Coo coo Cook comment

Apple CEO Tim Cook officially affirmed that he is gay. Most people around the globe acknowledged his open statement as an act of bravery; it underscores the fact that gays are still discriminated; that people of power like Cook must take it upon themselves to make their private life public in order to shelter and encourage those who live in fear of discovery.

Except for a few idiots. Meet Hanna Henkel, editor of Switzerland’s conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). From her perspective, ‘Cook abused his power as a manager when he made is own sexuality public’.

Really? Hanna, you do realize that most of your conservative friends who share your stone-age morals also think that a woman like you shouldn’t be an editor, right?

Well, for once, I agree with their sentiment. Your article is a disgrace to you, and your paper.

French Barbarism

French culture Minister, Fleur Pellerin, admitted to the fact that her tight schedule does currently not allow her to read literature. This was seen as a scandal by some, especially in the light that this year’s Literature Nobel Prize went to Patrick Modiano, a french national.

Writing for the French version of the ‘Huffington Post’, Claude Askolovitch called Pellerin’s lack of reading ‘barbaric’ and called for her to resign. Which goes to show that you don’t need religion to be a pompous, self-important jerk. Of course reading is important to Askolovitch – he’s a writer. But Fleur Pellerin’s job is not to read, it’s her job to manage an entire nation’s culture policy. Calling her ‘barbaric’ because she hasn’t read a particular book lately and demanding she step down is like requesting the minister of Transportation to resign because she hasn’t driven a truck lately.

Plus, another trait in Pellerin struck me as noteworthy: there are lots of people who pretend they have read Modiano. Fleur Pellerin, when put on the spot, did not try to weasel out of an uncomfortable situation. She knew that her answer was going to be somewhat embarrassing (a staffer could have prepped her), yet she unflinchingly told the truth.

That’s called having a spine, and – in politics – is almost as rare as real unicorn tears. Not having read a particular author, no matter how important, is not something to be ashamed of. Especially if you are running the country.

Ark Park Snark

Ken Ham, professional dimwit and owner of Creation Museum, a.k.a. the palace where reason goes to die, is in hot water as reported by Slate. After accepting tax payer’s money to build his next great attraction, the Ark Park (guess what that one’s about), the world-famous (if not notorious) non-thinker may have forgotten that any business that accepts state money also has to play by state rules. And – surprise! – state rules forbid that you discriminate against employees with regards to religion or sexual orientation. Which Ken’s new ‘attraction’ does: his employee requirements state that you must not be gay, and must be a Christian who believes the Earth is 6000 years old – and follow all the other nutty Christian Taliban claptrap these crackpots believe in.

So the state withdraws the funding money, and Ken Ham – irrational person he is – now thinks that hate crime is a god-given right, and that this is the perfect opportunity to make a stand. Hilarity will ensue once he (predictably, and no thanks to SCOTUS) publicly claims that discriminating against gays and other religions is a right granted by the constitution.

Ok, so Ken is an idiot – what else is new? The real scandal, however, was only mentioned in an aside: in the US you can discriminate legally against religion, sex and sexual orientation of your employees as long you are a ministry.

As you can in most European country. And these dimwits do discriminate on a daily basis, shouting hate at the top of their lungs – while maintaining that they are moral leaders.

Ok, so Ken is also not alone.

Prometheus II: Moses

I guess it was inevitable. After Thor, christian movie makers picked up the gauntlet, and answered with Noah. Or ‘The day after 4000 years ago’, as we call it. Well, Thor II came out, and now the christians are upping the ante with Exodus: Gods and Kings, also a tale ‘inspired by the bible’. As with all the other Godflicks, realism is not an issue (and I’m not saying that it should – these are fantasy movies after all), so the trailer does look promising.

The story itself is a bit tired, but I can see why it’s interesting for Ridley Scott to make such a movie: It’s the natural continuation of his Prometheus, placed in our past; a veritable Alien: the Pre-SequelGladiator meets the Alien. And there is progression: In the original, the Alien only killed a handful of people. Then the death toll rose with each sequel. In Exodus (at least going by the book this is based on), the Alien kills hundreds of thousand people: all firstborn and Pharaoh’s army.

This time, though, it wins: by making a whole people it’s mind-slave. Predictable, yes, but only because that’s how it’s written.

If this movie is anywhere as exciting as I hope it will be, I can’t wait for Scott’s next feature: Abraham: Blade Runner that recounts the heroic struggle of great man – who wants to kill his son because voices in his head tell him to. Again predictable: at the end, he lets his son go – just like Rutger Hauer spared Ford in the classic.

I’m godlike!

The Intelligencer published a new entry written by David Bereck today that makes you really question the ‘Intelligence’ bit. Titled ‘So you think you are an atheist…’, the article trots out some of the silliest and, well, stupidest arguments against atheism. If I didn’t know better I thought the author was trolling.

Do the people who practice atheism actually know what they are putting their faith into? I hope that more atheists take an interest in learning more about what they think they believe.

Can you be any further off the mark? Of course you don’t understand atheism if you think of it in terms of a religion. People don’t practice atheism. Atheism is absence of practicing religion. It’s like the idea of a vacuum that some people can’t get their head around: how can there be nothing – there has to be something. David seems to be having similar difficulties with the idea that not believing in gods really does mean that the concept of gods vanishes from our thoughts. That it’s become a non-issue.

David’s understanding of atheism in other people is influenced by things he himself believes to exists. He believes a God exists, hence he concludes that not believing in the existence of Gods is also a belief. But it makes no sense to try and enumerate the infinite number of things that we believe do not exist. Let’s instead look at what we believe that does exist. What differentiates you, David, from us is that in addition to the many beliefs we share, you also have a belief in gods. From that perspective it becomes understandable why the term ‘practicing atheism’ becomes a non sequitur. One can’t do things by not doing them.

Some atheists will not even know they have to use a lot of faith just to believe that from nothing … came something.

Perhaps it does require some faith. Yet somehow believers fail to grasp that it takes even more faith to believe essentially the same plus the existence of a magical all-powerful creature. But I think it’s important to point out that most atheists merely say ‘well, I don’t know what happened. Let’s see what the scientists can come up with’. ‘I don’t know’ is a much better, and more honest, answer than ‘I know that God did it’.

The other point of common sense is that chaos doesn’t result in order. If someone were to put all the parts of a Lamborghini in a garage and then threw a bomb into the garage, you wouldn’t expect to find a perfectly designed Lamborghini to drive away.

Yup, the good old 747 ‘Jumbo’ Jet analogy. So David probably read a Creationist book. Yes David, you are correct – except no-one ever said they believed that they would. What we actually believe is more likely by orders of magnitude than ‘God did it’, and it doesn’t require any magic at all. Perhaps you should invest some time to actually understand what scientists have to say about this.

The second point that chaos doesn’t result in order proves that even if I was wrong about the Big Bang Theory, there is no possible way an explosion (chaos) would ever be able to create a universe with such tremendous order.

No, David. It merely proves that you do not understand the laws of thermodynamics, and probably fail to grasp the scale of what you are talking about. It’s not as if it’s not understood how galaxies condense (order from chaos). It’s readily observable even today. There is no faith involved in believing something that elementary. It seems you are questioning not just the Big Bang, but matter accretion and other fundamental, well understood processes. That would be unwise.

I encourage people to question atheism because when you really look at the details from a different perspective, you have a much wider range of understanding.

And yet, strangely, you propose a much, much simpler solution: all this was created by a god. Complexity? God did it. Life? God did it. Universe, Stars, Planets? God did it. Your understanding is much narrower than a worldview that allows ‘I don’t know – let’s find out’ for an answer. You are not proposing that people open their minds – you advocate credulity in millennia-old superstition. It’s not a perspective that is difficult to understand, nor does it enrich understanding. It’s a bit like the Santa Claus myth. Everyone understands where it comes from. But it will in no way broaden our understanding of the world if we believed they were true.

David closes with

Personally, I am glad to be artistically created in the image of an awesome God rather than being the cousin of some slimy thing that crawled out of the ocean.

And that’s pretty much it – David prefers to think of himself as an image of a God who has a special purpose for him – rather than facing the possibility that his existence is mere happenstance, and that he is of no consequence at all. His belief, it seems, serves to elevate his self-esteem.

Judge ‘Dredd’ Mac

Montgomery County, TX Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack is opening his courtroom sessions by first reading from the Bible, followed by a prayer. He thinks there is nothing wrong with this because he starts the religious part of his public service with the following remark:

We are going to say a prayer. If any of you are offended by that you can leave into the hallway and your case will not be affected.

Naturally, this has brought him a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which requested he stop this practice.

Mac replied that he will respond to their demand at his October 23 prayer breakfast. He added that

I am not seeking the potential controversy, as I will have to respond to these groups as well. We are on strong moral and legal ground.

Well, you wouldn’t state that you are on strong legal grounds if you weren’t seeking controversy, now, would you? Can we please have a little bit more honesty, Justice?

Mac added that

I want to make a statement to show […] that not only is it acceptable to our community, but […] that God has a place in all aspects of our lives and public service.

First of all, we need to recall that in Texas, anyone, regardless of their fitness for that purpose, can be elected Justice of the Peace. This could explain why Mac seemingly doesn’t know what the foundation of the law he presides over has to say about this: the Constitution strictly forbids state-sponsored religious public service, the Establishment Clause states that government may not in any way promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion.

It does not bode well for his past rulings that his knowledge of law is so tenuous that he gets even the essentials wrong.

Once thing is for certain, though: his assertion that people may leave his court room and that this would not affect their case is blatantly, provably wrong. After all, he openly stated that he holds the moral high ground, that performing a religious ceremony is a morally superior thing. Anyone who expresses their dissent by leaving would in his eyes be morally corrupt. In a justice for peace ruling that usually means you have lost your case. What Mac is doing is that he sets up a religious Litmus test before beginning his ruling; his decisions can therefore be seen as religious law. Do we really need Christian Sharia courts? I think not.

I really hate to have to quote to these zealots from their magic book: During the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus flat out commands that you should not pray ostentatiously but only demurely in your own inner chamber (Matthew 6:5-7). OK – I admit: I love to do that.

Why is it always that religious dimwits like Mac know less of their own scripture than your average atheist?

Moroccan Motherlode

A couple of days ago, a major brouhaha erupted over a remark that Bill Maher and Sam Harris made on Maher’s show Real Time. Maher and Harris contended that the majority of Muslims entertain morally unacceptable beliefs. Ben Affleck, another guest at the show, became hostile, and accused Maher and Harris of being prejudiced and racists.

Yet, they were merely stating a fact, and Affleck seems to have fallen prey to hyper-politically correctness. When you say that the majority of US Republicans is religious and believes that Jesus died on the cross, that is a provable fact. It is also a provable fact that the majority of Muslims believe that the appropriate punishment for apostasy is death. Not a few freaks – the majority. And that is a morally unacceptable tenet.

Yesterday, the Guardian reported the story of a british subject, Ray Cole, who was arrested and illegally detained in Morocco on grounds of being gay.

As Cole recounts:

At the police station, although still not under arrest, Cole knew why they had been taken. “Straight away [there was] the insinuation that we were homosexual,” says Cole, “They said, ‘We’ve got religion here. You’re filth and scum.’ They did their best to humiliate us.”

These homophobes are not fundamentalists – they are everyday (and probably otherwise kind and upstanding) Moroccan citizen. Their problem: they adhere to a deeply homophobic ideology. Our problem: these believers are the majority in Morocco.

[edit Oct-19]
Last Thursday, the Pakistani High court dismissed Aasiya Bibi Noreen’s appeal and upheld her death sentence. Her crime: Blasphemy against Alla. In Pakistan their High Court is convinced that the appropriate punishment for blasphemy is death.

Maher and Harris nailed it. The majority of Muslims hold immoral tenets. It is high time we stop this PC bullshit and look the problem squarely in the face. Stop making allowances where none should be made.

Tip-toeing Tutors

A research paper shows how English secondary school teachers handle the question of how to bridge the gap between religion and science. The researchers found out that science and religious education teachers tackle this problem differently:

Both RE and science teachers were aware that a “science vs religion” viewpoint turned some students off their subjects. Science teachers responded by emphasising “respect” for religion but avoiding controversial discussion, whereas RE teachers tackled the tension. While there is some curriculum guidance about science for RE teachers, science teachers have little guidance or help on how to address science and religion, and so are negotiating their own way through this difficult territory.

This is an artificial problem, and the tack that the science teachers take is dangerously wrong. Religions, like all ideologies should never be respected, and are fair game for discussion. It may, however, be a good idea to pay your respect to the people who hold these ideologies. But only to a certain point: people who, for example, believe the white race to be superior deserve no respect at all. Neither as a person nor their ideology.

This should be a non-issue. Science teachers could easily point this out to their students and shut down any possible discussions: while different people may hold different religious beliefs, science applies to all. There is no such thing as ‘Hindu Physics’ or ‘Christian Physics’. There is just Physics. If you need a religious qualifier, it’s not science.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The real problem is mentioned only in an aside:

They [the teachers] knew the discussions were controversial, and worried about parent complaints.

Right. It’s not the students. Their parents are the real problem. Not to mention parents who send their kids to faith schools.

Good luck trying to resolve that when your approach to solving this is to tip-toe around the problem. Nothing was ever solved that way.

With apologies to Pink Floyd, the teachers must draw a line in the sand:

“Parents, leave these kids alone!”

The Vatican Deathwish

The Catholic Church just had a Synod. Reading the Vatican report on LGBT is a bit like watching an old, dim-witted dog perform a new trick: it’s somewhat unexpected, a bit exciting, yet tragically pathetic.

So the Roman Catholic church finally found out that

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community

Bravo. Of course they have a lot to offer. Especially to a rapidly shrinking community. So the Church finds it in them to allow gays and lesbians a minor seat at the table. Some observers are ecstatic. They are obviously easily impressed or must have expected so little that actually mentioning homosexuality already sent them to the fainting couch. All we know is that the church now wants to officially be able to also milk LGBT people.

Still, they managed to fumble even that:

The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.

Why? Reasons! Well, and probably Levicitus 20, which is so overruled by Jesus – as Christians not in the Vatican never tire to point out. So, dear queers, you may come to our table, and give us your gifts. And we’ll give you absolutely nothing in return except a few condescending, empty words.

Less surprising, the Catholic Church wouldn’t be the self-righteous moralizing organization they are if they didn’t manage to shoot themselves in a foot that wasn’t even there: contraception is still out. This is the third millennium, people, and you guys still trot out that chestnut? They can’t – in their wildest dreams – imagine that a doctrine that backwards would attract young people, can they? Soon that Church will consist solely of old people, misogynists and bigoted homophobes. Way to go!

Some people call the Vatican paper ‘revolutionary’. I call it a death wish.

Religion of Restraint

Islamists have shown great restraint a few months ago. After a pamphlet insulting the Prophet was found in one of the 80’000 books housed in a Library, Muslims merely torched the building and, for good measure, shot just one the library workers. Don’t worry, the worker survived, even though he totally deserved death for working in such a morally decadent place.

A death toll of zero after such a egregious, brutal and unprovoked assault on Islam is practically unheard of.

This shows that cooler heads in muslim communities are starting to prevail. We now can hope that within the next few years, women can openly ask for education without being shot at all (the Malala case already proves that in modern muslim countries, women can ask for education without being killed; they are merely shot in the face).

So the religion of peace is now changing into the religion of peace with less killing!

So, good news all around.

Well, except for the few thousand books.