovsky completely failed to call Golden on any of the bullshit he was spouting.

Warning: video may induce the urge to hit head on desk.

The video has been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim from Channel Ten, but you can find a transcript here.

At timestamp 4:10 Golden claimed to have a homeopathic treatment for swine flu, and it was actually David who asked the very good question: “What is it? What are the components of it?”

Golden started banging on about the “law of similars” and similar nonsense, and Petrovsky still didn’t call him on it.

All Dr. Petrovsky had to say was “I’ll tell you what the components are David … it’s simple. In fact there’s just the one. Water! That’s it! You could fill your syringe up at the tap and it’d do you just as much good as a homeopathic vaccination. In fact, screw the $400,000 the Cubans apparently paid for their treatments. I’ll do it for $50,000 and a slab.”

But no … all Petrovsky could manage was some lame protests that “vaccines work” before being interrupted by Golden with some hand-waving about a “major scientific paper about to be published”.

Just quietly, I’m not holding my breath for that one.

The real concern here is that viewers watching this piece may have come away thinking that homeopathic vaccination is a viable alternative to genuine vaccination.

I’d like to see a follow-up piece, in which it’s clearly explained that the claims of homeopathic practitioners fly in the face of all known scientific principles, that homeopathy has never been shown to have any effect in a properly controlled double-blinded trial, and most importantly, that homeopathic solutions are indistinguishable from everyday tap water.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Australian Idol Stalls

The once-proud ex-juggernaut Australian Idol has limped to an unimpressive third in Sunday night’s ratings.

But why, I hear you ask? What could possibly put the kaibosh on this most venerable of reality TV staples?

Was it an audience backlash against professional tool Kyle Sandilands and his penchant for questioning 14-year-olds about their sex lives?

Was it the sudden realisation on the part of the audience that in all likelihood it’s going to be just as mediocre as last year?

Or has the audience started to twig that Australian Idol is just a relic of a bygone age?

After all, it’s just a glorified karaoke competition where the prize is a recording contract. And seriously, what’s that worth?

Once upon a time a recording contract was something to be valued. Once upon a time you needed a contract to get the capital to put a record together.

That meant teaming up with a record company and convincing them to stop snorting cocaine off the arses of Thai ladyboys for long enough to help you out.

But the party’s over. The record companies have lost their relevance.

Now any kid with some musical ability and a few hundred bucks for equipment and net access can record and distribute an album worldwide.

The game’s changed. If Idol wants to survive, it needs to change with it.

Of course, that’s probably giving the viewing audience of Australia too much credit.

It probably was Sandilands.

Kyle Sandilands

Friday, 7 August 2009

The AVN: Lies, Lunacy and Conspiracy Theories

The Australian Vaccination Network, despite their name and claims to be “pro-choice”, are a rabid group of anti-vaccination ideologues led by the (possibly well-meaning, possibly evil, definitely misguided) Meryl Dorey.

Spreading lies about the contents of vaccinations and debunked pseudo-science about their supposed effects (for the thousandth time: vaccines don’t cause autism!), recently they’ve gone right off the rails. On the AVN blog last week Meryl re-posted an article with some insane conspiracy theories incorporating Big Pharma, the Illuminati, and a nefarious plot to use vaccinations to infect us all with nanobots.

So that’s why they don’t like vaccinations. Huh. Here was me thinking they just had an aversion to needles.

One would hope this lunacy means they’ll stop being taken seriously by the public at large. It certainly won’t look good on their record now that they’re being investigated by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission for breaches of the Public Health Act of 1993.

We’ll be watching with interest to see how that turns out.

The legendary Dick Smith has also gotten in on the action, taking out a huge ad in yesterday’s Australian to publicly denounce the AVN as the menace to society that they are.

Immunisation Get The Facts

The battle continues, and I suspect it will continue for some time. After all, anti-vaxxers have been around for as long as vaccinations.

We must remain ever vigilant and ensure the correct information gets out there.

Vaccinations save lives. Meryl Dorey and her crowd are spreading lies and misinformation. Left unchecked, lies like this will lead to death and suffering.

These are the simple facts.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Dead Pool 2009 – July Update

Celebrity Dead Pool now has its own blog!
Find it at Celebrity Dead Pool 

My most humble apologies for the very tardy update.

I have no excuses to offer except for the fact that I’ve just had Foxtel installed (that’s cable TV for our American friends) and hence found other ways to spend my time.

But enough with the smug confessions and on with the dead pool update.

Mollie Sugden The month started with a tragic double act on the 1st, with the deaths of actors Mollie “Mrs Slocombe” Sugden and Karl “Lieutenant Mike Stone” Malden.

On the 3rd US author and journalist John Keel died at the age of 79. A noted UFOlogist and author of The Mothman Prophecies, Keel managed to turn an unfortunate case of clinical paranoia into a lucrative writing career.

Walter Cronkite The 17th saw the death of legendary newsreader Walter Cronkite. His mellifluous voice had him cited as the “most trusted man in America”, which makes me think John Howard might have been more trusted if he didn’t sound like such a whiny little shit. Or maybe not.

On the 18th Henry Allingham, just elevated to the position of world’s oldest man last month, passed away at the age of 113. I don’t want to jinx anyone but Walter Breuning, aged 112, takes his place. Good luck, Walter.

Frank McCourt On the 19th famed Irish author Frank McCourt passed away at the age of 78. Author of Angela’s Ashes and 'Tis, McCourt turned his impoverished upbringing into a lucrative writing career. Take note, Keel.

The 21st saw the tragic death of actor Les Lye, best known for playing all the adult characters on classic Canadian kid’s show You Can’t Do That On Television.

Captain PugwashOn the 22nd cartoonist John Ryan, creator of the legendary Captain Pugwash passed away at the age of 88. Sadly those rumours about saucy double-entendres hidden in the character names (Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy) were nothing but urban legend. Dammit.

And finally on the 25th we farewelled Harry Patch, one of the last four surviving World War I veterans and the last to have actually fought in the trenches. Patch was 111.

And that wraps it up for July.

There’s been no further movement on the scoreboard so, as last month, it looks this:

Ty 64
Benn 64
Eliza 50
Rob 50
Russell 50

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Simon and the Skeptics

A few weeks ago I wrote about science journalist Simon Singh and his run-in with the British Chiropractic Association.

Simon’s currently on a tour of Australia as part of the 2009 Festival of Ideas, doing meet-and-greets, promoting his books and talking (in a limited way) about the BCA libel case.

This evening he spoke to the Victorian Skeptics about some of the topics from his book Trick or Treatment, focusing particularly on homeopathy and its somewhat ridiculous underlying theory.

I was hoping that we might get one or two homeopathists or chiropractors popping up for a bit of an argument, but no such luck. It was largely a case of preaching to the converted so it was a very entertaining, but far from controversial, evening.

Having been a huge fan of Simon’s for years (ever since The Code Book and Fermat’s Last Theorem … I’m such a maths nerd), after the talk I bucked up the fanboy courage for a quick chat.

I can’t remember what we talked about (fanboy, remember?) but it did happen. I’ve got the photo to prove it.

Alpha Nerd and Beta Nerd Simon’s the one with the cool haircut.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Your Cut-Out-And-Keep Guide to Agnostic Atheism

Atheist Yesterday over lunch with some immediate and extended family, the topic of religion came up. I confess I may have been the instigator in this case.

Over the course of the discussion the comment was made that atheists (particularly that awful Richard Dawkins character) can’t really call themselves “atheists”, because you can’t prove there isn’t a God.

This is a very common view and in fact, probably the single most common “refutation” of atheism out there.

Unfortunately it’s a nonsensical argument, based as it is on the erroneous conflation of atheism with philosophical materialism.

Most atheists don’t claim definitively that there is no God. This is particularly true of someone like Dawkins who, as a scientist, values empirical knowledge. That kind of absolutism just doesn’t wash under his philosophy.

In precise terms Dawkins (and I would include myself in this camp too) is what you might call an agnostic atheist.

This is of course harking back to the original definition of agnosticism, being the acceptance that certain things, particularly the metaphysical, are inherently unknowable.

One’s position on agnosticism is completely separate from what one happens to believe about the metaphysical. It should be clear that agnosticism and atheism are no more mutually exclusive than agnosticism and theism.

To illustrate the point I would like to propose the following simple numbering system:

TheGridGroup 1 is where you’ll find most religious believers, as it includes anyone who claims God is both knowable and known (usually just by them).

Group 2 houses your scientifically-minded theists and pretty much anyone who studies the philosophy of religion and somehow manages to remain a believer.

Group 2 is significantly less populous than Group 1 and a constant source of irritation to Group 3 (where you’ll find the vast majority of atheists) because it’s often trotted out in defence of religion under the pretence that that’s where most believers sit.

They don’t.

Finally Group 4 (containing your hardcore philosophical materialists) is largely empty. And because there’s hardly anyone in there, trying to refute atheism by targeting this lot is a bit like trying to kill a lion by clipping its toenails.

I respectfully request that all future religious discussions clearly indicate which of these four groups is being discussed.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Religion is Immoral

Atheist When I see stories like this I'm reminded why I reject the notion of religious belief.

Members of Iran's feared Basij militia forcibly marry female virgin prisoners the night before scheduled executions, raping their new "wives" and making it religiously acceptable to execute them …

Question: Who would claim this is moral behaviour? Answer: Those who committed this atrocity.

And in their own twisted little context, they’re right.

After all, under strict Islamic law, the greater immorality would be to execute them as virgins, so raping them prior to execution is the greater moral act.

And this, dear friends, is what religious belief does.

It tells us our natural and evolved sense of right and wrong can’t be trusted. It tells us our moral sense comes from without, bestowed upon us by an all-knowing God. It tells us to deny our innate sense of justice and submit to a greater will, even if we don’t understand it.

Of course in practice that “greater will” is the Word as interpreted by the priesthood and clergy.

If we’re lucky, the clergy in question will trust their innate sense of justice and selectively promote the truly good messages from their scriptures. We see this, for example, in Christian ministers who leave out the bits about burning in hell and concentrate on Christ’s social justice message.

But all that’s happening then is that the religious message is being manipulated to ape the simple message of humanism. The religion becomes subject to the person.

If we’re doing that, then why bother with the religion at all? If the message has value, then all this supernatural window-dressing is just a distraction.

And it can be a dangerous distraction, because sometimes we’re not so lucky.

Combine that “greater will” instead with a dictatorial theocracy and a brutalised culture, and all of a sudden the person becomes horribly subject to the religion.

The person is considered nothing more than a tabula rasa for the clerical moral code. The individual’s sense of right and wrong is rendered wholly irrelevant.

And before you know it, raping virgins is perfectly OK.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Discrimination In Religious Schools

Melbourne Grammar School Chapel Tower A review of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act has made some interesting recommendations.

At the moment, religious schools in Victoria have the right to discriminate on the basis of faith. For example, a Muslim school can refuse to employ a Jewish cleaner or a conservative Christian school a woman who is unmarried and pregnant.

A parliamentary review has recommended broadening the definition into “core” and “non-core” roles, so discrimination would only be applied to roles where it actually matters. Under this model the school chaplain can’t be a Satanist but it doesn’t matter so much if the maths teacher is (although he does go on about pentagrams a fair bit … ).

People running religious schools obviously think it’s a bad idea. And I agree.

This is just too one-sided. Even now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find any number of atheists teaching in Christian schools, where their atheism is overlooked just because of their teaching ability.

This proposal takes us in completely the wrong direction. We should give more discriminatory power to these schools, not less.

In fact, let’s go the whole hog. Religious schools should be obliged to only employ people who share their faith.

Before being appointed, applicants must prove their allegiance by swearing on their particular holy book and passing a detailed examination on the tenets of their doctrine.

All staff must be monitored constantly to ensure their behaviour is in line with the appropriate religious doctrine. Any breaches of protocol, whether on school grounds or in the person’s home, will result in immediate dismissal.

Of course religious schools might struggle to retain staff under such a regime, and student numbers would drop off as teaching standards fell.

And Government funding would have to be cut because they’d now be straight religious institutions rather than educational institutions.

And in fact, after a while we’d probably see very few religious schools remaining.

That’d be a shame.

But keeping the schools’ religious values pure is obviously critically important, so surely that’s a small price to pay.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Framing Darwinism

Atheist An article by Professor of Theology Tom Frame on “Questions Darwinism cannot answer” is an excellent example of the kind of muddled thinking religious believers tend to display when talking about evolution.

The first clue is the use of the word “Darwinism”, an epithet used almost exclusively by believers with a philosophical axe to grind. The intention is to portray evolution as just another religious belief.

The next clue is passages like this:

A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide.

Apart displaying his gross ignorance of what evolution means, Mr Frame is trying to paint atheism as an immoral position and, by an implied false dichotomy, promote religious belief as the noble alternative.

But all that’s just a sideshow. The real point of the article is summed up in these oh-so-wise words:

Such science is also inhibited from asking whether life has any meaning, as this would require stepping outside the processes that led its practitioners to the point of questioning. Evolution might account for the story of life's beginnings and progress, but it cannot explain its origin nor cast any light on its destiny.

I’ve got a news flash for you, Mr Frame. Religion, for all its pomp and imaginary circumstance, cannot explain any of these things either.

It’s trivial to observe that there’s more to the human experience than science, let alone evolution. But promoting religion as some kind of answer to these ill-defined questions is just smoke and mirrors.

Religion is not an answer. It’s a process of comforting ritual and invocation of myth and throwing meaningless feel-good words at the question to pretend you've answered it.

Real answers come from observation, from verification, from defining the questions carefully and gathering the evidence. None of these things have any place in religion.

And what’s all this about destiny?

Our destiny doesn’t come from without, as Mr Frame wants us to believe. It comes from within. We are its authors.

We can choose to take responsibility for our actions and set our own path, or we can abdicate that responsibility to an imaginary higher power.

We can strive to be an enlightened society that seeks to understand its place in the universe, or we can cling to ancient myths and the fleeting comforts they bring.

Guess which one I choose.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Simple Diary Entry

It’s been ages since I’ve written a simple diary entry; a piece free of those distracting pictures, free of philosophy and free of celebrity deaths.

The original intention of this blog was to bang on about what’s been happening in my life. Sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics.

Such things require no research at all. Not that I do all that much.

And I don’t need to spend hours scouring Google Images for those distracting pictures.

Back to the diary.

This week was pleasantly bisected with a day off on Wednesday, the intention of which was to hale and heartily greet the Foxtel man as he installed dozens of channels of entertainment goodness.

Unfortunately it was not to be.

The installation will require a certain amount of drilling holes in walls and digging up the garden, all of which was apparently beyond the capability of the man telling me this.

This was particularly annoying, because Wednesday also saw the departure of my lovely wife overseas on a business trip for two weeks.

My plan had been to spend her absence wearing a serious groove in the couch watching documentaries and repeats of Star Trek. If all went well I’d be starting to get over it by the time she got back and wouldn’t mind so much as we devolve into a diet of Fashion TV and E! News.

But alas, it was not to be.

So what am I to do now? Dunno. Might as well write a blog.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Myth of Scientific Conspiracy

I love a good conspiracy theory.

Mayan Rocket In times past I’ve been fascinated, bemused, irritated and appalled (sometimes all at once) by everything from Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and those wacky 9-11 truthers to the idea that the Mayans had rockets and the moon is an alien spaceship.

And don’t even get me started on that Timecube guy.

Dissemination of conspiracy theories has been both helped and hindered by Web 2.0, as both proponents and debunkers are just a few clicks away.

For the moment it looks like the debunkers are winning, but I suspect conspiracy theories will always be with us.

But where do they all come from?

Fox Mulder Big Government conspiracies got a boost in the 1990s, as US hegemony expanded and it became very easy to believe we were being lied to. In the 2000s the whole idea came crashing down once it became clear that we were being lied to, but it was incompetence not conspiracy at the core.

And still no secret alien technology in sight.

Big Farmer Big Government conspiracies seem to have shifted now to Big Pharmaceutical and Big Oil, as profit takes over from political power as the assumed driver. As conspiracies go though, these are a lot less interesting. Big companies doing whatever they can to make money? It’s not quite Spaceship Moon is it?

Big Science gets a run as well. This is a particular favourite of anyone whose wonderful new Theory of Everything has been rejected by the scientific mainstream.

The list of Big Science conspiracies is endless.

Jesus and His Pet DinosaurEvolution? Young Earth Creationists will bang on for days about how it’s a scientific conspiracy to keep the real truth hidden … the truth being that those fossils are all less than 6,000 years old and were actually placed there by Noah’s flood.

Entropy? It’s a lie foist upon the public to hide the existence of perpetual motion machines that could provide free energy to whole world. (An obvious cross-over here with Big Oil).

And emissions? It’s all those left-wing scientists blinded by their green ideology wanting to shut down the factories and throw everyone out of work.

And they’re just the ones starting with ‘E’.

But here’s the thing. Here’s why the whole notion of scientific conspiracy is preposterous.

Scientists are not in cahoots.
They’re in competition.

When any new scientific idea is thrown into the ring there'll be a phalanx of scientists trying their damnedest to kneecap it before you can say phlogiston.

And why? It’s not to be malicious. It’s because that’s how science works.

Ideas that withstand the onslaught are accepted and became the basis for further learning. The ideas that fall are simply discarded.

And you might notice the ideas that fall are also the source of most of the conspiracy theories.

After all, it’s much easier to blame the Masons and the Illuminati and the cabal of Big Scientists than to admit your idea doesn’t really have any merit.Freemasons For Dummies

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Dead Pool 2009 – June Update

Celebrity Dead Pool now has its own blog!
Find it at Celebrity Dead Pool 

We’re halfway through the year and it’s been an absolutely bumper month. We’ve had celebrities and other notables tragically dropping off the perch left right and centre.

With no time to mess around let’s get straight into it, starting with one late-reported death from May.

Danny La Rue On the 31st of that month we bid a final ta-ra to entertainer Danny La Rue, a pioneer of the drag scene and one of the men responsible for bringing the whole men-dressing-as-ladies thing out of the underground and into the mainstream.

On the 2nd of June fantasy author David Eddings passed away at the age of 77. I’d probably have something more interesting to say about him if I’d read any of his books. I haven’t. But I’m sure they’re tops.

On the 3rd we lost Australia’s last surviving veteran of World War I, John Campbell Ross at the very respectable age of 110.

David Carradine Also on the 3rd we bid a fond farewell to actor, notorious bad-boy and all-round legend David Carradine at the age of 72. If you’re gonna go, there are worse ways than with some random hooker in a sleazy Thailand hotel room. Just sayin’. Rest in Peace, Grasshopper.

On the 12th we witnessed the spooky death of Johanna Ganthaler who, having just survived the ill-fated Air France Flight 447 on June 1 by missing the flight, was killed in a car crash in Austria.

Seriously, it’s a story worthy of a film. Oh wait. It’s been done.

Des Moran The 15th saw the daylight assassination of Des ‘Tuppence’ Moran, patriarch and last surviving member of the Moran crime family.

On the 17th John Houghtaling, inventor of the Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed, a fixture of mid-priced hotel rooms last refurbished in the 1960s, died a very wealthy man at the age of 92. There is no truth to the rumour that his fortune was all in quarters, nor that he vibrated for fifteen minutes after he died. It’s all scurrilous and very silly gossip.

On the 19th Tomoji Tanabe, up until his final moments the world’s oldest living man, died of heart failure at the age of 113. Henry Allingham of the UK, also 113, takes his place as the oldest living man in the world. But not the oldest living person. There’s like ten chicks ahead of him.

(I wonder if all these supercentenarians know each other? They should start a facebook group. If I were suddenly made the oldest man in the world by the death of the previous incumbent I know I’d want immediate notification).

Lorena GaleThe 21st saw the tragic death of actress Lorena Gale, best known for her role as the wise priestess Elosha on Battlestar Galactica. (<battlestargeekout> Although one might question the wisdom of plying the President of the Colonies with hallucinogens. </battlestargeekout> Still … Lorena Gale … awesome lady.)

Ed McMahonOn the 23rd American TV announcer Ed McMahon passed away at the age of 86. A fixture of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Ed’s famous catchphrase “Here’s Johnny!” was usurped by an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson in 1980’s The Shining. That’s got nothing to do with his death. It’s just kind of interesting.

Finally, as previously mentioned (and covered by one or two other sources) the 25th saw the deaths of both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

So it’s been a helluva month.

We’ve also seen some significant movement on the dead pool scoreboard, with no fewer than five people tipping the tragic passing of Michael Jackson.

As Mr. Jackson was 50 at the time of his death we award 50 points each to Benn, Eliza, Rob, Russell and Ty. Sadly Farrah Fawcett’s death does not result in any points, as she passed away from the illness she was suffering at the beginning of the year.

And with that, our scoreboard looks like this:

Ty 64
Benn 64
Eliza 50
Rob 50
Russell 50

Tune in again next month.

I hope for the sake of our remaining beloved celebrities that it’s a quiet one.