Monday, 30 May 2011

Why you? Why me?

Have you ever heard somebody utter the words "Why me?" Or have you uttered them yourself? If yes then you're a member of a club frequented by more or less every other person in the human race. When faced with a crisis, or a looming fear, or some great betrayal or misfortune we can all be forgiven for staring heavenward and wringing our hands. At the risk of courting unpopularity could I possibly pose an alternate suggestion?
Rather than crying out "Why me?" I would suggest that a question of equal importance has gone unnoticed. And this is the one that simply retorts, "Why not?"
I'm serious. Why not you? Why not me? Are we seriously expecting some kind of free pass when life lashes out? Can I also suggest that when we ask this question we do ourselves a real disservice; because when we rage at the void we're not really raging against anything at all. Newsflash people; the universe doesn't care about you. It hasn't got a special plan. It owes you neither sadness or joy nor anything in-between. The dreams you hold  are for you to fulfill. The fears that grip you are yours to tame. There's no celestial helping hand reaching down, which means we're left with each other and perhaps sometimes just ourselves.
Too bleak? Too scary? Perhaps for some, yes. Our lives, whether we like it or not, are an intoxicating mix of the good and the bad. If you can face this bravely, and if you can still look to the stars even when the clouds of destiny seek to obscure the view, then come what may you can be proud of what you are.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

When Islam Attacks

So what conclusions are we to draw from the recent attack on a teacher at the hands of four Muslim fundamentalists? How does a society respond when acolytes of the religion of peace deem it appropriate to stove in the skull of a respected professional for the crime of seeking to educate young Muslims? Well the one thing we don't do is respond in kind, because violence begets violence, and that cheapens the enlightenment values we cherish. What I don't know, and what I'd like to know is how widespread the problem is? Are we seeing the tip of the iceberg? Are these men in any way symbolic of a deeper, underlying problem within the tenets of Islam itself? You see, the trouble with all Holy Books is that we can only read them subjectively, which means that a kindly person will take the peaceable portions of scripture, whilst those with either an agenda or no frontal lobe will use the more vicious parts in order to justify acts and deeds. When push comes to shove I'd hope that the majority of Muslims are gentle and sincere souls, yet we cannot allow ourselves to be ignorant of what the central tenets of this religion are. It is seeking to spread and bloat outward; and it is seeking to ensure that democracy is replaced with theocracy. If you want some idea of how that shakes down take your pick from Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and many other Middle Eastern nations. And then ask yourself, when a doctrine commits itself to propagation and conquest where does that leave those who wish to resist? How much wriggle room do we have? The last thing I want to be is a sensationalist, but you have to be living under a rock to ignore the potential threat to civilized society. I value freedom of speech, freedom of sexual expression, and the right to conform or not conform. What kind of country will the United Kingdom be should the lights go out on these cherished freedoms? Now I don't know what the future is going to bring, but this much I do know; If we allow ancient ideology to dictate the morality of the day, and if we capitulate to the ever lengthening list of demands made by the armies of God, within a couple of decades we shall be living in a very different England.

How Did It All Begin?

By far the best religious argument for a Creator is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It goes thus;
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. The universe has a cause.
There are several arguments that run parallel. For example, we, and everything else in the known universe could be described as contingent. By that, I mean that our existence depends on other factors. Something else caused us to be; in our case it was our parents. But now follow this chain back and back and back, right to the dawn of time. What then? How does something come from nothing? I mean, you can't just keep going backward into infinity. At some point a place of termination must be reached, and believers typically refer to this as God. Still with me? Ok then, they argue that infinity is impossible, and that this implies that something must exist that is timeless, necessary, and the cause of its own existence. Now ask yourself, how can anybody possibly know this? Well they can't, which makes this whole endeavor little more than a philosophical thought experiment, but make no mistake many very educated people hold this theory in some regard. Now they admit, as they must, that even assuming the existence of an uncaused first cause, this in no way shape or form implies that this first cause is a God, let alone the God of Abraham. The purpose of this argument is to establish a plausible platform for the existence of something beyond.  Now I freely confess that I cannot disprove such a possibility, but don't let anybody tell you that they can offer proof for it, either. For all we know the cause of the universe could be an omniscient, omnipotent, all powerful strawberry called Vera. We just don't know, which is the whole point of this very complicated post. It's a reminder that just because something sounds clever, or even intuitively correct, doesn't mean it is. Strange things happen at the quantum level, and there is simply nothing we can infer. 
I do apologize if I've just made your brain bleed. You know me and the big questions.

The Right Words At The Right Time

Why are we so shy at passing compliments? Why do we often find it hard to accept them or believe them genuine? I'm apt to think we all, to a greater or lesser extent suffer from a confidence deficit. I actually really like saying nice things to people. If someone looks really attractive, or has lost weight, or has a new haircut I think it's nice to tell them. I mean, a compliment costs nothing, does it? And we can be so quick to run each other down, can't we? I wonder why we do that, too? Is that the same confidence deficit manifesting? I hope you don't object, but if you look great, do something cool, or if you're just a pleasure to spend time with I'm going to tell you. I'm not going to apologize for it, either. Actually, now I'm on a roll I'm going to pay tribute to my amazing working colleagues. I've got 11 days off now so I don't have to see them. You are, by a country mile, the most fantastic bunch of nut jobs I've ever worked with. You've made what can sometimes be a hard job that much easier. We hear the worst that life can offer and the standards we have to reach are demanding. I think you can be proud of your discipline, your reliability, and your desire to make people's bad days better. We work an insane shift pattern and have constant changes thrust upon us, and despite our moans and groans we do just get on with it. If those on the outside, and perhaps even some on the inside really understood what we have to deal with I hope it would change a perspective or two. Still, we don't do it for the applause, and we certainly don't do it for the money. So boys and girls, hold your heads up high, and keep doing what you do. The worlds a better place for it.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Worthy And The Wise

Two pieces of advice changed my life. One from a working colleague, the other from an intellectual hero of mine. Several years back I worked with a charmingly affable Scot by the name of Stan. He was a Business Manager and he handled many of our Blue Chip accounts. He was a true gent and had an easy way about him. If ever you got the chance to go out on the road with him you took it. You'd do this because you'd learn. About business, about people, about listening; heck about everything. One day whilst discussing something he encouraged me to "Learn from good people". Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? But what he was saying was that when you're around capable people, bright people, do yourself the service of learning from them. In fact, if they let you be positively parasitic. Listen, watch, and annex their finest qualities if you're able. For a young twenty something it was good advice, and I've never forgotten it. The 2nd piece of wisdom came during a period in my life when I was questioning everything. The author and scientist Sam Harris, in one of his books wrote simply, "If you really want to know how the world is you must be open to new information." Again, simple enough advice, but just you try applying it consistently. Advice like that must wage war with our inbuilt biases, and all the things we hold sacred that might, in fact, be wrong. Still, that's another nugget that has proven foundational for my life. Today, I'm passing these two pieces of wisdom onto you. They've served me well. They've never let me down. And if you apply them you'll discover things about the world and about yourself that will illuminate, unsettle, and inspire you.  Treat them wisely, treat them well. True wisdom is a sacred thing.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


A few months back I was involved in a fascinating discussion with some fundamentalist American Christians. The subject was abortion. It was a lively exchange. One person on the forum was not only advocating a total ban, but was also anti sex education for teenagers. He was convinced that education should be the sole responsibility of parents, and equally persuaded that abstinence was the only right option and that destruction of a fetus warranted a jail sentence. He was not alone.
Now for some facts. There is a direct correlation between good sex education and low abortion figures. Also, the teaching of abstinence only statistically defers full intercourse for 18 months, during which time teens show an increased tendency to indulge in oral and anal sex. Worse, when you outlaw abortion you  lose sight of the scale of the problem, because young girls will still get in trouble, only now you've driven them underground and exposed them to the back alley merchants that inevitably spring up. Furthermore, if we are unable to accurately monitor the scale of the problem how can we manage it?To my knowledge nobody rejoices at abortion, and we should never view it as a contraceptive. Therefore, it seems sensible to educate our teens on the physical and emotional issues regarding their sexuality and acknowledge their right to some input. Parents and educators must work in tandem, and in so doing create a platform from which teenagers can make informed decisions. This strategy has proven massively successful in countries that have adopted this liberal and open view. Educate, engage, listen. True, it won't eradicate abortion, but it does result in a massive reduction. Google Netherlands abortion statistics if you want to see an example of a system that works. Contrast this with a country such as El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and education paltry. If a female presents at a clinic with a perforated uterus she can look forward to being shackled to a bed and have her body treated as a crime scene. A jail term might well be the outcome. Now I know I haven't discussed the rights of the fetus, and I want to be sensitive to this matter. I'm not blind to the potentiality question, which is why I'm apt to think that the better informed our teenagers are, the fewer terminations we'll see. Just be warned; there is no ideal solution. This isn't a perfect world.

Human Evil

Fact. We find ourselves in a world where mothers will occasionally coerce their daughters into having sex with a drug dealer in order to fund Mum's drug habit. We live in a world where husbands will occasionally physically and verbally abuse their wives. Where children are subjected to abandonment, neglect, sexual depravity. Where 6/10th's of the worlds population eat only rice if they eat anything at all. I could go on but the point is already made. I'm reflecting on the evil we bestow upon each other, and whilst we are appalled we should not be surprised. We are risen apes, still trying to tame the inner beast. We're a vast spectrum, a rainbow existence that flashes through every shade and hue. When we look at the vast amount of human misery there should be no surprise. We see exactly what we should expect to; cultures developing at different speeds, occasional explosions of tribal warfare and brute personal violence. There's no mystery to unravel; our very natures are seething with the residual animals on which our sophisticated shells are superimposed. As a skeptic I sometimes hear people blame God for this. For once I must disagree. You can't blame human evil on him. If you're going to blame him you should restrict your complaint to his absence. Of course, to truly understand evil we must remove myth from the occasion altogether. No point projecting the worst of our nature; if we do that we just absolve ourselves of responsibility and nothing get's fixed. No, human evil requires a human solution, and I doubt that such a utopian vision is achievable. Perhaps in time we will be better able to tame our inner beast, recognize the pettiness and our jealousy and folly as vestigial remnants that we can rise above. Today, all I can do is make my own contribution, and vow to make it a positive one. Nobody is obligating me to do the right thing, but it seems to make sense that If I take care of you then you might reciprocate. Perhaps when enough people learn to live this way the world will be a better, although still imperfect place.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Snog Of Doom

I was 13 years old. I had consumed half a plastic cup of cider. I was, to put it mildly, a bit lashed. This was my first house party, and the place was teeming with school mates. Combine alcohol, hormones, and bad 80's music and it was only a matter of time before the smooch fest started. I'm pretty sure it wasn't me that got the ball rolling, but thanks to Dutch courage I had no intention of missing out. It started well enough; nothing too traumatic. Only then I was confronted by a pretty blonde girl called Louise. Whether I jumped her or she jumped me I do not recall, but the kiss itself was a shock.  It wasn't just that she used her tongue; it was more like she assaulted me with it. There I was expecting a run of the mill smooch, when suddenly there's this seemingly endless appendage heading down my throat. I immediately felt like John Hurt in the first Alien movie; that scene when the Face Hugger smothers him.  Not that I object to a bit of face smothering these days, but this incident was terrifying. Anyway, whilst her tongue was navigating my lower intestine I was kind of just clinging on. I expect I was cross eyed and was probably red due to lack of oxygen. Just how long was this going to last? Eventually the violation ceased, her tongue emerging with my tonsils in tow.  I probably stumbled away, lost for words, and disappeared into a dark corner to whimper like a baby. That was my first experience of French Kissing. Happily, as I learned the art over the ensuing years I came to understand that it doesn't have to end in tears. But please, be gentle with me. I startle easily. And if you do remove any internal organs please be so kind as to put them back!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Time Not To Mock

Ok, so we've had our laughs at the expense of these people, but as Sunday 22nd May dawns we must remember that there are a lot of genuine, kindly, and bewildered people now in need in comfort. The rapture didn't come. Most of us never thought it would. But many thousands of sincere and devout believers have built their hopes and dreams around this day for many years now. Savings have been blown "Spreading the good news" and lives have been dominated by the certain faith they had that yesterday would be the last day. This morning they will be hurting. They will be confused. They'll need love and comfort. They'll be trying to make sense of the fact that their lives will continue on this pale blue dot we call Earth. Many of them will rationalize the non event; hardy any will abandon faith, such is the power of faith itself. Perhaps in time they can morph into believers of the more conventional kind. The cherry picker's, the moderates. Make no mistake, the anguish they feel today will be intensely real, possibly made worse by the fact that Harold Camping himself has disappeared off the radar. There may have been no earthquakes, no Zombie apocalypse, no sound of the trumpet heralding Christ's return. But the emotional disappointments these sincere, and for the most part kindly people are experiencing now must be seismic in proportion. In the UK there are probably no more than a few hundred who had believed this prophecy, but in the States and other parts of the world many tens of thousands were convinced. If you should meet one, I'd suggest that whatever your view on religion, however foolish and untrue and damaging you perceive it to be, today and the days ahead should be devoid of gloating. These people may be credulous. They may be fools. But they are human, and we need to be sensitive to that.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


I'm not keen on the term Atheist. I prefer the label Freethinker. That is to say, I'm not a person bound to any rigid belief system. I  reject all supernatural claims. As Christopher Hitchens so deftly asserts, "Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"
But what does it mean to be a freethinker? Well it means I'm in the enviable position of being open to new information. There's no code I'm beholden to, or revelation I'm awaiting. I think that if there are truths to be known about the nature of reality we can, in principle at least, discover them now. I can accommodate all possibilities, listen to the great thinkers down through the ages. More important, I can be honest about the deep moral questions and accepting of the fact that there are sometimes no right or wrong answers. I try to be honest with myself and with others. I adore genuine people and recoil from convention. I have an imagination that could land me in jail and a passion for life that borders on the seismic. I'm into everything; I need a 72 hour day to immerse myself in every vice and virtue. I'm a saint and a villain, a nice guy and a menace. To say that I'm a man of extremes doesn't even begin to describe it. I blur the lines between fantasy and reality, sometimes needing to give myself a good talking to. My hearts in the right place but I'm drawn to the surreal and the kinky and the bizarre. I'm aware of my weaknesses and owe it to those closest to tame them, at least as much as I can. I want to be a good Dad to my girls and a half decent husband, yet always fear that I have the capacity to throw it away. I've got a mind that never switches off; remember those performers who keep all the plates spinning? Well that's the view inside my head. I want to be a good guy only sometimes I don't. I want to be faithful only sometimes I'm tempted. I have to fight to keep my nose clean and get tired of hanging on by my fingertips. If I'm your friend it's a blessing and a curse. I'll support you, but if I disagree I'll let you know. I also drive many of my religious friends to distraction; you see I just adore you too much to indulge your strange beliefs. So that's a snapshot. A Big old nonsensical mess. Contradictions aplenty. I'd never condemn anybody for choosing to keep safe distance.

A Halal Of A Quandary

Ethical quandary. Tonight my oldest daughter is going out with her friend to a restaurant. This friend's mother is a Muslim, therefore the restaurant can serve only halal meat. Now I've seen videos of how halal meat is killed, and it isn't pretty and it certainly doesn't seem humane. Now my daughter loves animals and has aspirations to work with them, and she's old enough to grasp the concept of halal. I was torn between explaining matters so she was informed, and just allowing the evening to pass without comment. After some reflection I chose to remain silent, and for the following reasons. I am an adult, and my views have taken time to solidify. I'm very aware of just how malleable a child's mind can be, and I'm appalled by how we often front load our kids with our own biases, fears, and beliefs. I want both my girls to have the intellectual freedom to reach decisions without indoctrination on my part, so that means I need to reign it in. Our minds are incredible, but we're easily deceived. And often the worst deceivers are well meaning and loving parents that want their kids to see the world as they do. For this reason I made the decision to remain mute. The animals to be consumed have already been slaughtered, and I was reluctant to prevent her from spending time with excellent people from a different culture. I've said it before and will do so again; my children are individual human beings and not my own personal vanity project. I can give them critical thinking skills, but it's not for me to drill my biases into their developing minds.

Friday, 20 May 2011

It's Chilly Up Here

As I write this the time is 00.22hrs on Saturday 21st May 2011. This means that the Lord Jesus is 22 minutes late, and frankly I'm starting to get a bit anxious. You see, I've been a bit of a naughty boy today. I'd kind of figured it would be my last chance. 00.25hrs now; no Angels, no volcanic eruptions (flatulence doesn't count) and not even a glimpse of a Cherub. I wonder, could I have miscalculated? Perhaps I should leave it a few more minutes? Did I mention I was on my roof naked? I'd wanted to borrow Joy's basque and nylons but she said I'd stretch them. I was of the understanding  that I wouldn't need clothes where I was going. I mean heaven's all pink and fluffy isn't it? And I didn't suppose the involuntary erection thing was going to be an issue. I'd considered buying Jesus a present, but what exactly do you buy the God that has everything? HMV vouchers, free Aston Martin track day? A night out with 72 virgins? Oops sorry, wrong religion. So I opted against it, figured I'd just come as I was. I wonder if I'll see anybody I know when I get there? I can think of several people I'd like to see naked. I wonder, do women wear stockings in heaven? If not, then why am I on this roof clinging to a television aerial trying not the fall two floors? 0034hrs. All quiet; a few drunks stumbling home from the pub. 0037hrs. I can't feel my feet, and I've completely lost sight of my genitalia. I suppose they must be down there somewhere? If you read this come the morning it means one of two things; either you've not been raptured, or we still await the glorious 2nd coming. And If you should bump into me tomorrow don't expect me to be a happy bunny. It means I've had to go to work, and that I'm clean out of excuses to slip into Joy's undies. If Carling did End Times, they'd do it a whole lot better than this!

The Art Of Being Wrong

I loved my Dad, but there was one thing about him that really drove me mad. He could never concede when he was wrong, or admit to any error. This is a fault that I vowed never to replicate. Generally speaking I think I do ok; I'm aware of my capacity to misjudge and can be prone to occasional sloppiness. Knowledge of this is the best defense I have. Today one particular error was pointed out to me, or rather a couple of minor errors which when combined had resulted in undue inconvenience to somebody I was seeking to help. Oddly, the person pointing out my mistake seemed almost embarrassed to be doing so. There was no need. It was as clear as day. I knew what I'd done, and more importantly I understood the cause. It had been mental exhaustion, the constant maniacal intensity of the day in question. In the end I did what I always do. Acknowledge, apologize, and resolve to do better. I'm apt to think that this is a sound response under most circumstances. I don't pretend to be perfect, but when I am wrong the reasons for it are always genuine. I suspect people who know me know that. For this reason, I choose not to be too hard on myself. No point dissolving into a pool of self loathing. If you're wrong you're probably better to just look it in the eye. I think this makes it easier for people trying to manage me. No second guessing required. It's funny what we take from our parents, isn't it? We can often vow what we won't be like, and I wonder whether sometimes we swing too far this way? What about all the things my Dad did well? What about his work ethic? His gentle nature? His willingness to help at the drop of a hat? These are qualities I aspire to but seldom give him any credit for. Perhaps I'd do well to reflect on that, too?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Skywalker Syndrome

I have Luke Skywalker syndrome. Remember that poignant scene when he stares longingly out towards those twin suns, dreaming of the cosmos beyond? It's an image that often flares in my mind. In that moment we see a yearning that drives us all; that need to find our place, to reach out and touch the fingertips of destiny. Have you ever stared out into the night sky and felt your spine tingle? To look upon the stars and fumble to comprehend the immensity of it all? More than that, marveling at the certain fact that our ancestors would have done the same, bringing their own understanding to the moment? These days when I look up it is with the realization that the heavy elements that render life possible can only be produced within the interior of dying stars. Another thing that stirs me is the knowledge that some of the starlight bouncing off my retina is from heavenly bodies that no longer exist;  the light a residual phantom of long dead celestial events. There are other times when I connect with the transcendent; particularly when i'm walking through an ancient forest. I can imagine my ancestors foraging, hunting, carving out a precarious existence. Australapithicus Afarenis, Homo Ergastus, Homo Habilis; all the other incarnations of early man, these diminutive torch bearers that now exist only within my DNA. Surely to live is to wonder at the immensity, the intensity, and the preposterous scale of it all? How dare we, even for a moment, complain about the gift that we've acquired. We're alive. We have brains that comprehend, imaginations that enquire, and a spirit of innovation that can help us reach outward further still. I've heard it said that all we have is the present, and that our lives should be viewed as though it were a torch beam passing through the void. The past exists only as memory, whilst our future is not yet revealed. We're in the glare of this torchlight now, and to refuse to open our eyes is perhaps the greatest crime of all.

A Non Prophet Organization

Blasphemy is a victimless crime. Think about it. When you curse an invisible, unprovable entity you're not actually criticizing anything. Why then, do we observe mass carnage whenever somebody dares to insult the phantom prophet adored by the followers of Islam? We see beheadings, Embassy's burned down, protest rally's in major cities, and have to endure the constant bleating of those whom say we are wrong to speak out against the religion of peace. Take the Danish cartoon scandal, when a scandinavian publication, in jest, published pictures of the prophet with a bomb in his turban. Just harmless mockery, you'd think, only in Islam it is forbidden to draw images of this nasty 7th century thug. Now I don't know about you, but given that Mohammed spread Islam by the sword, combined with the fact that he took a 9year old as his wife, I'd say it is not unreasonable to state that he was both a warmonger and pedophile. Yet this creature is apparently above critique, and even non believers must refrain from speaking Ill of this barbarous fiend. In response to this attack on free speech, one year ago we saw the first ever international draw Mohammed day, a brilliant initiative whereby  one could draw an image of the Prophet and upload it to a website. What a unique way of protesting. Peaceful, creative, using the technology of today to ridicule the feeble minded ideas of the past. The message it spreads is clear; our right to free speech has been hard won, and is more sacred than the primitive nonsense you spout. We will not yield to your threats, your intimidation, or your misplaced desire to drag us back to a tribal 7th century ideology. We are better than that. And frankly if you suppose for a moment that your brainless warbling's have the power to thwart 13 centuries of progress you are at a misapprehension.  International draw Mohammed day 2 is looming, so let's make our message clear. The Internet is where your religion comes to die, and it will wilt flaccidly when confronted by the power of reason and the values of the enlightenment. Be gone with your tribal nonsense, and turn the lights off on your way out.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Why Animals Suffer

Right at this moment creatures are hunting or being hunted, killing or being killed. Young and old are being devoured in a merciless orgy of blood and gore and violence. The question of animal suffering is real a quandary for those who hold the view that God is perfectly good. Now if you ask them why humans suffer they will typically respond by saying that it's due to our sin and our free will. They might also say that suffering can often work to achieve the salvation of the soul; our anguish is but a droplet of despair in the oceans of eternity, an eternity we can choose to spend with the Almighty. Now, there's a superficial plausibility to this, but when we consider the plight of the animal kingdom we find ourselves confronting the elephant in the room. Most creatures on Earth are non human, and they suffer horrifically. To give just one example, there's the Ichneumon wasp, a species that deposits its larvae onto the bodies of live caterpillars. When the larvae hatch they duly burrow down into the host and proceed to feed on the creatures internal organs, whilst the caterpillar remains alive. Now according to theologians Caterpillars, nor any other animal inherits salvation, so one must surely ask what benefit is there in causing suffering in this grotesque manner? And what of all the other horrors in the animal kingdom? It's a feeding frenzy. Very few animals survive to old age. So next time somebody tries to provide you with an answer to the ancient problem of suffering, don't forget to mention that the vast amount of it is of the non human variety. Add to that the sobering fact that 99% of the creature that ever inhabited the Earth have gone extinct then I'd suggest we'd do well to scoff in the faces of those who argue for a perfectly good Creator. Some God! Some design! But wait, once again there's a perfectly good solution waiting in the wings. Evolution by natural selection predicts a constant struggle for survival. The weakest are crushed, the strong survive and reproduce. This is exactly what we should expect to see, and exactly what we do see. Once again, be very wary of cranks offering a mystery where none exists. We know why animals suffer, just as we know why we suffer. We are animals. Why should we expect anything less?

When Gods collide

When I was a Christian I was deeply moved by the love, the warmth, and the self sacrifice of those with whom I shared my beliefs. In many ways I still am. Whilst I'm now an active critic of all religion I would be a liar to ignore what I often witnessed first hand. Faith can imbue one with an outward looking perspective, provoke feelings of empathy and acts of kindness where previously none would have been present. I've seen hundreds mourn the deaths of those young and old, and I've seen Church at it's best as believers come together in times of pain and loss. The sick have been cared for, the poor supported, the lonely given comfort. I say without hesitation that these are qualities we would all do well to share. Let's not forget, however, that across the world right now persons from all faiths are living this way, and doing so in the name of their particular God. Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and others all report feelings of transcendence, and will proclaim answered prayer and healing and prophetic insight. This is problematic, especially for the three main monotheisms. You see, they all make mutually incompatible claims; they all assert that they are the one true faith, and that all others are bogus, possibly the work of Satan. Yet, no person of faith can deny that brethren from other religions all have the same experiences, which of course begs a very obvious question. Why is God allowing perfectly good and decent people to be deceived in this way? If you are a Christian you need to acknowledge that based on your worldview, 4/5th's of the worlds population are going to Hell because they believe passionately and sincerely in the wrong God. And to the same extent the same apply's to Islam. Good people, kindly people, condemned to an eternity of torment. Now of course there is a perfectly reasonable and consistent conclusion that one might draw based on these uncomfortable truths. We could admit that religion is a largely cultural artifact, originating from our ancestral past and evolving into the forces we're considering today. Does that not make more sense? Is it not more likely that religious belief is operating at the level of the brain rather than due to some omniscient, omnipotent being out there in the ether? Ask yourself, what is more probable? 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

When Wrong Is Right

Thought experiment. If you could change a single incident in your life which one would it be? I'm only giving you the one choice, so choose wisely.
Was it an easy decision? Yes? No? Done? Ok, so you've pressed the proverbial delete, created a new timeline. What now? How easy is it to re-imagine your new reality? What did your tear out? What replaces it?
It's all a bit surreal isn't it? I wonder what you've gone for? A relationship you never had? A job you wanted? A journey you'd dreamed of?
I've probably touched upon this before, but I sometimes wonder whether from our errors can emerge a greater good? At least, when we filter them through the lens of hindsight. I can think of at least one wrong decision that was to yield an incredible harvest. As I reflect I'm convinced that being technically wrong was actually right for that season of my life. Does that still mean it was wrong, then? Now we're into some weird territory. And I've no answer. If I'd known then what I know now reason would have made it impossible to choose that fateful path, yet had I not I'd never have met some incredible people, or been to some incredible places, or met my incredible wife or had my incredible children. So I find myself wondering whether sometimes  you can be wrong in the right way? I'm confusing myself. I'm probably confusing you. Am I making anything even close to sense? It's very late, and I'm mentally spent at the end of some tough shifts. Still, I just wanted to prostitute the question, so to speak. 

Rapture Ready?

Did you know that the world is going to end this Saturday? Again. Apparently an event known as the Rapture is due to take place, which is when all good Christians are taken into heaven, leaving the rest of us to await a further series of events known as the End Of Days. It's being taking rather seriously in some quarters, with some of the devout paying huge amounts of money for billboard posters warning Hell bound sinners to repent or face the wrath of an angry God. In a brilliant stroke of entrepreneurial quick thinking, some companies are even offering a pet care service in the aftermath of this glorious event. You see, Dogs and Cats aren't eligible for eternal salvation, but fear not; for a small fee they will be cared for by those of us left behind. For an update on the latest news you should treat yourself to a visit to the Rapture Ready website. It's something else. It even has what's called a Rapture index, informing the true believer how close they are to that blessed day. Problem is, that particular cult doesn't think the Rapture is scheduled for this Saturday. One can but wonder whether the heavenly broadband is playing up in that particular region of the Bible Belt. 
Anyway, I do hope I have delivered the news of your impending doom with a cheery smile. It's not too late, you know. Perhaps if you sacrificed a goat the man upstairs might give you a wildcard pass?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Trouser Trauma

I must speak of a great evil. A silent menace that stirs without warning. It strikes with the speed of a viper and the resilience of a lead bar.  It lurks with grim intent and can awaken any hour of the day. I am of course talking about involuntary erections, surely the most feared of all blights. They  arrive without invite, and in the wrong place can spell disaster. We've all had them; well not if your a girl, of course. That 's a design thing. But anyway, where was I? Oh yes, they save themselves for the most inappropriate moment; those public showers, the  Dr's waiting room. Concerning the latter I've often thought I should warn my GP I advance. Just in case; a bit like making a preemptive apology.  The risks posed by such a merciless predator require a careful counter strategy. Snug fitting under crackers, careful positioning of landing gear. Anything with too much free play and you can end up looking like a Derrick on a north sea oil rig. Light work trousers should be treated with the respect they deserve; no going commando here no matter weather outside. I don't think I could look my colleagues in the  face should the bed snake ping into action at the wrong moment.  And the other risk is that not only the event get's noticed, but by the wrong person, who then draws the wrong conclusions. No, It's not you! You're not my type! So whether in the car or waiting at the bus stop; queuing  at Morrison's or at the vet. You're never safe. This restless menace never sleeps. Beware men of England. Be prepared and forever on your guard. There's nowhere to hide, and running just makes it worse!

Spitting In Your Soup

Now you can still eat the soup, but it's not going to taste the same, is it? 
Today I'm serving up an observation about how we ignore ideas that cause us unease. At first pass, one wonders why anybody would want to do? Bare with me, though; I'll try to explain.  Imagine that as a child, on mothers knee, you were told something. Imagine you're told that somewhere out there is a being that loves you. One that knows everything about you. One that has a special cosmic plan for your life. And all you have to do is try to love this being in return, and follow a few simple rules. Mother assures you that if you do this, as well as having a guide book for this life, when you die you get to meet this really special being and spend forever telling him what a fab chap he is. Now very young children are evolutionarily primed to obey parents.  Our ancestors faced huge dangers and raising young was no small feat. The offspring that did as parents told had a greater chance of survival, whereas those who didn't ended up feeding a family of saber tooth tigers or some similarly voracious predator. So survivors grow up to teach their kids the same thing, and so on and so forth. And what this means is that it becomes instinct to accept, often without question, what our elders teach us.  But what if your parents tell you things that are just plain daft? You've  trusted them with your very survival; why not with everything else? So you see the problem. What we're told when we are young can embed real deep.  So let's now return to the metaphor of spitting in somebody's soup. Imagine that the spittle is an idea that challenges your deeply cherished values? What's your initial response? I'm not eating that! But we're not really talking about spittle are we? We're talking about having our way of thinking challenged. I'd argue that we owe a greater debt to those that rattle our cages than to those who only plump our proverbial pillows. We all have bad ideas. We all live them out if left unchecked.  So the moral of this story is simple. Next time somebody tells you something that you might not want to hear,  instead of going into siege mode you could, when you get a quiet moment, perhaps reflect on it? Now the idea you've been exposed to might be good or it might be tosh. But exactly what do you gain by hiding from it?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Dating Game

I may as well be honest. I was Inept.  In fact inept doesn't even begin to describe it. It's a miracle I ever dated anybody, let alone ever married and had kids. I have this problem, see. I am totally incapable of recognizing when somebody finds me charming, or funny, or attractive. I've always been everybody's mate, the guy left at the bar whilst his mates pulled, or in the dark corner of the nightclub. I think this is probably something to do with being a bit overweight as a teenager; I expect that I never understood how I could be desirable to anyone? I was the prankster, the fool, all volume and no content. I can remember the first time I had the confidence to approach a girl. I was eleven, and I bought her a box of milk tray. She accepted it with grace, but via a teacher later gave it back. I'm no fool, though, and gave the same box to mum for Mother's day a couple of weeks later. And if I did have a crush I never had a clue what to do about it? This typically resulted in me being generally idiotic when around girls, unable to string meaningful sentences together. I probably also dribbled slightly in their presence, but let's not dwell on that. When I did, by some miracle, manage to secure a date these were less than successful. One femme fatale spent the entire evening telling me how she missed her ex, whilst another, whom worked for the Samaritans, spent the whole time telling me how depressed she was, and how meaningless life could be. I don't think I caused this, but I never pushed for a 2nd date. Fast forward to now, and I can say with some confidence that should I ever find myself single I would remain clueless. You could stand directly in front of me dressed in stockings and a corset whilst holding a placard saying, "Yes, I mean you!!", and my natural response would still be to look over my shoulder. For whatever reason I'm just not good at this kind of thing. Never was. Never could be. I am to dating what Dame Edna is to fashion. I am, and will forever be, the man without clue.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

One For The Road?

I'm an occasional drinker. And when I do drink it's not to excess. Before you try to second guess me, I'm not here to preach about the perils of binge drinking, or any of the related issues. I'm interested in another question; namely what is it that alcohol does for you? Does it help you to relax? Does it give you a bit of extra courage? Does it enhance your personality? Well ok, I suppose I can understand, and sometimes we do need to step out of ourselves. I guess what I'm wondering is why it takes alcohol to get you to that point? Or are you a person that drinks to blunt the edges of some deeper pain? Some empty space in your life? Perhaps a disappointment or two? Is it the life jacket you pull over your head at the end of the day? Does the thought of it keep you going through the rough and tumble of it all?
For most of us it's just a harmless indulgence, in which case enjoy and good health. The only note of caution I would strike would be to suggest we stay on guard. Somewhere out there is a line, and it's different for all of us. And once crossed that's when indulgence becomes a need, and the need an obsession, and the obsession an idol. And yes, I have just finished a night shift. And yes, I've spent most of it dealing with people who either ignored or were unaware of their limits. We don't call Friday and Saturday evenings fight night for nothing. By the end of these shifts my empathy levels are rock bottom; battered into submission by the endless procession of violence and disorder. Whether it's a brawl outside a club, or a manic depressive about to jump from a bridge, or a drunken teen slumped in an alleyway choking on her own vomit the cause is usually the same. Too much, too quickly, with too little thought. Is this really what makes a good weekend?

A time to die?

One day we're going to die. We have to make way for those who come after. Can you imagine a world where that didn't happen? Imagine the risk from motorized scooters every time you stepped out of the front door? In every sense we find the prospect of death abstract; we cannot conceive of our own end, and tremble at the concept of losing loved one's. Therefore we've learned to create elaborate myths about an afterlife, whilst others just cannot even mention the word death without being reduced to a cold sweat. It is scary. In so many ways it appears unacceptable. But consider this; what kind of a world would it be if we defeated this arch enemy? How would it change us? Well clearly there would be less religion, because historically that is the ultimate get out of jail free card. It would also change social rituals, goals, and mean that we really would have to throw ourselves out into the stars to seek new habitats. The last part is of course thrilling, a return to our real origins, but would that balance out what we would be giving up? Imagine a world where we could raise no children? Imagine walking past an empty primary school, or a play park with the swings creaking lazily back and forth? What would become of us as a species? Well I'm going to suggest it would rob us of our humanity rather than enhance it. What creatures would we become? Is it not life's transience that gives it value? That primal knowledge that we only have so many days under the sun? I believe that when I die nothing of me shall remain, yet I
take great comfort from the knowledge that my children will continue and perhaps also give the
gift of life. Birth and death are the bookends in which our lives are framed, whispering
persistently into our subconscious. The journey between these two realities is yours to plot
so use it wisely, use it well. And perhaps be grateful that you have it at all.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Never Blog When Horny

Never blog when horny, as the piece will inevitable reduce to soft, or quite possibly hardcore porn.
Never blog when under the influence. People don't need to know about the time you took a crap in those bushes.
Never blog when in the fast lane of a major trunk road, no matter how inspired you might be feeling.
Never blog during sex. You need your hands, and your partner might just respond by stamping on your testicles with those bedroom stilettos you purchased for her.
Assuming you haven't been tied to the bed blogging is permissible afterwards. And if you are tied to the bed and can still blog then I suggest an audition at Britain's Got Talent is in order. I'm certainly impressed.
If you must blog when on the toilet, do take care during those transitional moments. I lost a perfectly good mobile phone this way. The dangers are real.
Never blog if you've nothing to say. Whatever you produce is gonna' be just white sound.
When you blog, remember that a good writer should give the impression he is speaking directly to the reader. Don't waffle, and don't patronize. Be blunt and precise by all means, but don't waste words. 
And don't outstay your welcome. People have got better things to do.

In The Dead Of The Night

To admit to feeling lonely appears taboo. This to me seems vaguely ridiculous. It's the Everyman condition; I expect we've all felt it from time to time. The law of averages makes it near certain that some of you who read this have felt, or are feeling lonely. The start of the weekend can be tough when you're alone, can't it? We're social by nature; we need the company of others. Like a log fire, the right company can warm us and make us radiant.  And a bottle of wine is often best shared, even if it is just curled up on the sofa with someone special. Loneliness is often worsened when we've come out of a relationship. A broken marriage or a ruined romance; one day we're treasured and placed on a pedestal, and then it's gone, swept away on the tides of human experience. Only these tides aren't regular, are they? And a lot of things can make it hard to form new contacts. Perhaps you've got children? Or maybe that job makes it just impossible to form anything meaningful? So weekends come and weekends go, a single wine glass on the sink come the morning, the bed just too big, too empty. We've all had these experiences; there's nothing new under the sun. The purpose of this lament is just to remind those of you in that dark place, on that lonely island, that you are no less beautiful and engaging. Perhaps it's been a long time since anybody has made you feel special, but that doesn't mean you're not. You are special, in a million and one ways. And perhaps someday  soon the loneliness will end, the tide will come in, and the hopes and fears you've accumulated can be shared, cherished, and given new expression. 

How do you know that?

That's one of the best questions you can ever ask another person. It get's right to the heart of the matter. It's also a question we need to be regularly asking ourself. Think of it as self calibration, and don't be alarmed if doing this throws up the occasional shock. To be honest, my life would have been very different had I applied these checks and balances consistently.  Not that I have many regrets, and in fact being wrong about one thing  in particular actually produced a vast quantity of good as a result.  But anyway, during this journey of ours we might sometimes hear somebody saying words to the effect of "I just know". Now for all I can tell they might be right, but by and large if people cannot give you a plausible explanation for something, you might want to reflect whether you should incorporate it into your cannon of knowledge. This of course leads to the next quandary; how do we figure out a good claim from a bad claim? Well the amount of work you put in probably needs to be proportionate to the gravity of the question. If it's something trivial then give it some slack, cos' there's no point in being obsessive. But for the bigger decisions, the one's that inform large swathes of your life, I'd suggest you need to put some additional mileage in. Is what that person says true? How do they know? Where did the knowledge come from? These are all useful considerations. One final idea, and I freely confess that this won't be for everyone, is that you actively seek out alternative opinions. I mean, if a good idea is a genuinely good idea it should be able to stand up to cross examination? And if not why not? Smell I rat? Perhaps that claim isn't such a good one? If that's the case then perhaps that's the  moment  when you nod politely and move the conversation onto pastures new.


I grew up in the country. Ask anybody who has and they'll say it never leaves you. The clean air, the big skies, the silence and the scale. It's different from being in a town. Whenever I have free time I have to get out there;  it's therapy for me. I think less, observe more. I can just be. Many people look at the beauty of creation and they cannot conceive of how it could have come about by chance. And they'd be right; it didn't. Evolution by natural selection is the very opposite of chance,  a process that has been sifting and pruning for approx 4.5 billion years. It's a funny thing; people don't mind being aware that they have a similarity to apes, but when you point out that they are apes this rarely goes down well. For my part, I find it incredible that I'm related to every other living organism that has ever walked, crawled, slithered or swam. I'm connected to every tree, every leaf, every last sprout for that matter. The evidence is right there in my DNA. There's also another error that jars me; we make this assumption that we are more evolved than our fellow creatures, somehow top of the tree. Only that's a mistake, too. We are, like every animal, adapted to our current habitat, but who's to say that this will always be so? Climate change is going to kill some of us without any doubt. It's going to change the way we live and the way we use our natural resources.  Anyway, I was meant to be waxing lyrical about the beauty of nature and encouraging you all to get out into the great outdoors whenever you can. Soak it up, breath it in, surround yourself in the wonder of it all. The pubs will still be open when you're done, and you can put that program on series record. 

The Incredible Shrinking Psycho

The year is 2007. I have been suffering from work related stress for over a year without diagnosis. My body is subject to random pains, my weight has dropped, and I'm shrouded by an almost continual bleakness that subsides only briefly at the weekend. My boss is a political animal with a personal agenda and she has decided on a course of action with a probable success rate of somewhere between one and two percent. I know this because it was I that provided the statistics. There's a saying that people often get promoted to the edge of incompetence, and she was living proof. And her decisions were having an adverse effect on my body, my mind, and my marriage. Day after day, week after week, month after month it goes on. The primary feeling I had was one of entrapment; I was a husband and a father to two young children. I couldn't just walk away. Did I also mention the fact that my Dad was losing his battle with Lung cancer? Or that my faith was on a fast track down the toilet? Or that Joy and I were going through probably our roughest patch? 2007 was pretty much the perfect storm, but as is often the case it is under the storm clouds when we are truly defined; when we learn about ourselves. As things transpired my life was turned around on the back of two simple statements from two different people. Joy was of course increasingly concerned at the gradual erosion of the man she had married, and one day said words to the effect of "I'd rather live on value baked beans than see you like this" 
This simple statement was the key that freed me from the self imposed prison of responsibility I'd caged myself in. The 2nd statement came via one of the Field Sales Engineers, a kindly man, an honest northerner in the finest sense. I was explaining to him, as I had explained to everyone in Management why the  "Vision" had no chance of achieving it's goals. And he simply observed that, "If you feel that strongly you need to do something sooner rather than later"
Now any normal person would reflect on this. I'm not normal. I got up from the desk, walked casually over to the Office Managers room, stood in the doorway and said, "I can't do this anymore". And that was my resignation. No fanfare, no histrionics. 2007, whilst awful in so many ways was to define me in life enhancing ways. I changed. I lost 90% of my fear. I came to value truth above falsehood, honesty above deception, and fact above faith. I bare no Ill towards those who made my life such a misery; well OK perhaps I've rejected a couple of Facebook friend requests, but by and large I now see that year as pivotal and essential. More important still, never again will I remain in a situation where the incompetence of others effects the quality of my life or the life of my family. Your incompetence is your problem; it's not fertilizer so please don't spread it around. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Christians support child murder?

Remember my little rant a few weeks ago about the slaughter of the innocents? Remember the bit where I pointed out that the God of the Bible commanded the slaughter of men, women, and children? Remember that theologians often argue that (A) God would have morally sufficient reasons for doing this and (B) all the children get swept up to heaven anyway. Well what if I told you that by arguing for (B) the Christian is then unable to argue against abortion. Confused? Ok, I'll explain. It's rather easy. When the theologian argues for (B) part of the rationale is that the infant is spared the peril of falling into sin, which may lead to eternal damnation and a one way ticket to Hell. So by murdering them, you fast track the little pickles into heavenly rapture. Can you see where I'm going with this? Now let's think about abortion. Now if we apply the previously mentioned rationale then surely the more unborn babies we terminate, the less risk there is of them falling into sin? It's a 100% winner. No sin, no risk of Hell. Oh, but wait I hear the faithful cry. We're not God, we can't make these decisions. But what are you saying? Would God consign an unborn child to Hell for the sins of the living? That what you're saying? If yes, then your God is an even bigger monster than even I'd anticipated. Anyway, back to reality; I only use this example to demonstrate the tortuous logic and high level folly of those at the top of the Christian intellectual tree. Perhaps I'm being unkind, but there's an important point to be made. These people just don't think in a way that bears any resemblance to real world experience. Nobody, I repeat nobody should try to legitimize the slaughter of Children. Come join me in the real world ye great thinkers of Christendom. The waters cool, but it's refreshing.

Nobody's Punchbag

Excuse me, I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but you look sad today. Is that a bruise? Where did you get that? You don't come out as often as you used to? Everything ok at home?
Silence. Awkwardness. There's an unspoken language at play already, something in their demeanor stating that a line has been crossed. It's an ugly fact that domestic abuse appears to be the norm in the lives of many. Be it physical violence, verbal abuse, financial deprivation, coercive control; many women and some men are on the receiving end. I've long since felt that some of the greatest evil, the most sustained malice actually goes on behind closed doors. We never see it in public; it's kept out of sight. The victims are from all social backgrounds, and some suffer in ways that no person should. Now whilst the physical violence is in itself an outrage, I think the verbal and psychological abuse is often the greater evil. So to the offender I ask the following question; what is it in you that compels you to act this way? What kicks do you derive from running someone into the ground? I suspect your behavior is a projection of your own self loathing? Simmering beneath the violence and the venom is the simple objective fact that you really don't like yourself much? We've all got our sob stories, and we've all done awful things from time to time. But you? Why is it that you demean your partner? Or the mother of your children? Why don't you let her out? or stop her from working? or make threats to harm the kids or yourself if she doesn't comply? And what of the passive aggressive female? The one that seeks control through manipulation, smothering and crushing the man you are with? What's your story? What do you hate about yourself? Why the insecurity? And now to the victims, those in the line of fire. Just because somebody says you're worthless doesn't make it so. Just because you've put on a few pounds, or lost your job, your hair, your libido; doesn't mean you have to be anybody's emotional or physical punchbag. If you are one of those caught in a spiral of domestic abuse can I encourage you to confide in someone? There's a way out for you; you're worth so much more than what your abuser tells you. The first step is always the hardest, and there may be further stumbles on route. But you don't have to live this way, and nobody has the right to treat you with disrespect.

Ok, let's watch some porn?

Prediction. You're thinking of a man sat in front of a computer screen masturbating. But wait, what does the term pornography mean, and is there a sliding scale? What about some of the mainstream magazines with the headlines "How to have multiple orgasms" or "How to please your lady?" What about some of the TV we watch? Or literature we read? What I'm suggesting is that the boundary may be less clear than we think, but that's not the thrust of what I'm trying to say. My question is thus; Is porn a good thing or a bad thing? Is it like alcohol? or Chocolate? I.e fine in moderation? And who get's to choose? Now clearly there's a risk that a complete fixation can be problematic, leading to the dehumanizing of those around us. In some cases it may be a catalyst for sexual crime. There's always going to be somebody who warps themselves completely and loses touch with reality, but is this the exception or the norm? What about the loving couples who want to inject some additional lust into a relationship? Perhaps things have gotten stale? Who's to say that a shared exploration, consensual and considered, may not prove for the good of a relationship, or even save it? Changing perspective, what about the person struggling with their sexual identity? Might it be good to know  there are others out there like them? Might it help them become a bit more accepting of themselves? Now I know this is a massive subject, and my aim here is just to get people to think. Human sexuality is a many and varied thing, and with all things human there's margin for good or ill. All I'm suggesting is that the issue isn't clear cut. We're sexual beings; it's one of the ways in which we find expression, and as such I reckon we'd do well to be honest about this from the outset. Have you ever struggled with an element of your sexuality? Something you fear? Something you'd love to explore? It's ok. It's normal. You're human. If you could see inside my head I expect you'd either run a mile or take out an injunction, and I'm confident I'm not alone here. So let society have the discussion, and let's be honest about the risks and the rewards. When you bring a taboo out into the open we often learn a lot about ourselves into the bargain. I think that's a good thing? Do you?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Real victims, real lives

Most of you who read this know what I do for a living. I of course cannot comment on specifics, but my role does afford me a certain insight into the lives of the victims of crime. One learns quickly that, contrary to what anybody might tell you, there is rarely any justice in the world. What comes around doesn't always go around, and it's a terrible reality that those most vulnerable often pay the highest price. It's impossible to speak to the 90 year old victim of a distraction burglary, or a women caught in an abusive domestic relationship without feeling rage at the offenders. And what of the children? Babies left to starve by drug addled parents, crawling across floors littered with hypodermics and dog crap? What of the person duped out of savings? or the victim of identity theft? or the kindly citizens constantly having to endure the anti social antics of Sammy scrotum and Tracy twelve-kids? We know victims and we may even have been victims. And it's a simple fact that the Police can only do so much. I'm speaking as a citizen now and not as an employee. And it seems that if we want justice in the world we're the one's that have to forge it. And that means looking long and hard at ourselves and seeking to look outward. A me first culture is one that's dead in the water; but one that reaches out, that builds relationships ahead of personal agenda's surely allows us a better chance of success? It's about how we treat each other, about how we raise our kids, about a corporate effort to cultivate a society where we do all that we can to alleviate suffering and promote education and aspiration. Right now there's an underclass, a society of brokenness and loneliness, of lethargy and shallowness. I don't mean to preach; perhaps you disagree? And as for crime, you really need to understand that you, the public, are our eyes and our ears. Without you we can't grease the wheels of justice. Without you, all that any police force can do is put out constant social fires. We're not the solution; you are.

Famous for what?

Read any tabloid, or cheap magazine, and on every page you encounter a relatively recent phenomenon. There's a person you recognize, yet it's never quite clear just how they achieved their fame? I think we probably have ourselves to blame for this infestation; many of us appear obsessed with the cult of celebrity. Perhaps it's because we live in the age of information? It doesn't take a whole lot to get noticed. But ask yourself; are these people really worthy of our time? I'm a bit of a snob when It comes to who I admire; the minimum I expect is that they've actually done something. This requires more than just shagging a Premier league footballer. Perhaps I expect too much, but what exactly are we wasting our time on? Besides, the most remarkable people we know are often the one's we call friends. Perhaps that person who makes you laugh, or think, or act in ways you'd never have dreamed of? Inspiration really is all around us. And those most deserving may even live under the same roof? Perhaps we're not always good at recognizing it or have just become so familiar we cease to notice? Each and every day we are surrounded by walking, talking miracles. It's all around us? Is it really so hard to see?

Fallen Angels, Risen Apes

For those unfamiliar, a creationist is a person who takes the book of Genesis as historical fact. This means that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and was created by God in 7 literal days. It also means that every creature we see around us is an ancestor of animals from Noah's Ark. In North America there are regular court cases to ensure this lunacy is kept out of the science class. This is because it isn't science; it's myth. Of those working in mainstream science less than 0.02% hold a strict creationist view, but because of the pressure evangelicals impose on classroom biology teachers many are reluctant to teach evolutionary theory. Now why should I care? Why should you care? Well I'd suggest that this is another in a long line of examples of when religion poisons reality. Truth matters. It should transcend the primitive belief systems of an ancient civilization, yet here it is, thousands of years later, retarding the education of an entire generation. This sickens me. It should sicken you. The way we educate children will define our future, and we can choose to use the tools of science and reason, or the blunt edges of religious belief. I've had the misfortune of debating genuine American fundamentalists, and believe me it's a waste of time. These people won't change. These people cannot change. And here's the reason why. If they accept that we are an evolved species it rules out a literal Adam and Eve. And if they do that it creates, excuse the pun, an almighty problem. Jesus was sacrificed for the original sin of Adam, through whom evil entered the world. Remove Adam and that means Jesus died for a myth. And this contradicts what Jesus himself said. So that's the main issue, and that's why they hold this absurd worldview and try to share the delusion. So don't think for a moment that these people can be persuaded or reasoned with. Don't think that any evidence will suffice. If they abandon the book of Genesis, they know just as well as I do that the whole house of cards comes tumbling down around them.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The mistake I haven't made.

I've never had an affair. For a person of my disposition that's a miracle. I've got a lot of weaknesses, and amongst these is that I find most females attractive in some way, shape, or form. Strangely; it's rarely just a visual attraction, either. It's something else, or a combination of factors. Possibly just a chemistry thing in some cases. I'm very aware of it, and I try to avoid situations where I might come unstuck. Now ask most men, and I include myself, and we'd probably concede that we'd find it fairly easy to get into trouble. There's probably an evolutionary excuse somewhere, but we can't honestly use it because we have large brains which are, or should be, capable of noticing the many red lights you have to pass through before an affair starts. When somebody tells me they fell into one I'm dubious; we make choices, and to have an affair is one of them. Erections don't last, and at some point we guys's should be able to defer to our higher reasoning skills. Don't think for a moment that I'm saying I'll never screw up; the instant you take that view you're on rocky ground. I'd hope however that Joy and I communicate in a way that ensures we're aware of each others emotional and physical aspirations. If I'm good at anything it's that I love to please. And the kickback in pleasing a lady is that you often reap what you sow. So guys, If you're inclined towards selfishness you're probably going to find any relationship tough going. There's not a lot else I can say.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


You're ignorant. Yes, I mean you. No, not the person behind you. I mean you. Offended? Don't be. I'm ignorant, too. Fact is, most of us are ignorant about the vast amount of information and experience life has to offer. Our ignorance is a brute fact. I probably need to provide an analogy or two just so you don't get all grumpy on me. Here's an example; I'm ignorant on how best to leg wax. I'm ignorant on how to play a musical instrument, or how to cook an Octopus. I'm using the term ignorant in a very non confrontational sense. But, and here's the thing; we can all use it as a call to arms. Are there things you'd like to be less ignorant about? What's stopping you? Something you've always wanted to tackle but haven't gotten around to? Perhaps now's the time? You see, we can respond to stimulus in positive and negative ways. Some of you have still got the hump that I dared to insult you, but I reckon most of you have seen beyond my colorful use of language. In fact, what I'd love to see is you recognizing the incredible potential within. I've said it before; you are amazing. You're an incredible composition of life, light, energy and passion. Don't let it go to waste. Direct some of that energy into something that illuminates you. Get down and dirty with a dream or two. Let your imagination off the leash, let it take you on a journey. Who knows where the voyage may end?

I was a teenage dirtbag, baby.

As I write this I'm at my mum's house in Winslow. The town I grew up in, the town in which I spent many a mischievous summer. As I reflect on these years I'd like to make it clear just what an annoying little shit I was. Arrogant, mouthy, full of myself; the universe really did revolve around me. I knew everything that one could know, had an answer to every challenge. If you were an adult and did not hate me then that would have been due to your medication. On a serious note, I could be very cruel with words and was often quite unpleasant to other kids. I was the kind of teenager that Joy would have avoided like the plague; it's no small irony that I would eventually marry a teacher. Talking of teachers, they had every right to despise me. I was disruptive, sarcastic, egotistical, and a menace to anyone who was actively seeking to get an education. I can't really blame my parents; although I did lack guidance from an authority figure. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I'd had an adult role model? Another thing that might surprise people was that I was a bit of a porker, which teaches you two things; to be funny and to fight like a dog. Both strategies were deployed regularly. Anyway, that's a snapshot into what was generally a misspent youth. The sad thing is that I was smart enough to know better; I could excel at subjects in which I had an interest, but if I didn't want to learn then don't think for a moment that you would have been able to teach me. I hope that the years have becalmed me; I hope that what you see these days is an improvement. I'll let others  be the judge of that.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Man Without A Past

That's me. I never look back. Only forward. I was in my last job for 13 years, and on my last day vowed I'd never be one of the steady stream of ex-employees who returned from time to time. I cycled away with absolute certainty not join those ranks, and never did. Same goes for when I walked away from Church. I left it all; the community, the way of life, the ebb and flow and security of faith. It's the same with relationships; if they don't come naturally I don't force them. In the past couple of years I've also been out with old school friends once or twice. Good people, great lads; yet I've changed beyond all recognition in the twenty or so years in-between. It felt like a regress to me; one should ever tread the same paths twice. People often seem to regard me as a laid back character; easy going and sedentary. That's not strictly true. I've an uncompromising edge on certain issues; truth matters and trust matters. Sometime I probably shock people when it comes to taking a stand. I don't do shallow and I don't get much from pointless meandering. Much prefer to get down and dirty, so to speak. Above all, I'm driven by the bigger questions and the great mysteries, I want to experience and understand as much as I can whilst I've got the mind to do it. We're so transient, just blips amidst the great eternity of past and future. This is my time in the sun; yours too. We should use it well. And that's why I never look back.

Friday, 6 May 2011

What to do with Bin Laden's corpse?

My initial thought was that we should dress him up as Lady Gaga and drop him via parachute over Mecca. However, that was not me at my most reasonable. So anyway, thanks to high velocity weaponry we have a partial cadaver of a very evil man. I say partial because I am aware of what high velocity weaponry would have done to his head. Now what to do? Well I happen to think that he was afforded an appropriate burial, in keeping with his religion. He is beyond us now, and no man nor woman shall ever worship at his shrine. I am vexed, however, at the bleating of the Muslim clerics that protest that Bin Laden was not given a proper Muslim send off? Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly? So you're saying that he was a true Muslim then? Well that's fascinating? And there's me thinking that he was not the true face of the "Religion of peace". Anyway, let's be clear on something. He was evil, and he is dead. The President was correct not to release photographs; the images would have been gruesome and done nothing to dampen conspiracy theorists. If you want to belive that Bin Laden lives then so be it. It matters not. There are already sufficient maniacs out there in the dark places of the world just chomping at the bit to emulate his charming antics. So spend the months and years ahead chasing a phantom; create websites and YouTube videos for all I care. But do so in the knowledge that there remains plenty of murder, mischief, and vileness ready to spill from the spleens of those whom believe that Bin Laden was doing Gods will.

The Dark Continent

The year is 2100. Somewhere in the arid dustbowl of sub Saharan Africa a child is born, the mother screaming and gasping heroically through the final push. A withered clan member collects the infant and cuts the umbilical, a meager crowd gathered around a depressingly familiar scene. Wait. Did you say depressing? Yes. Within 72 hours the newborn will, in all probability be dead from dehydration, or infection. The mother is too malnourished to provide milk, and there is no medical provision for many miles. This child is one of many doomed to death by simple virtue of the fact that we as a species are too many, whilst our resources too few. So what to do? Well actually there's one strategy with a 100% success rate. It's called giving women control of their own bodies. It's called giving them the choice of when to reproduce rather than treating them as breeding machines. Combine this with availability to sexual education and birth control and one might think that a solution is viable, even likely. But there's a shadow. There's a vast and powerful organization sending out it's acolytes to preach the message of abstinence. Worse, they also forbid the use of condoms and often spread lies as to there reliability. And why? Because they have a book. A holy book. And it preaches a very clear message about sex. It is for the creation of young,the making of new life. High infant mortality rates matter not in light of this revelation; this holy book is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Our sufferings are transient, a droplet of despair in the oceans of eternity. So we are left with a stark choice; educate a culture and bring the population under control, or apply the teachings of the bronze age to the needs of the future. What's it to be? If you're an advocate of option B, enjoy your inheritance.

Mirrors Edge

I look in the mirror and what do I see? A middle age child looking back at me. Not too smart and not too cool, perfectly capable of playing the fool.
Pondering my history what was that about? A sea of contradictions enshrouded in doubt. I think too much and I kick like a mule, my mind venting questions like nuclear fuel.
And what am I to do with so much waste? The rage and the humor and the sheer bad taste? How does one exist in a senseless world? Fight it or placate it? Do I always have to rate it?
The fact that I exist is a miracle to me. My history and my journey and my family tree. So much passion and so much lust, I often wish I had the guile to disengage just for a while!
I'm driven and I'm solid, I'm soft and I'm harsh. One day I'm like the desert yet on others I'm the marsh.
To know me is to wonder what the hell was that about? I drive you halfway crazy; Is he manic or just lazy? To me that questions hazy, the answer vague and mazy. One day you think I'm barmy whilst on others you're aghast. You'll laugh and gasp with equal measure, unsure about the whole endeavor.
So that's the deal, that's just me, I'll make you laugh and sob. But when the story ends I hope you'll know I'm still just Rob.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Life You Never Lived

Flashback. Try to remember a seemingly un-important moment which actually turned out to be pivotal. Perhaps you turned left instead of right? spoke to one person rather than another?Reflect on the chain of events that lead to a relationship, or that job, or that new perspective. Now try and imagine if you hadn't turned left, or spoken to that person. Your timeline would have changed; your life altered unimaginably. Bizarre thought, isn't it? Now let's roll the dice again. Imagine a painful memory, an event which changed you, defined you, warping everything forever. Perhaps it was the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship, or the moment when someone you adored said sorry, but no. What if those things hadn't happened? What if the person had lived? or that relationship survived? Or that person you adored had leant forward to kiss you gently on the lips? Now here's the really odd thing; our lives have been a series of happenstances, a continuum of seemingly unimportant incidents which when combined defined you. We've been influenced by people we'll never meet, who for whatever reasons turned left instead of right, or got on that bus, or answered that call. Perhaps the tiny decisions taken by others have caused a ripple effect that has made a massive impact on the life we have lived or had hoped for? Perhaps somewhere out there, out in the great unknown, somebody or something had changed our world in ways that we will never truly grasp.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

If God tells you to kill me then please proceed.

I'm serious. Deadly serious. Don't forget, If god decides that he should kill me he will have, according to many respected theologians, morally sufficient reasons for doing do. The same goes for any children he wants to slaughter (they go straight to heaven) and also for nations he wants to enslave, or rout, or expunge. It's all good, because God will have morally sufficient reasons for his decrees. Reasons so lofty and righteous that we are too enfeebled to grasp them. Is anybody feeling uneasy yet? Something not quite right? That's your moral compass spinning wildly, responding to a concept so devoid of true morality that it warrants only mockery and revulsion. Thing is, many decent Christians and Muslims give tacit agreement to such divine proclamation. That genius of the IT world, or that fabulously skilled counsellor, or that nurse or child care worker, or lawyer or farmer. Spectacular people, kind and generous and compassionate; they worship this God. Revere him. To them he is the ultimate expression of goodness, love, wisdom. So what to do when he says things that run against every intuitive sense of morality you have? Easy. Ignore the bad parts.Brush them under the carpet. Forget that it was Jesus who first mentioned Hell or who supported the keeping of slaves. Move along. Nothing to see here. We'll just live by the good bits, apply the golden rule. Ok, I'll stop there. But can I leave you with the following task? Next time a person you meet proudly declares themselves a Christian, try asking them where they get their morality from?

Through the eyes of a child

When the Twin Towers fall, or when a devastating natural disaster rips an infant from the arms of a mother, or when a suicide bomber steps onto a crowded bus to consign dozens to the void, in another part of the world, a child will look towards parents and ask that most vexing of questions; Why? Why did this happen? Why did they do that?
Why indeed. But that's not the question I'm posing today. As a parent I'm aware that the mind of a child is malleable, impressionable. How do we as adults respond? We cannot dismiss these difficult questions. To do that is to devalue both the question and the right of the child to ask. At first glance it seems a hard obstacle to overcome. I can only offer the following insights. Firstly, it is not my job to teach my child what to to think; it's my job to teach them how to think. I can equip them with critical thinking skills, encourage them to ask questions, and to treat answers only with the respect that the evidence warrants. Sometimes the temptation for adults is to pretend to have answers when we have none. I'd suggest that this is a mistake. Perhaps we can help our children find answers; or at the very least praise them for having enquiring minds. I have no respect for those who seek to indoctrinate, whom happily front load their own biases and fears onto the minds of their young. Ideas have consequences, and children need the space to explore where they fit into this beautiful, albeit troubling world. So remember; your children are individuals, not your own personal vanity project. If you truly love them, give them the space and a safe place to grow.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Jeremy Kyle Generation

First, a bit of proverbial throat clearing. If you are a genuine person unable to work, you have my support. I'll walk with you every step of the way and I don't begrudge you a penny of the money you receive. But, if you are the kind of person who can work, and is physically able to work, yet chooses not to, might I suggest a bit of soul searching is in order? Everybody who reads this will know at least one layabout, a person who has decided that an honest day's work just doesn't compare with a morning in front of Jeremy Kyle. What makes you think that you can demand all the rights without taking any of the responsibility? What makes you think you can live off the hard work and graft of the hard working and honest taxpayers already struggling to get this nation back on its feet? And how is it you can afford to smoke, drink, and install a Sky TV dish on the side of your house? Where does this indolent lifestyle come from? Well it appears I'm paying for it, which makes you a parasite, living like the fleas on the back of a dog, creaming off the toil of others; absorbing, consuming. You appalling, lazy, freeloader. I know, I'm not exactly mincing my words. I think we should all be angry at these scroungers. Britain would never have achieved a thing if we depended on the likes of these. So here's my advice; show some self respect and assume the role of a responsible citizen. Be a real man, a real women, and make a commitment to being part of the solution rather than increasing the problem.

Monday, 2 May 2011

He may be dead, but the corpse is twitching.

Consider the following. Combine bronze age religious belief with 21st century apocalyptic weaponry, and reflect upon the potential for harm. If your God is telling you that your war is a holy war, then from a moral perspective all bets are off. I've illustrated on previous blogs the dangers of projecting our morality through the lens of religious delusion, and Bin Laden was the supreme example of just how wrong it can go. Don't think for a minute that this world is now a safer place; in the short to medium term the opposite will be true. I cannot bring myself to celebrate today, nor venture a sigh of relief. Religious delusion has a cancerous quality about it. Operate on one area and you often miss the secondary's, the latter being even more lethal. In the world today, right now, there are those utterly certain that their God is commanding them to carry out his will. Granted, for most believers their faith will manifest in a kindly fashion, but there is a continuum of religious belief that invariably implies a sliding scale that will cause some to act in ways bordering on the profane. This is why I regard all religious convictions as erroneous, and I draw no distinction in that appraisal. If you insist on believing in something in the absence of evidence, or often in the teeth of contrary evidence, you've placed yourself on the scale to which I have just referred.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

How to French kiss the Queen Mother

Admit it, I've got your attention. Truth is, what I really want to talk about are taboos. You know, all those deliciously inappropriate thoughts that flare in our minds every day. What's on your mind? What dark secret lurks behind those eyes, or that smile? Now I'm not advocating we share everything with each other. We'd need bigger custody suites. And can you imagine what the world would be like if we really allowed free reign to our every vice, impulse, or whim? Even I accept that society needs some level of restraint, but I don't think that means we have to always censor our imaginations. I sometimes wonder whether we all carry about too much guilt? Sometimes we'd do well to forgive ourselves and just accept that we're human. And being human is an amazing thing. Heck, being alive is an amazing thing. Do you know how statistically improbable you are? The life you live comes courtesy of untold co-incidences and happenstances. Perhaps If your Grandfather had travelled by horse and cart down the road rather than wander across the hills he'd never have met your Grandmother? Perhaps if that T-Rex had eaten that small mammal, that same mammals descendants wouldn't have evolved into the primitive creatures that would one day become us? You're a lottery winner. You've won the greatest prize of all. You exist. So don't be too hard on yourself. And if sometimes you find your mind taking a detour or two then perhaps that's just the nature of the beast.

Underpants - A blog of sheer horror

Tis' the day before a holiday and the suitcase is packed. All clothing of worth is locked and secured away. Knowing this I approach the underwear drawer with a sense of foreboding. What evils await? What darkness? Like a classic Hammer horror movie the drawer creaks open as sweat pours down my brow. I focus, I tremble, the sheer desperation of my plight now leering before me. I have two choices. The Popeye novelty boxer shorts with no reliable elastic, and the black thong, a tiny strip of material linked by a barely perceptible thread. I'm between the devil and the deep blue see. The tablecloth or the nutcrackers? There's no happy ending. I shout downstairs, "Joy, can I borrow some knickers?" to which I receive the swift retort, "Is it the weekend already?". My breathing is erratic, shallow. I consider prayer, but reality kicks in. I flirt briefly with the idea of going commando, but I have to wear these with work trousers and I'd be living in dread of that timeless foe otherwise known as the involuntary erection. I gird my sides, a hand reaching out, wavering. Slowly, gingerly, descending towards certain doom.

There's a happy ending. This week I'll be in M&S and choosing some new underwear. No more will holidays fill me with dread. And there's the added bonus of being able to perve around the lingerie department before and after. Happy days.

The importance of being wrong

Odd title? I guess. But I think I'm onto something. If you're anything like me then being wrong is a lifestyle. What I mean to say is that if you explore a lot of issues, think about things inside out it's easy to get into a pickle. Then there's the danger I've referred to in previous blogs; that inner compulsion to believe only what we want to. We're good at this, capable of accepting propositions that sometimes fly in the face of reason, evidence, and intuition. And this is why learning to be wrong in the right way is probably one of the most important skills you and I will ever learn. The moment you recognize your capacity for error you can work with it. You can seek alternative opinions, read a variety of alternate viewpoints, many of which will fly in the face of what you might want to know about the world.
So I humbly offer the alternative piece of advice. Next time you think about an idea you treasure, or a belief you live by, instead of getting too comfy try and break it. Put your nose in it's face and say, "Are you for real?". More than that, don't just surround yourself with like minded creatures; to me that's plain lazy thinking.