... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New Atheism and the Emperor's New Clothes

This isn't my interpretation of the difference between 'New Atheism' and old Atheism, but it is a good one:

Old Atheist: There's no god.
Religion: Shut up.
Old Atheist: OK

New Atheist: There's no god.
Religion: Shut up.
New Atheist: No.

(If anyone knows where this fantastically accurate interpretation came from please let me know so I can properly attribute it. I saw it posted as a comment in a facebook discussion but don't remember when or where.)

And here is some further interpretation of my own:

Are you familiar with the story of the Emperor's New Clothes? You probably are, but let me explain anyway.  There is an Emperor. He is a strutting, preening, pig-shit thick dick head. He is convinced of his own importance, completely sold on his own mythology, believes himself to be a cross between the bee's knees and the dog's bollocks in some sort of insecto-canine hybrid.

Some cheeky conmen with fake credentials in tailoring from a correspondence course in Utah, come along to take advantage of the Emperor's self delusion. They present him with an empty coat hanger and tell him that it is the most wonderful beautiful suit they have ever made.

They tell the Emperor that only a great man can see the suit as it is made from a magical material only visible to the truly wise and wonderful. Big dumb old Emperor wants to be wise and wonderful, no he is convinced that he is already, and so he can see the suit.

He puts it on, and walks up and down, parading about the town in his new finery for all the public to see.  The public are tight-lipped about the foolishness of the naked dick-swinging Emperor.

Some of them remain quiet because they fear the Emperor, some think he deserves their respect because he's, you know, the Emperor, some believe they are being tolerant, and others perhaps are sold on the same self-delusion that the Emperor suffers from.

Then one little boy, who does not know the official line, has not yet been indoctrinated with the story, pipes up and yells, "The Emperor is stark bollock fucking naked! What are you all doing!? Why is everyone putting up with this, it's really fucking weird!"

And the spell is broken. Suddenly some of the people start to laugh because the truth they knew all along has been spoken publicly. Laughter begins to spread. Some of the people want to maintain the Emperor's privileged position so they keep quiet, and the Emperor retreats to his wealth and his palaces to cling to his last dregs of respectability, to try to work out what went wrong.

This is a story about new atheists. The Emperor is religion, a self-deluded cock in a big hat sitting on all the power for no good reason other that, you know, tradition or something. The silent public are a mixture of religious apologists, moderate religious people, agnostics, and old atheists.

Old atheists, the kind that don't believe in god but keep quiet about it because of tradition and a patronising belief that while they know god doesn't exist they're convinced that other people need their delusion to keep their primitive ignorant societies from collapsing.

The young boy is a new atheist. He doesn't know better, so his reaction is honest. He voices the truth, breaks through the lies and brings down tradition. Any tradition that can be destroyed by the truth should be destroyed by the truth.

The boy is the hero of the Emperor's New Clothes. The boy is the original new atheist.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

'Fish Cakes' read an official looking sign, on a small side door to a multi-storey carpark I walk past daily, as I caught it from the corner of my eye. I'm a fan of fish cakes, of course I am, as I think we all are, so my attention was quickly drawn. A good fish cake, or even the promise of a fair-to-middling one, requires ones full attention.

So I looked upon the sign, the 'Fish Cakes' sign, to discover to my dismay that it actually read 'Fire Exit'. Tediously, predictably, 'Fire Exit'. Disappointed, and having no specific interest in fire exits besides a general approval of them as a concept, I turned away. Immediately as the sign re-entered the corner of my eye it returned to reading 'Fish Cakes'.

It's a truth we all need to live with and the fact is that these things happen. Minor, constant and almost imperceptible disappointments. I wanted my usual seat on the bus, I had to sit somewhere else. The vending machine at work short-changed me by five pence. I haven't trimmed the nail on my left big toe for some time and over the last two days I have put large holes in three socks. I wanted fish cakes, I received a fire exit.

But before I had time to contemplate any of this I had taken two and a half more steps, could no-longer see the lateral-ocularly dimorphic sign, and was just realising I wasn't feeling particularly partial to fish cakes. And thus all was right with the world once more.

Of course, no I have been dwelling on fish cakes for some time. About the length of time one might spend considering them in the final two choices of a particularly difficult menu. So now my stomach rumbles, and I wonder what to have for tea, knowing full well that I live in a house currently devoid of fish cakes. Sad times.

Friday, August 02, 2013

John Sculptures

Sir John Hertsreach
"Be ye angry, and sin not:
let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Neither give place to the devil."
Ephesians 4:26-27

"That's it," he said to the settling stone dust. By Jove, I've done it again, he had planned to exclaim but, upon completing his latest statue, he just said that's it. As the granite particles fell gently about his person he placed the hammer and chisel into his belt and stepped back.

The granite block rose shoulder-height, smooth and rectangular, and atop it stood the carved figure of a man in cutaway coat, waistcoat, high-waisted breeches, stockings, shoes with buckle and heel, and a powdered wig tied with a ribbon. Its surface was unpainted and its size was larger than a man. His pose was one you have seen many times before: hand on hip, head raised, eyes gazing to the future. One foot rested on a pile of books; three copies of the Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version. Carved into the stone pedestal was naught but the name, Sir John Hertsreach, his dates, and a Biblical quote presumably relevant.

The sculptor's latest completed work was Sir John, whose biography briefly runs thus: Sir John was born 1722 at Castle Rowth to Christian Hertsreach, 1st Baron Hesterbridge, and the Lady Anne Allen. Educated in all the proper manners he was nevertheless a precocious child who grew into a temperamental yet brilliant man. He gained a reputation both for his unusual personal habits and his incredible architectural talents. Baron Hesterbridge funded the building on his land of many of Sir John's designs. Sir John received his knighthood soon after George II visited Castle Rowth in 1750. Sir John passed away in 1766 after a short illness. The relevance of the quote, and the meaning of the three Bibles was not recorded by contemporary sources.

"Thank you," said the sculptor, his neck strained backward to look Sir John in the eye. Sir John has no mortal remains but his name, his dates and his statue. The sculptor sweeps the granite dust from the floor. Moving up and down his ladder and using a soft, handheld brush he picks dust from out of the curls in Sir John's wig and the folds of his coat. Again he sweeps the floor, then carefully puts away his tools, brushes and ladders.

John the Betrayed
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:
if any man hear my voice, and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him,
and he with me."
Revelation 3:20

Amongst the detritus of a busy desk – crushed pencil sharpenings, pots of paint-clouded water, doodles and jottings, a half drunk bottle of wine, biscuit crumbs, and paper ephemera – he pulled towards him his sketchbook. Opening it in the middle and flicking back a couple of pages, past charcoal and watercolour drawings of bodies and body parts, he settled on a man in pencil.

Bare-footed, dressed in robes, palms at waist height and facing outwards, eyes closed and lips slightly apart; the drawing exactly mirrored that of a marble figure in the room. The sculptor looked from the sketchbook to the carved marble and back again, emphasising the curve of a finger with a few strikes of the pencil. He looked back and forth until he was done and moved over to the figure to caress its smooth surface with his hands.

Little is known of the life of John the Betrayed save for a few brief samples outlined in the sculptor's sketchbook. Without consulting the book, he recited all available information: "John the Betrayed, you lived and died from 690 to 769. You tamed the birds and built the first bell-tower in a European church. You preached good words to all who would listen, but your church was taken from you by your own family and you were cast aside to Asia Minor. You lived long and travelled much but never returned to the bosom of your family. Your final resting place is unknown and no relics currently exist." John the Betrayed listened closely with closed eyes and marble ears.

The sculptor sat again at his desk, picked up his pen, and turned to a blank page in the sketchbook. He found a packet of biscuits in the drawer beside his legs and chewed on a chocolate digestive until it was gone. While chewing he began to think, and upon swallowing the final mouthful he began to write:

Captain John "Uthuze" Terran
"For to be carnally minded is death;
but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
Romans 8:6

John Terran captained the HMS Horncastle, one of the Royal Navy's earliest ironclad warships, from 1859 until 1869. Primarily he was involved in protecting Victoria's possessions in Canton and Hong Kong, however he is most remembered for leading the bombardment on Kagoshima which opened up trade with the Japanese. He retired from active duty in '69 aged 54 due to a sudden undiagnosed illness, which caused the growth of great tufts of body hair and rendered him entirely mute for the rest of his life.

Known as Uthuze to his closest friends, John had always felt the urge to travel; his father had also risen through the Naval ranks and spent many years away from home. On the rare occasions when young Uthuze saw his father, he was regaled with long and exotic tales; dusky folk of all shapes and sizes and strange monsters unlike anything seen in God's green England. John's favourite story from his father was the one about the great shark which leapt from the ocean and landed on the deck. It had taken seven men to subdue the beast, and all the crew dined well on shark meat that night.

Remembered and honoured for his achievements Captain John "Uthuze" Terran was also known among his peers and subordinates as a generous but commanding leader; a man who deserved respect. Women loved him for his broad chest and shoulders, thick lustrous moustache and dark, dark eyes. His wife and children adored him and his parents couldn't have been prouder.

The sculptor created a cluster of pen and ink sketches of square-jawed mustachioed men in large dressy hats. He worked with a variety of glorious and victorious poses rendered using stick men or roughly outlined silhouettes, and consumed many more biscuits as he worked. Pencil sharpenings and drips of black ink covered the desk, and biscuit crumbs found their way into the centre crease of the sketchbook. Eventually the sculptor paused for a moment to look over his work, took up his pen and scrawled large crosses over the biography and sketches of Captain John Terran.

He turned the page and began to write:

John Fentercast,
Industrialist and philanthropist
"And these things you have heard from me
among many witnesses,
commit these to faithful men
who will be able to teach others also."
2 Timothy 2:2

Moore and Murphy

“So,” said Murphy.
“So,” said Moore.
And together they heaved the five hundred kilogram corpse above head height and pierced it on the swinging butchers hook. Moore cleared his throat, and Murphy swung his head in a circular motion emitting a loud crack of bone on bone. They stepped either side of the second cadaver and crouched down. Lift with the legs, not the back: the sensible mantra of health and safety.
Skinned, gutted, relieved of its head and legs, and ready for boning, the weight was still considerable. And together Murphy and Moore slung another dead cow onto another steel hook.
“Good morning,” said Murphy. “Did I say that already?”
“No,” said Moore. “You didn’t. Good morning, Murphy.”
Moore stepped across the room to the sterile storage compartment and withdrew two large hand-held hooks, and two long upwardly curving butcher’s boning knives. He walked back to Murphy and the two hanging carcasses, and handed over a hook and a knife.
“Thank you,” said Murphy.
“You’re welcome,” said Moore.
The room in which they stood was morning fresh, and as clean as it gets in a working day. Spotless white tiles on floor and walls, and fixtures and fittings of shining stainless steel. Murphy and Moore wore white from top to toe, including their hair nets and elasticated shoe covers. They each drew in a small table and positioned them to the left of their cows.
Moore placed his hook and knife on the table, lowering them at a controlled rate so that the sound of them making contact with the surface was minimal. He arranged them millimetre by millimetre so they were centred on the tabletop and their handles were parallel.
Murphy put his hook down, the metal on metal emitting a ringing ting. He held the boning knife before his face and peered at the blade, inspecting it from hilt to tip. Murphy and Moore reached the same conclusion and, as Moore continued his incremental tabletop adjustments, Murphy took the initiative.
He walked back to the storage locker and retrieved two 20cm steel knife sharpeners, then returned to Moore, handing one over.
“Thank you,” said Moore.
“You’re welcome,” said Murphy.
They each approached their respective tables and examined their tools. Moore picked up his hook and began carefully scraping down and sharpening the tip, approaching from this angle and from that. Murphy took up his boning knife, enhancing its already considerable sharpness with long steady strokes of the bevelled file. They stood back to back, alone except for their tools.
“We have a good day ahead of us,” Moore said to his hook.
“We sure do,” replied the hook. “I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
“There, how does that feel?” Murphy asked of his knife.
“Excellent,” replied the knife. “You really know how to wake me up in the morning. I feel sharp as a new pin.”
“Murphy,” said Moore. “How was your weekend?”
Murphy didn’t answer immediately. Holding onto the handle of his knife sharpener he placed the tip against the metal surface of his table. With motions of the wrist the tip glided back and forth against the steel emitting a scratching screeing that Murphy imitated vocally. He cleared his throat and tapped the sharpener three times.
“Fine,” he replied. “Yours?”
Moore didn’t answer immediately. He blew gently on the tip of his hook and placed it in the exact spot on the table it had previously been. Lowering his head close to the surface he peered with one eye at the blade of his boning knife. He considered the benefits of investing in a jeweller’s magnifying loupe. Once the thought had entered his head he was unsure as to why he hadn’t thought of it before. With close magnification, perhaps 30x would suffice, he would be able to exactly asses the suitability of his tools. The perfection of his blade would be beyond his ability to achieve merely with the naked eye, and the best possible without the impractical employment of an electron microscope.
“Yes,” he replied. “Fine.”
In silence they took up tools and began the day’s work; separating chuck from rib, brisket from shank, and loin from flank. They took care to ensure perfect cuts every time, with minimal damage to connective tissue, and smooth cleaving through flesh and bone. Whole beef enters their chamber and leaves as skilfully boned cuts to be shipped to butchers across the country. Moore and Murphy can each cleanly bone hundreds of cows a day.
The hook is held in the left hand, and is used to control and manipulate the position of the meat, while the knife is of course used to separate the various cuts according to the familiarly established beef chart.
“I had another argument with my wife yesterday,” said Murphy.
“Oh no, really?” enquired his knife.
“Yes,” replied Murphy. “If I’m being honest to myself I can’t really see us lasting much longer. Our youngest is going away to university next year, and once she’s gone I imagine we’ll separate.”
“You feel like you’re just staying together for the kids, and once they’ve all left home there’ll be nothing left to keep you together,” summarised the knife.
“Exactly,” said Murphy. “We don’t talk much anymore, I don’t think she feels much love for me, and I hate to say it, but I don’t know if I love her anymore.”
“Well, your daughter is staying at home for another year,” began the knife. “And a year is a long time. Don’t think I’m just offering platitudes, but who knows what could happen between now and then. Think about it; do you want to save your marriage?”
“Of course I do,” said Murphy.
“Why?” demanded the knife.
“We’ve between together so long,” said Murphy. “I don’t know how I would cope without her.”
“Is that it?” asked the knife. “You don’t want to lose her because you’re worried about washing your own clothes and watching TV alone?”
“No of course not,” protested Murphy. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Then what?” the knife said resolutely.
“I mean I,” stammered Murphy. “I mean I still love her.”
“Then tell her,” insisted the knife. “When was the last time you told her you love her?”
“I can’t remember.”
Every word spoken filled the hard tiled chamber with repetitions of itself as it bounced from wall to floor to ceiling. As Murphy’s last word echoed and then died, silence returned to the room. The gentle and professional slicing of meat caused sounds barely audible to all but the most attentive listener. And so Murphy and Moore continued as the morning progressed.
“Yesterday was the nine month anniversary,” said Moore. “I haven’t had a drink for two hundred and seventy-five days exactly.”
“That’s fantastic,” congratulated his boning hook.
“Thank you,” beamed Moore. “I am feeling rather proud of myself.”
“So, how did you celebrate this momentous occasion?” chimed the hook. “Not with a drink I hope?”
“I wish,” chuckled Moore. “I made a flask of tea and went trekking in the fells.”
“Alone?” inquired the hook.
“No, I went with the fell walking society,” Moore said. “You should join us some time.”
“Maybe,” said the hook. “I’m not sure if it’s my sort of thing really.”
“Nonsense,” insisted Moore. “It’s invigorating. You should bring your wife. It might help you find some common ground and perhaps reconcile your differences.”
“I’ll consider it,” said the hook.
The conversation was interrupted by the siren indicating the abattoir’s lunch break. In silence Murphy and Moore downed tools - Moore with practised precision and Murphy quickly and casually - and moved into the next room. They removed their hair nets, shoe covers and aprons and scrubbed their hands with soap and water. During their dinner hour they sat together and ate.
“So,” said Murphy, halfway through a plate of chips.
“So,” said Moore later, over an empty plate.
And together they returned to their work places, donning their hygienic hair nets and aprons, picking up their tools and preparing for the afternoon’s toil.
“Murphy,” said Moore. “How was your lunch?”
“Fine,” said Murphy. “Yours?”
“Yes,” said Moore. “Fine.”