Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jesus and Mo do it again

An oldie, but Very Nice: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2011/11/16/sssh2/

15 years or so ago, I was what I’d today call an accommodationist. I didn’t believe in any kind of god or any other supernatural fuckwittery, but I felt compelled to respect other people’s beliefs.

‘Compelled’ is the right word. I didn’t really respect those beliefs. But I felt like I was supposed to so I mumbled along with the nonsense on the few occasions I could be dragged into a church and I let people drone on about the quantumness of crystals or the fractalness of spirituality, knowing it was nonsense, letting it slide and hating myself for it.

Presumably there was a single moment when I suddenly realised that I didn’t actually have to respect idiotic beliefs at all, but I don’t remember it.  It’s a pity, because it must have been a pretty decent revelation. The only thing I can compare it to is the day I suddenly realised I could say no when my boss asked me to do stupid work.  Until then, I didn’t know I could. That was a dramatic shift in the power balance between employer and employee which has never reversed.  It was immensely liberating and so was the revelation that I owe nothing to the feelings of people who believe stupid things, so I’m sorry I can’t remember it.

“So what?” is a powerful question.  So what if I offend you?  You’ve never cared about whether you offend me.

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Even stupider comment to a stupid daily mail article about ghosts

I'm looking forward to hearing how the atheists and those oh so clever scientists and secular media propagandists explain these ghosts

have 'evolved' into being as they believe everything has. Won't hold my breath.

-- David Thomas, North Wales

Hard to know where to begin, isn’t it?

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Daily mail invents outrage

It’s not much of a shock.  This time, it has noticed that Tesco has stopped sponsoring the Cancer Research Race for Life – a charity for which it has raised hundreds of millions of pounds over more than a decade – and is coincidentally sponsoring Pride London.  This, the headline tells us, is an outrage.  It tries to hide behind the highly dubious idea that cancer research is inherently more important or deserving but this is a thinly veiled cover for simple homophobia because the two events are not connected anyway.  Corporate sponsorship deals don’t work that way and Tesco themselves have said that the one is not a replacement for another.  They are funding hundreds of other events too, but there’s no suggestion that any of these is less worthy of funding than Pride.

Naturally, they drag in some mainstream religious organisations to make ignorant comment.  I don’t suppose they had to try too hard to get the quotes they wanted.  Francis Phillips of the Catholic Herald said:

Tesco is a supermarket.

Its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful.

Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London?

‘Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research? Or at least…why hasn’t it taken up with another mainstream charity such as the British Legion or Age UK?

‘There are thousands of ex-servicemen and wounded soldiers needing help in this country, and millions of elderly people in danger of neglect.
‘They are a fundamental part of the fabric of our society – the kind of fabric that Tesco should be reflecting.’

I rather think Tesco can choose whatever remit it likes.  I assume Phillips would be perfectly happy if Tesco were to give money to that other aggressive political organisation, the Catholic Church.  Her last paragraph is particularly interesting. She obviously thinks that homosexuals are not a fundamental part of the fabric of our society.

David Skinner of Anglican Mainstream has written to Tesco to complain about the fair treatment of LGBT people:

For Tesco to sponsor a tiny homosexual minority – according to the Office for National Statistics, that amounts to little more than 1 per cent of the population – will be showing the utmost contempt for a large proportion of British society that still adheres, more or less, to the morality and values of the Ten Commandments.’

This is another extraordinary statement.  I imagine Skinner would not object to Tesco supporting other charities that addressed a small percentage of the population.  It’s also interesting to see the near panic with which he tries to downplay the number of homosexuals.  I imagine him staring around in terror with bloodshot eyes, back to the wall of course.

They both want people to boycott Tesco for promoting the idea that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Misused phrases

For some reason, these amuse me.  I’m talking about well-known phrases which people have misheard and then go ahead and misuse.  The more priggish they sound when they misuse them, the better.

I’ve often promised that I’ll put together a list of these one day, but I keep forgetting, then I keep forgetting the misused phrases too.  Here’s a first stab at a list, I’ll add more as I think of them. 

There needs to be a name for this sort of thing and for all I know there is.  ‘Misused phrases’ is a bit lame.  Malapropism isn’t quite right because in some cases the phrase as (mis-)used has the same meaning as the original phrase.  It’s just that the words within the phrase are changed so they make no sense at all. If anyone has a better idea, let me know.

Here’s the list so far (there are lots more, I just can’t remember them at this moment):

1. Wallah! (instead of VoilĂ ).  This is hilarious because…. well, what do people think they’re saying?  Trying to sound clever, you are doing it rong.  I’ve heard this said out loud a few times and I might have misheard it.  But I’ve also seen it in comment threads loads of times and often without being ridiculed.

2. It’s a doggy dog world (instead of It’s a dog-eat-dog world).  Again, what is it these people think they are saying?  To be fair, the ‘correct’ phrase is bewilderingly stupid anyway.  I have never once seen a dog eat a dog. While I daresay it occasionally happens, for me it is not the main defining feature of the planet. (I know the original phrase is a bizarre invoking of a counterfactual world where dogs eat dogs to get ahead in dog society, but that doesn’t actually make a great deal of sense either.)

3. It’s a removable feast (instead of It’s a movable feast). An interesting one, this. Phrases are often things that have an identity separate from their actual words.  They become a bit like a word themselves in that we don’t think of the constituents. In this case, someone has changed one of the words in the phrase anyway, preserving the spirit of its modern usage by adapting it to a new situation, but decoupling it from its origins and resulting in it making no sense at all.  So it seems to be taking a phrase, breaking it apart into words, changing the words, then assembling it back into a phrase which is not supposed to have a literal meaning.  A moveable feast is a celebration like Easter which happens on a different date every year.  A removable feast sounds like you’re sitting at the table, knife and fork in hand, tablecloth tucked into your shirt, gazing forlornly as someone takes all the food away.

4. For all intensive purposes (instead of for all intents and purposes).  Well, perhaps people think they’re talking about those purposes that are especially important or crucial, but this is such a different meaning from the ‘correct’ phrase that it’s hard to know what was going on in people’s minds when they heard the original used correctly.

5. Begging the question. This annoys me less than it used to.  It has a technical meaning, which is a logical fallacy related to circular reasoning (you assume the answer in the very asking of the question) but it’s often used to mean that something raises a question.  In some ways, it seems fair enough.  Some situations actually do seem to beg questions. Or rather, for questions to be answered.  Perhaps people should say it begs the answers.  But on the other hand, the phrase has an existing technical meaning and there’s no need to steal it for another purpose.  Get your own phrase, you moocher.

6. Escape goat (instead of a scape goat). I have no idea at all what’s going on here.  What’s an escape goat supposed to be?  If anything, it seems like an escape goat might be the exact opposite of a scape goat.  Someone heard the phrase, completely failed to understand what it meant and used it anyway.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gentleman/scholar/acrobat owns coward/blaggard

On 12th October, Jerry Coyne debated the theologian John Haught about whether science and religion are compatible. SPOILER ALERT: they aren’t.

Both parties gave their permission for the event to be filmed and it duly was.  But now Haught is blocking its release to the public because, he says, it “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange.”

He doesn’t say what standards those are or how the debate somehow doesn’t meet them.  And he says he won’t comment further.  You can read more about this on Jerry’s site and on Pharyngula.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Haught recognises that he lost the debate in a spectacular fashion and is trying to stop people finding out.  This doesn’t really meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange.

So I wrote him a letter:

Professor Haught,

I was disappointed to read on Jerry Coyne's site that the video of your debate with him on 12th October will not be released to the public because you've blocked it. Your statement that the event “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange" might be a lot more plausible if you'd explain it further. What standards are those? In what way do you feel they weren't met? Please feel free to be as specific as possible.

I'd like to encourage you to change your mind and agree to release the video or at the very least explain in much more detail why you will not. While you refuse, the only conclusion we can glean is that Jerry made you look like a fool through superior argument and you're embarrassed.

Don't be embarrassed, Professor Haught. If you were beaten fair and square, chalk it up to experience and face the consequences. If you feel there was unfair play or that you won the debate but for some reason the public shouldn't see it, by all means tell us why.

Kicking over the Scrabble board fails to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange.

I look forward to hearing from you,



I don’t expect he’ll reply.