What’s in a name?

September 28, 2009

This coming Wednesday, September 30th will be the first occurrence of International Blasphemy Day. This is an event that has been organised to show the importance and altogether relevance of free speech in society. The name obviously invokes the feeling that this is an event designed to ridicule religion and the choice of date will do nothing to relieve these feelings. September 30th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the publication of a cartoon in Denmark depicting the prophet Mohammed that outraged the Muslim world.

Muslim protests in Britain

Muslim protests in Britain

But was this date chosen merely to anger the religious world and appear to give licence to the abuse of religions and the faithful? I think not. It was in fact that nearly any anniversary of an event that was shown to stifle free speech would involve religion. It seems that the religious are at the same time the most easily offended and the first to try to dampen free speech.

What makes up the basic concept of free speech is to have the ability to say anything that isn’t a threat to violence without the fear of arrest or reprisals. There obviously has to be some restrictions on this in any society but as a whole society censors what is said itself. The people will shout down what is unacceptable and nowadays this will result in a trial by media. This system isn’t fail proof but that is one of the key factors of why it works and also one of the proofs.

The idea of having a day to celebrate free speech is a good one but it is open to the possibility of been soiled by personal arguments. The famed evolutionary biologist and atheist PZ Myers has not helped matters by stating on his blog Pharyngula that “the purpose of the day is to jeer at religion”. But at the same time I can also make the prediction that any action taken on the 30th of September will be seen by each of the three major Abrahamic religions as a personal attack on them. Some of these actions will be attacks on one or more religion and a lot of these will in fact be justified.

Any people who do attack the religions for their violation of the freedom of speech will however have to be very careful. It could be all too easy for them to begin blocking the very freedom of speech that we must allow for everyone, including but not especially the religious.

On the whole I think that the choice of name was a good one for one simple reason. It will bring the event to the fore by stirring very personal feelings. It showed mastery in marketing by causing inevitable debates even before the event. I hold as proof of this the very article that you are reading. If it wasn’t for International Blasphemy Day then this article would never have been written.


The immaculate deception.

September 22, 2009
The Virgin Mary with the angel Gabriel

The Virgin Mary with the angel Gabriel

Jesus of Nazareth was purported to be the son of God. This obviously meant that his mother Mary had to be a virgin at the time of his birth so that he wasn’t born with original sin. The birth of the son of god also had to be virgin birth due to the fact that it would tarnish the point if a human seed was involved. So basically god decided to impregnate Mary and got the angel Gabriel to let her know. Responsible parenting from the off I see.

There are of course some obvious explanations for this so called ‘virgin’ birth but I don’t think that we need to explain them here. What is very interesting and also fairly predictable is the fact that this idea of Immaculate Conception is not unique to Christianity. In Hinduism many of the gods are born in this way and Gautama Buddha’s mother dreamt on the night of his conception that a white elephant with six tusks entered into her right side. After ten lunar months he was born through a slit in his mother’s right side. One can only presume that this was where the elephant had entered.

The ancient fathers and modern theologians like the idea of Immaculate Conception because then they can spout rhetoric of purity while at the same time generating fear in the people. How can the flock ever hope to be pure when they are born tainted by the sin of their parents? This also creates a feeling of self loathing at the natural carnal urges of the faithful.

In Victorian England sex was one of the biggest taboos. In most forms of art, especially literature the subject was treated as if it didn’t exist. A fact that was on the whole detrimental to the art. This may not just be coincidental with the fact that it was also a deeply religious time. Although it was during this time that Darwin published his Origin of Species and many public figures expressed doubt in the church most people were regular church attendees, going at least once every Sunday. The bible was staple reading throughout all of the classes and as a whole the church was a powerful, fear inducing institution.

It would seem from the evidence that the church throughout its history has had a fearful relationship with the female sex. Women have regularly been seen as a corrupting factor and have been suppressed because of this. You only have to look at the abuses of women’s rights that happen regularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran or in Saudi Arabia where, in adherence to the official interpretation of Islamic law women are not permitted to drive. It could be said that the religious have never trusted women since Eve’s betrayal in the Garden of Eden.

I think though the main point of having a figure that is divine within a religion born via a virgin birth is simply down to the claim for purity. It lays a much better case for a divine connection when someone, or someone’s followers can claim that they where born without the intervention of a male hand. It leaves the position of father open. A position that the divine would be the most obvious candidate to fill.

If someone today claimed that they or anybody else was born via Immaculate Conception then they would be covered in scorn and branded either delusional or a liar. At the very best it would be considered spin for whatever movement that they were leading. I haven’t said a religious movement but I have no doubt that anyone claiming virgin birth would be connected to some form of religious group. If such doubt and ridicule is the treatment towards such a claim made now, why then do supposedly intelligent people still believe that this happened two thousand years ago? It would seem that these people may well be deluded or if not then suffering from a massive case of hypocrisy of beliefs.

I wish to make one small final point in the case against God regarding Immaculate Conception and then I will leave the subject for now. Surely if you impregnate a woman and then only tell her after the event this would be considered rape? Just a thought that’s all.

A reason to leave.

September 21, 2009

The European Union is a great idea in principle. Free trade amongst a select host of smaller nations would help them to compete against the world super powers such as the United States and China. Inclusion in the treaties allow individuals from member nations to trade, work and move freely between other member nations.

Originally set up with only six nations, Belgium, (West) Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg the European Union now consists of twenty seven sovereign states. There is also a list of three official candidate countries and five potential candidate countries. If all of these countries are included that would take the number of member states to thirty five. This would mean that peoples of thirty five different nationalities and cultures are free to roam from country to country in what could potentially be called a European super state.

EU_map_names_islesWhat recent history has shown us is that when people are free to move from country to country then a lot are more than ready to do so. The shift is generally one way, towards an improvement in the quality of life. What has tended to happen is that when a new country is included into the union then its nationals will move to a more developed state within the union. The reasons for doing this are far too obvious to list here. The trend of immigration stems itself over time and some people opt to return to their home country when the economic climate has improved. These improvements come about as the country becomes more integrated into the European Union.

Here I think it only right that I interject and point out that I in no way called be called someone who is pro Europe and in most matters I would say that I am heavily against the idea of a unified Europe. As I said at the beginning I believe the idea to be a good one in principle but the reality has turned out to be beyond anyone’s control. This I feel is in the most part down to corruption, nepotism and cronyism. There are probably a few more ism’s to be thrown in there as well but I can’t think of them right now. I also believe that the institute of the European Union is an entirely self serving one.

In the UK there as been a feeling amongst the general population that we have been flooded with people from Eastern Europe in the past few years. We have to tread careful here for two reasons. Firstly, there are approximately 5.5 million British nationals living abroad compared to approximately 4.1 million foreign nationals living in the UK. That puts us almost 1.5 million people up.

The second point however is more important. We are in extreme danger of been hypocritical in regards to immigration. We talk a lot about people turning up from abroad and working here but we seem to forget that we have somewhat of a reputation in this field. The methods we employed in the past in regards to emigrating abroad where not as subtle as what is happening here and now. We would simply turn up to a country and take it over by use of brutal force. We wouldn’t even offer the common courtesy of working alongside the local inhabitants. We would just have them do what we said. At one time these people became our commodities. We would import and export them as slaves as if they were bundles of linen.

We complain that our country is been taken over but is it really? We are not force to work for the immigrants to the UK, we are simply asked to work alongside them. At the same time we are given the option of going to live and work in other countries if the inclination and opportunities exist.

Probably the immigration system is wrong in Europe and is doomed by design to fail. But we need immigration. It is natural and necessary for the advancement of societies. It does however need to be controlled. I don’t think now is the place to discuss this but it is something that is in need of investigation.

I will leave you here with one thought in mind. We all have something that would make us leave our homes and move abroad. What is yours? Also, next time you meet someone who is from another country consider what was theirs.

A little help with the packaging please.

September 14, 2009

We are destroying our planet. That much must now be obvious to even the most ignorant of us. We are using up all of our natural resources and drowning in our own waste. Constantly we are been told that we must recycle. It will soon be law that we recycle everything that possibly can be recycled from our household waste. This, I think is the least that we can do.

Let us take a look at what our waste actually consists of. There will be food waste, junk mail, old newspapers and a host of other random household items. The majority however will be made up of packaging. Our society is obsessed with packaging. Some of this is for obvious reasons. It would be hard for us to take home soup without the tin for example. Some of the packaging is designed so that we can put it away in our cupboards easily. This is very nice of the companies but I’m sure if it meant using less packaging, therefore fewer resources we could all live with the slight inconvenience.

Plastic seems to be our planets nemesis at the moment. It takes centuries to decompose and very little of it is readily recyclable. This is because the process of recycling the plastics that are recyclable is both complex and expensive. This is a problem that is been addressed but it will take time. The biggest problem with plastics however is that our society is obsessed with them.

Due to the fact that we are so concerned with freshness we wrap a lot of our food products in plastic. Not just once but repeatedly. Yes we all like our food to be fresh but is all of this extra packaging really adding to keep the product as fresh as possible or is this just an illusion? Do we think that the food is fresher simply because it appears that more effort has gone into making it look that way?

A big burden is been put on the individual to recycle and rightly so. But we need help. This is not something that we can do on our own. Pressure needs to be put onto companies to reduce their packaging. If we have less to recycle then the problem itself is reduced.

Someone should mention to the manufacturers of these products that as an added incentive they would save money too. Maybe this would make them pay attention.

Advertising Excess.

September 9, 2009

The media is filled at the moment with talk of the British Medical association wanting a total ban on all forms of alcohol advertising. It is advising this as a measure to curb the culture of binge drinking that is now prevalent in UK society. More so among young people than any other segment of society. But would a ban on advertising really be effective?

The report states that approximately 96% of thirteen year olds were aware of alcohol advertising in one form or another. We can’t really say that this is a surprising figure in a world where we are bombarded with advertising from all directions. The report also pointed towards the positive impact that a ban on tobacco advertising had. I personally think that it is hard to compare tobacco and alcohol in this light. For years the health issues regarding smoking had been forced upon us. Cigarette packets have had health warnings on them for more than three decades. Even now when we are fully aware of the impact that drinking can have on our health there are still no warnings on alcohol packaging. Even before the ban on tobacco advertising the number of smokers was waning.

The main problem with this issue is the fact that it has very quickly become political. There are other measures that have been recommended by the health association in their report but these will be less popular with the masses than a ban on advertising. These include an increase in tax on alcohol, a ban on reduced price drinks offers, including ‘happy hours’ and a reduction in licensing hours.

Political parties have to walk a fine line between pleasing the big companies (who provide them with funding) and pleasing the general public (who vote for them). The big companies would not like to see a ban on alcohol advertising for reasons that are more than obvious. The general public will not want to see anything that will hit them in their pockets.

If we treat this as a political issue then it will come down to tit for tat vote winning by the political parties. This will never stop the binge drinking culture that we have in this country. What are needed are not measures that are designed to restrict us but measures that go a lot deeper than that. What is really needed here is a policy to change the way that alcohol is perceived in this country. What we really need to do is change the way that we use, or more to the point abuse, alcohol.

This makes it not a political issue but a personal one. It is an issue that we each need to confront, not just for our health but for our society as well.

Another Tantrum Liam?

July 22, 2009

On Tuesday night the Manchester born band Oasis played a concert at the Roundhouse in Camden. After only a short time their front man Liam Gallagher stormed off stage after telling the crowd “I hope you feel as uncomfortable as I do.” His brother, noel, who is obviously used to such outbursts from his younger sibling continued with the show stating “I think someone’s in a bad mood”.

The incident was brought about by people throwing beer onto the stage and at Gallagher himself. Personally I can understand why he walked off stage if indeed he had been targeted. The question here though is whether or not he was actually targeted or was it just a case of the rock star acting the prima donna. People have paid to see these artists perform and have a right to get what they pay for but at the same time the artists should and must be respected.

Although I was not myself present I imagine that it was only a few who threw anything in the direction of the stage. This means that once again it was the actions of the few that ruined the experience for others. This said, Liam’s older brother acted professionally and kept the show going by leading the crowd in a perfect rendition of The Masterplan. This paved the way for the younger Gallagher’s eventual return half an hour later.

Gallagher’s behaviour may be seen as inappropriate as people have paid money to see him perform. It is from these very people that he has made his living so in turn he should respect them. But no one, in the course of their working day should have anything thrown at them. Its something that people just should not have to put up with. This is a point that is often forgotten with musicians and also sportsman. They may be well paid for what they do but playing a concert is work to them just like going to the office is work to us.

Liam Gallagher however has a history of moody and abusive behaviour. This in turn must rub off onto his fans who will often try to emulate their hero’s behaviour. Does this mean that been abused himself is something that Liam Gallagher has brought on himself? Probably, but we must still ask whether or not it is right. The answer to this is that it is not right but it will persist to happen to performers such as Oasis because of the stupidity of the few and also due to the image that they themselves have constructed.

A final point must be made here regarding image. It can not be said that this incident will harm Gallagher or his band in any way. They seem to thrive on this sort of notoriety. They must surely know this. It will be interesting to see when the next such incident occurs. Maybe when there haven’t been too many headlines. Just a suggestion Mr. Gallagher.

Under Press- ure

July 19, 2009

In the past week it has been reported that the big banks are starting once again to award big bonuses to its employees. The world is bitter about this and rightfully so. The press it seems are particularly outraged about this and if the press is outraged then so are the rest of us. I don’t want this to be yet another blog post vilifying the banks and their bonus culture. The discussion of the rights and wrongs of this is for another post I think. What I want to focus on here is the role of the media in this and more importantly, their reasons for doing this.

When the front pages of the newspapers, especially the red topped tabloids, scream out at us about the exuberant wages or bonuses bankers receive we should really consider why they are telling us this. We should also give careful consideration as to whether or not it is right for them to tell us this.

A favourite saying in a lot of articles of this nature is “the public has a right to know”. But do we really have the right to know about someone’s personal income. Bankers are private individuals just like the rest of us. They are not politicians or celebrities who’s lives are open for public scrutiny by the fact of their career choice or for the safety of the public’s interests. How happy would we be if our earnings were splashed across the front of the newspapers for the world to see? How happy would the journalist who wrote the article be if it was made public how much he had been paid for the article?

The current banking system requires a massive overhaul. That much is plainly obvious. This overhaul needs to be carried out with great care by people with great integrity and vast amount of experience within the financial markets and banking sector. The banks cannot be allowed to regulate themselves but the regulators must understand how the banks have to work. Banks are not like any other business. It is not just the share holders who lose if the bank goes bust. It is everyone and everything. As we have seen, the economy controls and influences everything.

These decisions and changes need to be made with great care and at the right time. They cannot be made under the pressure applied by sensationalised headlines. Sensationalism causes politicians to get involved in issues and politicians have a nasty habit of turning things political. The measure they apply are, or at least try to be instantaneous so the public can see that they are doing something and hopefully see that it is working while the issue is still fresh in everyone’s minds. These problems don’t need three to five year plans but twenty five to fifty year plans.

The media moguls will understand that these decisions cannot be rushed but just like the politicians they see things in the short term. They know that sensational headlines sell papers. Paper sales in turn generate advertising revenue and this is where the great media hypocrisy lies. They will run stories lambasting the banks for the fat cat attitudes and the way that they rip off customers. On the next page will be an advertisement for the same bank.

So the moral of this story is that while the media is most definitely against the banks taking our money, it doesn’t mind them spending it with them. Just as long as it all sells papers.