Thursday, 16 December 2010

A shit article

The Daily Mail is, without exception, the worst national British newspaper in print. I know that attacking the company is rather fashionable, and I hate to jump on a bandwagon, but I write this to tell you why it is both inferior and more dangerous than all the other newspapers. I shall do so in a rather droll – yet I feel accurate – analogy.

The Sun and the News of the World are, in my eyes, pieces of shit. Everyone can see they are shit, and they know themselves that they are shit. They look like shit, smell like shit, and whenever you pick them up, you are just holding a pile of shit. However, shit is also quite funny. It appeals to our basic sense of humour, and whenever we can’t be bothered for anything intellectual, looking at shit can be both comical and undemanding. These newspapers make it absolutely clear that nobody should take them seriously, as shown by the bright red panels and decisions to daub Katie Price all over the front page. They are essentially telling everybody, “Don’t take us seriously! We are sloppy shits!”

The Daily Mail, however, is a pile of nutty shit in a cheap suit. The black font and elaborate crest on their logo gives off the illusion of an up-market brand. Unlike The Sun, they don’t suddenly put the odd word in caps-lock LIKE THIS, and it seems that they are able to use correct grammar. Hence our subconscious wants to think that these are informed people writing such articles, and that we can trust the ideas that they churn out. Alas, in these cases we are not looking past its superficially presentable suit, and that the most important issue is actually the pile of revolting smelly shit that sits underneath. 

Their attitude towards science is reprehensible, and usually factually wrong. They publish any nonsense story from either an untrustworthy source or misleading piece of data and blast it across the pages to scare us. The readers then believe this fetid narrative because it is written in a paper that gives off the impression that it knows what it’s talking about. The public learn to mistrust and fear one of the most magnificent, inspired – and let's not forget profitable – establishments on earth, which is, of course, science. They then turn the page to the Horoscopes section, only to be told that they’ll meet someone special because Jupiter is crossing with Pluto.

Their conservativeness is almost satirical. I am neither liberal nor conservative, as I feel every issue requires an objective viewpoint, but if you are a conservative then you should hate this newspaper most of all! They extrapolate the conservative stereotype to a shameless degree, allowing your position to be so easily mocked, which it very often should not. Conservatives frequently have brilliant ideas, but deceptive piles of shit like the Daily Mail tarnish you all with the same brush, which can only be destructive to your position.

Newspapers really do influence people’s opinions, and so the Daily Mail needs to work out what it is. Is it a respectful entity in a Calvin Klein suit, or is it a pile of proud, wet steaming shit that we can all recognise and enjoy? It really does matter, and they have a responsibility to the opinions of millions of voters. Because right now, the Daily Mail is a sweaty turd wrapped in a £10 Primark jacket, with shit quietly oozing through the buttonholes like rancid toothpaste from a decrepit tube. It spews out nonsense similar to The Sun, but merely with correctly constructed sentences and an appealing aura of intellect.

The Daily Mail can be personified by The Apprentice’s very own Stuart Baggs. He did fool us for a bit and, sure, he may still convince some people now. However, Lord Sugar eventually saw past Baggs’ deceptive appearance, felt humiliated at ever being taken in by it, pointed at him and irately exclaimed, “You’re full of shit, basically.”

Let’s all react this way to the Daily Mail.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Glory of YouTube

My appreciation and understanding of the natural world can be attributed to one thing above all else: YouTube.

This may sound odd for a medium that is used primarily to watch sneezing pandas or X-factor clips, but YouTube is genuinely the most incredible educational tool. Think of virtually anything– from Quantum Theory to DNA splicing – and there will probably be a fascinating short video discussing it. There are videos for all levels of detail and presumed knowledge. There are discussions and debates to learn about related issues. It really never has been so easy to learn about the world we live in. I only did physics up to GCSE, but countless videos explaining the Higgs Boson and String Theory means I feel I’ve got at least a decent grasp on many rather complex issues. I promise you, the more you learn, the more you appreciate this incredible cosmos.

You don’t need to go out your way to find a book, or even be alert enough to bother reading. Just type in a word you think may be interesting and there’s likely to be an American professor explaining the issue to you from the comfort of your bed. That, if you ask me, is truly amazing, and something which the internet doesn’t receive enough credit for.

People think that reading makes you a more intelligent and interesting person. This may well be true. But it’s not reading per se that is significant: it’s the information. You can read crap books forever and still be remarkably stupid. Equally, you could watch fascinating concise clips on YouTube and listen to absorbing Podcast debates and lectures, teaching yourself masses of data whilst kicking back and letting technology do the work. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it should really be encouraged.

Never before have we been able to learn so much in such a languid manner. For inherently lazy yet curious people like me, it really is tremendous.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ratzinger: Condoms are OK... in certain circumstances

Finally, the Pope is cracking. As has happened so often in the past, the reasonable people of this world are getting through to the Vatican, and Joseph Ratzinger has legitimised condoms in ‘this or that case’. It is yet another instance when I wonder why this wasn’t ‘revealed’ to the Pope earlier. I’ve gathered that he has a hot line to God – if it’s OK now, why wasn’t it OK in the past? Has God changed his mind? Why, today, does the creator of the universe approve of condoms, albeit in certain instances? If we had been told of this loophole earlier it certainly would’ve stopped Ratzinger becoming the immoral laughing stock he is today. And it probably could’ve prevented many torturous deaths of people who are convinced it’s better to get AIDS than the possibility of burning forever in hell.

I know the Vatican strongly advocates celibacy, which is obviously the best way to prevent AIDS. And I know people don’t really think, “AIDS or hell? I’ll choose AIDS,” but for an establishment that ‘accepts’ evolution, they have a lot of learning to do. We are here because of our sex drive: those who want to have sex the most produce more little babies, which will grow up to have the same subconscious urge for sex. Sex-crazed organisms take over the world, and it is not surprising that every species follows this pattern. It is why we are here, and so, Ratzinger, you won’t stop people from having sex.

But this is what people have been saying for decades.

Condoms are the way forward, and there’s very little reasoning you can do to deny that. You’ve now opened the door to common sense. So I’m just waiting for you to cave in, slowly and surely, to the reasoned voices of the world. As has happened so often in the past.

(Full text of the Pope’s comments at

Monday, 27 September 2010

How Long Before We Kill The Oceans?

On the 23rd September, the first independent, peer-reviewed paper on the size of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak was published in Science. It concluded that some 4.4 million (± 20%) barrels of oil escaped into the ocean, and that is after taking into account the 804,877 barrels that BP collected at the site. That equates to 127,965 cubic metres of oil that has been pumped straight into the sea.

We’ve all seen the pictures of the poor birds struggling to breathe and flap their wings upon the shore. Now extrapolate that millions of times and try to comprehend the utter destruction we are subjecting the most important ecosystem on earth to. Think of the suffering, but, in a more long-term stance, think of how it will affect population numbers of fish, marine mammals, plankton, algae and all those other vital organisms that never reach the headlines. The release of toxic chemicals such as benzene, napthalene and toluene will cause unimaginable amounts of death and suffering.

This devastation may well, of course, go unreported, because we have a habit of ignoring the way in which we abuse the oceans for all it’s worth. It really does seem that, because the carcasses are well beyond our horizon or beneath the waves, we do not see it as a problem. We have a history of this.

The (primarily Asian) delicacy of shark fin soup – as well as the irrational belief that its meat has healing powers – has led to the plummeting of shark populations worldwide. It is now commonplace to see a 90% decrease in shark numbers since 1970. What happens as a consequence? The sharks’ prey numbers escalate enormously, and in turn their prey collapse. The whole ecosystem is subject to uproar. Those species which do rise in numbers will eventually cave in due to over competition and not enough resources for them. It is thought about 75 million sharks are killed each year, although this number could be vastly larger due to lucrative illegal businesses. To put that into context, the British human population is 61 million; consider killing everybody in Britain, plus many, many million on top of that, each year. It equates to killing the population of Luton (205,000) each day.

Our methods of fishing are abhorrent. We cast kilometre-wide nets – by their thousands – into the ocean, weighted by heavy balls of metal. The nets sweep up everything in their path, regardless of what it is. The carcasses of turtles, sharks, dolphins and undesired fish are thrown over the side as bycatch. Simultaneously, the weights at the bottom of the net scrape along the ocean floor, ripping up whatever happens to be down there.

Remember that these organisms have lived in a delicate balance without us for millions of years. Our arrival, as relentless predators of the guardians of the oceans, will create unrivalled desolation. We are utterly raping the ocean, and I would not be surprised if it were dead within my lifetime. Why do we let it continue? I can think of no other reasoning but because the trail of destruction immediately sinks. It is out of sight, and so apparently, out of mind. Would such actions be tolerated if they were on land?

It is estimated that between 70 and 80% of the atmospheric oxygen comes from marine plants. As we have established, disrupting ocean food webs could cause this number to fall dramatically. Hence therefore, we have a selfish reason to preserve the oceans, as well as a moral one. The statement that we’ll not have any fish to eat in future is one that is almost too blatant to point out. The rises in ocean temperature, acidity and the tremendous pollution we are pouring into it are merely afterthoughts, despite the horrendous potential each has for ruining our seas.

We depend upon the oceans for our lives. I don’t know why people overlook such a major issue. Possibly because data are difficult to obtain for an accurate picture to be formed (as Professor John Shepherd said, "Counting fish is like counting trees, except they are invisible and they keep moving”)? Possibly due to scientific illiteracy, and governments not appreciating how vital a role they play? Possibly due to deluded ideas that the world is for us to harvest (as proclaimed in Genesis)? Possibly because the carnage is out of sight? Possibly because there will always be the demand, and illegal fishing is so easy? I suspect the reality is a combination of each of these poisonous explanations.

Paper cited:
Magnitude of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak, TJ Crone & M Tolstoy.
Published online 23 September 2010; 10.1126/science.1195840

Monday, 6 September 2010

A Short Note About Anti-Blair Protesters

I’m thinking of heading up to London to acquire a signed Tony Blair book on Wednesday. I looked up the details on the internet to learn that, surprise surprise, bloody anti-war protesters are hoping to arrest him.

Well, you inconsiderate louts, I think Tony has got the point. He’s not going to see you and think, “Oh dear, I thought they all wanted us attack Iraq. I totally misunderstood the millions that protested in 2003.” Even if he did, nothing can be changed now, you’re just clogging up the streets, making me angry and delaying the queues. So, shut up and stay at home. This is the most mindless expression of opinion, and I’m getting quite tired of hearing your opinions. Do you reuse your anti-war T shirts and banners every time you and your pals protest? Because your tedious arguments have been recycled over and over again for as long as I remember, whilst your attendance on Wednesday will not change anybody's opinion. Rather like every time the BNP are mentioned, people seem to find it necessary to go mental and shout about how much they hate Tony Blair whenever he’s in public. Fine, we get it. We know what you have to say. Everyone does. But we’ve formed an opinion in our own heads, peacefully and logically, as has Mr Blair. You don’t have to spoil my chance of obtaining a signed book from one of the most influential people of our time.

Alas, you won’t stay at home. Because I know how much you love protests, feeding off the passion of each other in a rather ugly positive feedback loop.


The Universe is Queerer Than We Can Suppose

That great evolutionary Biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” The words of this beautiful quotation are beginning to bear fruit, in what is a truly glorious reality check.

We have evolved on the surface of a relatively placid planet where nothing we need concern ourselves with moves too swiftly or sluggishly or is too massive or minute. Timescales we are accustomed to range from a few milliseconds to, perhaps, fifty years. The array of unsightly tissue in our skulls, known as the brain, has been selected to only comprehend matters on this scale. We should not, therefore, be disappointed when we are unable to grasp deep, underlying scientific principles. Indeed, we should exalt in it, for it is a constant reminder of our place in the universe, where we were never meant to comprehend the forces that have created us.

Our knowledge of the universe is bounded, first and foremost, by our imagination. Every theory that has ever been postulated had to first be dreamt up, based upon previous knowledge. However, we are reaching a point where we may become unable to dream up a hypothesis because the reality of the universe is so alien from what our brains have evolved to comprehend. Even seemingly fundamental ideas such as the electron, quantum theory and even mass itself are theoretically explainable, but only by making assumptions that we cannot logically justify. We don’t know why, for example, an electron can undergo quantum leaps, but we have a model of assumptions that can explain such phenomena to incredible accuracy. A single electron can travel through two slits at the same time: again, we can give a workable explanation, consistent with all known facts, but we will never be able to actually understand why. I feel we may soon reach a point when the model required to explain an observation is so complex and so unfamiliar to us that the truth will remain forever undiscovered.

Remember, our species is in its infancy. The knowledge that we have acquired about the universe is a mere fraction of everything we will ever learn – and everything we will ever learn is an even smaller fraction of what is actually out there. If, already, our imaginations are straining to understand what is going on in the universe, brace yourself for what is to come.

In a way, it is rather a conceited opinion for us to expect to understand anything that is going on in the universe. Why should we? We survive on a small fraction of one tiny planet, which itself is one of hundreds of billions in our humdrum galaxy; this galaxy itself is one of hundreds of billions of further galaxies in this universe; who knows, there may be hundreds of trillions of universes. The cosmos was not set up for our understanding, it exists independent of our wishes. There are secrets of the universe which will always be beyond our grasp. This is because we are using the brain of a prehistoric tribal ape from Western Africa: hardly the appropriate equipment to know the seemingly infinite cosmic space and time. Regardless, we can chip away at these secrets as best we can, in what is an amazing testament to our species. Who knows what will remain undiscovered?

It’s just a shame that no conscious entity will ever be able to know it.

Friday, 3 September 2010

My Love for Joe Hart

In a contrast from the theme of my previous posts, I’d like to express my love for Joe Hart.

This time last year, I told all those around me how he would be the best signing Birmingham City would make. I was proved resoundingly correct,  made all the more satisfying that many people didn’t even know who he was. I knew. Having watched him at the England Under 21 European Championships, I could see the confidence he held swaggering around the box. He scored a penalty and stood there, arms aloft, like he was The Man. It was remarkably refreshing to see that during an England shoot out.

We now see him as England’s undoubted number 1. But he’s only just – tonight – completed his first competitive international. Barely fifteen minutes into this match he was having a laugh with Glen Johnson after the defender was bailed out of a potentially embarrassing own goal. He made confident saves throughout, turning a clearance to an immediate England goal. He did, of course, produce yet another efficient clean sheet.

I am possibly one of Shay Given’s biggest fans. But Roberto Mancini’s decision to name Hart as number 1 over Given is one of the few correct selection choices the Italian has made. Hart is The Man. He will win over one hundred caps for England. He is the best goalkeeper in England, by a long way, by so many criteria. Hart will still be number 1 when my children begin to watch England games. Above all that, he’s an entertaining chap who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He does not seem to feel pressure, and I cannot say that with so much confidence about any England player I remember. He does not look like a weirdo like David Seaman or David James. He’s actually a bit of a pretty boy, with beach blond spiky hair and a cheeky grin. These may seem arbitrary factors, but how we – and the team – perceive a player is staggeringly important. We want someone who thrives in the limelight and wants the camera upon him, and Joe Hart is certainly that person.

I’m dryly pessimistic at every opportunity, especially with regards to football, and overwhelmingly with regards to the England national team. But we must cherish Hart. If we don’t, he won’t care, such is his confidence.

Why does he have to play for Manchester City?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Why Can We Trust What Science Tells Us?

I was recently chatting to someone regarding how mind-blowing our universe is. It is far more incredible than anything we’ve ever been able to imagine, whilst being deeper and more miraculous than our forefathers had ever suspected. I was then taken aback to be told that this is simply ‘my belief’, just as others may have ‘their belief’. It is just a subjective opinion, I was informed. The scientific method is one of the greatest notions ever to be conceived of, and it is because of the way science works that I know I can trust what it tells me. How does science actually work?

Firstly, science funding relies primarily upon grants. These are large sponsors who give you the money to do the research. Now these people do not casually give their cash away to anybody who asks for it. They have to be persuaded that it will be put to good use in important and worthwhile research.

So how are they persuaded? This comes through scientists and establishments building up a reputation as high-quality researchers who have published several reliable papers that have stood the test of time. If you do good research, then you build up a reputation amongst your peers. Your standing within science will increase, thus building upon a reputation that sponsors can look at to give you money in future. If you produce poor data, people are less likely to give you money, for fear of being associated with more poor data.

How can we tell who is a good scientist? Science is built upon honesty and criticism. Once you have performed some work, you publish your work in a journal. This journal is available for all to see, to dissect, to question and to criticise. If your work holds out after this deep analysis from experts all over the world, then your reputation is enhanced. If you have acquired poor data, it is discarded and forgotten about. The better scientist you are, the more likely you are to publish in more prestigious journals such as Nature.

We can, therefore, be quite confident that when we read research in Nature it is reliable. For every article we read, it has been analysed by thousands of scientists all over the world who are far more qualified than you or I will ever be.

Whatever people say, it is almost unanimously accepted across the West that science is superior to any other way of thinking. That is why the Vatican keeps caving in: the notion that the Earth is the centre of the Solar System is now redundant; the once-opposed theory of evolution is now accepted. If they were confident in themselves, they would hold firm with their original opinion and tell everybody that science is wrong. But they don’t because, even if they don’t explicitly say it, they know that science is the only way of knowing truth. Those people who say that science is just a ‘belief’ are suddenly quite confident in it when being flown across the world on holiday.

Establishments spreading drivel have disguised themselves in a scientific aura to draw in the unwary: Creation ‘Science’, Intelligent Design, homeopathy and nonsense scare stories in the Daily Mail all pretend to be scientific to try and fool us. But none of these has stood up to the scrutiny that we all know and love in science.

I am a big fan of Charles Darwin because his amazingly simple idea, from ignorant and superstitious times, still stands the test of time after 150 years of examination. Supporting data comes in each day, and our increased knowledge in the world around us merely confirms ever more strongly that what he proposed was correct.

The scientific method really is a beautiful concept. Far less beautiful, alas, than the universe itself.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

A Message to Umbrella Users

Dear Umbrella User,

I know it rains, and I know you don’t particularly want to get your hair wet. But, is an enormous umbrella particularly necessary when the moisture in the air creeps above the average, or perhaps is able to even be classified as ‘drizzle’? Is there also an unspoken rule amongst you to plough on down the centre of the pavement without feeling the slightest guilt at holding a weapon with metal spikes protruding in a 360-degree radius into my eye line? Because you seem to have no realisation that you are, in fact, taking up far more than your allotted pavement space and are thus intruding upon mine, prodding steel spears towards me whilst pouring a constant stream of water upon my increasingly sodden jeans. It is then up to me to dodge these constant threats in what all-too-often appears as an attempt to recreate a slow motion Jason Robinson montage. On a busy street, being attacked both from my left and right, this is certainly an unwanted burden. Chatting on your iPhone and arranging a time to meet your friends at Starbucks is not an excuse for not noticing me. I don’t want a cool surge of water on any part of my body, thank you. Neither do I want to have reduced vision in one eye, a cut on my face, or even heightened annoyance as a result of your absent-minded and egocentric stroll. In the rare occasion I bite the bullet and use an umbrella myself I make a deliberate, and possibly exaggerated, effort to make sure that the pedestrian walking in my direction is not in the slightest troubled by the pole of shame that I hold above my head. It may be difficult to tip your wrist 45-degrees so that the other person can walk unimpeded, and you may encounter a few rain drops during that two second period, but if you can’t handle that, I have two suggestions:
  1. Stay inside.
  2. Wear a raincoat.

You could, of course, ignore my advice and continue the way you are. But I’ll be judging you when that happens. I’ll hold my silence, but I’ll be judging you – you and your people.

Kind regards from a gentleman in damp jeans,

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Whoever You Are, You Are Mind-Bogglingly Lucky

The probability of you or me existing is, to any reasonable – or even unreasonable – degree, essentially zero. Yet we are here, as real as anything that has ever subsisted and fortunate enough to live in the most exciting time of technological and scientific advancement that the world – and possibly the universe – has ever seen. The number of people that could be here in my place grossly outnumbers the sand grains of the Sahara many times over. Furthermore, the probability of humanity ever evolving in the first place is a trillion fold less likely even than that. To try and comprehend such odds is physically unattainable, as is trying to grasp most things about the universe. I’d just like to show you why we should rejoice every second we have upon this earth.

Imagine if simply one other of your father’s one hundred million sperm fused with your mother’s egg the moment you were conceived. A different array of genes would have arisen in the future child and therefore, by definition, you would never have existed. This person would be sleeping in my bed, possibly with my name, living with my family. What would he or she have been like? Consider again how unlikely it was for your parents to have met in the first place. As much as we want to think it was fate, any rational mind can see it was almost entirely pure chance that they met in the first place.

I would like you to do a difficult thing: extrapolate these odds over billions of generations, over four billion years. Each generation faces the same atrociously poor odds of any given two individuals mating. If, at any point, events conspired differently, a different course of action would have been set in motion, culminating in an entirely distinct body from me gaining consciousness upon the planet – in my place. Every generation faces a staggering challenge to simply survive. Yet, despite the slim chance of survival that each faced, every single one of our ancestors lived long enough to reproduce. If any of them had chosen a different mating partner, the array of genes that gives rise to me would never have arisen. I would not be here, and you almost certainly would not too, for essentially every single one of my ancestors is yours, too. Evolution may have gone down such a different path that humanity, even, may not have arisen. Extrapolating further, think of how unlikely it was for life to arise: a few replicating molecules eventually are sculpted into entities we know as ‘living’. How unlikely it is for this planet to even exist, let alone have precisely the right position, temperature and gravitational field (to say the least) to support life. If any one of these events conspired differently, a molecule here or there, and we would not exist. No tears would be shed; for the thought of our lives ever taking shape would have entered nobody’s heads.

I am paraphrasing: the reality and true odds against our existence are far, far lower than I have presented here. Some people see this as strong evidence in favour of a god. The fact that, despite these unimaginably poor odds, we are indeed here suggests that there is an all-powerful entity with us in mind, surely?

Imagine the national lottery, where everybody without a winning ticket was secretly shot dead. The only survivors are the ones who have winning tickets. They may all converse, confident that the balls were fixed precisely to favour them, for they never come across anyone without a winning ticket. Eventually, with a large enough sample, there will be somebody who wins the lottery ten times in a row. This person may be utterly convinced that the whole scenario has been fixed to favour him; otherwise how could he have survived for so long? The reality is much more logical. The only people who are able to contemplate it are precisely those who have won the lottery. The millions of losers do not have a voice, and so the only people speaking are the lucky ones. This is analogous to our situation in life: if I were not here, it would be somebody else, equally as stunned. But as it is, that person was never conceived of and it is I, in my ordinariness, who is able to contemplate my good fortune.

I am frequently utterly overwhelmed at the astonishing nature of our cosmos. How lucky I am – not only to exist, but also to actually be able to comprehend such facts – utterly staggers me. I want to scream “Thank you!” to somebody, but, as an atheist, I realise there is nobody to thank. Subsequently, the realisation that I have arisen by the blind forces of gravity, electromagnetism and natural selection, and that they are all I have to thank, genuinely overpowers my mind to the point of needing a rest. If you ever think you fully comprehend your own presence on Earth, then I can assure you that you do not. We are the winners of the most monumental lottery ever undertaken. We need to realise this and rejoice every second we are conscious. We owe it to those trillions and trillions of silent, unborn people who unfortunately did not obtain a winning ticket. Who are we to complain about petty issues when we look at reality in this way?

I feel that, when I die, there is no greater tribute I can pay to this world than for the atoms in my body – which had only temporarily taken residence in my tissues – to fall back into the soil they came from. On the day I die, a molecule that may have played a key role in the formation of my memories could, just hours later, be recycled into the secretary juices of a parasitic anaerobic bacterium. This is a beautiful reality, I assure you. No fear of an afterlife, no dread as to the opinion of an all-knowing individual constantly reading my thoughts. Just utter exhilaration to able to open my eyes, be conscious and realise – for the briefest of moments – why I am actually here. I recommend it.

My New Ten Commandments

The Biblical Ten Commandments are worryingly archaic for anybody who pretends to want to live by them in this day and age. Hence I thought they should be revised. I don’t think I (or anybody else) could take myself seriously if I began any sentence with ‘Thou Shalt Not’, and so I express these commandments in 21st century language. Here we go:

Do not condemn the private actions of anybody who is doing nobody else any harm.

Realise that science is the only way we’ve been able to know truth, so do not compromise what it tells you. Personal whim or ‘faith’ is no argument.

Do not lay a finger on a woman or a child.

Realise that values based upon secularism and freedom will trump all others, both morally and intellectually.

Realise that we are just animals living in a web of life. We rely upon nature for our existence and so give it the respect it deserves.

Do not indoctrinate children with any ideology. They have a right to any opinion, even if strongly contradicts yours.

Judge people on their actions and words, not upon their ethnicity or heritage.

Always take responsibility for your actions. You look like an immature coward when you accuse others when you are clearly in the wrong.

Treat others as you wish to be treated. Every human is essentially the same, and so there is nothing special about your desires above somebody else’s.

Do not be late, at least when you're meeting me, and turn off your fucking mobile phone. You have no idea how rude both these are for people who have gone out of their way to be in your company.

My Counterintuitive Reaction Over Syria’s Burqa Ban

I must admit that when I read of Syria's ban of burqas at universities, a tepid, refreshing feeling trickled through me like fresh urine flowing over my shoulders on a cold day. I was somewhat surprised by my reaction because I had previously disagreed with its prohibition in both France and Britain.

Although I staunchly deem this oppressive garment as opposed to our culture, conflicting with our secular values and conveying a dire attitude towards women, I feel that forbidding it is the wrong act to take. Rather like the blasphemy laws creating an embarrassing hysteria of panic-stricken individuals accusing each other of discrimination on every occasion religion is criticised, it will create a tension in conversations whenever the matter gets mentioned. It would maintain a general anti-Muslim feel to everyday life and appear to provide support to people who insult Muslims on illegitimate grounds.

I try to oppose banning on social issues as much as possible because, by creating a scapegoat, it minimises our capacity for free, healthy criticism. We should legally allow it, but let’s try and change opinions on their own grounds. Please, let us show them why we find it abhorrent and how we’ve advanced so far partly due to the elimination of primitive and bigoted ideas. We do not kill homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13) or kill followers of other religions (Numbers 25:1-9). This is another issue where healthy debate will overcome archaic superstition – despite the thankless task of getting through to those blinded by religion. Why, because that’s what our society is built on: free enquiry and evidence-based decisions. We’ve done pretty well so far and we need to just keep going.

Banning the burqa will force the subjects into a corner of intolerance and fear, whilst holding constant – and legitimate – resentment over their condemnation. It is worrying to think how these ladies will cope: on one hand we have a the male adherents of a patriarchal religion obliging them to wear the garment, whilst on the other hand the society she lives in will not allow her on the streets. Is this really doing what is best for her? Does it express our secular values in the correct ways? Is this the state we want the citizens of our country to be forced into? We need to understand that we will not end something by merely banning it. How do people behave on February 1st after a month of no chocolate or alcohol? They go mad for it! We must create honest, unthreatening debate where the adherents realise that it’s a silly thing to do. That’s all.

So, why did I enjoy reading about the news from Syria? I suppose it reflects a slowly growing realisation from people of all differing cultures that this piece of clothing is ridiculous. The fact that it came from a highly Islamic country was especially pleasing. We cannot continue to hold half of the world’s population in such low regard and people are now standing up for those values.

I saw a clip of a British lady wearing a burqa, telling us how she wasn’t forced to wear one by men, rather doing it to “please God.” May you consider first the angrily patriarchal nature of that God and the intolerance that He (or It? Does an omnipotent, omnipresent entity have gender?) advocates. If you don’t think men are, implicitly or explicitly, enforcing this, then look at the furious Pakistani protests in response to France’s new laws, chanting “Down with the West!” Count the number of women who joined in the rally.