The streets of Riyadh…

Big changes are coming to Saudi Arabia. In a few month, women may enjoy an unprecedented freedom. Unprecedented, that is, for Saudi Arabia. Determined to liberate their women, the Saudis may even disregard their clerics’ most dire warnings about possible dangers to women’s health. Soon, even Saudi women may be allowed to drive cars. 

Wow. There are about one million other things that country could do to empower women. But they choose to allow what – according to 98% of all men around the world – is the one thing they shouldn’t. Then again, it’s not the woman’s health these concerned men worry about – it’s their car’s.

In unrelated news, 98% of all men believe they have above average driver’s skills. 


Ethics, schmetics

The classifieds section of a swiss paper recently contained an ad for a company that was looking for a new employee. The ad stated that the job would only be given to a swiss national. The company was sternly reprimanded – and rightly so. Switzerland has some of the world’s highest ethical standards. Hence everyone in Switzerland is forbidden to discriminate against anyone based on race, religion, nationality, sex, marital status, or sexual preference.

Except the Swiss Churches. They regularly discriminate against people based on religion, sex, marital status and sexual preference. Legally. For example, a couple of weeks ago, the Roman Catholic Church of Switzerland legally fired a doctor because he re-married.

But that’s OK. After all, the Church is the paragon of Ethics. It says so. And everyone knows the Church can’t lie. It’s forbidden.

Like firing someone because he re-marries.

And you thought Christmas was bad

Around this time of the year, every year, I start to get apprehensive. Christmas is approaching fast. Although my godson knows that I don’t believe in Gods, he’s willing to overlook this shortcoming in exchange for gifts. He’s a ‘liberal conservative’, I guess. And then there’s family. Each year, the sticker shock creeps up.

Then again, it looks like I’m lucky. In the Islamic world, Eid ul-Azha is imminent – and they are running out of sacrificial animals:

“This year, the average price of a “qurbani” or sacrificial animal begins from 20,000 Pakistani rupees onwards and goes up to a princely sum of Rs 16 lakh – an amount that has left several appalled, considering a brand new car in Pakistan will cost only about Rs 7 lakh.”

Ouch. A new car? It gets even worse. As the India Times repors:

“It is not uncommon for animals to be stolen or abducted in the days leading to Eid. In Karachi, where extortion is rampant in some areas, people who bring home sacrificial animals may even have to pay money to mafia to keep them safe.

This year alone, two animals were shot dead by extortionists after their owners from Kharadar and Ranchore Lines area refused to pay them ransom.”

Boy, and I thought I went through hell last year trying to get my godson a popular toy. After reading the above, I’m positively looking forward to an abduction-less shopping season where the greatest danger to my life are the Maroni vendors.

Court: ‘Allah’ now trademark, only to be used by muslims

A court in Malaysia has ruled that ‘Allah’ is a trademarked term that must not be used by non-Muslims.

As reported by the BBC and Guadian, a completely unbiased court of three muslim judges ruled unanimously; the ruling was upheld by equally neutral chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali.

In unrelated news, the definition of democracy still is ‘three wolves and a lamb deciding on what’s for lunch’.

Since ‘Allah’ is the term to refer to God in different faiths, non-muslim believers are strongly advised to trademark their own names for God and/or various holy figures.

Still up for grabs: ‘Virgin Mary’ (but not ‘Virgin’ by itself, as this belongs to a british individual), ‘Holy Ghost’, and, strangely enough, ‘Yahwe’ – in the case of Yahwe, however, the Jews explain that it’s become a generic term for God that can’t be defended.

Stupid is as stupid does

Under normal circumstances, if you managed to unite the Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities behind a common cause, you’d be a shoe-in for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Unless, of course, you manage to unite them to picket your lawn. Bonus points for also managing to have the Christians sniping at you from across the street.

And this is exactly what happened in Quebec: the minority government run by the secular Parti Québécois (PQ) seems so accustomed to being the minority that they never realized that the minorities they antagonized Find phone , taken together, make up the majority of voters. And antagonize them they did.

As reported by Time, their proposed ‘Charter of Values’ contains language that would disallow too obvious religious symbols or garments to be worn by

“government workers and employees of institutions that receive public funds—from judges, school teachers and police officers to doctors and daycare staffers. A cartoonish graphic released last week illustrates the types of symbols that would be banned to them (Muslim head coverings of all kinds, skull caps, turbans and especially large crucifixes[…]). And the plan would also require all members of the public to uncover their faces when giving or receiving a state service, like applying for a driver’s license.”

To be clear about this: I think the underlying idea is ethically sound. It’s just that PQ handled this issue with all the grace, elegance and subtlety of a stampeding herd of elephants. It seems that, as a primarily secular party, the PQ strategists thought that the politically correct way to get rid of a real problem (burkas and head veils) was a shotgun approach: To evenly spread restrictions over all major beliefs. They probably thought that if everyone had to give a little, they’d be more likely to agree. It never occurred to them that everyone just might agree to give you the finger.

All this just goes to show that religious people don’t have a monopoly on doing something silly. PQ has shown that seculars can be just as monumentally stupid as the rest.

Well, at least we have something that unites us all.

Why you can’t become an atheist.

A friend asked me how people become atheists. I think underlying her question was a worry that the atheistic condition could be contagious; a lingering concern for the spiritual well-being of her young children. In my presence, that is.

Well, I was able to put her mind at ease. Becoming an atheist, I told her, requires work. It requires an active mind, and the willingness to face difficult and uncomfortable questions. Her children are quite safe for the next few years, and so I still have an open invitation to their home this Christmas.

Yet, after reflecting upon the question, I now believe that even though I correctly described what is involved, ultimately, my answer was wrong. You can’t become an atheist.

You just stop being something else.

When you stop believing that there is a great bearded man in the sky, and provided you don’t pick up some other supernatural ideology, you have stopped being religious. Coincidentally, you are now an Atheist. The first was incidental, the latter is the consequence. Neither was something you actively did. Being an atheist is being not something. It’s not something you can do.

Yeah, that totally cleared that issue up.

Jesus, you’re killing me…

FOX Anchor Bill O’Reilly has written a new book. After ‘Killing Lincoln’ and ‘Killing Kennedy’, another bestseller is hitting the shelves. This time, however, it was contract work: in an interview on Norah O’Donnel’s 60 Minutes, he explained that God himself told him to write it, and even dictated the tile: ‘Killing Jesus’. O’Reilly is lucky that he and God share the the same fondness for the word ‘killing’. Then again, from God that was about to be expected.

According to O’Reilly, in this new book he took it upon himself to correct the ‘few’ items that were wrong in the bible (by which he means the New Testament. Well – actually he’s only referring to the Gospels). Being a Catholic himself, he stated that the book is not a religious book: “There is no religion in the book – nothing”. He might be right about the ‘nothing’ bit. O’Reilly wants his book be known as an “accurate account of not only how Jesus died, but also the way he lived.” In other words: a prequel to the DaVinci Code.

The whole 60 Minutes segment is incredibly watchable – if only to see Norah O’Donnel valiantly trying to keep a straight face.

Bishop breaks cardinal rule

(Sorry, I’m a sucker for puns)

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is a bon vivant. That’s usually not a problem – unless you are a church official, and have broken a cardinal rule just so you can keep your high life. It’s somewhat worse if you are a Bishop.

Here’s what happened:
Bishop of Limburg, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst went on a trip to Bangalore’s slums to help poor children. He traveled there fist class, which, in view of his destination, was a bad choice. Asked by a reporter, he explicitly denied traveling first class. That was a bad idea. When the truth eventually came out, he denied – under oath – his denial. That turned out be Very Bad Indeed: the reporter had the good Bishop on video. Now, perjury is an offense in Germany even if you are a man of god. And so he was handed down a sentence.

A bishop caught out in a lie is bad. A bishop caught in perjury over lying is almost tragicomical. You wouldn’t believe the number of free bible lessons Tebartz-van Elst received over this, all of them focusing on the 8th Commandment. To add insult to injury, many of the lessons were administered by atheists.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here.

You see, it turns out that at the same time, the Bishop was remodeling his home, the episcopal headquarters in Limburg. It transpired that he also employed some ‘truth remodeling’ when he disclosed the cost: What should have cost 5 Million € (6.8 million USD) suddenly ballooned to over 30 million (41 million). Playing that loose with truth unfortunately is also an offense in Germany. Plus, being untruthful with money usually is called ‘stealing’.

So it would seem that the Bishop stole money and lied through his teeth – just to afford his lifestyle. As always in cases like this, the church has one cardinal rule: don’t get caught. It seems Tebartz-van Elst broke that rule. It’s unlikely the church will forgive that transgression.

‘Science’ in the hands of homophobes

A recent article reported that Gulf States are working on a medical test to ‘detect’ homosexuality in humans.

A medical test being developed by Kuwait will be used to ‘detect’ homosexuals and prevent them from entering the country – or any of the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), according to a Kuwaiti government official.

First, the consensus among real scientists is that this will be as likely to succeed as trying to find a medical test that detects if you like collecting stamps: Zero. The Gulf states are rich, and can afford some of the best scientific minds money can buy (those aren’t necessarily the best scientific minds, but close enough). It is safe to say that they know that this is a hare-brained idea. So why are they doing it?

Now, it is important to remember that the Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) are deeply islamic countries. Like all deeply islamic countries, they are also deeply homophobic (unfortunately, the same can be said about deeply christian countries). Being a homosexual is a crime in the GCC, in Saudi Arabia it’s even a capital offense.

But I don’t think that they are trying to actually produce a working test. Here, the message is more important than the facts. What The GCC are really trying is to

  • publicly associate homosexuality with a disease. If something can be detected ‘medically’, it must be an illness, right?
  • create the illusion of an ‘impartial’ test. Much like the historic tests that determined if you were a witch Number Search , this test can be used against anyone the state deems unsavory. There is no appeal against a ‘scientific’ positive. This will be just another way to suppress people. The GCC are not democracies – pretty much the opposite.
  • establish the opinion that homosexuality is a growing problem that is invading from the outside (hence airport screening), and that they are trying to stop it at the border. People should think that homosexuality is carried into their pure country by foreigners, and that perhaps, as a medical condition, it may be even be an infectious disease.

In short, this is little more than trying to shoehorn science into providing justification for their repulsive beliefs. Something like this has been done before, and resulted in one of the greatest sufferings the world ever endured: the ‘scientific’ racism of the aryan race theory.

A bullet that changed the world?

On April 4th, 1968 a bullet cut short the live of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose dream transformed the US to a better nation.

Exactly one year ago today, a bullet tore through a child’s head, fired by a Taliban ‘fighter’. He wanted to murder 15 year old Malala for her crime of wanting to go to school.

Malala has a dream – a dream that few women in her part of the world would dare to dream. This dream, too, can transform our world into a better place.

The bullet did not kill Malala. But it extinguished her fear. It gave her purpose. The world noticed.

“The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

Malala, 16, speaking at the UN, July 12, 2013

Few people have the strength, ability, and courage to move the world. Malala dreams of a world where every woman can have the education she wants.

The world should listen when it’s now Malala who says: ‘I have a dream’.