Archive for July, 2009

Spending my bonus!

July 26th, 2009 5 comments

It seems that my hard work at O2 over the last year and a bit is about to pay off. I mean this in the purely literal sense as it is bonus time at work. I managed to get an excellent apraisal and I am in line to receive a pretty sizable lump sum! I have decided that this shall be put towards building a relatively starter style home entertainment system. I am new to the whole thing and I have a really small house so I have not gone for anything too flash and a couple of items are still up for discussion – namely whether I sghould get separate games console and Blu-Ray player or plump for the PS3. A lot of articles and pundits have repeatedly opted for the PS3 as the idea source for a low-end system but I still have my reservations about its ability as a console. I will be looking to upgrade they system with a larger TV (ideally full HD) when I have a bigger living room. I fancy adding a full HD projector at some point for those move and sports nights I envisage :P



The full list is as follows:

TV: Samsung LE32B450C4
AV Receiver: Onkyo TX-SR507
Sources: Samsung BD-P1600, Sky+HD, Xbox 360 Elite, Custom built Media PC
Speakers: Tannoy SFX5.1

What I’ve been up to this week…2009-07-26

July 26th, 2009 No comments
  • The weekend starts here :-) no more work til tues! #
  • Selling education
    #blog #
  • Got a few outlines for a couple of articles about #atheists and #humanists and how we can improve our image/brand :-)#
  • Who would have thought that @O2 would be on Twitter and replying to everyone, including @gib2504! #
  • Why is everyone so down on the Mock the Week. i know it's not exactlt high brow stuff, but I don't see where the vitriol is coming from? #
  • Another day, another dollar. #
  • Lol, can't believe #warcraft film is on the cards. #
  • New landline telephone
    #blog #
  • Linky to twitterfeed for those that care #
  • Just having a play with #twitterfeed, not sure I like it though. #
  • Argh everything has gone tits up, never thought I would want to get #swineflu! #
  • External hard drive failed :'( #

Selling education

July 25th, 2009 No comments

I have been involved in the atheist community for a little over four years now and I have often pondered the question on how atheists and humanists can actually convince other people that their worldview is just as fulfilling and worthwhile as any other, particularly the religious world views.

I first dabbled in an organised atheist society when I joined Leeds Atheist Society, the student society for atheists and associated free thinkers at the University of Leeds. Drawn by the prospect of heated debate and intellectual stimulation I quashed the feeling of unease that most atheists have at the back of their minds when considering any form of organisation for atheists. Within a few months I had converted to a believer in the necessity and usefulness of a society for atheists. This conversion enabled me to take on more and more responsibility within the organisation, delivering talks and lectures and after six months I was elected Secretary. This committee position meant that I now had to consider not only what I wanted from the society but how the society should develop and what it should provide for its members. This led me to first really think about the atheist brand and how best to sell the worldview that excludes a supreme being or beings, that excludes absolute morality and embraces rational, sceptical thought as its cornerstones.

The year I served as Secretary saw Leeds Atheist Society develop some tools with which to answer these questions, namely the One Life course aimed at non self-identifying atheists on how a secular world view could offer the same benefits and comfort as a religious one. The society itself also tried to start opening up its appeal to a wider audience by reducing the reliance on anti-religion themes and embracing a more educational feel to its meetings.

Whilst a lot was achieved, I felt more could be done to increase the appeal of the society to religious students as well as our traditional base, the atheists and agnostics. It was on this agenda that I ran for President in April 2008; as ever in a small society, the competition for committee places was low and I was elected unopposed to run the group.

The year I was in presidency saw a lot of changes to the attitudes and direction of the society. We introduced a second and third course, Perspective and Answers respectively. The former gave a soapbox to a different religious speaker each week to give a talk and explain their world view and then accept questions from the audience. The purpose of this course was to promote understanding of the world views that we are trying to compete with. The course was a resounding success and really helped develop our image on campus. Answers was a course designed to develop the debating and speaking skills of our members so that they had the ability to discuss their own world view with a sound understanding of what it was they actually believed.

The whole year had a very education theme to it, with many talks and debates on important moral and ethical issues as well as trying to define exactly what it meant to hold an atheist world view.

Through my work with Leeds Atheist Society, I got involved with setting up the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) and ended up serving as its president for seven unforgettable months. The AHS raised many questions around the idea of selling the atheist world view. One of our main aims was to promote and facilitate the formation of new societies across the UK.

Alongside the formal involvement with the atheist community which fired by interest in the idea of developing the atheist brand, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of other people that have also had a passion for the question. My friend and colleague at Leeds Atheist Society and the AHS, Chris Worfolk, is a keen believer in the idea of spreading the atheist and particularly the humanist world view through charitable work and direct action. Chris, through his foundation, has set up and continues to be heavily involved with the Humanist Action Group, Leeds Skeptics as well as serving as president of the Leeds Atheist Society whilst a student and sitting as a trustee of the AHS since his graduation. His article in the inaugural edition of Secular Future (the AHS’s quarterly newsletter) was the spark that ignited my desire to document my grappling with this topic.

Chris believes that the only way to develop the atheist and humanist brand is to compete directly with the religious brands. That means offering the rewards that can be found by being involved with those ideas. Humanist Action Group offers a range of charitable activities with its current focus being on feeding the homeless of Leeds and offering community services such as graffiti removal. Leeds Skeptics provides an environment for sceptical discussion and a number of social opportunities too.

Richard Parker, medical doctor and co-founder of Humanist Action Group, is another friend and colleague that believes quite strongly in community action to help sell the atheist and humanist world views. Richard considers that one of the best ways to build the brand is to make an impact on both the practical and political fronts. Richard’s has long considered how he can make the difference by being involved with local and national government.

Whilst community action and involvement are clearly practical ways to offer the physical rewards that religious charity offers its followers I am left feeling that there needs to be more effort made to compete with the spiritual and emotional needs of adherents to a secular world view.

Religion offers a number of benefits that atheists cannot compete with; eternal life, salvation, love, forgiveness, security and absolute truth being a few examples. Whilst academically an atheist or humanist can refute the philosophy of the examples, they cannot offer an alternative. It is no good for an atheist to say they eternal life is a fiction and that absolute truth is a myth if they cannot offer a suitable alternative. In many ways, belief in these ideals is like an addiction. The believers are unwilling to cold turkey; they do not want to just give up their warm, fuzzy feelings of comfort and easy answers. They need an alternative, they need something to help wean them off a religious world view that, most surveys say, their adherence to is cursory and towards the atheist or humanist one.

Many atheists will not agree with that conclusion as they feel that an atheist’s role is not to convert people to “atheism” and on the whole I agree with them. The issue here is that I am not advocating conversion but merely the recognition by the majority that their apparent world view does not actually explain how they see the world.

The biggest question of all is what can we use to replace those emotional and spiritual crutches outlined above? My gut instinct is the same now as it was during my time as officer of the Leeds Atheist Society, education. Educating people about what atheists thing and believe, what it means to be a humanist, how a life as a non-believer is richer and more rewarding that the alternative.

I would urge fellow atheists and humanists to accept this challenge and start teaching people what it is you believe, not what you don’t believe!

New landline telephone

July 16th, 2009 No comments

Seeing as I had to get a BT land line installed at my house to get ADSL broadband delivered down and that BT insist I make chargeable calls every month so as to not have to pay for installation, I went out and bought my first ever land line telephone. I went into Tesco and bought the best looking handset I could find that offered the features I think I need for a price that didn’t make me audibly snort.

I really don’t know what it is about modern day telephones but the mean price of handsets in Tesco was over £50! That strikes me as ridiculous.

Anyway, I plumped for a BT branded Stratus 1500. I have no idea whether it was worth the twent-odd quid I paid for it, but it fitted the criteria above.

Ethical Meat

July 14th, 2009 No comments

Below is an article I wrote for Secular Future, the newsletter/periodical of the AHS. I warn you that the content is contraversial and if it offends you, then i refer you to my ‘about‘ page.

I hope to bring you some more articles, some written by me and some not. Let me know what you think.

The article below is the unedited and unabridged version.

One of the most pervasive moral debates of the last fifty years has been whether it is possible to consume meat or animal products ethically or not. One of the main components of the debate is whether it is right to mass slaughter animals for human consumption on a commercial scale.

Whilst humans regard eating meat as a vital part of their diet, animals will need to be slaughtered to provide that meat. In today’s commercial environment, this slaughter comes in the form of the large scale abattoir which provides the cost effective production line style methods required to ensure affordable products for the end consumer. Whilst this is not necessarily an ethical position, it is certainly a practical one.

This commercialisation of the slaughter industry carries with it certain responsibilities. If we are going to consume meat, then we should do it with at least some regard to the animals we are eating. We have the power to ensure that animals reared for meat are treated to the highest possible standards in life and ultimately in death. Our responsibility as slaughterers of animals is to ensure that these standards are maintained throughout the various stages of the journey from farm to supermarket aisle. This responsibility has led us to develop certain policies and procedures with regards to how we can slaughter animals for human consumption.

These policies and procedures are designed to limit the suffering and pain of the animals as much as is humanly possible. The current law in England and Wales specifically states that it “…is an absolute offence to cause or permit an animal avoidable excitement, pain or suffering.” This law lays out in explicit detail how animals should be treated to ensure that there is no unavoidable excitement, pain or suffering. The only exception to this seemingly acceptable compromise is the fact that it specifically exempts animals slaughtered for religious reasons from the guidelines applied to the rest of the industry.

Animals slaughtered for consumption by Muslims or Jews, i.e. Halal and Kosher meat, does not have to be slaughtered using the strict guidelines laid down by the law. The main difference in the methods comes down to pre-stunning. This is the practice of knocking the animal unconscious by electric shock prior to being slaughtered. This method is considered by many to be the most humane way of mass slaughtering animals. In Britain, the Muslim and Jewish authorities deem this practice to be contrary to their traditions concerning the ritual slaughter of animals. This means that animals slaughtered for the religious market must be killed alive by the slitting of the throat and allowed to bleed to death.

The Farm Animals Welfare Council in their 2003 report on the slaughter practices in the UK concluded that all animals slaughtered for human consumption should be electrically pre-stunned and that the Halal and Kosher methods for the slaughter of animals caused unnecessary pain and suffering the animals in direct contravention of the main principle of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995.

The religious slaughter industry is worth over a billion pounds and makes up one seventh of the total slaughter industry. In practice this means that thirteen per cent of the animals slaughtered in this country are subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering.

What is worse is that there are Muslim and Jewish authorities outside of the UK that have accepted that pre-stunning is essential in ensuring that animals do not suffer in excess. In countries such as New Zealand where there is no exemption from welfare laws for religious slaughter, the Muslim and Jewish leaders have devised ways of incorporating electrical pre-stunning into their ritual slaughter.

With an ever increasing trend for fast food outlets, takeaways and supermarkets stocking religiously slaughtered meat, the industry is going to continue to grow. This means that more and more of the meat we see in our shops will have come from animals that suffered excessively.

How does that affect you and me, the consumer? There is currently no law in the UK that requires meat products derived from animals slaughtered cruelly in religious slaughter houses to be labelled, or notice given to customers. This means that consumers are unaware of where their meat comes from and more importantly, whether the animal that provided it was subjected to the torture of religious slaughter.

Eating meat is an ethical question for us all. For those that choose not to eat meat, there is legal provision for the labelling of food that suitable for vegetarians. Consumers have a choice. For those that choose to eat meat, that choice does not exist.

There are two messages to take away from this debate. The first is that any food that is currently slaughtered outside of the spirit of the law must be labelled. The second is that the spirit of the law needs to be upheld by becoming the letter of the law. If it is an absolute offence to cause animals unnecessary excitement, pain or suffering, then let us ensure that it is an offence, under law, to cause that suffering regardless of your religious beliefs.

We do not protect other aspects of religious belief that do not conform to the spirit of our laws and human social advancement such as the stoning of adulterers and the murder of infidels. Why then do we protect the cruel abuse of the animals we eat?

Change of direction

July 14th, 2009 No comments

I am using this site less and less to update the blogosphere of my daily activities, so I think a change of direction is necessary to make sure that this site doesn’t become a ghost town.

I haven’t blogged in a while so i will just bring everyone up to date:

1) I have had to take some time out from my studies to address a few situations, namely my finances. This credit crunch is a real bitch. Sidetracking slightly, why is it a credit crunch exactly? What’s crunching?

2) As a result of my sabbatical from university, I have had to step down from my roles within both the AHS and Leeds Atheist Society. This was a massive disappointment for me as long term readers will be aware I have been involved with both organisation since their inception. I hope to contine playing a role in some sort of capacity, even if just as a regular old member. The main issue being my need to give the leadership room to develop their own style and direction.

3) I have gone full time with my job at O2. I am now a performance adviser and basically I do the same job, with more responsibility for no extra reward. Well I technically get increased job satisfaction and a job i enjoy most of the time, but not exactly going to make a dent in the old finances!

4) I have moved in with Liz, just the two of us, into a nice little cottage in the Seacroft area of Leeds. It is one of the original village buildings from before they added all the council estates that now mean that Seacroft is a suburb of Leeds rather than its own little village.

5) As a result of the above, I have less than I used to to write about on here, hence the need for a wholsesale change in direction.

I would like to start concentrating on developing a few ideas I have for essays and the like on my particular subjects of choice, i.e. management, secularism, atheism and humanism. Some of this blog is going to get dedicated to that and related stuff, like pics, tweets etc. I also think I am going to put some more syndications on here, sharing posts and ideas by other atheist writers, bloggers and speakers.

I have also started thinking recently about whether there is scope to get more involved in actually devleoping the atheist movement into one that makes a real difference. Chris has focussed in on Humanist Action Group and is working towards turning that into a real charity. Whilst I could piggy back on to that, I wonder whether I could ever really make a difference. My areas of interest is with young people, I think it with this group that real difference can be made. I used to do a lot of work with Lancashire County Council and their youth and community section. I was involved in a number of youth participation programmes too. I also wonder whether I could use some of my contacts in parliament to do soemthing with lobbying and maje a difference that way.

Well as you can see, there are a number of directions this blog could take. I don’t know yet which one I fancy, or which one will come to fruition. Maybe inspiration will hit me, or maybe I will try all of them until I get one that works!