An Appetite for Wonder


-Thanks to the RDFRS for the link 

“By all means let’s be openminded, but not so openminded that our brains drop out.” Richard Dawkins

Here is a beautiful video compilation of all that this wondrous planet has to offer. It also includes a voiceover by evolutionary biologist, writer, and  atheist firebrand Richard Dawkins.

I can find nothing more inspirational and uplifting to start the new year off. It’s like the perfect Happy New Year card 🙂

Let’s throw away our supernatural delusions and start concentrating on the natural wonder that surrounds you everyday.

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Who Owns The Moon?


Eddie Izzard might have you believe that it all comes down to a cunning use of flags. In  truth, the USA only owns the junk they left up there. The Moon falls under the protection of international law as the common heritage of mankind”. In other words:

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means’.

It is an equitable agreement. The good news is that if you have the money, power and connections, then are pretty much free to start homesteading the Moon for your own benefit.  Private organizations can also lay claim to the Moon, more likely if they have revenues that can dwarf GDPs. What if in their hubris they end up mining the Moon and awaken an army of space Nazis!?!?!?! It’s not a far fetched thought. Check this out.

In any case, the complexity and logistics involved will drive you slightly bonkers. For now, take Vsauce’s word and don’t start buying orbits and lunar parking spaces. Watch the video to learn all about international space treaties, defending the Moon and getting away with extra-terrestrial murder. Don’t be discouraged if all of this seems like an impossible fantasy. There is nothing keeping you from picking your nose clean for that precious Moon dust 😉

Don’t forget to check out & subscribe to the Vsauce channel for more cool & informative videos here.

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Gender Segregation is Wrong!


2013-11-27

Image Originally Posted a@ WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE by Jerry Coyne

I came across this article a few days ago on The Guardian website. It covers a hot topic issue that I mentioned in my coverage of the debate between Hamza Tzortkis and Prof. Lawrence Krauss.  In brief, that event was being held at UCL and was promoted as not segregated.  Unfortunately, the religious dimwits who set up the event chose to do otherwise, going against university policy, and invited the ire of Lawrence Krauss.

Here is his original reaction and answer when questioned on it:

The UCL ended up banning that Muslim organization from conducting future events on their premises. I think it serves them right for bringing their archaic views to a place of knowledge and forward thinking. Unfortunately, Universities UK didn’t get the memo.

Universities UK, the representative body for universities across the UK, has seen it fit to produce a 40 page document which, essentially, grants external speakers the right to demand audience segregation. In other words, speakers now have the right to demand that men and women sit apart. That doesn’t sound too maddening. What if a speaker asks black people to sit at the back so the white people have a better view? How about asking one religious denomination to not partake in a lecture because they eat pork? What if a speaker separated gay people from straight people? Where do we draw the line?

Here is the excerpt from Universities UK:

“…concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system”. If “imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

There have been multiple cases in the UK where such segregation has taken place, mostly at the behest of religious speakers. The problem here is that society in general is becoming too tolerant. We don’t want to allow ideas that could be seen as harmful or insulting to pervade the psyche of those we fear. Let’s keep everyone happy and not ask for trouble. Sadly, the trouble starts when you allows anachronistic ideas to gain footing because one party wants to honor and respect the wishes, no matter how ridiculous, of another. Really? Let’s be mindful of the religious beliefs of the speaker who thinks segregation is a bonafide idea? Fuck that.

On October 3rd (My birthday. Send gifts!), two Athiest students at LSE wore amusing t-shirts with a religious inflection to their message. The authorities (gung-ho campus security) was on them in an instant and they were told, not asked, to cover up their t-shirts for fear of offending others. So what? Fuck the others if they’re so offended. Life, and certainly hallowed halls of education, exist to challenge our notions and beliefs to create smarter, free-thinking denizens.

Here is a quote from the most gentle of gentlemen, Stephen Fry:

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

Let’s take a modern example: the world is fawning over how Malala has stood up to the persecution and violence that the Taliban have wrought on women in their campaign to keep them from the evils of education. Heck, she’s given speeches at British universities and been nominated for peace prizes. What if Malala was asked to sit apart from others for being a Muslim, or a women, at a university in the UK? I hope that you can see the point I am trying to make. She does not let anyone tell her that she cannot take part in education because of her race, creed, or gender. The fact that the representative body of institutions across the UK thinks it is ok for a speaker to do so is pathetic. Additionally, if you choose to partake in such a deplorable exercise, then you have already failed the first test of education and should stop wasting your parents money.

Once again, education is a supremely powerful tool. In fact, a lot of the bigotry and hate that has inflicted the world is because there is a severe lack of it in many corners of the globe. People resign themselves to the ideas and livelihood placed upon them by the cosmos or their families and leaders. That’s not how it should be. Personally, I hate the fact that religion is building a foundation in education across different countries. For instance, states in the USA are trying to get Evolution banned from being taught in school. Also, faith schools are cropping up in the  UK where admission is based on your religious beliefs and staff are forced to wear headscarves or something equally asinine. What’s even more beguiling is that they are 100% state-funded. Yup, your hard earned money is being used to fund discriminatory education practices.

Where did we go wrong? When did finding answers for ourselves and revelling in our differences and the world become such an intolerance? When did we halt our dissent of ideas that fail to advance the ideals of an equal and educated society? When did we stop giving a fuck and start sanctioning bigotry and assisting persecution? Tolerance is a dirty word, and the fear of offending sensibilities should not keep us from speaking our mind.

I hope that universities will choose to uphold the ideals which they were founded upon and rescind the farcical document published by Universities UK.  Polly Toynbee sums up my beliefs perfectly in her piece:

“My own view is that religion is like any other opinion and deserves to be subjected to the same challenge or mockery as anyone’s political views, with no special respect or forbearance. Universities are the anvils for hammering out these ideas, not for setting religious sensibilities above women’s rights, and beyond challenge, trumping all other argument.”

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This Is How The World Will End


It’s not news to anyone that unchecked human activity has significantly affected the climate and weather on the blue marble we call home. Scientists and experts are constantly making strong and factual predictions.  Many of these are accurate. However, none of them know how bad it could possibly get. Well, numbers don’t lie, and they paint a pretty grim picture for the next few decades.

The video above was commissioned by the UN Foundation for the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and made Felix Pharand Deschenes. The findings in the video are based on the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data. It uses the IPCC findings to explain the effects of the Anthropocene, the new geological era that refers to the effect of humans on Earth ecosystems, and how humanity’s actions impact life in all parts of the biosphere.

Owen Gaffney, co-producer of the video, states:

“I am sure many people assume the world is just too big for us to have a global impact. But in fact we have unequivocal evidence that we are changing the global carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle and the water cycle.”

This is the reality we currently live in. The future isn’t much brighter. Still, there is hope that we can learn from our ignorance and start the process to mitigate some of the damage we have caused. If we don’t , then we can expect to witness the rise of sea levels, the extinction of species, and more inclement weather patterns.

Remember: You only get one chance. There is no other Earth and there is no one coming to help us.

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Waiting In Line For An iPhone


I have always had a particular disdain for people who choose to waste their days waiting in line for the next consumerist bauble that corporations throw at us. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never truly understood this practice. What does it achieve? Is it to claim bragging rights? Is it some sort of experience that everyone must go through to be accepted? What kind of jobs do these people have that allow them to take days off to sit in a line?

So many questions, and me without a single fuck to give.

Indie filmmaker Casey Neistat took it upon himself to delve further into this cabalist subset of the “iWantitnow” generation in the short film above. I’m all for having brand loyalty, but this is just sheer lunacy. People are ready to sleep in plastic bags on the sidewalk to protect their place in line. There are actually couples who are willing to go through this process together. It’s likely that they met in a line for something just as asinine, like a self-indulgent coffee. The facepalm moment comes towards the end where people think Casey is delusional for thinking they would settle for anything less than the “gold” iPhone. However, the biggest tool in the video has to be the girl who corrects anyone sacrilegiously calls it “gold” instead of “champagne” colored. She must be a pleasure to wake up next to.

I think the creepiest part of the video comes towards the end. There is a  ritualistic scene  of Apple employees and hopeful customers bowing, praising and cheering as if they just resurrected Steve Jobs with the blood of an  Android using virgin. The ending sums up the insanity perfectly, as does the song “Loser” playing the background. 

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The Demographics of Rape


Yesterday , The Guardian published an absolutely fantastic article on the Indian rape case that enraptured an entire nation last December. In short, a group of men savagely raped a young woman on a bus and then proceeded to mutilate her with iron rods. The sordid affair didn’t end there. She was then dumped naked on the side of the road with nobody willing to offer any help. After a hard fought and heart rending battle for life in the hospital, she succumbed to her injuries.

As someone who is of Indian ethnicity, I have no particular affinity for India or any other country. I believe that our birth nationalities, much like the religions we are unfortunately born into, are a product of cosmic dice rolls. From there, we find our own way. However, social issues, such as the one highlighted by this despicable inhumane crime, interest me greatly because they speak of existence and the human condition that are so varied all over the world. More importantly, it is a way to glimpse a different culture and learn more about aspects of life we sometimes take for granted. As a humanist, I find all of these to be enlightening and edifying as they teach us more about ourselves, the world and the values that we  hold dear.

The Guardian article is an in depth look at a social and economic culture that very few understand.  Millions of people in India struggle to make ends meet, and the lack of opportunities can lead to these people making terrible life decisions.  For the most part, it is a patriarchal society outlined by corruption, poverty, caste systems and poor healthcare and education. This isn’t true for every Indian, but it is for a significant majority. This is a country vying for superpower status that has left millions of its citizens behind.

Here are some excerpts from the article as it maps the chain of events that led to this horrible crime:  

On the background of the two brothers Ram & Mukesh involved in the rape:

“But if life in the city was better than the brutal poverty of the village, the improvement was only marginal. After a decade, their father and mother returned to Karauli and the brothers stayed on in a one-room brick home, brutally hot in the heat of the summer, freezing in winter. Ram, a slim, dark, small man, married a woman with three children by another man. She died of cancer shortly afterwards without bearing him a child of his own. After her death, he started drinking heavily and fighting. When he drove his bus into a lorry, he damaged an arm permanently. “

On their behavior and image:

“Though they left local girls alone, the Singh brothers were known among their neighbours for drunkenness, petty crime and occasional, unpredictable violence. The younger brother, Mukesh, was personable, if impressionable, according to teenagers in the neighbourhood. “He was fine on his own but different when he was with his brother,” one said, speaking a few days after the incident that would make the pair, if only for a short time, globally infamous.”

“…in the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh which has 180 million inhabitants and socio-economic indicators often worse than those in sub-Saharan Africa. As in rural Rajasthan, where the Singh brothers came from, women in the countryside of Uttar Pradesh suffer systematic sexual harassment and often violence. Rape is common and gang rape frequent. Victims are habitually blamed for supposedly enticing their attackers. Many are forced to marry their assailants; others kill themselves rather than live with the social stigma of being “dishonoured”. Police rarely register a complaint, let alone investigate.”

On how the men were representative of Indian society:

“The four men were thus all representative of a substantial element of contemporary Indian society. (The median age in India is 25, with two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population under 35.) They were semi-skilled and poorly educated, like so many other products of the country’s failing education systems. They were migrants from the country to the town – four of the millions of individuals who over recent decades have converted an almost entirely rural country into an increasingly urbanised one. They were unmarried in a part of India where men outnumber women and gender imbalances are worsening. They were drinking in a city known for high levels of alcohol abuse. There was nothing very extraordinary about them. Yet within hours they would commit acts that would prompt outrage across the planet.”

On the similarities between the victim and the perpetrators:

“One of the most striking elements of the Delhi gang-rape case is the similarity in the backgrounds of the victim and of her killers. The family of “J” – it is illegal under Indian law to name a rape victim – were, like those of her assailants, from close to the bottom of India’s still tenacious caste hierarchy.”

On the victim’s life ambitions:

“She had wanted to be a doctor, ideally a neurosurgeon, but opted instead for the more modest, and more affordable, ambition of physiotherapist and found a college in the northern city of Dehradun where she could qualify after a four-year course. To raise the 40,000-rupee annual fee, her father sold part of his land in his village and mortgaged the rest. To cover living expenses – a similar sum – J found a job in a call centre in the city.”

On the rape itself:

“Ram Singh first raped her, the girl kept shouting, and one by one all of us [raped her] and [Ram Singh] and the rest of us bit her body.” Medical reports reveal bite marks were found on the woman’s breasts, arms and genitals. J fought back, biting and scratching but the petite young woman had little chance…We tried to push our [penises] into her mouth. We also tried to [sodomise] her,” the juvenile later told police. His statement, corroborated by the account given by the victim to medical staff, does not mention the assault with the iron bar the woman described. Her medical examination – and the retrieval of two blood-stained rods in the bus – confirm that it was penetration by this that caused massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines…”The girl was shrieking and shouting so much. Ram Singh put his hand inside her and pulled out flesh. The girl lost consciousness and started bleeding,” the juvenile told police. Her friend later described how, naked and badly injured himself, he heard the men talking. One said that he thought “she was dead”. Another, possibly Thakur, suggested throwing them out of the bus.”

I’ll stop there. You can read the entire article, by Jason Burke, here. I strongly recommend it because it is eye opening and shocking. The good news is that these men have been caught. One of them, Ram Singh, hung himself in his jail cell, deservingly so I might add.  The others have been given life sentences, but the prosecution is pushing for the death penalty. The youngest rapist was given 3 years in juvenile detention. This last part is something that still irks me as a failure of the Indian judicial system. It was a moment for them to really step socially by making these animals pay dearly for what they did. Would you believe that their lawyer is going to appeal the verdict and claims they are innocent and part of a police conspiracy? Fucking disgraceful.

I would like to think that this will change things for women in that country. I highly doubt it as crimes against women continue to make the news. The victim’s family has been provided compensation by the government, but that does next to nothing to address the greater social instabilities and economic discrepancies that continue to percolate and torment the country.

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