Saturday, 16 June 2018

Why I admire...

I really enjoy writing my blog but I struggle to come up with ideas. Most of what I can think of has already been done to death and about 50% of what I do start doesn't get finished because I lose track of where it was going. 

So I had an idea...writing posts about people I admire and highlighting what I admire about them. I shared this idea with my friend Godless Mom and she said it was great. So I'm doing it. The first will be out soon and from there I plan to post them regularly. 

Hope you enjoy them. :) 

Eurydice Dixon, Jill Meagher, and our savage species.

If we can ignore, for a moment, what happened in the places they found, the voyages of James Cook, and Christopher Columbus were, for their time, two of the greatest adventures humankind have ever been on. More recently it was Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. 

Emilia Earhart flew solo across the Atlanic. In 2010 - 2011 Laura Dekker sailed solo around the world. She was 15.

Joining Armstrong and Aldrin, a further 10 people have walked on the moon. About 5,500 years ago people invented the wheel. Probably the single greatest invention of all time. In 1928 Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, United States, invented the first loaf-at-a-time bread-slicing machine. It was the best thing since...well, for a while. 

We've mapped the humane genome, we've grown a human ear on the back of a rat. We have technology that allows me to type into a computer and have you read it, wherever you are in the world, on a computer of your own. A computer that might be the small enough to fit in your hand and carry in your pocket. 

The point is we've achieved a lot as a species. The above doesn't really begin the scratch the surface of the truly amazing things humans have achieved. 

The problem is, it leads to some confusion and misunderstandings and a sense of us being far superior to what we are. 

In Tanzania in 2014, seven people were burned to death. According to this report, they were attacked by local villagers and burned to death for engaging in witchcraft. In the first four months of 2018, Saudi Arabia, the Guardian reports, executed 48 people. Half of them on non-violent drugs charges. They are beheaded using a sword. 

In the USA, a former beacon of freedom, a former 'land of opportunity', in June 2018, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defending the separation of children from their parents, claimed it was 'very biblical to enforce the law.' CNN reporter Brian Karem pushed Sanders on the issue of forcibly separating children from their parents.  

In what was almost an emotional plea, Karem said, to Sanders "You're a parent, don't you have any empathy? Come on, Sarah, you're a parent. Don't you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do. Seriously, Sarah, seriously, these people have nothing.'

Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer the questions and, instead, claimed that Karem was simply after more TV time. 

Hundreds of boys in south Sudan are kidnapped from their villages and forced to become child soldiers. 

Despite our amazing achievements, it's clear we are a savage and cruel species. 

In the early hours of Wednesday June 13th in Melbourne, the body of 22 year old Eurydice Dixon was found in a park by a passerby. She had been raped and murdered. She was 900 metres from her front door. 

Eurydice was an up and coming comedian. She'd finished a gig at a nearby hotel, had said goodbye to her boyfriend, and walked towards home. 

Her walk home that night brought her across the path of 19 year old Jaymes Todd. The exact details of what happened are not yet known. But Todd handed himself into the police. The Melbourne comedy community, the friends and family of Eurydice, and Melbourne as a whole, are in shock and saddened at what happened. 

On September 22nd 2012 Jill Meagher was walking home from a pub. Her walk home that night brought across the path of Adrian Bayley. He raped her, then strangled her until she died. He's not eligible for parole until 2055. 

As long as the list of achievements is, I can't help but feel the list of atrocities is longer. 

It's odd and disturbing to think the same species that can land a rover on Mars is capable of these acts of terror. The same species that can operate on an unborn baby can cause so much harm and damage to its fellow people.  

The road to ending this savagery is long, but I think it can be achieved. It's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of patience, but mostly, it's going to take a lot of eduction in things that we wouldn't expect to still be teaching in this day and age. 

In the aftermath of the Jill Meagher story and now, again, in the aftermath of the Eurydice Dixon murder, Victoria Police urged people to 'be aware of their surroundings.' 

Some think this pragmatic advice. Others see it as victim blaming. 

The problem is there's a gap between what ought to be, and what is. 

Boys ought to be able to live without being forced to become child soldiers. Families ought to be able to seek a new life and not be separated at the border of a country that prides itself on 'freedom'. 

The topic I want to focus on is this: Should women, or anyone, be able to walk home from a pub and not only not fear being raped or murdered, but actually NOT be raped and murdered? Of course. Is it always going to be safe to do that? The reality is, no, it's not. 

People will say we shouldn't have to be telling women they need to walk home with a friend, just to make sure they get home at all. And they're right, shouldn't have to. The reality, however, is that it's sometimes not safe and women walking home on their own, despite the possible danger, isn't going to make it safe. It's not going to keep the women safe. 

Had Eurydice had a friend with her, she would quite likely be alive today. 

Had Jaymes Todd not decided to rape and murder Eurydice, Eurydice would most definitely be alive today. 

I'd suggest that Jaymes Todd knew that raping and murdering someone was wrong. Had the police tweeted that morning 'don't rape and murder anyone tonight' I suspect Jaymes Todd would still have raped and murdered Eurydice Dixon that night. He handed himself into police. He knew he'd committed a crime. 

So I'm not convinced telling 'men' not to rape and murder is the answer either. Those who do it know it's wrong already. Harsher punishment isn't the answer either. As this report  finds, there's no evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. 

Where does that leave us? Well, from what I've found out, education, and shame. 

Firstly, the shame part. THIS is where men come in. Let me sidebar for a moment...

When I was a 17 year old (still a child, technically) I was working full time at a local factory. One of the 'men' (I would guess 30 years old) was talking to me about his wife. There were just the two of us in the conversation. He mentioned that sometimes when his wife gets out of line, he gives her a backhander, and then he chuckled. It made me feel horrible to hear that. But I wasn't brave enough to say anything. I said hmmm, and walked away. 

If a 30 year old man told me that now, I'd call him a fucking criminal, tell him that he's a coward and tell him to never talk to me again. I'd then research how best to deal with that situation. I'd be wary of making the situation worse. Around one woman per week is killed by their current or former partner in Australia. I wouldn't want to make that more likely to happen. 

But the point is, it's up to men to shame and denounce other men who brag about violence towards women. It's up to men to have discussions with other men about what's acceptable and what's not. And it's not just the rape and murder we have to denounce. We need to talk to our female friends and find out what it is men are doing on a consistent basis that they don't like. Then when we hear men talking about doing that kind of thing or we SEE other men doing that kind of thing, we stand up to them. We demand they stop and denounce and shame them for doing it. We make them aware that it's 100% not acceptable. It's not acceptable if it's their partner. It's not acceptable if it's a stranger. And what we also need to do is NOT tell women that it's meaningless, or it's harmless, or it's just a bit of fun. If they don't feel that it's harmless, it's not harmless. 

There are also things we can do to make women feel safer. If you're a man getting off a train and walking to your car in the station carpark and it's the middle of peak hour, and you are, coincidentally, following a woman walking to her's probably not much of a big deal. 

If you're getting off a train late at night and there's no one else around and you're coincidentally following a woman who's walking to her car...she's likely to be wary of you, if not outright frightened. You can help out here by slowing down. Tie your shoelace, walk a slightly different path, don't continually watch her, get on your phone and talk to someone. Make it clear you're NOT following here. (For the record these tips were given to me by my partner). 

The best thing men can do to ensure women are not raped and murdered is to not rape and murder them, of course. But if ANY TIME a man hears or sees another man talking about being violent towards a woman or BEING violent towards a woman, stop him and SHAME him for it. 

The other thing that needs to be done is eduction, and it needs to start early. It needs to come with sex education. Boys (AKA 'future men') need to be taught about consent, and about bodily integrity. It feels sad and unfortunate that this needs to be 'taught' and isn't just inherent knowledge, but as I pointed out, we're a savage species. On the scale of time, we're really not that far from being 'wild animals'. 

I feel we get fooled into thinking we're better than we are because of what we've achieved. It's like we get tricked into thinking our 'exceptional best' is actually our 'standard'. But we need a reality check. We NEED to understand that humankind is a species that rapes and murders. It happens in the most violent societies, and it happens in the happiest and 'safest' societies. It's kind of like the alcoholic who needs to admit they have a problem, before they can get sober. 

So we not only have to teach our young about not raping, not murdering, and about the things that make other people fearful and uncomfortable, we need to consistently reinforce these ideas and lessons, and not just in school, but as adults. We need to do it whether it's a stranger (hard) or a friend (even harder). 

For this post I searched and read about ideas to prevent rape, or reduce the instances of rape. The best article I found was this one, written in 2014 by Jessica Reed for The Guardian. It contains very good advice, and a good overall view of the situation. It points to a site called ScarleTeen as a good resource for teens to learn about sexuality. I've not yet had the chance to check that out, but I highly recommend reading the article by Jessica. 

Another site I found was HealthyPlace. It has an article titled: Rape Prevention - How to Prevent Rape. It has three tips. I won't list them here, you can read it if you wish. But I know that each of the tips is aimed at women. I had hoped tip number one was aimed at men and said 'don't rape'. (I know not all rapes are men on women, but it's the vast majority). The same article does have advice for if you are being raped. On the surface the advice seems good, but I'm no expert so I highly recommend reading it in conjunction with other sources. The Healthy Place website does have a page that lists all its references, which you can find here. It seems very thorough. 

It's a dangerous world. Maybe not as dangerous as some would have us believe, but certainly more dangerous than we'd like it to be. We can work towards getting it closer to what we want it to be, but maybe...until we get there, until the changes we need to make are showing an impact, maybe the advice from Victoria Police isn't too bad. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Anthony Bourdain, David Leavitt, and depression

As you've probably heard by now, much loved television chef/traveller Anthony Bourdain passed away. Sadly, he took his own life. Something that I now refer to as 'dying from Depression.' I first heard this term in the aftermath of the death of Robin Williams.

The death of Anthony Bourdain has hit many people hard. I've heard several people say he had 'the best life.' My good friend @godless_mom is a big fan of Anthony and was devastated by the news. You can read her post about it here.
There has been an outpouring of grief, as is expected when a celebrity dies. Had he been in his 80s and died of a heart attack, I'm sure the sadness would still exist, but it would different. The thing here is Anthony was a man 'on top of his game' as it were. He was successful, he was liked, and he was about to film another episode of his much loved television program.

It's a shock when this kind of news breaks.It's sad news, but not angry news. I've seen some anger directed at Anthony from a man I'd never previously heard of, called David Leavitt.

Upon the news of Bourdain's death, Leavitt posted this:
There's so much wrong with this post. But first, I want to share what Anthony was responding too. It was David Leavitt tweeting the below after news of the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester:

I'm sure most of you will concur with Anthony's opinion of Leavitt upon learning this. Teenagers had just died. Families had just been devastated and here was some cretin making a joke about it. Simply no class.
But back to Leavitt's tweet about Anthony.First, and to me, the most obvious issue, Leavitt is tweeting to a man who has died. Is he expecting a response from Bourdain? I honestly couldn't tell you.
he next part is the truly serious part. "Selfishly taking your own life and hurting your family and friends..." Leavitt then goes on to repeat the insult Anthony had used on Leavitt.
Here's the thing...suicide is carried out, more often than not, by people suffering major depression. Anthony Bourdain had spoken about his personal battle with it. It is clear, as it was with Robin Williams, that Anthony Bourdain died from depression. He died from a medical condition. Would David Leavitt had called Anthony 'Selfish' and a 'Steaming, gaping asshole' had Anthony died from a heart attack, from complications following surgery, or from cancer? I very much doubt it. Just one as doesn't choose to have cancer, one does not choose to have depression.
I'm sure here David would say something along the lines of 'Having depression isn't a choice, but killing yourself because of it is..." And he'd be correct. But what he'd fail to consider is this: Depression is mental ILLNESS, not mental okay-ness. Depression causes your mind to act abnormally. You convince yourself you're a failure, that everything is your fault, that life is not worth living, and the big one, that people would be better off without you. Even loved ones.
What this ignoramus, David Levitt, fails to understand is that when suicide is the result of depression, it's desperation. It's a person who is at the end of their ability to handle what's happening in their head. It's what they see is the only way to end their suffering, and, in turn, the suffering they imagine they're causing those around them.
Depression requires treatment, not condemnation. Sufferers need understanding and help, not abuse and name calling.
I know, because I'm in 'the club' and it's shit. I've briefly had what might be described as suicidal thoughts. It was fleeting, and I never put serious consideration into it, but thankfully that was 20 years ago and I sought and received help. I still suffer depression, but thoughts of suicide are banished to history. When I most recently sought help, I tweeted the following:
I would guess that David Leavitt is of the school of thought that if you're depressed, you should just get happy. Just smile, and get over it. I too thought like that once. When I was a kid. It was rooted in a complete lack of understanding of what depression is, what causes it, and how to address it. Sadly, the things we know work, don't always work.
The other issue is that Leavitt is forcing his opinion and his ideals onto those who are battling something he clearly doesn't understand, I liked the way my twitter friend @StaunchA responded to this aspect of what Leavitt said...

It's an interesting take on it and I'm not sure one I'd have thought of without the input from StaunchA. Not that I'd advocate for suicide, obviously, but I'm also a supporter of euthanasia for people suffering a terminal illness. There's something that doesn't sit will with me about demanding that people must live in suffering and distress, as long as they're living. I'd never thought of extending this to depression. I'd always want people to seek help and persist with trying to get better, but I know enough about it to know it's not 'selfish.'
In the end, it doesn't matter to Anthony Bourdain how insensitive, cruel, and ignorant Leavitt was to him. Anthony is no longer with us. But it matters to people who are battling 'The Black Dog'. The last thing we need to be doing to people with depression, whether or not they're having suicidal thoughts, is belittling them and calling them names, and making them feel even worse about themselves. There's enough misery in the world without adding to it like this.
On this note, I'd like to highlight a tweet from another twitter friend, @girlnamedBoston
Remember, if YOU choose to be kind to people, the world will be a better place for it, and as Boston says, you may save their life.
If you or someone you know is suffering depression and/or having suicidal thoughts, help is available. There are many resources online. The Wikipedia list of international suicide crisis help lines can be found here.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

My Neighbour Ken

When I was about 14 years old my family moved house and we ended up next to a man named Ken James. 

He was old already when I met him so I suspect he's not with us any more, but I hope he is. He moved away to a tiny Victorian town and we visited him a couple of times, but as always happens, time did its thing and eventually we lost contact and Ken went from being a neighbour, to a friend, to a memory. 

The house we moved into was a rental. Run down, old and not very welcoming. It was a rental and we had permission from the landlord to paint and re-carpet if we wanted. So we did and although it was never great, it was better. As an aside, after we moved out, it was torn down, and has happens in much of Melbourne's suburbs now days, a bunch of units was put up in its place. 

On our first or second night, there was a knock at the door. Mum answered. I couldn't see who it was but I could hear what was being said. A man was telling mum that it was bin night. He knew we'd just moved in and wanted to make sure we knew. Kind of him to let us know. 

After a while in the house I was having breakfast with my mum and sister. And either my sister or I mentioned that we heard someone walking up and down the hallway. We each thought it was the other. Mum hadn't heard. 

It happened more than once. None of us knew which of us it was who was walking up and down the hallway. When we had friends stay over they could hear it too. Not mum or dad though. 

We decided it must be a ghost, of course. 

Mum and Ken become friends, chatting over the fence, popping over for cups of tea and the like. One day mum said to Ken 'the kids think there's a ghost in the house'. 

His reply... 'She walks up and down the hallway at night, doesn't she'? 

Mum was, of course, surprised that he knew this detail. He explained that a previous neighbour had suffered from cancer and walking up and down the hallway offered some relief from the pain. Also she'd been a nurse and had worked specifically with children and teenagers. Which was, apparently, why all us teenagers could hear her but the adults couldn't. Her name was June.

I remember hearing the walking one night....thud thud thud thud...right to left. thud thud thud thud back the other way. 

I put my hand on my bedroom door handle to once of for all look out and see what the hell was going on. But I lost my nerve and wasn't able to go through with it. I guess I decided I didn't really want to see a ghost. 

Ken gave mum a photo of June's late husband. He was a kind of creepy looking guy. Mum put the photo on the mantle piece, it was just a little 6x4. Every time she came back into the living room the photo was face down. She'd stand it up again. 

At the same time my sister agreed with me that he was a creepy looking guy. But whereas I didn't do anything about it, she did. She put the photo face down. But every time she came back into the living room it would be standing up again. 

Mum thought June didn't like the photo and wanted it down. My sister thought June did like the photo and wanted it up. It was a couple of weeks before we all spoke about it and realised what was happening! How about that, a natural, non-ghost involved, explanation. 

I never found out what was causing the walking sound in the hallway though. But never finding out doesn't mean it was a ghost, despite Ken knowing what the 'ghost' we heard did. 

Over our time as next-door-neighbours to Ken we'd see a lot of police cars and various teenagers/young men coming and going. 

Ken's house was a 'halfway' house. A place where trouble youth would come to stay when they were going awry. They were often kids who didn't have a safe home to be in. Sometimes police would pick up someone for some kind of violation and rather than putting them into the prison system, and giving them a criminal record, they'd bring them to Ken and he'd help sort them out. 

And Ken knew what he was talking about because he'd done time in prison. A lot. 

Ken was arrested for armed robbery. I'm not sure what he robbed, but I know it was with a shotgun. He was sent to prison and once he came out he decided to focus his life on making sure other young men didn't have to go through what he went through. 

In prison for armed robbery Ken was raped. Several times. And he became a murderer. 

You see, in prison, amongst the armed robbers, rapists, and murderers there are the people *they* consider the bad guys - child abusers. The prison population couldn't abide by them. 

There was a known child abuser in Ken's section of the prison. A group of men drew straws. Shortest had to kill the child abuser. The twist being, if you drew the short straw and didn't do what was required, you'd be killed yourself. 

As you've worked out, Ken drew the short straw, and did what he had to do. 

I don't know the circumstances. I don't know the method. I don't want to. 

So here I was, living next door to an armed robbing murderer and he was one of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met. Giving back to the community for years and years by helping young men sort their lives out and avoid a life of crime and prison. 

I think sometimes we're too quick to judge each other on one act or one interaction or limited information. We see a snapshot of a person and think we now them intimately. Especially on the internet. I know I've done it, and despite this admission, I'm sure I'll do it again. 

If I told you Ken was an armed robbing murderer and nothing else about him, you'd probably fear him, and certainly not want to be his neighbour. But knowing him as I did, knowing the big picture of him and his life, I had no problem being his neighbour and some 30 years later, I still haven't forgotten him. 

There's a lot of hate in the world. A lot of it happening in the atheist community. It's not healthy and not helpful. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condemn. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to hate. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

On the marriage equality plebiscite...

First of all, if anyone shares anything against marriage equality, I will unfriend you. Not because I'm antifree-speech. Free speech is about the government not locking you up for what you say. If I unfriend you, you are still free to say whatever you like on your Facebook page, or wherever you want. It also doesn't mean I'm against your right to have an opinion. If I unfriend you, you still have the right to hold whatever opinion you like on any topic.

The reason I will unfriend you is because I am entitled to choose which people I am friends with here and I choose to NOT be friends with anyone who is homophobic and pro-inequality and pro-discrimination.

I have seen some very weird defences from people who are against equality. I saw one woman say 'what about the rights of heterosexual people to keep the rights they have?' Heterosexual people WILL keep they rights they have! It's not like this change is about removing the ability of heterosexual couples to get married and giving that right exclusively to same sex couples! The same woman also said that heterosexual people should be able to keep the 'unique institution they've always had.' I found this quite sickening. Made me think of a white person not wanting to allow a black person to sit at the front of the bus.

There is no valid defence of the 'no' side when it comes to marriage equality. There is no justification for being pro-discrimination.

The marriage act was changed by the Howard government in 2004 with NO consultation and certainly no plebiscite. It doesn't need a plebiscite to change it back. All that is needed is a simple parliamentary vote to change the marriage act. It just needs to change 'a man and a woman' to 'two people'. That is all. And it would save $120 million.

I have a daughter who is gay. She is wonderful. An amazing person. I will not put up with anyone, I don't care who you are, telling me she's inferior or somehow 'different' or some kind of second class citizen. I will not put up with anyone telling me she doesn't deserve the right to marry the person with whom she is in love.

And it's not just her. I know other gay people and I support their right to marry the person they're in love with. I support this right for all the LGBTQI people in this country. How can anyone look at a person and say 'I don't think you deserve the rights I have'? The very idea goes against everything that is good about society.

The whole idea of a plebiscite on this issue is absurd. Even making it voluntary and postal means it will cost around $120 Million. I have no idea why a heterosexual person in Townsville gets to decide if a gay person in Launceston is allowed to get married. I have no idea why anyone outside a relationship gets to decide whether or not two other consenting adults are allowed to get married.

There is a glaring anomaly in the law. The remedy is a parliamentary vote for equality. Not a months long campaign where bigoted homophobes will be telling a section of the community they're not worthy of being treated equally. It is weak of the government to do this. They are meant to be leaders. They are not leading.

But the vote (at this stage) is happening. And I'll be voting yes. I hope you all (if you're an Aussie) will be voting yes. And if you plan on voting no I'm sad for how you see the world and if I find out you voted no, we will no longer be friends.

A great society fights FOR equality, not AGAINST it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Margaret Court

Many of my Aussie friends, and those of you who aren't, but are into tennis, have probably heard of Margaret Court. 

In case you haven't, she's an intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory cretin who told QANTAS she was no longer going to fly with them because they support marriage equality. And because she's a Christian minister and follows the bible, she thinks marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman. 

Apparently she was also pretty good at tennis a few decades ago. 

In the wake of what was basically an attempt to blackmail QANTAS into her way of thinking, many people have called for Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks to rename 'Margaret Court Arena' to something else. Evonne Goolagong Arena being the most prominent suggestion (and the one that I support). 

What I've found odd out of all this is the number of people defending Margaret Court saying she's entitled to her opinion, especially given it's her religious belief. 

Odd, because no one has said she isn't. I've not seen a single person say 'she's not allowed to have that opinion'.

The people defending her right to her opinion seem to not realise that just as Margaret Court is allowed to have her opinion, and to voice it, people are allowed to voice their opinion of her opinion! 

We hear shouts of the loss of free speech...but hang on. Why does free speech extend to Margaret Court, but not to others? Why is Margaret Court entitled to an opinion that's above criticism or response? I don't understand. 

When you keep your opinion to yourself, it is free of consequence, so long as that opinion isn't guiding actions that impact others. 

But Margaret Court didn't keep her opinion to herself. She voiced it. In a newspaper. Although we recognise her right to voice it, nothing about 'free speech' says that voicing your opinion is free of consequence. Nothing in free speech says voicing your opinion removes the right of other people to comment. She made her opinion public, and people responded. This is not anti-free-speech. This is free speech at work. 

People have also defended Margaret Court's bigotry and discrimination because it's part of her faith. It's her religion. Well my question is...why the fuck does that matter? Why does a bigoted, discriminatory opinion become acceptable just because it's religiously based? Why do people think religion gets a free pass here? 

It doesn't. And it shouldn't. 

I wonder what these defenders of bigotry would be saying if Margaret Court had said that all black people are niggers and deserve to die. Extreme? Sure. But do we give it a pass just because it's an opinion? Of course not. Any opinion, once voiced publicly is up for scrutiny and up for criticism, and up for others giving their opinion on that opinion. And none of this takes away Margaret Court's right to have an outdated opinion where she thinks certain members of society should be treated as second class citizens, because of who they love, just because she happens to be stupid or gullible enough to think characters in a bronze/iron age book of myths and fairytales are real. 

As for renaming the arena. Tennis Australia released a statement saying Margaret Court's views do not align with Tennis Australia's values of equality, inclusion, and diversity. And good on them for saying so. But I think to really back this up they need to rename the venue, though I think it's under the jurisdiction of Melbourne and Olympic parks to do this. Margaret Court is entitled to her opinion, but Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks are not, in any way, obligated to be represented by, or supporters of someone who's views are out of touch with their own. Renaming the stadium doesn't remover her right to her opinion. She's still entitled to it, but as I already said, nothing about free speech says your opinion is consequence free. 

I think it's time to send a clear and strong message to these anti-equality people that they are out of touch. That they don't represent modern Australia. That they don't have the support of the community at large. Send the message that we're sick and tired of people thinking hurtful views deserve a free pass just because they're based in religion. Send a message that the good and decent people of Australia want same sex couples treated with respect and equality. 

Simple fact is, Margaret Court's opinion on marriage equality is outdated, backwards, discriminatory, and based on nothing but some old book. There's nothing about her opinion on marriage equality that should carry any weight in a modern and progressive society. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A response to a response...

Apologies in advance for taking you down the rabbit hole! 

Back in July 2015 I wrote a blog post called '10 poor reasons to believe a god exists'. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here

I've recently been talking to a Christian apologist on twitter who tweets under the handle @Lead1225. She was also known as @SJThompson but that account is now suspended. If you'd like to know more about her apologetics, you get hear her on Episode 21.10 of The Atheist Experience. (I've linked to where her call starts). 

Moving on. Stephanie (@Lead1225) saw my blog post about the 10 poor reasons to believe god exists and wrote a post in response with the slightly long-winded title of "10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist.

It's not really a response to my post, but rather an independent list of what Stephanie mistakenly thinks are 10 good reasons to think a god exists. 

So...I've decided to respond to her response. But rather than do what Stephanie did, and just list 10 further reasons, I'm going to go through each of her 'good' reasons and explain why they are not, in fact, good reasons. Here goes....

(note - after doing 5 I decided to split it into two posts) 

1. "God's timing is perfect". 
Stephanie thinks that god's perfect timing is a good reason to think god is real. She goes on to highlight that that currently 98% of the human population has lived since Jesus allegedly lived (she doesn't say allegedly). She then points out that this will soon be 99.9%. (I haven't checked this figures, but it matters not if they're accurate)

This is a 'Begging the question' fallacy. What this means is that the argument premise includes an assumption that the conclusion is already true. A kind of circular reasoning. It's right there in the heading 'God's timing is perfect'. This already assumes god is real. It hasn't shown, in any way, that god is real, but simply insists that he is and then declares his timing perfect. Writing it in argument form highlights the circularity: 

  1. God is real.
  2. God's timing is perfect
  3. Therefore God is real. 
As you can see for yourself, this is NOT a good reason to believe god is real. 

2: "Christianity has survived against substantial odds"
Here Stephanie argues that because Jesus was a man of simple means, and made friends with people of similar simple means, it was unlikely for him to create a religion that would continue to this day. She also highlights that percentage of people who are Christians and how this percentage has progressively increased. 

This is an Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Latin for 'appeal to the people' it is the argument that because something is believed by many, it must be true. I'm sure we can all think of example of where this is false, but the one most commonly mentioned is flat earth. There was certainly a time where most (all?) people thought the earth was flat. We now know they were wrong. (Well, most of us do. Flat Earthers are a whole different blog post!) 

If current trends continue, in this century it's possible that Muslims world wide will outnumber Christians. I wonder then if Stephanie will be arguing that Islam is true ;) 

Again, I highlight this in argument form: 
  1. God is real. 
  2. May people believe it to be true. 
  3. Therefore god is real. 
Estimates suggest that there are currently one million people in the USA today who claim to have been abducted by aliens. A small percentage of the global population, sure, but Stephanie believes a man rose from the dead on the testimony of one man - Paul. If one man, with anecdote alone, can convince you a man rose from the dead, surely one million people should convince you, with anecdote alone, that aliens have visited earth....right? 

I'm quite convinced that if you were to ask Stephanie if the testimonies of a million people are enough to convince her aliens have visited earth, she'd say no. 

There are also many cases of people dying for what they believe and, again, I'm sue Stephanie wouldn't concede that this means what the believed was true. (Heaven's Gate, Jonestown, Branch Davidians to name but three).

Again, NOT a good reason to believe a god is real. 

3: The Cosmological Argument
I urge your to read Stephanie's 'argument' here for yourself as it's quite the jumbled mess. I'll break it down line by line...

"At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang." 
Not entirely true. Not entirely false. Science has provided at least one hypothesis. Is it consensus? Nope. Demonstrable true? Nope. Needing some work? For sure. But it exists (See Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing). And even if it hasn't, how does this point to god? It wasn't that long ago that science hadn't provided an explanation for lightning. Doesn't mean the Greeks were correct in saying it was being thrown by Zeus from atop Mt Olympus. 

"What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter" 
Do we? Seems convenient, to say then when you know you're already trying to point to 'God did it' but I'm not sure this is knowledge we have. This is a pure assertion trying to pass itself off as knowledge. 

"The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful." 
Says who? How do they know? Has this been verified? (Spoiler: No, it hasn't) 

"So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal."
Well, I guess this assumption can be made...but there's no reason to think it's accurate. There's a good consensus that before the universe came to be in the state we observe, there was a singularity. The specifics of what it was like are unknown. Addressing her three elements: 
Powerful: It's naive to think it *must* have been powerful given we have no real idea what the environment was like. Has Stephanie ruled out the possibility that a TINY bit of energy popping, un-caused, into existence set off a chain-reaction that THEN became "powerful"? No, she hasn't. 
Metaphysical: Hard to work out what Stephanie means here, but I think she's (erroneously?) using metaphysical to mean 'outside the physical'. But I'm guessing if I asked Stephanie to explain what outside the physical means, she'd not be able to. As with the above, Stephanie hasn't ruled out a tiny bit of energy popping into existence and causing a chain reaction in the singularity. 
Eternal: If time started when the Big Bang happened then there was never a 'before' the big bang. So theists make up this idea that god is 'outside of time'. When I ask what that means, I get no satisfactory answer. (On a side note, if god is outside of time, how come it took 6 days to make everything? Shouldn't it have been instant? Also, given there is no 'before' the big bang, god couldn't have existed before the universe did. If he didn't exist 'before' the universe, how could he have created it?). 
The Cosmological argument was popularised by Thomas Aquinas as a 'First Mover' or First Cause argument. Stephanie makes it a lot more convoluted that it ought to be in her blog. It's basic form is: "Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. This leads to a regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God."

The formal argument (from Iron Chariots) 
1: Everything that exists must have a cause.
2: If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
3: This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
4: But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.

5: Therefore, God exists.

The Kalam version of the cosmological argument states that everything that 'begins' to exist has a cause. This is a special pleading fallacy. It gets out of having to apply the rules to god by saying god is outside of the rules. Says who? How do they know? 

This argument assumes the first cause must be a god, but never explains why it must be. It never explains how a god existing is more likely that a universe existing. 

There's also an element of begging the question fallacy in this argument. If only god can exist outside time, and the creator of the universe exists outside time, then it must have been god. But saying 'only god can exist outside time' assumes, already, that god is real. 

My counter to the cosmological argument is this: If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator. 

4: The Teleological Argument
More simply known as the argument from design, it is the idea that the universe is SO fine-tuned for life that only an intelligent designer could have created it. 

This is one of the weaker arguments Stephanie listed. 

Firstly, if this is a designed universe, and all that is within it is designed, how does Stephanie contrast this to something that is NOT designed? There's no way to tell. 

Secondly, what would a 'not-designed' universe look like? We only know about our own universe so we can't compare and contrast it to a 'known' not-designed universe to see the differences. 

Third: A universe fine-tuned for life is a myth. If earth is the only planet on which life exists, the amount of the universe NOT suitable for life is 100% minus earth. (and not even all of earth). To claim the universe is 'fine-tuned' for life when life exists in an infinitesimally small part of it is absurd. That's not to say the environment of Earth is not spot on for having the life WE know on it. 

Fourth: An all powerful god has no requirement to 'fine-tune'. A god, as described to me by those who believe, can do *anything*. This includes creating any kind of life in any kind of environment. If god wanted to have roses growing on the surface of the sun, he could. If god wanted people to live in a sea of hydrochloric acid, he could. He has no boundaries, no restrictions. Stephanie includes the following in her post: 

"Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe"

So what? With god at the helm that constant COULD be different and if god wanted life, there would still be life. The 'everything must be exactly right for there to be life' argument goes out the door when a god is in control It can do whatever it wants. It's not constrained to 'the possible.' 

Earth being well suited to human life suggests a series of NATURAL processes at work NOT supernatural creation. 

Fifth: Humans can only observe a universe in which humans can exist. The Anthropic Principle explains this clearly and easily and requires no supernatural intervention. 

Sixth: We don't know that this is the only universe to exist or to have existed. From Stephanie's post: 

"The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 10^60 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!"

It might be possible that we're in an 'expand and contract' universe (though Stephen Hawking doesn't think so). This could mean that at some point, rather than expanding, the universe contracts. And contracts so much that it forms a super-massive, tiny object (a singularity) that once again suddenly expands to form a NEW universe. This expand-contract process could have happened billions of billions of billions of billions of times previously. This could be the first time and last time life will appear. 

Seventh: We know there is a future point, even if the universe doesn't contract, where all life (whether it's just earth or elsewhere) will cease to exist. This is because there is a finite amount of fuel being burnt up by the stars. One day (a long time from now, granted) all stars will have run out of fuel. The universe will be totally empty and void. Not sure how this fits in with 'fine tuned for life'. Prior to that, because the universe is expanding, there will be a point when the galaxies are so far apart that we'll no longer be able to see another one. It will appear that the milky way is not just the 'only' galaxy in the universe, but it IS the universe. People (not that they'll be 'people') will not say 'the universe is fine tuned for life' because they won't know there is a universe. 

I'm confident you'll agree that these seven points (and there are plenty more to make) are enough to realise this is NOT a good reason to believe a god exists. 

5: The Moral Argument
This argument seems to be one Stephanie hasn't researched whatsoever, except to find things that confirm what she already believes. I once said on twitter, don't be so convinced you must be right that you don't bother to check if you are. It seems that's what Stephanie has done here. She really has no insight into morality, its origins, and its complexities. To wit she defeats her own argument in her own first line. 

" All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral."

I'm going to forget the 'all' and let her get away with 'mentally sound' as a standard. It's the latter part of the sentence I'm interested in. An "innate" sense of what's moral. For those who may be unaware, "innate" means 'in-born: natural". Natural. A *natural* sense of what's moral. Well, Stephanie, if it's natural....god isn't involved. 

Stephanie further argues against herself when she highlights that atheists argue (correctly, though she doesn't acknowledge this) that morality is evolved. She argues that if we evolved our morality, then groups such as ISIS, the NAZIs and Boko Haram refute this argument. 

Um....if you think we all get our morality from a single source...don't these groups negate THAT argument also? If God wants none of us to murder and (magically?) MADE us not want to come murder happens? 

Stephanie, and those of similar thinking, may argue here that 'Free will' is the answer. Well, if we have 'free will' then god giving us morality is negligible. It doesn't matter, because we STILL use our own thoughts, compassion, logic, reason, desires, and other emotions to decide what's right. We still decide for ourselves what actions we will or won't take. 

It's quite clear that morals are an evolved trait. Not just the way they differ among humans (and change over time) but also that the DO appear in non-human animals (though Stephanie seems unaware of this saying "as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do." Stephanie then cites 'Craig, 2010' (I assume William Lane Craig, but I'm not sure) who points out that when a lion kills a zebra it doesn't 'murder' it. Or when a male shark forcibly mates with a female it doesn't 'rape' her. Adding these actions are 'neither permitted, nor obligatory'. Well, that's inaccurate. Mating and eating are instinctive. Humans have developed down a path where mating is required to be consensual but it still happens, even when people don't know what it is. Areas with little to no sex education in school have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Why? Because people have sex even when they don't know what sex means! Same with non-human animals. And although there are cases of people deliberately not eating, it takes *extreme* action to achieve it. We, and our non-human cousins, want to eat, and want to mate. Instinctively. 

But that's something of a digression. 

Human morals don't map 1 to 1 with other humans. They don't even map 1 to 1 within a single human. I doubt anyone reading this is free of any action they find morally questionable. I doubt none of you has done something they didn't later regret. So I'm not sure why Stephanie thinks human morals should map 1 to 1 with other animals. Other animals have evolved down different paths to humans, so to expect our morality to evolve down the same path is absurd. 

But it's not as though other animals DON'T have a moral code. 

There is an excellent TED talk by Frans De Waal which you can watch here, that shows various moral behaviours in different animals. Things such as a sense of fairness, cooperation, comfort, and kindness. 

This article at Live Science talks about animals knowing right from wrote. Examples include a Rhesus Monkey refusing to electrically shock fellow monkeys even though it meant getting food. Chimpanzees who punish those amongst them who break certain rules, and a dog helping an injured dog off a busy Chilean highway, despite the risks to itself. 

There is discussion as to whether these examples are 'hardwired' instinct or conscious moral choices. But I agree with Mark Rowlands, a University of Miami philosopher, and author of "Can Animals Be Moral?" who says the distinction is overthinking things.

It is clear that other animals, particularly mammals, have developed their own moral codes and behaviours which shows this is a *natural* process and a *natural* result of the evolutionary paths that some animals take. We are instinctively guided to protecting and furthering our species. Obviously we differ on the best way to do that, and obviously some of us lack that instinct. 

This is indicative of an 'incomplete', for want of a better word, natural process that is operating on a species that is still quite 'immature'. 

Given that morality is easily explainable without supernatural intervention and the differences in morality between individual humans, as well as humans and other animals, is easily explainable as being the result of the natural process of evolution, it's quite clear that the argument from morality is NOT a good reason to think a god exists. 

Part 2 coming soon! 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Punch a NAZI, the new Whack-a-mole

So an alt-Right, white supremacist NAZI, Richard Spencer, was elbowed in the face whilst being interviewed for television. I'm surprised at the number of people who are okay with this.

Let me explain...
In some parts of the world, views I hold are punishable by death. Atheist bloggers have been hacked to death with machetes in Bangladesh as recently as 2015.

I am an atheist blogger and am very thankful to live in a country where such a heinous crime is unlikely to happen to me.

But the idea that someone might be killed for simply being an atheist is horrifying. Most people I know and follow me through twitter are atheists, and I'm sure they think it's completely unreasonable for violence to be committed against them just because of their views.

But others disagree. They think that atheist views are so wrong, and so offensive that atheists should be killed for them.

So how can I say that I should be allowed to express my views without threat of violence, but that protection shouldn't be granted to others just because *I* find their views odious?
If violence against the holders of *some* views is do we decide? Where do we draw the line?

I know not of this Richard Spencer bloke but it's clear he is some form of abhorrent racist, and whilst being interviewed on the street some anonymous stranger ran up and elbowed him in the face.

I'm not okay with that. Not because I'm tolerant of neo-nazis, but because I'm against being physically assaulted because I hold a view that disgusts others.

I understand the views of Richard Spencer are extreme. A friend of mine feels very strongly the opposite way to me. She said that his views are the same as those that lead to millions of people being killed just for being who they were. And that he has the free will to change his views. So 'fuck that guy, punch his lights out'. 

I got accused of being tolerant of Nazism because I said I wouldn't punch a nazi for being a nazi. Then I got asked if I would punch an Islamist. Again I said no. So I got accused of being tolerant of Islamists spreading Islamism. I pointed out that I've literally been confronted by Islamists shouting stuff at me, such as going to hell and whatnot. I didn't tolerate it. I stood there and yelled right back at them. I challenged their views and told them I wouldn't be following what they said. Hardly 'tolerating' them. But when you get a situation like this....the facts don't really matter. 

So be clear, this is not about tolerating or sympathising with a Nazi. This is purely self-interest! Basically, I don't want to live in a world where it's okay to punch people just because you don't like their views. Because literally millions of people don't like my views! 

And you know what, in my opinion, if anyone deserves having their lights punched out for simply having a view, it's a NAZI. 

There's the key though. 'In my opinion'. Deciding who we can and can't punch based on our opinion of their views is a dangerous president to set. 

Because I guarantee there's something about you that someone somewhere thinks you deserve a punching for.