Author Archives: julietooo

A few words on charity in Africa

Terrible day. Which may have influenced my response to the UNICEF man who approached me before I got on the bus home. I heard him out, I did, but there he was telling me that my £3 text would feed a child in east Africa for 4 days.

To summarise, I said to him ‘it won’t help’. Here’s why.

I’ve been to east Africa. £3 might feed a child for 4 days. But what about the 4 days after that? And the 4 after that? No one thinks about those because they’re too busy feeling smug for donating the £3 that wouldn’t even pay for their own lunch here in London. UNICEF man even said to me, ‘if you donate then you can have a great weekend and feel good about yourself for making someone’s life a bit better’. So £3 can really make someone’s life a bit better? Really?

Firstly, (and I’m not trying to be a cynic here) on the practical side of things, if I were to donate, I sadly doubt that said individual child I would apparently be feeding would a) see £3 worth of food, or b) not have to share it with their family or be subject to theft by jealous peers.
Secondly, I do honestly believe that the people doing the charity work are doing it all in good faith, and really do think they are helping, but this type of ‘throw money at a problem’ charity is just a plaster. It not only conceals the problem but it prevents a resolution. They say that for a wound to heal it needs fresh air. What is fresh about foreign aid? Foreign aid is not a new thing to the people of east Africa, and guess what, they still need it. How many times have they done Band Aid now? (Just realising the irony of that name in the context of what I’m saying).

My point is, if something works, you don’t have to keep doing it.

After they donate, people get so wrapped up in the fact that they donated in the first place that they forget about the root causes of this crippling poverty, many of which are the legacy of colonialism, and are perpetuated by the modern western world. Most African countries are in debt to rich western governments, and these are debts that they will never be able to pay off without real change; real change that will never happen whilst they are still in debt, still corruptly governed, and still plagued by malaria, AIDS and the pope (or more widely, religion).

These are just a summary of a few of the problems affecting Africa; there are of course many more, and solving them is obviously complex. But that £3 isn’t going anywhere towards a solution.

 

Sorry for the gloomy post!

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Dear Hitch

Hi all, it’s been a while.

Death is a funny thing. When faced with mortality, people seem obliged to speak up, to take note and pay tribute to the recently deceased’s short time as a person on this planet. I’m guilty of this as well and today has been a perfect example. Last night the world lost a great man. I loved, admired, and revered Christopher Hitchens, but have never really expressed it in words, until now, which is of course a few fleeting moments too late for him to appreciate. Of course he knew he was appreciated by many people like me, and I highly doubt that he would ever have stumbled upon this little article had I written it when he was alive, but it seems a shame that it is only after we have lost someone that we truly appreciate their contribution to our lives.

He was beloved by atheists for his extraordinary and highly entertaining ability to leave his religious debate opponents floundering within minutes, (even if some were ever so slightly too deluded to pick up on it (*cough* Tony Blair *cough*)), but let us not forget the other causes he held dear. An outspoken political campaigner, his relentless fight for a better world was motivating and courageous, and words were his ultimate weapon. It is rare nowadays to encounter such daring eloquence which forces people, blinking, into the harsh light of reality, and pushes them to take action. His unforgiving character dissections of various respected public figures were a much needed second opinion, and often showed that the prevailing view if subject to a bit of scrutiny, is not always accurate.

With the power of his writing, I was convinced that Mother Teresa was a fraud. Please do not think I am easily led. Alas, I had  a lifetime of hearing nothing but praise for her saintliness; certainly for a long time I believed that anyone devoting their life to helping the poor was a good person. In an instant, Hitch changed my mind. After all, he explained so succinctly; she cared not for the suffering of the poor, or for trying to stop the vicious cycle of poverty. He made me comprehend that the religiously motivated charity work was a mere plaster on a wound; hiding a problem away when what it really needs is some fresh air, a fresh approach: ‘the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction’.

‘The Topic of Cancer’ was by far one of the most moving and raw essays I’ve ever read. Even when first diagnosed with cancer, his words did not fail him as they would (understandably) fail so many others. In fact with their rawness, they became stronger and more compelling than ever, as he ever-so-elegantly and valiantly described the process of coming to terms with his newly-stricken state.

More recently, and bravely as ever, Hitch gave a his acceptance speech for the Richard Dawkins award at The Texas Freethought Convention. Whilst clearly weaker in body, with his voice quieter than before but never silenced, his mind was as sharp as ever, and his words still rung true.

At the very foundation of it all, he made me love words and realise their might. He made me want to take action and speak out; he was one of the people who encouraged me to write in the first place. What an exciting life he must have lived. I hope to narrate my own life even half as well.

Juliet
xx

White people believe that they face the worst racism

…according to a study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The study, called ‘Whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing‘, by Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers, suggests that white Americans surveyed think that they are now more widely discriminated against than black people, and that this supposed ‘anti-white bias’ is a bigger societal problem than the real anti-black bias. (This is an American-based study, and I think the problem is probably more prominent there, but since I only know the UK, and I see a similar trend happening over here, I will be using UK-based examples.)

After all of the wrongdoings of the past, governments are now at least trying to make society more equal for everyone, but the damage that has been done has penetrated society too deeply to disappear overnight. Ideas that black people and indeed people of other ethnicities are in some way inferior are ingrained in the collective consciousness, to the extent that when their position in society begins to improve, white people have started to cry ‘racism!’ Are we really selfish and shortsighted enough to convince ourselves that all along, all they were complaining about was the fact that white people had a more privileged position in society? Is history no longer taught in schools?

Many of my black friends have talked to me about the racism they experience in daily life, whether it’s a remark they have overheard from someone in the street, or discrimination by the authorities. A large proportion of my black friends have been subject to at least one stop and search by the police. As far as I know, none of my white friends have. Figures published in 2010 indicated that black people were seven times more likely to be stopped than white people.

These stops and searches under Section 44 were last January ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights for their arbitrary and widespread usage, as well as their disproportionate targeting of blacks and Asians. Now are we going to label this as racism against white people? Of course not, because it is utterly transparent that this was a case of inequality. So how can the same principle of removing inequality apply in other situations and be called ‘anti-white bias’?

This is how I see it. Most white people don’t even know they are white until they are in a room full of black people. They don’t have to; society holds them in a more privileged position by default, and in the past it was a rare occasion that a white person would find themselves in such a situation. Now, however, it is becoming more common.

Having used this example already, I will continue with it. The stop and search issue can be held at arms length and viewed relatively objectively by white people as inequality that needs to be extinguished. Why? Because it just doesn’t happen to white people. But when the situation for non-Caucasians starts to improve in other, less subtle ways, why is the reaction turned on its head?

I have seen this time and time again in previous jobs; the anecdote of the poor white person who lost out on a job opportunity to the black person who ‘wasn’t even as good at the job’. ‘Political correctness gone mad’, they say. Whenever I hear this it makes me cringe. Yes, there are guidelines to say that workforces (dependent on who applies) need to be representative of the general population, but why do I find it hard to believe that a less skilled person would be favoured over a more skilled person? From a productivity point of view, it doesn’t make sense for a company to employ an inferior applicant. Surely it’s more likely to be the case that the two people are equally skilled, but the white person doesn’t know how to react because it’s an unfamiliar situation they find themselves in, but in the name of improving standards of equality it has to happen. I suspect that if the job was given to another white person, then sure, the other candidate would be annoyed, and would probably make some digs about capability, but as soon as preference is given to a black person, the problem becomes about skin colour. It’s an easy target.

To cite another article:

a co-author of the study called the results “surprising.” That’s putting it mildly. But maybe we’ve missed the way white Americans have been systemically deprived of access and opportunities. Maybe we’ve overlooked all the times whites have been targeted by implicit and explicit race-baiting attacks, whether they’re playing professional sports or seeking elected office. Maybe we didn’t get the memo on the way the legacy of discrimination against white Americans continues to manifest itself in worse outcomes in income, home ownership, health and employment for them, the way white people are told they’re “objectively” ugly, and the disgust so many Americans felt the last time a white person ran for president.

Now imagine all this actually happening to a white person. Quite simply; it would not happen. The privileged position we hold is so blinkered to reality that it’s only when someone uses analogy like that displayed above that we realise it’s really not so bad after all. Yet some people will continue to complain. Please open your eyes. Try shutting up, listening and learning something. Racism is still a part of the daily life of non-white people, manifesting itself in all aspects of their lives.

So if you are a white person and you have read all this and disagree: Think you know racism? Think again.

Kill the gays – Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill.

Hi all,

I’m sure many of you have heard about the anti-homosexuality bill that is likely to be passed within the next 48 hours in Uganda.

For those of you that haven’t, here’s a brief breakdown.

Homosexuality is already illegal to the extent that:

  • same-sex sexual activity is illegal
  • same-sex relationships are not recognised as valid
  • same-sex marriage is banned
  • same-sex adoption is illegal
  • homosexuals are not allowed to serve openly in the military
  • there is no anti-discrimination legislation
  • there are no laws concerning gender identity/expression

The proposed bill will broaden the criminalisation of homosexuality to include:

  • death penalty for people with previous convictions
  • death penalty for the HIV-positive (propagating the misconception that HIV can only be spread via anal sex)
  • death penalty for those engaging in same-sex acts with people under 18 years of age.
  • Ugandans engaging in same-sex sexual activity outside of Uganda can be extradited back to the country and punished
  • punishment for LGBT rights advocates
(Image from wikipedia)

How has this come about?

The current laws against homosexuality are remnants of British colonialism, and were enacted as a response to certain cultural and ritual practices. Indeed, there are several documented accounts of homosexual customs in pre-colonial Africa, and around the world.
However, many people view homosexuality as a western import, and due to religious influences are keen to distance themselves as much as possible from these ‘unnatural practices’, which is not surprising when you read Bible passages like this, explicitly laying down the law:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13 KJV)

The consensus seems to be that the move towards this more severe bill has been influenced by American evangelical Christians; certainly among the strongest supporters of the bill is the Ugandan Pentecostal Pastor Solomon Male, who preaches that homosexuals actively ‘recruit’ people to their ‘ranks’, that nobody is born gay, and that homosexuals can be ‘cured’ of their ‘affliction’.

The Bible contains references in several of its books to homosexual ‘abominations’, including Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Click here for a full list.

Sadly, having spent an extended period of time in several east African countries, I have seen the American evangelicals in action. In fact, they’re pretty hard to miss. Their billboards litter the roadsides; for every regular billboard, there are 10 depicting white Americans flashing broad smiles, encouraging the ‘morally underdeveloped’ Africans to come over to a ‘better’ way of life.

Whilst many may be evangelicals who place emphasis on mercy, forgiveness and love, there are still those that accept and teach nothing but a literal interpretation of the Bible, instead with an emphasis on God’s wrath; examples of which include passages like the one I selected from Leviticus above. Like I said, it’s pretty explicit, and there’s not many other ways in which passages like that can be interpreted.

Whether they are directly involved with the bill itself or not, they will still have blood on their hands if this bill passes, since it is these imported, fundamentalist convictions that have poisoned the minds of so many.

This bill, if passed (which it seems likely to at the moment), could result in hundreds of thousands of Ugandans losing their lives and their dignity, as they are outed in the press and brought to ‘justice’. That is, if propaganda-fueled citizens don’t beat the government to it by stoning the victims of this bill to death in the street.

If you are reading this I urge you to sign the petitions here and here in attempt to make the voices in opposition of this bill heard.

If you think that the passing of this bill is fine, then I’m sorry that propaganda and hateful religious dogma has warped your mind so much that you think it’s OK to kill someone for something that is completely natural and beyond their control. You know, kind of like killing someone because of the colour of their skin. We’ve spoken out about that, now speak out about this.
Do not let this bill pass as law.

That’s it for now.
Juliet
xx

Intolerant atheists never happy.

Hello 😀

So this morning I was searching the news and found a fun little article on the Telegraph website, entitled bodly:

‘THE INTOLERANT ATHEISTS WILL NEVER BE HAPPY’

After a quick read I have determined that a more appropriate title would be:

‘THE IRRATIONAL CHRISTIANS NEVER PRESENT A FAIR ANALYSIS OF A SITUATION, AND INSTEAD JUMP TO ACCUSATIONS OF RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION’

Or there should at least be a little disclaimer in there. But of course, the writer of this ridiculous anti-atheist tirade is entitled to express her opinion, and in response, I’m going to express why she’s wrong.

So she opens her article by explaining that:

‘Celebrating a holiday in Britain is like trying to celebrate it in an unhappy family. The best-laid plans for reviving much-loved traditions quickly blow up in an almighty row. There’s no embarrassing uncle in his cups or stroppy in-laws; just schools that drop Nativity plays, shopping centres that phase out carols, and offices that shun Christmas trees. When Christians meekly complain that their Christmas is being ruined, the powers-that-be shout them down: “It’s in the name of diversity, stupid!”’

..whilst not actually pointing to any examples of where this has happened. I personally know of no atheists that would like to see Christmas disappear, and whilst for many it has lost its religious significance, indeed it is a tradition that many of us have grown up with, that is very close to our hearts; not least because it gives us all time off work, is an excuse to get PRESENTS, and is one of the rare times of year that families can all get together and let their hair down. Having said all that, if someone wants to protest Christmas or other religious holidays, then they are entitled to do so, and I honestly don’t care if it upsets people. After all, it seems that what this woman is saying is that atheists should shut up and submit to what Christians say for no good reason. Surely there’s a double standard going on here? Sorry Cristina, but your rights end where others’ begin. I’m all for religious freedom, as this is what allows me to express my atheism. I for one would hate to live in a country where people risk hefty fines for ‘crimes’ of blasphemy, and face being cast out by their families or even being murdered for simply not accepting the existence of a deity.

But to the main point of the article:

‘Now there’s a new rumpus, and just in time for Easter. The Wakefield and District Housing Association in West Yorkshire has ordered one of its electricians to remove a palm cross from the dashboard of his company van. *Colin Atkinson, a grandfather and former soldier, faces the sack for refusing to follow orders.’
*not too sure why that part is relevant to her article…

The first thing to point out is that on the large scale of things, this really has absolutely nothing to do with Easter; she is just using this case as an excuse to atheist-bash, when there is actually no evidence to support her claim that the company boss (pictured right) is an atheist at all. Secondly, company policy prohibits employees from displaying personal items in the company’s vehicles. Thirdly, the company is completely within its rights and within the law to demand that he removes the cross, and if he doesn’t he should absolutely face disciplinary action. This is called consistency.

The law states that:
Discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010. Under the Act, it is unlawful for an employer to:

(a) directly discriminate against an employee by treating him or her less favourably than it would treat others because of religion or belief; and

(b) indirectly discriminate against an employee by applying a policy/provision, criterion or practice that disadvantages employees of a particular religion (unless the employer can objectively justify that policy).

The company is quite clearly doing neither of these things, and I suspect that if another employee were to display a symbol representing another religion, they would be asked to remove it as well. The reason for this is quite simple. The cross may be interpreted as representing company values, and the company would rather not be associated with any particular religion because it causes controversies like this one! Furthermore, the company is a housing association, and I’m pretty sure they’re targeting their services at everyone, not just Christians, and they risk alienating people of other faiths if their employees are allowed to display crosses in their vans.

The writer goes on to state that:

‘Clearly, in the eyes of this publicly funded body, Mr Atkinson’s palm cross is on a par with a swastika, or a racist slogan. The symbol of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice strikes Mr Atkinson’s bosses as offensive: any show of Christian allegiance could drive a divisive wedge into this multicultural society.’

Which is literally the most stupid thing I’ve read today, for the reasons previously stated. Ms. Odone is clearly in dire need of a lesson in Logic one-oh-one. They’re not ‘offended’, it’s just against company policy. Simple as that. Making reference to ‘Christ’s ultimate sacrifice’ just shows what pathetic propaganda her article is. We all know what Christians believe, and sadly for them (I can’t believe I’m saying this again) it is completely irrelevant to 1) the law, and 2) the company’s policy.

Now we reach the slippery slope conclusion of the article:

‘At stake is not just a happy holiday. Once banning Christian symbols becomes accepted practice, the rejection of Christian beliefs is next. Already, social services have stopped a Christian couple from fostering children lest they infect their charges with an anti-gay attitude. Soon, the authorities will forbid conscientious objection: Christian doctors, for instance, will be forced to carry out elective abortions, which they regard as a sin.Where will it end? I fear intolerant atheists will not be satisfied until they’ve driven faith underground: Christians, Jews and Muslims will be forced to resort to Masonic handshakes and hush-hush gatherings. Meet you in the catacombs.’

Seriously? This stuff is laughable. For a start, no one is banning religious symbols, and nope, Christian beliefs haven’t been rejected across the board either. Although she has yet to make the case as to why they shouldn’t be rejected. They are extraneous to modern society, even stunting it; causing people to (as she points out) have archaic anti-gay attitudes, misogynistic attitudes, and anti-progress attitudes (to name but a few); warping people’s minds to the extent that, like this woman, they think it’s OK to have homophobic people fostering vulnerable kids. I’ve written an article on this particular case before, which unfortunately was lost with my last blog, but as I pointed out then, what would happen if one of their foster-children turned out to be gay? I suspect they’d be tossed straight back into the orphanage and the so-called caring foster parents wouldn’t look back.

Cristina Odone is apparently ‘a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith.’ It seems that once again, religion has produced someone who is incapable of producing a logical argument, or seeing the perfectly good reasons behind a decision if it comes into conflict with her faith. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

Now surely if her writing is getting published, mine should?! What do you guys think?!

Juliet 🙂

The Golden Ratio: an argument for Intelligent Design?

Hello everyone 🙂

I have just been added as an author and going to kick off with a post which was inspired by a facebook message I received today from someone who asked me to watch the following 2 videos:

As requested I stuck with the videos and decided to write a response as it’s something that needs addressing and I’ve wanted to address for a while…so it’s a generalised response and not all aimed at the person who originally sent me the message.

Firstly, seeing as I spent 8 and a half minutes of my life watching the first video, and a further 7 minutes watching the second…and a further 20 minutes researching this stuff for myself and a further 30 minutes writing this…others can now do the same, and spend roughly an hour on my point of view, which is as follows, and on further research – ie. don’t take my word for it 😛

First thing to note is that in life I like to look at things skeptically. This doesn’t make me a cynic – it just means I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.

If presented with stuff like the above (this is mostly in reference to the first video by the way), I will independently research to see if there’s any truth in the claims. This guy is quite clearly pushing an agenda – firstly, he’s using buzzwords like ‘sacred‘ and ‘divine‘ all the way through, and then in the last minute or so he makes the colossal jump to say ‘this is amazing, therefore god’, and secondly…he’s trying to sell his art which isn’t all that nice lool.

I should also note that this is a classic argument from ignorance. He can’t explain it and so leaps to God as an explanation, rather than exploring further through rigorous scientific study. It is also clear that he has started with a presupposition (God), which is obvious, as he was using the buzzwords I picked out above throughout, and is only exhibiting evidence to support his presupposition.

He fails to note that actually, many claims of sightings of the so called ‘Golden Ratio’ in nature have been discredited, because much variation in proportions has been observed in these cases (see wiki:  ‘Disputed observations’ section).

To posit a god here when one isn’t needed is intellectually dishonest; these patterns apply to some individuals, not all, and therefore any assertion that ‘the golden ratio is Universal and indicates design’ is automatically falsified by even one example that doesn’t meet that criterion.

It’s also worth noting here that the human brain is excellent at recognising patterns, even when there aren’t any there (ie. something may at first appear to be a pattern but on further investigation is not) (hence why people see Jesus in a slice of toast.)

My next problem with this is that labelling this phenomenon the work of God hasn’t actually increased our actual understanding of why it occurs; in fact it immediately limits any possible further understanding or investigation, because so many people are happy to accept God as an ‘explanation’. This frustrates me no end, as it is complete and utter ignorance – for the reason I just noted, and also because there are people who spend their lives researching this stuff, and people like this guy jump in and make the blind assertion that ‘God did it’, without any credentials behind them. (I don’t know about the video guy’s credentials, but I’m saying this as something I’ve generally noticed about people who cry ‘God’. However seeing as he has done just that I’m willing to bet he’s just as ignorant on the topic as everyone else who says God did it..)

Furthermore, if you think about it, it’s not all that impressive that you can put a square inside a rectangle and come out with a rectangle with the same ratio as the original rectangle.

To use Douglas Adams’ analogy:

‘Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.’

Basically, this ‘golden ratio’ is given way more significance than it deserves and has been made out to be way more complex than it actually is.

This ratio does not point to design. By definition the posited designer must be even more complex than everything in existence, so nothing has been explained and a bigger problem has been created. We also know from the observable Universe that things naturally start simple and get more complex. So to put forward a god that is more complex than the Universe itself simply doesn’t make sense.

Intelligent design is not helpful in understanding how the Universe came to be. What people should really strive for is the proper practice of science, as through the pursuit of science and reason we can discover the true beauty of the Universe and how everything actually came about.

The Universe operates under certain physical laws; laws that allow this pattern to reoccur in nature. If there was a God, surely he should sign his work with something slightly more obvious than a spiral pattern?

With regards to evolution, many animals share a body plan. This is because evolution can only work with what it already has, and if something works and is advantageous in an environment it will be propagated. In fact, here’s a link to some research which seems to show that when the golden ratio appears in living things, it does so because it is extremely efficient and something selection would favour.

Last bit (had a little help from Ankur on this part):

1. The assertion is that everything that shows the golden ratio is designed.

2. It follows from 1. that if the golden ratio is a universal indicator of design, then all objects that are designed must show the golden ratio

3. It follows from 2. that anything that does not show the golden ratio is not designed.

4. It is possible to show examples in nature that don’t show this ratio.

5. Therefore it follows that all those examples aren’t designed, and because they are extremely similar to other examples of a similar type which do show the golden ratio, it follows that extremely similar objects would be designed and not designed, this is absurd.

6. It is also true that I can draw things that don’t show the golden ratio, and these drawings would be designed, thus showing the initial assertion (2.) to be flawed and invalid.

To conclude, presence of the golden ratio is not a viable indicator of design.

 

So yeah, I was told to look a little deeper and as it turns out, the argument was exposed to be severely flawed. A little critical thinking goes a long way 😉

Here is a flower:

Hope you enjoyed my first post 🙂

Juliet