Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Bigot's rights!

A 67 year old woman earned herself a visit from the police this week when she complained about a gay rights march in a letter to the Council. She was not happy that the march had been allowed to go ahead, and that:
"It is shameful that this small but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals."
Her letter was ridiculous, bigoted and mostly wrong, but it certainly wasn't "hate speech". It wasn''t even intended to be published: how could it possibly have been?

Police involvement in cases like this is frankly ridiculous (and slightly scary: any letter you send to the council might be forwarded to the police for censorship?). Free speech means the right to say things that we don't agree with. Bigots have rights too!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Shelley the Republican

I just followed a link to this site from Ben Goldacre's miniblog. The particular page is so utterly ridiculous you can't help but think it has to be a parody (I'm not going to go into why it's wrong: morally, scientifically, historically, pretty much any sort of "ly" you can think of).

Then you read the rest of the site, and it's also so utterly ridiculous you think it has to be a parody. They have God's Hit List (which includes, vegetarians, Linux users and Barrack Obama, and gleefully declares "god won" every time someone on it has died), a problem page (which includes the helpful advice "sorry, you are going to hell" among other things) and quite an excellent bumper sticker page (
Lost? GPS – God’s Plan of Salvation).the more I read, the more I'm convinced that it really can't possibly be for real. But there's still a lingering doubt somewhere in the back of my mind. Remember this interview? Randall Munroe once suggested the game 'make a YouTube comment so ridiculous people realise you have to be joking'. Is this it?

Unlike my previous favourite spoof website, there doesn't seem to be any little 'giveaways' hidden away. But it has to be a spoof. Doesn't it?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Great Toilet Conundrum

This is one of the enduring mysteries of the universe to me: why do we have separate male and female toilets? From an efficiency perspective it is clearly massively suboptimal. There is regularly an empty stall (or two) in the men's toilets while there is a queue for the ladies. Or both genders end up having to walk unnecessary distances to use the facilities (as actually happens in our maths building). One reason might be that women don't want to be in the same room as urinals, but that's easy to solve: just have a separate room for urinals.

I think this is a massive example of the grandfather fallacy. If we lived in a world in which there had never existed the sort of prudishness which makes separate male and female toilets a necessity (I mean, you get a lock on the stall door!), I don't think there would be any proponents whatever for a move to introduce them. As it is, there are a limited number of people who manage to come up with plausible-ish reasons to uphold the status quo whenever I bring the subject up, but I simply don't believe that any of those people would be campaigning for toilet segregation if we lived in a world in which integrated toilets were the norm.

Friday, 8 January 2010

And so it begins

There's a massive poster right next to Stepney Green Tube station (so I have to walk past it pretty much every day). It has David Cameron's face and an utterly inane slogan:
We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit not the NHS.
Ok. So what public spending will you cut? Or which taxes will you raise? This is just silly. You can either claim that you will reduce the deficit by cutting the NHS, or you'll reduce the deficit despite not cutting the NHS, but to somehow imply that there's a choice between the two is ridiculous.

In order to cut the deficit you have to reduce spending, or increase taxes (of course, why you'd want to cut the deficit in the first place is a different question, but let's pretend that it's a sensible goal). If you're not going to reduce spending in the NHS, that means you have to either reduce spending by more somewhere else, or increase taxes by more. Does anyone actually believe that a slogan like this says anything at all? If so, I'm not sure they should be allowed to vote.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Zeus is a nincompoop

If this was published in Ireland, I might have just committed a crime. According to a recent clarification of their blasphemy laws, someone would be guilty of blasphemy if:

"he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."

This is seriously, seriously stupid. An Irish atheist society has challenged it in the obvious way, publishing quotes from Jesus, Mark Twain and Ian Paisley among others which could all be interpreted as blasphemous and criminal under the new interpretation of the law. In fact, if combined with this sort of decision to protect non-religions, or with the utterly nonsensical decision from Grainger vs. Nicholson than environmental beliefs should be protected under religious discrimination laws, it could make perfectly sensible, even morlally necessary decisions illegal.

It's a stupid law. I'm not sure if that qualifies as blasphemous