Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance


Remembrance Parade today, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers all did well, as usual.
As their Leaders, we are very proud of them.

----------------------

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old,
Age shall not wither them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We shall remember them.We shall remember them.

Laurence Binyon, September 1914

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In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Love Argument.

I had a mild disagreement about love recently. No biggie, nothing to fall out over, but it got me thinking, and that, eventually, got me writing.

I think (hope) it goes without saying that love is important, and that life is better when you have somebody to love, and to love you back.

I'm not sure that it's important what kind of love it is; traditional "romantic" love, familial love, the platonic love of true friends, even the brainless adoration of a pet, but I am sure that some kind of love is important.

But, and here's where the disagreement came in, how do you let them know?

My friend maintains that you can only say "I love you" so often before it loses its sheen, and start to sound like emotionless rote, a box ticked in the daily routine. My friend believes her partner knows she is loved by my friend's actions, the little things she does extra, but I think that they can become just as habitual as the perfunctory phrase.

So, what I do with my wife and sons is that, at least once a day, I stop what I am doing, stop them doing what they are doing, give them a hug, look them in the eye and tell them that I love them.

They seem to get the message.

But what about my friends?

That's a different matter. Partly, I don't have many actual, close friends. I care about them, and their well-being, but that caring doesn't really cross the line into full-blown loving. Partly, though, it is frankly embarrassing to turn to somebody you are related to and say "I love you". It's the word. Love. To most people, it's a deep word, full of commitment and responsibilities. It's not a word you say to your mates over a pint.

There ought to be extra words in the English language, to differentiate the different kinds of love. The Ancient Greeks did - the non-romantic love, between close friends and companions was known as "agape". That's more like it, I definitely have friends that fall into that category, but it's an awkward word to use.

"Dave, I have feelings of agape for you."

Hardly rolls off the tongue, does it?

I can't think of a better word, though. Can you? If you can, the comments are open below.

Since I'm waffling on the subject of love, I can't help harking back to another discussion I had with the same friend, about the exclusivity of romantic love. Here in "the developed world", romantic love has strong monogamous overtones. We are expected to be able to romantically love, to be in love with, only one person at a time. If we don't, if we fall in love with a second person at the same time as another, then we are seen as betrayers, selfish, evil. Groups that think otherwise, that condone or encourage polyamorous relationships are seen as weird, fringe even cults.

For most people, maybe the vast majority of people, monogamous romance is their natural state. I, though, think that polyamoury is both possible and natural, as long as those involved are honest about their feelings, and willing to put in the work required to make the overlapping relationships work. It would be hard work, because though A may be in love with both B and C, B and C may only feel agape towards each other, which would make the physical expression of romantic love awkward at best.

I have been happily, monogamously, married to the same woman for over 23 years, and was with her for four years before marriage. For the purposes of writing this blog, I tried imagining my reaction, should I find that my wife had become romantically involved with another person. I was surprised at what I found within myself; I honestly do not think that such a revelation would end our marriage. I don't mean that I would be instantly happy with the new arrangement, or that I would not be hurt, but I also would not expect to go through the clich├ęd process of her breaking off the other relationship, going through some sort of counselling or reconciliation programme, and then going back to how things were.

Instead, I see within myself the ability or potential to be polyamorous. I think I would end up, eventually, welcoming the other person into the family. It would scandalise both sets of our parents, cause a lot of gossip, but I would prefer that to losing my wife, and to forcing our sons to have to share their time and affection between us.

Of course, that scenario has an incredibly small probability of occurring, since my wife is strongly monogamous, and we are both in love with each other.

Still, it's an interesting thought experiment.

I wonder what your results would be?




Monday, 15 July 2013

Happiness

I am many things; parent, husband, friend, teacher, Cub leader, atheist.

I am also, threaded through all of these, a Maker.

Since making the decision to leave work in May, I've had a small splurge of Making and publishing. There's no real theme, I've just been enjoying myself whilst occupying my hands.

This may seem like small news, but there's a difference. I'm happy.

I have no income, and my wife currently has very little income, which means my family is at risk of homelessness, yet I am genuinely happy.

I've been unemployed before, and last time the experience was a genuinely damaging experience. It strained our marriage, it cost us our home.

This time, though, I am happy.

So, what's different? I have a larger mortgage than the first time, I gave two sons to look after, so I should be under greater pressure. I should be a screaming wreck in the corner, but I'm not.

The answer is that I am now a Maker.

If you follow my work, you may have noticed that most of my projects involve very little in the way of investment. OK, if there's a laser cutter handy, I'll use it, but most of my work, even the laser cut stuff, can be reproduced with ordinary hand tools. The special thing, for me, is not the grandness of the Made thing, but the act of Making itself, including the sharing with a wider audience.

Making is an expression of my Humanity. We're the tool using, story-telling ape, and publishing an instructable is, to me, one of the things that makes me "me".

Deny me access to tools, and you deny me my identity.

All of which is a (very) long-winded run up to the current situation.

Whenever I publish an instructable, I usually enter it in whatever contests are running and appropriate, but then I forget about it. The contests don't usually mean anything to me, byt this time it's different. I actually think I have a (small) chance of winning something.

Who knows,  maybe even a laser cutter, but something.

And that's exciting.

Now, if you've cared enough to read as far as this, I have favour to ask: go to my page, look at my projects, and vote for those you care to.

Thank you.

I'm going back to being happy now.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

*Sigh*

So, the argument continues.  It's a stereotype,  but Andy continues to post on a blog with no comment function, whilst I provide an open comment system,  allowing anybody to express themselves directly. It also shortens posts, because it would mean I wouldn't have to keep going over past posts to place comments back in the correct context

I'm not convinced there is much point carrying on, since Andy is either deliberately misreading me, or simply does not understand what I am saying.

Anyhoo...

Firstly, Andy tried to dismiss the evils committed by christians as not being relevant, because they were committed by individuals. He conveniently ignores the fact that all the evils I listed were committed BY christians, IN THE NAME OF GOD.

Secondly, he bases part of his argument on the assumption that humans are "naturally fallen", and thus cannot be "good" without the intervention of a god. When I give him examples of atheists being upright and moral, he dismisses it as bragging,  then changws his question. He switches to the (unfounded) assertion that atheists have no right to exert disciplinary authority, because they have no moral framework within which to work.

He throws in the buzzword "moral relativism", but clearly does not understand it - moral relativism does not mean that every single individual creates their own moral code from scratch. Morality is an emergent function of the complexities of human interaction. It cannot exist except between groups and societies, and is always based, at least in part, on what goes before, much like christianity is based on judaism, and judaism is based on the  Egyptian and Babylonian religions that existed earlier.

Third, he expresses surprise that atheists consider anything outside "this life". It is a sad fact that strongly religious individuals are the least likely to plan for the future, and to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They are the least likely to use renewable resources, to join environmental groups, or to campaign on issues like climate change. I don't know if Andy is a victim of propaganda from other Believers, but he seems to think that being an atheist means you have to be inherently selfish.

Fourth, he exibits amazing arrogance when assuming that any worldview that is not based on his own religion is inherently lacking in value. How dare he so casually dismiss the five billion non-christians on this planet?  Christianity is a religion based on fear and guilt, which is axiomatically hypocritical. It is so riddled with contradictions that it has schismed into hundreds of factions,  many of which are in active, violent conflict with each other.

Fifth (and, for now, finally), Andy demonstrates a deep ignorance of what atheism actually is. I stated that all atheists agree on what atheism means. Of course they agree. It's simple: atheism means that you do not believe in any gods. The consequence is that atheists are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour. We can't blame it on the invisible machinations of bogey men.

Andy, though, to try and disprove a point about atheism, provides examples of scientists disagreeing about science, or of a single philosopher having a moan about nomenclature.

Pay attention, Andy, atheism is nothing to do with Science. True, Science is often the trigger that helps a thinking human realise that religions are false, but atheism is not Science. If two atheists disagree over a point of Science, they are disagreeing as Scientists, not as atheists.

Sorry, this is the final point; Andy claims to have "an objectively true standard" to which to measure himself.

Objective? Really? You're stretching beyond yourself here, Andy, and laying yourself open to ridicule from real philosophers and theologians.

An objective fact is one that is true no matter what your worldview. It can be observed and measured independently. I am a male, 1.7m tall, 70kg. They are objective facts. Am I handsome? That is a subjective opinion.

If your god is an "objective truth", why do so many people disagree on whether he even exists? Such disagreement is not possible when being objective.

If your god is an "objective truth", why are there forty one thousand different denominations of the "one" faith? Why do so many of these denominations turn upon each other, often violently, purely because of their interpretations of this "objective truth"?

The fact is that the majority of christians label themselves as such through family tradition and cultural inertia, not because they have encountered their god. That minority who claim to have come to their faith after meeting their god do so through personal revelation, the ultimate in subjectivity.

Andy, if you are going to continue in this ill-informed, self-delusional vein, and if you continue to exclude direct responses to your posts, then I am done with you.

But, if you bring factual evidence to the table, and keep the table in one place, then I'm happy to carry on.

Pax, donec tempus.



Thursday, 30 May 2013

Evangelising

Following my last post, one of my Twitter followers blogged about "evangelical atheists".

He provided no obvious comment function on his post, so I'll paste the meat of his post here (I'm assuming that he had no objections to what is, technically,  a breach of copyright. If he has, I'll happily fix it).

His post comes in four paragraphs. The first is just introduction.

The second us rendered irrelevant because he asserts that the discussion of evil acts by christians is nothing to do with their faith because they are not "christian" acts. Since christianity is supposed to be an all-pervading concept, a life, not just a set of rules, then every act by any individual claiming to be christian is relevant to a discussion of christianity. That includes everything from the church-sanctioned genocide of the Crusades, through the deliberate lies told about contraceptives,  all the way down to a christian motorist flipping the bird when another driver cuts him up.

The third paragraph can be ignored because it is factually incorrect, working from a basis that all humans are "naturally evil". I am atheist, yet my head teacher recently praised me for the personal integrity I display, as well as the moral example I set for my students. My sons, both raised as atheists, and continuing to be atheist by their personal choices, have both been praised by their teachers as "outstanding young men", and my youngest was chosen to represent his school by laying a wreath at the last Remembrance Day ceremony.

The third paragraph is more interesting, do I'll address it point by point, and folk can, if they wish respond in the comments below.

I believe there is hope and salvation for mankind.
Salvation from what?

This is why I carry the Christian message.
 Why the christian message? There is as much peace in the Koran, or in Buddhism.

My primary question to this relatively new breed of evangelical Atheists is “Why? What’s your reason?” 
Because I expect people to take responsibility for their own actions, and not to pressure others into swallowing demonstrable falsehoods through an existential guilt-trip.

You believe there’s nothing beyond this life.
Wrong.

No hope.
Wrong.

No justice.
Wrong. Who told you all these things?

Your message is nothing if not against the Christian message.
Damn straight.

No matter what your world view, why would you object to someone else having a life-sustaining hope grounded in faith and reason that leads a person to live their life with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? 
I don't, and I know of no atheist that does. However, christianity is a faith built on guilt and hypocrisy. Some people do find those things, and give credit to christianity, but many other people find the same things in any other faith. Or fishing.

Which of these fruits is giving you indigestion?
None, if they were the true and only fruits of christianity.

However, they are not. When christians restrict their message to those specific good things,  then maybe they wouldn't drive thinking atheists to be so vocal.

However, dedicated christians also...

● Condemn people to "hell" for their sexuality.
● Teach children Creationism as fact, and openly persecute teachers for teaching evolution in Science lessons.
● Actively shelter fellow christians who have perpetrated sexual acts on children.
● Murdered medical professionals for working in abortion clinics.
● Picketed funerals of soldiers with banners gloating over their families' losses.
● Blamed natural disasters like hurricanes on tolerance of homosexuality.
● Arrived in Haiti, immediately after the earthquake of 2010, and, when people had no food, shelter, clean water or medical facilities, all they handed out were bibles.
● Bomb bars because they are used by the wrong kind of christians.
● Deliberately tell people that condoms *cause* disease.
● Campaign *against* ecological policies because "god gave us these resources to use".

...etc.

In fact, christians spend a large part of their time disagreeing over what a "christian" actually is, or what a "proper" christian believes, and even what is written in their "infallible" holy book.

Every atheist agrees what atheism means, and every (thinking) atheist agrees on the consequence of atheism; responsibility for one's own actions and legacy. It's a sad fact that christians are less likely to be members of organisations that work for the future well-being of the planet, or to pursue careers that result in the betterment of humanity, such as the medical or environmental sciences.

I am in no way claiming that atheists are perfect, far from it, but at least we take responsibility for our own failings. To paraphrase their own bible; before they look to the speck in the eye of atheism, there are a few christian planks that need sorting out.




Saturday, 25 May 2013

Believers

Just a short one:

Why do Believers expect special treatment, purely on the grounds of their belief? 

  • They expect to have their opinions listened to over secular voices.
  • They expect their opinions to shape government policy without being subject to the democeatic process.
  • They expect legal protection for acts that contravene Human Rights legislation
  • They demand that those who question their faith be banned from doing so in law, whilst simultaneously attacking the questioners.
  • They expect non-Believers to provide evidence for their claims, yet expect their own claims to be accepted without quedtion.
So; why?


Friday, 10 May 2013

Innocent?

What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?

In a civilised nation, the authorities have to prove you broke the law, you don't have to prove your innocence.

The Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance emailed Mr Wilson a document demanding the designs be "removed from public access" until he could prove he had not broken laws governing shipping weapons overseas by putting the files online and letting people outside the US download them.*

Never mind the issues surrounding the fake scare over printing a gun, the way the USG are dealing with the issue is unquestionably wrong, especially in a country that is a signatory of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Sort it out, America.


*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22478310

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Goldilocks - the Deceitful Harlot of Science.

I love Science, and I hope you, dear reader, agree with me that, as well as a proper basic education in the facts and processes of Science, it is important to be able to keep up to date with news and developments in Science.

Most people have neither the time nor inclination to be regular readers of the main Science journals,  so we rely on good Science journalism, in the news and documentaries.

Tabloid media are notorious in their narrow focus on the disastrous side of Science; before the LHC was switched on, tabloids fovused on the possibility that it would create planet-eating black holes. Now the Higgs is all but identified, the same journalists raise it as proof that our Universe will be destroyed by the imminent emergence of another Universe within our own.

One particularly annoying, and wide-spread feature of Science reporting (and, I fear, of certain branches of true Science, and thus the focus of this rant) is an ongoing obsession with Goldilocks.

Two of the great motivations in Science are the search for the origins of Life on Earth, and the hunt for Life elsewhere in the Universe. Every time tge discovety of an extra-solar planet is reported, somebody mentions alien Life, and finds some reason for it to be impossible - too hot, too cold, spinning too fast, too much radiation, too little light, all of these get cited as reasons for Life to be unique to our home planet.

Scientists happily reel off lists of factors required for Life to be possible - a temperature just and so, an atmosphere made up of this and that, a particular chemical make-up of the crust.  These Scientists present themselves as experts, as "astrobiologists".

Even tonight,  Brian Cox, a man for whom I have a great deal of respect as both a Scientist and as a populariser of Science, has fallen for the allure of the Harlot of Science; Goldilocks.

There is a persistent meme within astrobiology that there exists a "Goldilocks Zone", a set of conditions, only within which can Life meaningfully exist. Brian Cox's slip was to claim that an atmosphere of free oxygen is essential for complex Life.

I'm sorry, Brian, and all the others with a claim to expertise in astrobiology, but that's bollocks. The Goldilocks Zone doesn't even exist here on Earth. Life thrives in temperatures
from tens of degrees below freezing to hundreds of degrees above,  from pressures of tonnes per square centimetre to almost vacuum, in conditions from corrosive alkali to acid strong enough to strip the flesh from your bones. Inside solid ice, on the surface if Sun-seared rocks. Wettest swamp to driest desert. In months-long daylight to eternal darkness.

You get the idea.

We have yet to find a set of conditions that is naturally devoid of Life.

True, if you transplant a soft coral from the North Sea to the Atacama Desert or the mineral pools of Yellowstone, it won't last long, it won't last long, but that's not the point. It not that there is something that can live everywhere, but that,  everywhere,  there is something that can live.

The Goldilocks Zone is an illusion. It's an attractive illusion, one that panders to humanity's sense of pride, but an illusion all the same.

So, what's the truth?

Simply, to lift a quote from Jurrasic Park; "Life will find a way".

It will be Life, Jim, but not as we know it (sorry, I couldn't resist that one).

Astrobiologists, and the popularisers of Science, have a very narrow definition of Life; mainly water-soluble biochemistry, based on complex carbon-spined molecules, running on glucose metabolised with oxygen.

I prefer, though, a different, simpler definition; it has a reproductive process which involves a mechanism for heritability of traits, and there is, within that mechanism, the possibility of mutation and, thus, evolution.

Life (as we know it) makes exclusive use of DNA, but past forms, we believe, used the simpler RNA. Why could it not employ chemistry based on other molecules? Or a stream of digital information? Who says the mechanism of heritability is even required to reside within the actual organism?

I put it to you, dear reader, there is but one limitation on the existence of Life across the Universe; simply,  whether, should we encounter it, we would recogise it as Life at all?

One thing I do know; it won't have curly blonde hair.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Scheduling Creativity

I was thinking today about being creative.

Creativity, I hope you will agree, is a Good Thing. It provides us with most of the worthwhile aspects of human experience - arts, design, humour, sport, and even science.

Some large companies (Google et al) set aside a portion of the working week for employees to be independently creative.  Others have corporate days for employees to hack, tinker and be generally creative on the company shilling.

At my school, creativity is seen as the highest level of thinking, and teachers are expected to plan sessions of cerativity into most lessons.

Therein lies the problem, though.

I consider myself to be a creative person, but I can rarely be creative on demand - I find it very hard to sit down and come up with an idea for a project fron nowhere on demand.  I have 160 projects published on Instructables,  and maybe 200 more in the form of scribbled notes and unpublished one-line projects,  but they come to me unpredictably. I even call one the 4am Robot, because that's when I woke up with the idea.

How can I, then, expect my students to be successfully creative within a prescribed section of a timetabled lesson? How can managers expect anything more than a workforce spending 20% of their day worrying that they haven't had a cool idea?

Instead, a brave step needs to be taken.

Stop scheduling creativity, just accept and welcome it when it happens.

Let employees suddenly down keyboards or headsets, and wander off to an open-access creative space to pursue an idea that occurs to them. As long as they keep a log or diary of their ideas, a company's more creative staff should even be allowed to phone in absent because they've woken up with a cool idea and need to spend the day in the shed.

An even braver step could be taken by schools, allowing pupils to walk away from the timetable to do the same. Now, I'm not a fool, I know that there are a lot of students who would use a "creativity out" to avoid certain lessons, or to get time off school, so maybe a voucher system could be used. Each pupil gets an actual voucher to give to a teacher to get out of the lesson and go to one of a selection of designated creative spaces (depending on the pupil's inspiration). If the time spent away from the lesson results in something positive,  then the pupil gets another voucher issued for next time inspiration strikes. If not, if the time is wasted, then the pupil does not get a replacement voucher, and must remain constrained by the traditional timetable until they can demonstrate the results of a creativd act they undertake on their own time, unrelated to the curriculum.

Recognising and rewarding creativity in this way would need schools (and employers) to demonstrate an unusual level of resilience and flexibility in their approach. In fact, it might require a school to step completely away from the traditional curriculum and timetable.

I know of only one school working in the way I envision - Brightworks in San Francisco (see http://sfbrightworks.org/ ).

I wonder if they're hiring?






Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Obligatory

I would like to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Carry on.