Posted by: Skeptical Moose | July 31, 2011

For and Against God: that old chestnut

Andrew Zak Williams has collated a fairly useful set of reasons/opinions as to why people do and don’t believe.

http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2011/04/god-believe-faith-world-belief

http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2011/07/god-evidence-believe-world

I planned on tucking into a few of the logical fallacies and desperate appeals to ignorance, but then commenter JP said of the first list above: “A nice long list of bad arguments, emotional appeals, illogical beliefs, and just plain wrong information about history.” So, I’ll defer to his wise statement and save myself the Repetitive Strain Injury.

Have a read though, if only to gain ammunition for your next debate …

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | June 6, 2011

L’esprit de l’escalier, OR, What I should have said was …

It’s late and it’s dark, and I should be sleeping
But rest I can not, for my mind is creeping

And whilst I don’t fret, and happily ‘chillax’
The witty dinner table response is … perhaps

Often not something I’m able to say
Maybe it’s not ‘good dinner table etiquette’, or it might be my esprit de l’escalier

The lack of cutting riposte is simply not fair
Rarely at the table, but so often at the stairs

How is it that one is unable to cope?
My opponent reads a tabloid horoscope

And yet I fail to question his beliefs
As his quotes yet again … from Gillian McKeith

“Oh no no, I wouldn’t want to bore ya
Tell me more about this Derek Acorah”

Thus you find me here, with ample time
To conjecture some objections, and, somewhat self-indulgently … well, it is the Pod delusion … put them all in rhyme

A few basics …

1 I don’t need a God and neither do you, 2

The removal of a supernatural being on which so many rely could only help humanity, 3

Politicians and businessmen make careers and money out of war, 4

Learn about evolution and you’ll realise how lucky you are to be alive, 5

And even luckier to be sat somewhere warm, well fed, listening to and understanding this, 6

When it all ends we become the earth once more – our impersonal and interchangeable atoms of awareness and discovery make a final transition back into the world that spawned us. That’s Amazing with a capital A. Why on Earth do we need a construction called ‘heaven’?, 7

Everyone means something different when they say the word ‘fate’, 8

It isn’t cheesy – it’s factual – when one says: ‘what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine’, 9

If we don’t re-think ‘boom and bust’ capitalism RIGHT NOW, it will all happen again, 10

The majesty of science is that everything we hold to be true can be altered, under accepted experimental conditions, in a moment; such as the once denied, then disputed, then accepted fact that the Earth moves around the Sun.
And on that topic, I return you to 1

You see, what we’re dealing with here isn’t heresy, or jealousy, or treason
It’s science, self-reliance … reason

I don’t want Bible-freaks or dagger-wearing Sikhs, but truth
No ghetto-loving Jews, or post-modern Druze … but proof

After all, what do you call ‘alternative medicine’ that actually works?
Medicine

Just look at this Big Society we’ve managed to create
Where Big Brother Live replaces reasoned debate

And what a bizarre human state
That’s it rare to love, and more common to hate

Is this our future? Vacuous consumerisation
Says I, born ‘79, child of the MTV generation

You see, the point of life is to shop and to buy
One naturally assumes till you drop and you die
And if you refuse, and throw a strop and you cry
It’s called over the top and all wonder why

But why oh why am I telling you this?
I had my chance; an opportunity missed

His irrational ramblings I had to ignore
Alex, please leave your scepticism at the door

Frustration vented, it’s time for bed
All of the above, is what I should have said

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | May 25, 2011

The Wisdom of God

(with thanks to Jeremy Hoffman)

Create man with foreskin. Command him to cut it off.

Place fossils in ground. Troll scientists.

I gave you free will. use it exactly as I command.

Create world just for humans. 70% salt water. 20% Desert.

Unconditional love. Conditions apply.

No masturbation or premarital sex. Hormones peak at age 16.

Explain how I created the universe. Leave out the first 13 billion years.

The bible is a good source for morals. Kill gays, adulterers, disobedient children, non-Christians. Slaves are good.

Wisdom teeth, tail bones, goose bumps, male nipples. Intelligent design.

Help actress win awards. Do nothing about world hunger.

I am all powerful. Need a day off to rest.

He is the only god. But he get’s jealous.

Allow humans to exist in completely isolated jungle-tribes. Send them to hell for not being Christian.

Create gravity. forget to mention it.

Everything happens for a reason. Not tellin’.

Create Satan. Blame Satan.

Create universe. Wait 13 billion years to tell some people in the desert what to do.

Telescopes getting more powerful. Time to move further away from Earth.

Create imperfect world. To showcase own perfection.

Demand Adam and Eve follow a rule that requires the understanding of right and wrong. Don’t give them the knoweldge of right and wrong.

Jews are my chosen people. Allow Holocaust.

Accidentally makes humans too smart. They stop believing in me.

Love thy neighbor. Nevermind, he’s gay.

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | February 10, 2011

The case for vegetarianism!

Everything I wanted to say, but Jonathan Safran-Foer got there ahead of me with the superb ‘Eating Animals’:

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2011/20110119t1845vHKT.aspx is the podcast interview

http://www.eatinganimals.com/site/book/ the book that it relates to

The ‘ripple effect of carniverous behaviour’: health, environment, animals/human rights … all issues that our non-vegan consumption is affecting. Animals pumped so full of antibiotics that we are developing resistance; chickens kept alive in cages smaller than my computer; turkeys fed so much growth hormone they can’t stand upright; numerous creatures that are now unable to sexually reproduce …

When people say, ‘but eating meat is natural’, might we retort: what is natural about any of the above? Who enjoys the torture of fellow living species?! Food production in 2011 is a world away from its relatively recent past (when we had the honour of calling it ‘farming’). Being a veggie now is VERY different to the original philosophical debate.

Just wanted to share that with you. Worth a listen or read if you have the time …

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | January 14, 2011

Best of the year so far

Yes, I know it’s only mid-Jan, but us commuters rattle through so much material that I need to offload now and again (and I don’t mean offload in this sense)

http://twitter.com/#!/ScepticalMoose gives you a list so far

The highlights (if you don’t have countless hours to spend):

Dan Everett’s amazing experiences with the Piraha people. Covers language, culture and that which makes us human. Imagine everyday life with no numbers, no past/future tense, no left/right, no recursion, etc. Incredible stuff; completely inspiring.

And this LSE talk re the fact that 70% of behaviour has a social context. Some great case studies and examples used – a very high-pitched and enthusiastic Mr Markides – and basically explains why Bankers and Nazis are not so different …

Enjoy!

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | January 14, 2011

Daily Podcast Feeds

For those who enjoy a cheeky podcast now and again, check back in here (and via @scepticalmoose on Twitter) to get the very regular recommendations.

The least I can do considering the wealth of quite outstanding material that is now – mostly gratis – available online.

These will relate to, loosely: Scepticism / Environmentalism / Humanism/Religion / Anthropology, etc – plenty more to add, but you’ll get the point once they start appearing on your screen.

If you want any clarity on how to get hold of these (e.g. downloaded to your media player), just let me know.

Otherwise, enjoy and spread the wealth!!

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | February 6, 2010

And who says you can’t watch evolution?

Ok, you may have to be patient and maintain a solid scientific approach, but I love the fact that we humans are constantly evolving.

Take a look at J Frater’s ‘Top 10 Signs of Evolution in Modern Man’: the list is naturally debatable and I dare say others would add, subtract or question.

Can the appendix actually be used to house beneficial bacteria (seemingly, we don’t need them, but they are getting larger over time, perhaps because the smaller ones get infected more easily)?

Is our little toe just for balance?

And ears are pretty fascinating! Why do we have earlobes (other than for procreating with those who enjoy Camden Market)? Why are some upper ears pointy and some rounded (see ‘Darwin’s Ear’)? Do we really need all that ear hair and muscle: surely they will be on their way soon?

Plenty to consider, and it reminds us that we are as much at the mercy of natural selection as we have ever been. So, of course, are the harmful organisms who constantly evolve resistance to the drugs we use to protect ourselves against them. Both are simply searching for that higher performance level …

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | January 2, 2010

List of Firms With Something to Hide

Wanted to give a heads-up on a few firms we should all be avoiding. You know, when someone exclaims “oh, you shouldn’t buy from Nestle or Gap or Shell; they’re evil” and you think “but I really like their stuff: is this just anti-corporate hype?!” … what do you do? So, I’ve pieced together a few decent reasons as to why some of the companies we hear so much about should be avoided.

Not exhaustive, but a fair start …

In no particular order, here’s my Top 20: up to you what you do now!

1. Nestle – killed more babies than Hitler – fact!! Simple: tell uneducated women breast-feeding is bad; give them formula for free; get them hooked; raise price of said formula; slowly kill child. The massive campaign is outlined at http://stopnestle.com/ (it doesn’t get much more evil). Oh, and this … because it really is that bad

2. Coca Cola / Fanta – all manner of union-busting, human rights-abusing and slavery-inducing efforts … oh, and support for the Fuhrer. Note how Fanta bubbles kind of sound like “SS”! Watch the mighty Mark Thomas having a go

3. McDonalds – where to start? Animal mistreatment, forced labour, child exploitation, meat that comes from organs most of us haven’t even heard of, the fact that they now try and sell salads … The McLibel case is worth a check and also Supersize Me, although I think the film focuses on the wrong aspects of McDonalds’ shame

4. Shell – Niger Delta destruction and the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, to name but two incidents. Here’s an introduction to Amnesty’s damning indictment of one of the most despicable firms to grace our planet

5. … and can one honestly say that any oil company:

… is not evil by definition?? They essentially destroy our (yes, OUR – just because a company privatises the Earth doesn’t mean it’s not still ours) natural resources and spend 0.1% of ill-gained profit on a beautifully presented CSR report to keep the public happy!

6. Unacal – a subsidiary of Chevron, but I just love these guys and wanted to give them a special mention for their kind support to the Burmese regime (which has involved killing locals for fun). All laid out in the amazing movie Total Denial

7. IBM – willingly colluded with the Nazi government to make machines used to track concentration camp inmates. And before you ask: yes, they did know what they were doing!

8. Enron – proof that profit without any form of ethical foundation should (and it’s sadly just a ‘should’) lead to disaster. Here’s The Smartest Guys in the Room

9. Starbucks – remember how it started off all hippie-cool: that soon changed once there was real money to be made. (The same with everyone’s favourite cryogenically stored anti-Semite, Disney)

10. Wal Martdestroys small businesses, monopolistic, uses slave labour … (here’s the film all about the high cost of pricing low, low, low)

11. … and our domestic supermarkets are challenging that top spot: Tescos and Asda (a Wal Mart ‘family member’ – cute term) both use slave labour and horribly exploit women (Guardian report)

12. BechtelBolivian water privatization, to name but one; as they love a little war profiteering as well. French company Suez have done the same: essentially: a. isolate poor country with debt to pay and/or a corrupt regime; b. privatise local resource; c. sell it back to locals for massively inflated price; d. kill locals that complain. While I’ve got your attention, bear in mind how many companies get to run riot because of the utterly corrupt World Bank, which reduces debt only if the company will privatise its assets to … guess who … huge multinationals. Corporate imperialism at its very best!!)

13. Philip Morris – pretty obvious, well-documented, but still Big Tobacco battles on. Worth watching Thank You For Smoking by the way

14. Monsanto – a quite amazingly nasty bio-tech company and you have to love the fact that they were lobbying at Copenhagen. The things they have done to cows do not bear thinking about!

15. De Beers – let’s be clear: every diamond is a ‘blood-diamond’ … and here’s why you shouldn’t buy them

16. Fashionistas: Nike, Primark, Gap, et al – 100% guilty of using slave labour. In fact, it’s debatable whether any mass-producer of fashion could achieve the margins they do without this method. Worth paying a few £ more to not have a small child working 20 hours a day sewing on your buttons? I think so …

17. Private Security Contractors (oooh, sounds all warm and safe; so let’s change that to War Profiteers instead) – take your pick from Cheney’s Halliburton, Blair’s BAE, Blackwater, Dyncorp, Group 4 Securicor, Lockheed Martin, Boeing et al. I like to throw in a film link, so how about Lord of War

18. P&G and Unilever – work in countries with repressive regimes, very dodgy marketing of pseudo-science (we’ve all seen the comedy adverts and changing my deodorant has yet to get me laid), horrendous pollution … all outlined here

19. GSK – produces rather horrible toxins and stops poor people getting drugs (it’s not going to help them if South Africans stop dying, is it now!)

20. … and the rest of Big Pharma (slated here), like Pfizer, Merck et al. Yes, of course they produce some wonderful remedies, but that’s not what we are concerned about here. Same subject matter, great film: The Constant Gardener

If you care about getting your consumption right – and for bringing these guys to account – keep an eye on:

http://www.corpwatch.org/

http://www.nosweat.org.uk/category/companies-and-brands and

http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Str-Ti/Sweatshops.html

http://www.corporatepolicy.org/

http://www.warresisters.org/smod/smod_hp.shtml

http://www.globalexchange.org/getInvolved/corporateHRviolators.html

http://www.endevil.com/blacklist.html

http://www.business-humanrights.org/Home

And get out on DVD: The Corporation , Mr Smith Goes to Washington and pretty much anything by Michael Moore

Thanks for reading: now take some action!!

p.s. a little update on Nestle

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 31, 2009

Films – a light-hearted blog to end the decade

Let’s be clear: it is impossible to beat the written word for its imaginative qualities and detailed analysis of a topic. For entertainment value and a window on the world, however, films are the perfect length of time to introduce and explore a theme.

I am a huge fan of films, especially those that take a chance, those that let you think, to imagine and, afterwards, to reflect.

I am well on my way to 1,000 films ranked and rated. That sounds like a lot (and it scared me a little at first – seriously, is Vitamin D deficiency likely to be an imminent problem?!), but it isn’t quite as freaky as you might think (even though I will categorise this under ‘Weird’ as well as ‘Culture’!).

Should you go to the cinema, watch a DVD, download or TV-film once a week, that’s approximately 50 per year (even bloggers go on holiday). Over 20 years you’ll see 1000 films! And I know plenty of people who would not consider themselves film buffs who definitely watch more than one film a week (OK, so that’s my justification in place and frankly, my dear reader, I don’t give a damn).

Below is my top 50, very roughly in order, but certainly not precise (that is impossible: it would change daily!!), and the top 20 or so are almost interchangeable.

“The mediator between head and hands must be the heart.”

The full 1000 is available to those that care, or simply have way, way too much time on their hands in 2010.

And like that; I’m gone …

  • The Usual Suspects
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Rashomon
  • Witness for the prosecution
  • Oldboy
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Mullholland Drive
  • Donnie Darko
  • Se7en
  • The Killing Fields
  • Memento
  • Belleville Rendez-vous
  • Twelve Monkeys
  • On the Waterfront
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • 12 Angry Men
  • The Matrix
  • Short Cuts
  • Clockers
  • Sixth Sense
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • Amelie
  • Life is Beautiful
  • City of God
  • Touching the Void
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Lord of Rings III
  • Fight Club
  • La Haine
  • Tell No One
  • Godfather II
  • The Killing
  • The Thin Blue Line
  • Stalag 17
  • Sideways
  • Etre et Avoir
  • American Beauty
  • Citizen Kane
  • Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources
  • Patton
  • The Constant Gardener
  • Schindlers List
  • Irreversible
  • Fargo
  • A Tale of Two Sisters
  • Life of Brian
  • Tsotsi
  • Dekalog (complete series)
  • Midnight Cowboy
Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 28, 2009

The Simple Life vs The Life with Loads of Really Cool Stuff

Two publications that I enjoy a skim through: Breathe and Springwise. Polar opposites in almost every regard, but nonetheless both fascinating: one concerned with living a simple, anti-consumer life; the other focused on the latest fads, gadgets and entrepreneurialism.

Can one legitimately appreciate both, or am I horribly hypocritical and/or bi-polar?

In the same way that I criticise religion for propagating and utilising fear (here’s just one example of a regular rant of mine), the ‘Corporate Industrial Complex’, primarily via the advertising sector, does exactly the same. There is a place for marketing, naturally, in terms of product introduction and information, but we all know that businesses dedicate themselves to forcing purchases upon us. One of my favourite (horribly paraphrased) quotes:

“Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” Peter Drucker

That may sound dramatic, but how else would they deliver increased returns every year? A great little intro into how modern marketing methods developed (in post-war America) is found in the indispensable The Story of Stuff1.

Keynes was the first to point out that ‘absolute wants’ are limited and finite; it is our ‘relative wants’ (those felt in comparison to others) that are insatiable and “it is these relative wants that keep the wheels of our growth machine spinning merrily away.” Only now are we realising that ‘growth’ doesn’t just mean more money, but that’s a whole other topic …

As Franny Armstrong, creator of The Age of Stupid, said, “I’m one of the MTV generation who got told that the point of your life is to go shopping, play computer games and die.”

Hold on, Franny is the same age as me and, come to think of it, way more people watched Wall Street than that documentary on CFCs.

For most of the past 60 years or so, we have been dealing with an irresistible force: a pressure on us to crave more and more produce that is extremely tough to resist.

Perhaps the greatest living commentator on the issues discussed herein is Noam Chomsky: linguist, anarchist and intellectual dissident (which basically means that those in power will not benefit from listening to what he has to say). His magnificent Manufacturing Consent first introduced many to the concept of subtle, non-violent control of the masses:

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

The complex of designers, advertisers and retail consultants – very delicately: ssshhhh, keep it quiet – create an endless stream of new wants and turn them into needs. Ergo, in the UK today, we have 120 mobiles per 100 people and 700 million credit cards in circulation. Damn, those guys are good!

Not everything is a deep web of propaganda, but how do we know when we are being fed utter drivel? How do we know to trust what we read or watch; when the major commercial media networks are so utterly on the hook to their sponsors (remember: the big money comes from them, not the customer!)?

As for the companies themselves, I read Shell’s The Race to Capture the Carbon Pound on the same day that I was first informed about their utter destruction of the Niger River Delta through intentional oil spillages!! It’s tough to know what to believe; unless it’s Shell, Monsanto or Primark, in which case you can pretty much guarantee it’s all lies …2

Stay skeptical, readers!

I like Max Weber’s analogy of the Protestant work ethic – ‘I work so I might go to heaven’ – now morphing into the Developed World’s version: ‘I work to have money to buy more things’. Pretty much sums it up!

I always want to ask my female friends, “what is it you think ‘retail therapy’ will achieve”, but am acutely aware that this will result in a kick in the nuts.

The once-feared 21st Century totalitarianism did not arrive in facist jackboots or communist uniform, but with a smile on its face and a badge that says, ‘I’m Sandy, here to help.’ The most frightening thing is that we really are just at the beginning. Search engines, marketers, food scientists et al are on a learning curve and are only going to improve. Read Naomi Klein’s No Logo and be on your guard at all times!

We live in a society with pressure to have more, to buy more and to want more. We are expected to conform, to be fashionable, to follow the norm. All of us feel this to a greater or lesser extent and likewise, we all suffer from a touch of Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman syndrome. This goes a long way to explaining our obsession with celebrity, fame and tabloid culture. Sadly, it also helps elucidate the increase in binge-drinking, teenage pregnancy and self-harm. The ‘American Dream’ still gets promoted, even as it, and social mobility, disappears faster than ever.

Meanwhile the African village feels none of this burden, but that’s because they don’t have the choice, which, on the face of it, can’t really be a good thing (other than for fanatical environmentalists). China happily adopts the cynical ‘what they don’t know can’t hurt them’ approach, though not quite for the altruistic reasons noted here. And the day we start taking advice from China …

Havind said all that, now that we’ve had a taste, it’s tough to turn back. Maybe the best bet is the option to procure all those lovely goodies, but not the pressure? Is that even feasible, or am I living in a dream-world? If anyone knows of a country where this is the case, please let me know …

It isn’t wrong to aspire to greater wealth or personal improvement; to want more for you and yours. And there’s nothing wrong with treating ourselves to something special (though it helps to know the real cost of the purchase and, dare I say, what ‘wealth’ actually means).

In conclusion, I haven’t got a clue. I’m just throwing a few brain-stormers out there and hope that we might all of us give it some consideration. Think about what you truly need in life, what you want to be and how you think you can do that … ideally by being true to yourself and not Heat magazine!

Call me paranoid, but I wouldn’t trust anyone if I was you!

If I were really trying to ham this up I’d include the ‘Choose Life’ quote in Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting. But I’m not, so I won’t!3

As for me, I’m going back to Breathe and Springwise. Now, which to read first….


1 And any of George Monbiot’s investigate journalism regarding corporate power is worthy of a read

2 http://www.endevil.com/blacklist.html will tell you about many more such firms. If you have a heart, please don’t buy from Nestle, Coca Cola or Gap again (to name but three)!!

3 For those that enjoy porcine carpaccio ?

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