Thursday, January 26, 2012

I bash the bishop!

Ha ha, dying to use that title!! And luckily it's very justified today. I got a last minute call to appear on BBC Radio Wales phone-in show with presenter Jason Mohammad. Up for discussion is the presence of 26 (ha ha - I say on air it's "about 25" and even the "top" historian on the show doesn't correct me!) male, Church of England bishops in the House of Lords. As well as a range of callers I also get to argue with historian Martin Farr, a vicar (can't figure out who) and an actual bishop (pictured) - Bishop Gregory Cameron. Anyway you've got 7 days to listen to is again. It's a good one, I think! The Listen Again link is here.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dear Money Advice Service

You may all have seen the expensive television adverts urging members of the public worried about their finances to contact the government's free independent Money Advice Service. So I did...

"Hi, I'm wondering if you can help me. My friend runs a money-lending business that is badly managed and has been giving money to people who can't afford to pay it back and ripping people off with fees and so on. He's going bankrupt so I offered to give him £10,000 to help him out. To save the money I'm planning to stop giving £2 a week to my disabled friend who has two small children to raise on her own. Is this a good idea? Many thanks Kate"

I'll let you know if they get back to me.

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That irrefutable evidence for God in full...

[for the benefit of those living overseas or who missed The Big Questions on January 15th or the iPlayer version while it was up]

Are you unconvinced about the existence of God? Sceptical about claims of supernatural beings, miracles, virgin births, spiritual dimensions and an afterlife? Well great news. BBC One went to the trouble to invite a wide range of people from a variety of faiths and denominations and giving them a whole hour to present this gripping evidence in front of a handful of atheists: me, evolutionary biologist Diana Fleischman, Prof Peter Atkins and journalist David Aaronovitch.

Key highlights include:

"There's no evolutionary basis for altruism" Yes there is, it helps the survival of those around you, all of whom will be carrying at least some of your genes.

"I just feel like there's a God-shaped gap in my life" Yes many people feel things like loneliness or insecurity. But the presence of a void doesn't prove the existence of something that fills that void. By that argument ever colander is a bowl. [Also if you believe every hole should be filled - that's a pro-rape argument, though I didn't say anything so shocking on the show!]

"I know God exists from the really strong feeling I get when I see a landscape or hear great music". Right what about when you have an orgasm? Is that a strong enough feeling? And if God gave you the joy of music, she must have also given you that feeling of nausea when you see maggots. [Actually Diana Fleischman had just come from a conference on disgust!]

"When personal tragedy struck, I wanted God to exist and so I decided to believe" Does this have anything to do with evidence? "No". Ok.

"God appeared to me personally when I was in prison for committing hundreds of crimes and spoke to me (in English)" Shame she didn't show up BEFORE you ruined all those victims' lives.

Here's what didn't happen:

"I prayed to Allah and my amputated leg grew back"

"Jesus spoke to me in a dream and here he is, I brought him on TV with me, so you can all see it wasn't a hallucination"

Also as previously discussed, this is the episode where I compare the Qu'ran to Harry Potter. Deep apologies to Harry Potter fans everywhere!

Enjoy!




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Monday, January 16, 2012

For Overseas Readers

Finally the best bit (I think) of the debate from The Big Questions on 8th Jan has appeared magically on YouTube. So here it is!!

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Time to Tune In

So firstly The Big Questions episode where I'm debating whether there's any evidence for God is up here. And BBC London's Lady Lounge with me chatting to Kath Melandri is also up here, I arrive about 33m in but stay for an hour and a half.

Both will be up for a week, neither can be accessed outside the UK unless you are an IT wizz. Sometimes highlight-y type clips appear on YouTube. Enjoy!

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The Big Questions: What You Missed, The Qu'ran, Harry Potter

I'm on The Big Questions again tomorrow morning. It's already been recorded so I know what happens. A couple of comments:

(1) I spend a lot of time with my hand in the air trying to get them to come to me. There were a ton of things I wanted to say, but didn't get the chance. In particular I was really angered by the people suggesting evidence for God exists in the sense of wonder we feel at the beauty of a landscape, etc. Well firstly if God made those then God also made the sense of revulsion we feel at maggots or faeces. Secondly there are clear, easy to identify, evolutionary benefits to having a good feeling when you are able to survey a large area of territory and identify food sources, potential dangers, enemies and fresh water sources. Doh! But thirdly and more to the point, if a great feeling makes you believe in God, why does orgasm not do it? Most people I know would gladly trade a bit of scenery for great sex...

(2) Even before the show goes out there appears to be "scandal" on Twitter over the notion that I compare the Qu'ran to Harry Potter. That is taking things a little out of context. A Muslim guy said that the Bible had discrepancies in it but that the Qu'ran doesn't contradict itself so it must be true. Now there were plenty of experts on hand to point out there are numerous discrepancies in the Qu'ran. My point is that a lack of discrepancies doesn't make something true. Neither Harry Potter nor Lord of the Rings contradicts itself, so are they true too?

That's my point (as you'll see tomorrow 10am BBC One). For the record I would never be so rude as to compare Harry Potter to the Qu'ran - after all Harry Potter is an entertaining read with only mild overtones of sexism*!

*Footnote: Hermione is the smart one. Why is she not the hero?

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sexual imbalance

Dear BBC, I know it can be hard to tell what is and isn't news. Let me help. This isn't. It's a video story by a woman and has the title "Why I had sex with 40 men I met online". Reading the details she met these men over a period of around 7 or 8 years. That's about 5 men per year, less than one every two months. Lots of women have that many sexual partners. And meeting them online doesn't make it any more or less of an issue, meeting people online is not really any different from meeting people at a party or in a bar. In fact if anything it gives you an opportunity to find out more about someone - reading through their profile and asking questions - before committing to meeting and it reduces the risk your judgement is impaired by alcohol or other drugs.*

If there is a (fairly small) story here it's that she started doing this when she was 15. The men she met at this time are legally rapists. Where is the documentary that tracks them down and asks them what the hell they were doing? Instead it asks why she did it - SHE didn't, SHE was too young to consent. THEY did it...

Also today on the BBC is this story: a documentary has been made about comedian Jeff Leach and the fact that he says he's had sex with 300 women. I've met Jeff once or twice on the comedy circuit but not really enough to have an opinion about his work (or to number among his bedpost notches). So how is it news for a man to have 300 partners but for a woman to have had just 40 partners?

The discrepancy is repeated in the middle of the article "It's said the average British man has had 13 sexual partners and women have had just seven.". Ok so men are having twice as many sexual partners as women? Are British men having as much gay sex as straight sex? Or are they having more than half of their sexual encounters while on holiday in the rest of the world? Seriously THE NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP. IT'S NOT POSSIBLE!

To be honest I don't think there's really anything shocking about having had 300 sexual partners. Of course if Jeff is unhappy about being promiscuous and wants to stop but finds it hard (ooh err) to do so, he can seek help, and if the BBC thinks that's an interesting topic for documentary, they can make it. But the whole project seems to me to come with the implicit message that promiscuity is automatically shameful and wrong. The tabloids are full of this: words like "cottaging", "dogging" and "wife-swapping" are treated as shocking and shameful despite the fact that none implies any co-ercion or dangerous or dishonest behaviour.

Personally I think if you're honest with people, practice safe sex and are careful not to take advantage of people who are drunk or otherwise vulnerable - do what you like!

*As a footnote we are always told about the dangers of meeting people online. It's presumed to be easier online to misrepresent yourself (i.e. pretend to be younger, etc than you really are) but frankly lots of people do that in real life. Most sites recommend meeting people you've met online in a public place and while there may be benefits to that I tend to think it sends out two very unhelpful messages: (1) you can identify a rapist or violent person by looking at them or briefly speaking to them and (2) if things turn nasty after you've agreed to go somewhere private with someone, it's your own fault.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

No, Daily Mail, No

In answer to Liz Thomas's question in today's F(em)ail section: Is this the ultimate woman?

Firstly - cutting out bits of different women and sticking them together is ikky.

Secondly - ultimate for what? Triathlon? Or fulfilling men's sexual fantasies? I even think that's insulting to men.

Thirdly - if you are actually going to date, or even just have sex with, this woman she might need some sort of intellect, ability to talk, sense of humour, compassion, enthusiasm, generosity.

Fourthly - oops boys, she might have Kate Middleton's hair and Gwyneth Paltrow's chin but she also has: no vagina. This will really spoil your afternoon plans.

Fifthly - CGI is odd. She looks weird.

And sixth and finally for crying out loud - being a woman is not a competition!

But in case I'm not being clear - here a quick line-by-line on the actual article:

"Each stands alone as one of the world’s most beautiful women."

Highly subjective who are the worlds "most beautiful women" isn't it. Interestingly for a paper that really hates racism the women in question are all white and you don't even mention the message this sends out to your impressionable (lets hope not) readers.

"So put them all together and the result would surely be the ultimate head-turner. Or would it?"

And do note that the "ultimate head turner" is now the same thing as the "ultimate woman", jeez, at least in the old days you got extra marks for baking.

"Well now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can judge for yourself."

The Daily Mail invites you to judge bits of chopped up women. Roll up now. Is there a raffle afterwards?

"Beneath the Duchess of Cambridge’s tumbling shiny hair, you will find the chocolate brown eyes of singer Cheryl Cole, the nose of actress Kate Beckinsale and the cheeks of fellow Hollywood star Keira Knightley."

If you find Cheryl Cole's eyes and Kate Beckinsale's nose under Kate Middleton's hair - they're having a lesbian threesome (and lets be honest willingness to participate in a threesome is on quite a few men, and women's "ultimate qualities" list). Otherwise you're looking at a CGI image made by some computer nerds who were probably touching themselves at the time.

"Eyebrows come courtesy of Transformers actress Megan Fox and the perfect chin is apparently found on still another actress, Gwyneth Paltrow."

Yes, of course, the kind of men who turn their heads to gawp at women really care about this stuff. I often go past a building site and hear "phoar - look at the chin on that" and "I bet those eyebrows would look great next to a robot that turns into a car". I mean really Liz, you know there is actual news out there. You could report that. Or do voluntary work. Maybe with dangerous animals...

"Those bee-stung lips could only be Angelina Jolie’s, and the ultimate celebrity’s decolletage belongs to busty TV presenter Kelly Brook."

I quote again my local building firm "phoar, she's got a cracking pair of decolletages". We all know you mean tits. Stop pretending you're anything but creepy quasi-porn.

"The inclusion of Prince William’s new wife in the poll of more than 9,000 people – by online beauty retailer Feel Unique – is no surprise."

Nor is your newspaper printing nasty objectifying non-news articles based on pointless surveys conducted as a means of generating free publicity for corporations.

"Her perfectly coiffeured curls have been credited with everything from a boom in hair products to an increase in women dyeing their hair brown."

To recap that's EVERYTHING FROM a boom in hair products TO an increase in women dyeing their hair brown? Is brown hair dye not a "hair product"? What are all the other things that Kate Middleton has been credited with? Did she win the Nobel Peace Prize or the Winter Olympics downhill ski slalom? No? Didn't think so. How about writing an article about the women who have done these things?!

(footnote: they are Maria Höfl-Riesch and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and one of them is the world's first black female president, isn't that a bit more "ultimate" than having cheekbones like Keira Knightley?)

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Sunday Sunday

By the way I'll be back on The Big Questions (with it's fancy new format) this Sunday for the first episode of the new series BBC One, 10am!

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Date for your diary!

Protesting Nadine Dorries new bill to bring abstinence-only sex ed to girls (yes, just girls, boys are to be told "go for it, get as much tail as you can"). And I will be speaking at the rally outside parliament!

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Radio round-up

Had a busy couple of days radio-wise. Yesterday night I was on BBC Five Live on the Tony Livesey show talking about new year's resolutions. I was slightly playing devil's advocate here arguing against them. I don't think they're necessarily a bad thing but I do think if you want to change your life you might as well start right away. It's up as usual on listen again here, starting at 2h10m into the show. The funniest thing (to my mind) is that Tony Livesey seems tired on air (for him, he's usually more high energy, and in fairness it was nearly 1am not long after New Year's Eve party season) and for a while it feels as if it's me interviewing the callers!!

This morning at 8.10am I was on BBC Lincolnshire's Breakfast Show talking about road crossing signs in the area which now say "wait for the green figure" rather than "wait for the green man" and whether this is political correctness gone mad. The point is rather moot since the local guy who put the signs up says he was just using the wording that's in the highway code. Amazingly (for a regional station) BBC Lincolnshire's shows are up on iPlayer so you can listen to it here, starting at 2h13m into the show.

Then at 9.45am the most infuriating interview in a long time on BBC Ulster. The statistics we are all supposed to be shocked about are that in the last 3 years about 150 children in Northern Ireland have been diagnosed with an STI. Now unfortunately the woman I was "debating" with was an abstinence-only sex ed teacher and advocate who was straight up determined not to let me get a word in edgeways. But anyway lets look at the numbers first:

150 children with an STI in 3 years. That's 50 per year. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.5m of which around 24% are under 16. So there are 360,000 children living in Northern Ireland. Broad, but conservative, estimates suggest 9.2% of children are sexually abused in Europe (two thirds to three quarters of them female for the record). So that's 33,120 sexually abused children in Northern Ireland. Of whom, in a year, 50 are being diagnosed with an STI, or one in 662. That's very low considering some estimates think as many as 1 in 10 sexually active people in the UK have chlamydia.

Of course it's not good news. If anything it's worrying news because in all likelihood with the prevalence of "unseen" (initially) STIs like chlamydia, syphilis and HIV there are lots more who are not being diagnosed.

But instead of looking at the facts and possibilities for improving diagnosis rates and tackling child abuse, dah-dah! This woman has "decided" the problem is that no-one has told our young people (especially those pesky girls who hang out with older guys) to say "no". Of course it's rather missing the point. No matter how many times a 15-year-old says "yes" to you: you are still not allowed to have sex with them. That's why it's called statutory rape, because it just IS rape, no matter what the other details of the situation.

The problems with abstinence-only sex education are so fundamental it's not true. I mean firstly there is extensive evidence it doesn't work. They did it in the US and the data shows it doesn't reduce the rates of STIs or teen pregnancies and it does delay young people from seeking help when worried about these issues. But it's even less complicated than that. Young people grow into adults. We keep young people ignorant, we end up with ignorant adults. We all make bad choices sometimes but once we become adults we're allowed to make bad choices. I know in my life I've made some GREAT bad choices! Ultimately, armed with accurate information about contraception, safe sex and relationships - sex is a lot of awesome fun. The buggers will work it out eventually if we don't tell them and then they'll never trust us again!

You can listen again as usual though I warn it is a LOT of me shouting over the world's most infuriating woman [or, depending on your perspective, a brilliant abstinence-only sex educator shouting over the world's most infuriating woman]. The link is here and my part starts 45m in to the show.

Finally and for me most enjoyably I was on On.FM this afternoon - it's an independent Hammersmith radio station but releases it's shows as podcasts for download wherever you are. I was on it debating abortion a few weeks ago on a different show. The show I was on today is really about interviewing comedians but the presenters gave me a shout in advance of my scheduled slot because they're fans of the Atheist B!tchslap and asked if I fancied doing the show with a Christian comedienne called Joy Carter (who I've worked with before) so we could have a bit of a debate about religion. Of course I said yes. It's a lot of fun. For a whole hour! Only thing is the podcast's not up yet. Sneak preview though: there's still no god! Here's the link to where it will be though - I'll put it up on Facebook and Twitter tomorrow when it's out.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Cool Postcard

Stephen Jesse made this cool postcard based loosely on what I said on The Big Questions last time (in the Atheist B!tchslap clip).

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Rachel Maddow on abortion in the US

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

Conscience Choice

Interesting blog post from Labour MP Kerry McCarthy about parliamentary votes that are generally unwhipped on the grounds that they constitute "votes of consciousness". I have added a comment which may make it through moderation but just in case here are my thoughts:

If MPs deferred to the wishes of their voters on abortion - after all they are supposed to represent the views of their constitutents - all MPs would vote pro-choice. Personally I see abortion as a human rights matter (ditto gay rights, trans rights, etc) so I think it should be whipped by any party that considers themselves compassionate and just. One in 8 pregnancies worldwide ends in illegal abortion, at a cost of thousands of women’s lives, so it's a big human rights issue too.

I also really don’t understand the idea that anti-choicers are voting based on their religion. No-one I have ever met believes that if I arrive at the pearly gates and say “I don’t believe in God, but I didn’t have an abortion because it was illegal”, they are going to let me in.

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