Friday, 8 July 2016

The USA, Alton Sterling, the 2nd Amendment, and stuff

"A country's scientists, funded by their tax payers, put a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.
A day later, two of the same country's police officers wrestle a man to the ground, kneel on him, and whilst he's restrained, one of the police offices pulls out his gun, shoots the restrained man multiple times, killing him. 
It is so strange that a country can be so advanced, and leading the world in some areas, whilst simultaneously being so barbaric and horrific."

These were my thoughts upon hearing about, and then seeing the footage of the killing of Alton Sterling. The footage is disturbing. The footage that came out first was filmed from inside a car about 10 metres from where Alton is killed. A second recording of the killing is filmed by someone standing about 2 or 3 metres from where Alton is killed.
There are reports that there is security footage of the incident, but that police have (illegally) seized that footage.
As is always the case in the era of social media, stories about what happened came out almost instantly. He was selling CDs. He was selling CDs and waving a gun. He's a paedophile. He's been charged with sexual assault crimes.  
Of course in this age of instant information, it is entirely possible for people to find out details about people and that information is shared instantly all over the world. Two issues come to mind when this happens. 
First, unless you want to spend time researching it yourself, there's no real way to determine the truth from lies. Of course something like previous charges can be found out with a deal of confidence, but what was happening on the scene prior to the incident, cannot.
Second, why does any of this matter? In this specific case, the man's gun was in his pocket when he was killed. He was selling CDs. I don't know if legally or illegally (people did claim he had permission from the store owner) but even if illegally, it's not an executable offence, let alone one where the punishment is execution without trial. Whatever the situation before he was killed, Alton Sterling was entitled to due process. An entitlement he didn't receive.
There is some contention as to whether or not the killing of Alton Sterling was justified...yes, really. I had a lengthy debate on twitter about it. It is a fact of the world in which we live that two people can look at the same footage and come away with two different opinions. Opinions they feel strongly about. 
I've seen the footage, as disturbing as it is. It upset me. I felt horrified. I won't post it here, but it's easy to find if you need to see it.
What I see is a man tackled to the ground, after he's yelled at to get on the ground. We don't know why he's told to get on the ground. We don't know why he didn't. He's clearly scared. 
He's pinned to the ground, on his side, right next to the front bumper of a car
One police officer appears to be kneeling on Alton's knees, the other is kneeling next to Alton's head. Alton struggles. He can't move but for a few jolts. I can't speak to his mindset but to me he appears terrified. Someone shouts 'he's got a gun'. The police officer near Alton's head pulls his gun, pointing it at Alton, perhaps 10cm away. Words are shouted. Alton doesn't move. The two police officers have been identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake.
I'm not sure who it is who shoots first, or if both officers shoot, but at least one of them does. The camera being used in the nearby car drops away after the first two shots. People in the car can be heard becoming distressed and shocked at what they've witnessed. One of them asks 'why?' A fair question.
In the second video, it appears that Alton sits up or is jolted up by the first two or three shots. As with the first piece of footage, the camera drops away but unlike the first, it returns to the scene, after more shots are fired. It's graphic. Alton is seen with a large blood patch on his t-shirt. One of the police officers is still pointing his gun at Alton. Alton is not yet dead, as his arms can still be seen moving. He dies shortly after, but this isn't shown. 
Important things: 
1: According to an eyewitness account in this story Alton didn't have his hand near his pocket when he was shot. 
2: After pulling his gun, the police officer opens fire within seconds. In these seconds. Alton doesn't move.
I don't know why the police were there. I don't know why they ordered Alton to the ground. I don't know why he didn't get on the ground.
I do know that when someone shouted that Alton had a gun he was pinned to the ground, unable to move. I do know that seconds after a police officer pulled his gun, shots were fired. I do know that in the seconds between the gun being drawn, and the shots being fired, Alton didn't move.
I think Alton Sterling was unlawfully killed, but I have little doubt the police will be exonerated. It's seen time and time again that police in the US can kill citizens (typically, it seems, black men) and get away with it. No case to answer.
From here, it's formula. People will demand change, the president will issue a statement, people will hit the streets, the NRA will remain quite on the specific case, but still support guns, guns, and more guns. Australians, Canadians, Brits, and others will express bewilderment and the American love of guns, and for being so bold as to desire that our American friends stop shooting each other, we'll be told to mind our own business or, as has happened to me in the past, be called cowards for not having guns.
There may be riots, and if there are, there will be calls for calm, or the demonstrations may be peaceful. People will suggest it's a race issue, others will criticise them for that. People will say *they* aren't the problem, that *they* are a responsible gun owner. That the problem is illegal guns..,despite all guns starting off as legal guns.
And it won't even be the next day (another black man, Philando Castile being killed by a police officer within 24 hours of the death of Alton Sterling) let alone a week, or a month later According to this report 506 people have been shot and killed by police in the US this year. So, within about 8.5 hours, police will kill another citizen, most likely a black man, and although neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were unarmed, according to the same report, it's seven times more likely be an unarmed black man who is killed next over a white person.
America, it seems, is a country on edge. A country that, like my own, has problems with racism. But unlike my own, it's a country with a, to this observer, bizarre obsession with, and love of guns. A country that has a national gun-supporting lobby spending millions and millions of dollars to buy politicians to make sure that the second amendment remains in tact.
The second amendment, in case you don't know, is this: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It was adopted on December 15, 1791. At the time of writing, that's some 225 years ago. I recently saw this video. A man enters an office holding an old style gun. He fires the gun, missing the person he was shooting at. He then reloads the gun, which takes a long time, having to pack in the shot, and the gun powder. Meanwhile, everyone flees, screaming. Text appears on the screen reading 'Guns have changed, shouldn't our gun laws?'
A fair question, I would have thought. However, in In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), [from Wikipedia] 
the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding"
"Even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding". Hmm. As worldly and intelligent as the writers of the second amendment may have been, I'm not sure how accurately the could have envisioned the future of 'arms'.
For example, provided you (and the gun) meet the criteria, you can own a fully automatic machine gun in the US. Fully automatic means squeeze the trigger once, lots of bullets come out.
Assault weapons (defined in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban as: semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine) are legal throughout the US, except for 7 states. Semiautomatic means, with the magazine, you can fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. No reload, no cocking.
The task of wondering what was going on in the minds of people 225 years ago is impossible. We can never know the actual intention of the 2nd amendment. We can interpret, speculate and assume, but we can't know.
The Supreme court says 'even those not in existence at the time of the founding' and I agree with them. It's a reasonable assumption to think those who implemented the second amendment knew 'arms' would change. But did they think 'ordinary citizens' would be able to buy something like the Sig Sauer MCX, seen in the picture below? 













You know? I kind of doubt it. This gun, along with a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol were used by Omar Marteen to murder 50 people in an Orlando night club in June of 2016. It is a ferocious weapon. One must ask why an ordinary citizen would need such a weapon.
A common cry from gun owners is that a gun is required for self defence. It leads me to think that Americans need guns to protect themselves from Americans with guns. A vicious circle with murderous consequences.
It seems though that rather than self-defence, guns lead to self-harm, and harm of friends, and foes alike. Information cited in this study on guns in the home and risk of violent death shows a link between having guns in the home and an increased risk of dying because of it.
Some notable statistics out of the studies referenced: 
  •  Approximately 60 percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are  committed with a firearm
  • Ecologic analyses have suggested a link between the prevalence of gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide
  • After they controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, 
    • the presence of a gun in the home was associated with a nearly fivefold risk of suicide
    • an almost threefold risk of homicide
  • a history of family handgun purchase was associated with an elevated risk of both homicide and suicide
From the study itself (note - it's from 2004) 
  • Nearly three quarters of suicide victims lived in a home where one or more firearms were present
  • A firearm was used in 68 percent of both homicides and suicides
  • Over three quarters (76.3 percent) of the homicide victims knew their assailant.
  • Nearly one third (31.7 percent) of the homicides occurred during a family argument
  • an increased risk of homicide for those with firearms in the home
  • Males with firearms in the home were at a significantly greater risk of suicide than males without guns in the home
This says, to me, that having a gun in the home is a dangerous idea.
It's often overlooked that the first part of the second amendment reads: 'A well regulated militia....' The armed citizens of the United States could well be called a militia, but well regulated? Certainly not
The next part of the second amendment says: "...being necessary to the security of a free state" Not self-defence from burglars. Not for shooting cans off the back fence. 'Security of a free state'. I would suggest this means to thwart invasion and, possibly, being taken over by a tyrannical government. Of course in 1791, all guns were the same. The guns the military had were the guns the citizens had. Not so now.
For example, the US military has amongst its armoury the M249 light machine-gun which can fire up to 1000 rounds per minute. A semi-automatic version was made available to the public in 2015. On this gun alone it's 1000 rounds per minute (military) v 'as fast as someone can repeatedly pull the trigger'. You'd have to pull the trigger *16 times per second* to match the fully automatic version. It's not a contest.
This, of course is ignoring the fact that the US military is the most heavily armed force in the history of the world. Highly trained soldiers v ordinary citizens. Fully automatic weapons at 1000 rounds per minute v maybe 120? 180? And that's before the person using the semi-automatic tires. But it doesn't stop there. Hand-grenades, bazookas, rocket launchers, missiles, air craft. The citizenry cannot match the might of the military. There are three scenarios.One: The government wants to become a dictatorship, and the military is on its side...the citizenry can't stop them (no matter how many times they've seen Red Dawn). Two: The government wants to take over and the military is *not* on their side...the military will take care of that themselves. Three: The government wants to take over and the military is split...the military will fight the military on equal footing. It's absurd to think a not at all regulated militia will have any impact against the US military.
In this video a white man open-carrying an AR-15 is approached by a police officer and casually questioned as to whether he has a purpose (beside it simply being his right). It then shows a black man exercising the same right. This time the police office exits his vehicle, his gun drawn, and orders the man to the ground. Several other police vehicles arrive shortly after. The man on the ground is handcuffed and his gun taken by a police officer.
There are obvious flaws here - different police office, different street. Maybe had the first officer seen the second man he'd have approached him the same way he approached the first man. But...I don't think so.
After I started this post, a protest march over the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings took place in Dallas, Texas. During the march snipers in 'elevated positions' opened fire at police. Five police officers were killed. Three suspects are in custody, a fourth is dead after a standoff.
As I said above, America is a country on edge. It's an armed country where police are in fear of their lives when a person reaches towards their pocket, and citizens (particularly black men) are in fear of their lives when engaged by police. It's a metaphoric powder keg and it's waiting to go off. I just hope the fuse hasn't already been lit. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Common Heathens - An atheist podcast

I've been friends with Godless Mom, AKA Courtney, AKA GM for quite a while now, thanks to a mutual follow on twitter. 

Early on there was a chat about blogs and Courtney invited me to write a guest post for her outstanding GodlessMom.com. I told her I would love to write but I was short on ideas. She said she'd give me some topics to discuss. She didn't! 

After we became closer friends, I asked her about this and she showed me a screen shot of an email she'd started to me, with a dot point standing solo. She'd not been able to think of anything either. :)  

Eventually I did write a guest piece for her. It's called don't pray for me, and you can find it here

Skip forward and our friendship developed and we talked about ideas for collaborating on something. Eventually doing a podcast together came up. It stayed an idea for a while, before we finally got around to recording an episode. (well, two actually. We decided to split the recording into two). 

We've called it 'Common Heathens' because with Courtney being Canadian and me being Australian we are both members of the British Commonwealth (right???). And we are both, obviously, heathens. 

We made a request to our twitter followers - send us your questions. Anything. We recorded ourselves answering the first three we received and thus episode one of Common Heathens was born! 

Episode two, which is 'in the can' in movie speak, is the next three questions answered. 

As we grow and become more comfortable with the whole 'podcasting' thing we'll add more segments. It won't always just be us answering questions from twitter. But I do hope we retain a Q&A section. Perhaps incorporating some kind of 'listener feedback' discussion. 

The response to episode one has been truly amazing. Both Courtney and I have been so honoured to have received so much positive feed back. We really do appreciate it and it has encouraged us to want to do more. 

For now, we're going to be publishing monthly, but if things continue as they do, fortnightly or even weekly will be a consideration. One thing is we want to be topical and talk about current events, and a monthly show doesn't really lend itself to that. But this is new and there's a lot to get used to so initially, monthly it is. 

You can find out about us at our sparkling new website: CommonHeathens.com

Thanks to the wonderful web skills of Courtney, you can listen to us in various ways: 



YouTube: Common Heathens 


If would like to become a financial supporter of the show you can! Your financial support will help us with our equipment (I desperately need a new microphone!) will help with hosting our website, and will enable us to increase the frequency of episodes. You'll also receive cool bonuses such as shoutouts from Godless Mom and myself on twitter, access to additional content (when available) as well a mention on the podcast (all depending on the level of your patronage). 

If this sounds like something you'd like to be involved in, head on over to our Patreon Page

Thanks for reading, and happy listening!  


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Is Peter Wallace for real? (and does it matter?)

Over the past few days I've had a couple of encounters on twitter, as have others, with a Peter Wallace, from New South Wales. 

He tweets as @PeterWallaceAU. According to his twitter bio: 
Leader, Australian Conservative Party. Candidate for federal senate (NSW), advocating major democratic reform, ex NSW Police
He came to my attention by tweeting an anti-LGBT anti-Marriage-equality stance and for being against the Safe Schools program - which has the goal of eliminating the bullying of LGBT kids in Australian schools. Peter claims to be only an aspiring politician, however this program was attacked by actual members of the current government. Conservative, Christian, homophobic members of the current government, obviously. The program was investigated and is now going to be wound back, before being defunded*. 

But back to Peter. It's hard to find anything of Peter Wallace or his political party online. 

Searching his name brings up few results. He (or someone with his name) was written about in The Red and The Blue blog, back in September 2015. Then nothing until his recent series of tweets. There is a Facebook page for the Australian Conservative Party, but there is no activity on it. 

He claims to be running for the Senate in the upcoming federal election, but he is not yet listed as a candidate.

I know, however, there's still a long way to go before the election. 

He claims to be the leader of the Australian Conservative Party. But a check of the Australian Electoral Commission website shows that there is no party registered with that name. Again, it's a long time before the election but if you were about to campaign in a federal election, you'd think you'd register your political party. They seem to have an official banner/logo...








So why not actually register the party? 

I have had a look online with a twitter friend, Chris in D.C. (@653toMidnight) and there's nothing to be found of this aspiring politician's career. 

Where are the meetings, where are photos of him being out and about, on the hustings, as they say? The only photo we can find of this Peter Wallace looks suspiciously stock (as does the photo of someone who seems to be a major supporter on twitter). Having said that, a politician having a professional headshot as their profile picture is nothing unusual. A would-be politician having that as their *only* available photo...raises suspicions. 

I argued with Peter a few days ago over his anti-LGBT stance. Today he's come to more prominence after tweeting this: 



He made it to a News.com.au article. And, at the time of writing, is trending on twitter in my part of the world. 




Whether legitimate or "Poe" this is surely mission accomplished. Well perhaps not accomplished, but it would certainly be a checkpoint along the way to achieving whatever mission it is Peter (or whatever his name is) is hoping to achieve. 

If it turns out the Peter is a Poe/Troll then I'm sure we've all got a revelation waiting for us, when the person behind Peter Wallace comes out to reveal that we all fell for it. 

And sure, he or she will be right, I initially fell for it. But here's the problem - there are people (including some currently in parliament) who legitimately believe this anti-LGBT stuff that Peter is espousing. This will be a perfect example of Poe's Law. 

But that's not the real problem with what Peter's doing, whether legitimately or not. 

The real problem with what Peter is doing is the high rates of suicide among LGBT kids (and adults). The real problem with what Peter is doing is the oppression, hated and bigotry experienced by LGBT kids and his adding of fuel to this most disgusting of fires. 

Peter is trying to legitimise this false idea that LGBT kids are flawed, that same-sex couples aren't good enough to marry, and aren't good enough to be parents. 

Peter Wallace, real or fake, is adding to the stigma that leads LGBT people to kill themselves. 

I'm not sure if Peter believes this ignorant, disgusting, backwards attitude he's promoting. I'm not sure if, because of our previous conversations, I'll one day be listed amongst the people he 'fooled' into believing him. 

What I am sure of, though, is that Peter is harmful. I am sure that the ideas he's promoting are dangerous, and regressive. 

I am sure that this is an abhorrent thing he's doing, whether he's doing it for real, or as a joke. 

I'm not sure which is worse. 

____________________________________________________

Special thanks to Chris in D.C. (@653toMidnight) for inspiring this blog by asking if Peter Wallace was for real and helped look up info on Peter. 

*at the time of writing the Victorian and ACT governments have said they will continue to fund the Safe Schools program with state money. 



Tuesday, 15 March 2016

For religious reasons

I saw a tweet from Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is a member of the USA fencing world team, according to her twitter bio. Not being much into fencing, I can't say I'd heard of her before. (She's Rio bound in 2016, is seems. Good luck to her!)

Ibtihaj had an issue with being asked to remove her hijab to receive her ID badge at an event (from what I can find out, a music festival). 

From what I've read since, it seems that the organisers of the event had no requirement for her to remove her headscarf and that security was overstepping the mark in requesting her to do so.  

What I found interesting was Ibtihaj's subsequent tweet which said 

'Even after I explained it was for religious reasons...' Why does that make a difference? Why should someone be allowed an exception just because of what they believe to be true? Even if it's a sincerely held belief. 

Of course I think people should be entitled to believe whatever they like, my question is, at what point do I stop being obliged to accommodate it? 

At what point can an event organiser say 'we don't allow any head-ware on our ID badges' and expect everyone to comply? 

What if we say we accommodate anything that doesn't cause harm or negatively impact others? @megcl0ud on twitter put it as accommodating: cases of non-violent, non-threatening personal convictions. 

Off the bat, this sounds fair enough. 

Question one, for me is, how to you measure a personal conviction? There is the well known case of Niko Alm, an Austrian atheist who, back in 2011, won the right to wear a pasta strainer in his driving license photograph, due to claiming to be a member of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I don't think anyone for a moment believes Niko genuinely believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but he forced the court's hand and argued successfully. 

The organisers of Wimbledon have a rule that anyone competing in the tournament must be wearing predominately white. 

Thought experiment: What if a tennis player belongs to a religion that demands they only ever wear pink? If we're allowing things 'for religious reasons' do we give this person an exemption? If we follow the 'non-violent, non-threatening personal conviction' suggestion, then yes, we should accommodate someone wearing pink. 

Seems it would be the kind thing to do. 

What if someone else has a religion that demands the only wear blue. And someone else is red. Green. Suddenly we've got no one wearing white, and no two people wearing the same colours. 

What then happens to the rules at Wimbledon? Are they not entitled to run an event where everyone wears white? Wearing white is non-threatening, non-violent action. Wimbledon organisers might have a personal conviction that their tennis tournament be held in white. Why should they be forced to give up their conviction for the conviction of someone else? 

Well, I don't think they should. It's a private event. They should be allowed to say 'you play wearing white, or you don't play'. They're not banning people for who they are. They're not saying a woman can't play because of her sexual orientation. They're not saying a black man can't compete because of the colour of his skin. They're saying if you want to play in this tournament, you have to wear white. And they should be allowed to. 

Just as a bank should be allowed to say that you can't enter if your face is covered. Regardless of what you're covering it with, or why you're covering it. 

Just as a restaurant should be allowed to say we serve only meat dishes and if you choose to be a vegan, you can find somewhere else to eat. 

This is not discrimination based on who someone is, this is having the right to not have to accommodate every choice someone makes. It might be that a restaurant suffers from not having vegan options on the menu. So be it. That's a commercial decision. I don't eat seafood, but I'm not about to force a seafood restaurant to serve a meal I would like. I'll just go eat elsewhere. 

If your choice of religion prevents you from doing something because you don't want rules that apply to everyone else, to apply to you, then it's *you* that should be finding the alternative. 

It's not that I'm against being kind or accommodating people. It's about where to draw the line. I had a long discussion on twitter with @megcl0ud  and @idiocyalert. They agreed 'for religious reasons' was not enough. It has to be, at least 'for religious reasons*' I just thing you can remove the 'for religious reason' and make the * secular. 

You allow head-ware (hats, sunnies, a Red Sox cap) or you don't. Simple. 

I'm sure there are many hijab-wearing Muslim women have thought or even asked to not be treated differently because of their religion. 

This would probably be so much easier if people stopped asking to be treated differently just because of their religion.  






Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Walking Through Thunderstorms - A novel.

Since reading Stephen King's The Tommyknockers when I was about 14 or 15 I've fancied being a writer. That book lit a spark in me that I wanted to explore further. This was about 1987.

I wrote a few horror short stories and showed them to a few friends but nothing that was ever novel worthy. 

In 1999 Australian author Nick Earls was interviewed on radio station Triple J. As part of the interview he read a passage from his book '48 Shades of Brown'. I thought it was great so bought a copy of the book as soon as I could, read it, and loved it. I've since bought, and read everything from Nick Earls that I can get my hands on. 

I emailed Nick after I had finished 48 Shades of Brown to tell him how much I liked it. He responded with thanks. After reading Nick's books I realised horror was not my go, as far as writing was concerned but maybe something more Nick's style would suite me. 

Nick's style is very casual, very laid back, and very Australian. Most of his books are set in the suburbs of his home city, Brisbane. They're extremely funny and are 'slice of life' style books. What I like a lot is that he doesn't follow formulas. You know how *every* romantic comedy they get together, have a great time, something goes wrong, they fight, separate, and realise they should have been together all along? That kind of thing. Nick does away with that. 

I adopted this style for myself. 

I'd started many stories but couldn't get them through to novel length. They always ran out of steam. I wrote a scene in a restaurant. Group of friends, night out. I liked it and then wondered about a particular couple and how they got there. 

From that thought, Walking Through Thunderstorms was born. 

I wrote lots of it long hand, on the train, and at lunchtime at work. Then someone I worked with lent me a laptop and I wrote on that for a day. It was an old laptop and I typed faster than the cursor moved. It wasn't useful. Eventually I got a better laptop and was able to write the rest of it on that. 

I looked for an editor but they were expensive. $5,000+. I couldn't justify that. I found one who offered to edit a chapter for about $200. I agreed.  She then asked if I'd allow her to use it in a writing class she was holding. I agreed, as long as I could get feedback. 

The feedback was mixed but one person stood out. She said 'I liked it. It was quirky and different and I wanted to read more'. Her name was Susan. I asked the editor to put me in contact with Susan, which she did, and though we've drifted apart now, we were friends for a long time. I helped Susan with her editing website and she gave me more tips on my book. She's now a published author herself. 

I met Nick Earls at a book signing in Melbourne. I told him that Stephen King and inspired me to write, and he, Nick, has shown me how I wanted to do it. We talked for a bit and I mentioned my novel. He put me in contact with his literary agent. 

I sent her my book, as I had to many others. She thanked me for it, said I was a good writer, but it wasn't something she wanted to go forward with. Fair enough. 

My uncle and I printed out 22 copies of Walking Through Thunderstorms. We folded the pages by hand, bound them, and glued covers on - which my uncle had printed out in full colour. Our only concession to not 'hand made' was that he got the edges trimmed. No matter how careful we were, it wasn't possible to fold the pages perfectly. I handed them out to family and friends for Christmas. 

A few years later I found out about Lulu. A self-publishing (or vanity publishing) website. I thought, you know what, it would be cool to have a hardback version of my book. So I formatted and uploaded files, and printed out 5. I kept one, gave the rest away. 

I've sent PDF versions to a few people I've met online. Some have liked it, some haven't. But that's the case with any book. I don't expect everyone to like it. 

Recently I remembered Lulu and I thought maybe I'd put it up there so people who followed me online could read it, if they wanted. I tweeted the idea and there was support so I did it. 

A review went up before anyone (apart from my partner) knew it was there or had bought it. I don't know who that person was or how she could have read it without buying it. It wasn't favourable. 

Given my partner was the first person to buy it, and first read it about 5 years ago, my partner submitted her review. When I initially sent my novel to her she wasn't my partner. We hadn't known each other too long. She read it in a day. She liked it. 

After she'd bought the book from Lulu, my partner told me she wanted to put a review up on Lulu but was struggling with the wording. I said I shouldn't tell her what to say, that wouldn't be right. She agreed. I said if someone asked you what you thought, what would you tell them? Just write that. She did. 

Then another review went up, claiming to be from someone who knows and likes me through twitter. Maybe, maybe not. Again, it wasn't favourable. Also again, that's okay. I don't expect everyone to like it. I don't expect anyone to like it. 

But there were a couple of things in the review which I thought were out of line. They said it was unfair of me to sell the book. Actually 'disastrously unfair'. Claiming it was 'on par with the snake oil salesmen we jeer at on Twitter (side note - I don't jeer at anyone). Okay, you don't like it, but saying it's unfair for me to sell it, because YOU don't like it, is silly. I've bought published, edited, printed books that I haven't liked. I'm not about to tell the author they shouldn't be selling it.  

This person also highlighted that it's an amateur attempt at writing by an amateur writer. 

Ummm, yeah. It is! I've not hidden the fact that it's a 10 year old novel that is unpublished that I put up on Lulu *myself*. If you were expecting anything other than an amateur novel...you might be a fucking idiot. 

But the thing that angered me was the accusation that the review from my partner was a 'false positive'. No. Just no. I have more integrity than that, thank you very much. If I wanted a false positive, why the fuck would I have my partner write one under *her own name*. (something she did, unlike this person who, I think cowardly, posted anonymously). 

My partner's review was honest, and her own doing, and written in her own words, which were not all all influenced by me. The accusation that she lied is unfounded, as is the assumption that just because YOU didn't like it, no one else could. 

To avoid others thinking the review was a false positive, I tried to take it down, but I couldn't, I could only remove them all. So I did.

So let me be clear...I'm not forcing anyone to buy it. It's an unpublished (and not professionally edited) novel that I wrote many years ago. I'm putting it up...just because I can. I'm not claiming it's great. Or even good. I'm proud of my effort. People like it. If you don't...okay, you don't have to. You don't have to buy it. Thinking it's anything other than amateur makes you a fool. Telling me I shouldn't be selling it because YOU don't like it, makes you sound silly to me, anonymously telling me my partner lied about her review, makes you a dick. 

If you do want to buy it (and I stress, you don't have to, this is *voluntary*) you can do so here: 

Paperback 

eBook


*the paperback is a little more expensive than I'd like but, unfortunately, the manufacturing costs are quite high. The eBook is less than my morning coffee and I'm happy with that. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Why are we afraid to admit we know things?

There seems to be something of strange issue in the sceptic community. Something that raises its head on twitter from time to time. I think it's a by-product of scepticism but I'm not sure it's a good one. 

It's this thing that we can't admit that we know something. 

Tell people, including atheists, you know gods are pretend, and many of them will lose their minds. 

"You can't prove there are no gods any more than a believer can prove there is one" or "How can you possibly know that, it's impossible" "You can't prove a negative"

Fewer people would have an issue if you said you knew Leprechauns were pretend, but I don't see the difference. 

Leprechauns - characters from mythology, never shown to be real, obviously pretend creatures you never hear of besides un-provable stories about the supernatural. 

Gods aren't different, you know. Maybe you might take issue at 'obviously pretend', but if you're an atheist, I don't know why. If you're a theist...well I don't know why either. 

The only difference I can see is that there's are still a lot of people who think gods are real, but that's not reason to think they are.

Gods have everything in common with being made up, and nothing in common with being real. When you ask a theist what characteristic their god has that meet a criteria of existence, they can't answer you. 

It makes me wonder, what are we holding out for? What is keeping us from saying we know gods and goddesses can't, and don't exist? People might say well, you can't know everything. True, but I don't need to know everything to know there's no pink dragon living in my garage. 

I know my name is Donovan. How? Well, because my parents told me and they're the point of truth. Maybe they named me something, but called me something else? Okay, but I've seen my birth certificate. Maybe it's a fake? Yeah, I guess it could be. But at what point do we say it's ridiculous to keep doubting? 

I think we should avoid hyper-scepticism and at some point we have to be okay with 'knowing' something. I'm happy to say, I know my name is Donovan, because the alternative - that it's been a decades long cover up by someone who knew better, is so preposterous that I don't need to give it any credibility at all. 

I've been questioned for saying I know the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. It makes me wonder what's going on in the head of someone who thinks you can't know this. What possible event do they think might happen to make it so the sun doesn't rise in the east tomorrow? A catastrophic explosion? The earth suddenly flipping poles? What are we afraid of? It can't be that we're afraid of being wrong, because you're not going to be wrong. We know we're not going to be wrong. And we know we know we're not going to be wrong! Do you know the sun will rise in the east tomorrow? Yes, you do. Own it.

Keep in mind, knowledge doesn't require absolute certainty. Maybe you can't ever be 'absolutely certain' of something...but I bet you're not going to ever leave a building by a 12th story window just because you can't be 'absolutely certain' you will plummet to the ground. You *know* you'll plummet to the ground. Don't be afraid to say you know it'll happen.

I'm a gnostic atheist to the same extent that I'm a gnostic ALeprechaunist and I'm a gnostic apinkdragonist. Gods and goddesses are creatures of mythology. We know this for a fact. Zeus, Thor, Nike, Jupiter, Ra, Venus, just to name a few, we know these gods aren't real. I've no issue adding Yahweh to the list. Created by superstitious people, when we didn't know about the universe, didn't know how to investigate the universe, let alone that we even could. Gods are only ever invented by primitive people who don't know better. We know better now. I can't understand why any sceptic would give the existence of Yaweh even the slightest credibility. 

What if we remove the names? Not Yaweh, not Thor, not Athena, just 'god'? Does that make the idea any more credible? I don't think so. Gods are made up. They are obvious human constructs, so it comes back to the question - why are we afraid to say we know they're not real? 

The answer is, for some at least, because you suddenly get barked at about how you know! People say you've now made a claim and shove burden of proof at you. It creates a hassle that people don't want to deal with. Can I prove 100% that no gods exist? No. Can I make a case that shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that no gods or goddesses exist, yes, I can. For myself at least. 

Is this enough for me to say I know they don't exist? I think it is. 






Monday, 1 February 2016

A brief response to Ken Ham

On January 30th, Ken Ham, President, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis tweeted the following: 



"Atheism is nothing more than the religion of naturalism in a failed attempt to rebel against the Creator God"

I saw the above and felt it necessary to respond. 

I received some positive feedback for my response, including a suggestion from @BJPrice1 to put it into a blog. So I have. 

My response...

Ken, my fellow Australian, you are a disgrace to thinking. You're an ignoramus. Your brain has malfunctioned. 

Atheism is the logical and reasonable response to the totally absurd and unsupported claims that mythological beings are real.

If you were able to show, with evidence and verifiability, that gods exist, atheism would cease to be a thing.

It is, indeed, a fact that atheism exists because people recognise that your claims are ridiculous and unsupported.

Atheism is not an attempt to rebel against anything, Ken, let alone the god you happen to imagine is real.

Atheism is people being reasonable in the face of billions of people being gullible, superstitious, and ridiculous.

I sincerely hope that you one day value logic and reason over faith and superstition.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Release the doodles and boobies!

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is in Europe and it's not without some controversy. 

In Italy, along with talk that wine wouldn't be served at an official dinner - something the French refused to go along with - certain statues were covered to avoid offending the visiting president. The question is...why? 

According to several publications, Italian politicians have called this cover up an act of 'cultural submission'. This criticism is attributed to 'some Italian politicians' though I can't find a direct quote. 

What I find strange is that both the Italian and Iranian governments have said they didn't request the cover up. 

So, why do it? 

Well, because someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to pander to religious sensibilities. 

It wasn't. 

Covering up works of art because someone is religious is without merit. It's achieves nothing good, and makes us as a species, worse off. 

I had a friend say that if the Italians are willing to do it, and the Iranians are willing to have it happen, why is it a bad thing? 

Forgetting that it happened without any official request, it's a bad thing because it reinforces the idea that pandering to religious sensibilities is okay. It's a bad thing because it puts art in a category that suggests it's shameful and that it should be covered up. It suggests that it's okay that someone's superstitious nonsense is a priority over common sense. 

We're living in 2016. This isn't pre-renaissance. This isn't the dark ages. How did we ever get to the point were it was thought that some statues should be covered up lest they offend someone? The whole idea is absurd. 

The problem here is, once again, religion. Specifically Islam. You may ask how, given they didn't request for this to be done, and that's a fair question. 

Islam (or followers of) has become well known for being less than tolerant of ideas it doesn't agree with. Just ask Kurt Westergaard, Salman Rushdie, or the staff at Charlie Hebdo, to name a but a few. 

I'm aware that the threats and violence these people have faced aren't to do with uncovered statues, but they *are* because of the religious sensibilities of Muslims. 

Now we live in a world where people don't want to do anything that might upset Muslims. This has come about not because Muslims have made a reasonable case for why certain things shouldn't be done, but because of violent and deadly reactions to things such as cartoons. If you want to convince someone of something, you should do it with reasoned argument and discussion, not fear of death. 

Because of this we find ourselves in a situation where works of art are being covered up despite no one officially asking for it to happen. We're so keen to avoid upsetting followers of the supposed religion of peace, that we're falling over ourselves to protect them from things they didn't even ask to be protected from (and nor should they!)

It's ridiculous. 

So let's not. Let's not think it's okay to pander to this nonsense. Let's not reinforce the idea that religious people get to decide what other people can draw, or sculpt, or paint. Let's not be okay with the absurd idea that someone's religious beliefs should be considered special anywhere other than inside their own heads. 

Let's not cover them up, let's release the doodles and boobies!