Category Archives: miscellaneous

Muslims and Confederates

Muslims have fought in all major US wars including the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. More recently they have served in Gulf War, Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. There are 5,896 self-identified Muslims currently serving in the military, according to the Department of Defense.

I suppose the Muslims get their float because they earned it by fighting with the armed forces of the USA.

Perhaps the veterans who fought under the Confederate flag don’t get a float because they fought against the United States of America.

Perhaps no Confederate veterans have applied for a float because all the Confederate veterans are dead now as opposed to the 3,550 Muslim soldiers currently serving in the US army or the 1,036 Muslim sailors serving in the US Navy or the 765 Muslim Airmen currently serving in the US Airforce or the 545 Muslims serving in the US Marines who are all very much alive serving their country and protecting their fellow Americans.

Perhaps you should thank them for their service and perhaps salute their representatives as their float passes by.

Genius Required?

Puzzles regularly appear on my time line in the form of a series of equations which purport to require a genius for their solution. Click here for one such puzzle

Despite the claims made by  whoever prepares these graphics, “that only a genius could solve them”,  the puzzles are typically trivial and would barely tax the abilities of an 11 year old in a high school maths class.

These puzzles invariably take me back more than forty years to a maths class I attended as a first year undergraduate student in Liverpool in 1969. The lecturer recounted a tale about a maths question, originally posed in an English eleven plus examination and subsequently put to Cambridge University mathematics undergraduates. According to the story the eleven year old kids had little difficulty but  none of the elite maths undergrads was able to answer the  question correctly.

Here is the question: what is the next number in the following series: 1/4, 1/2, 1, 3, 6.

I was the only one in my 1969 undergraduate class to get the correct answer, on the other hand I failed the 11+ exam.

Here is a clue: RTFQIHTFA

Let me know your proposed solutions to the puzzle ?

NOTE: the 11+ was an exam taken by British junior school kids to determine if they were smart enough to go to Grammar school or not*.  

*I wasn’t considered smart enough


This popped up on my Facebook timeline this morning courtesy of Facebook’s software which likes to remind you of past posts. This was my first post after being diagnosed with cancer and immediately after my first session of chemotherapy. Needless to say, I’m still here and more or less intact after the “Slash burn and poison” treatment. The treatment is brutal but it works and Cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence.


As I was saying before being so rudely interrupted …

I was watching Australia’s right wing Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on TV this morning when it suddenly struck me that I had no need to rush to the toilet and throw up, nor did I feel any particular urge to kick the TV over, smash the screen or even change to a less provocative channel.

This highly unusual passivity in the presence of right wing provocation led to an incipient panic attack followed by some deep self questioning. Had I suddenly shifted to the dark side ? Had I lost my long held liberal (small ‘l’) principles ? Had I come out of some deeply sublimated conservative closet and become a Liberal party (large ‘L’) supporter.

Before concluding that I had completely lost my marbles along with any claims to rational thought, I recalled that in concert with chemotherapy treatment you get anti-nausea drugs at no extra charge. The intravenous anti-nausea medication has the unexpected side effect of enabling one to view right wing political bullshit with calmness and serenity while still seeing it for the intellectually bankrupt crap that it is.

So there you are ! Despite the presence of a cocktail of canny chemicals seeking and destroying a few out of control cells, my critical thinking skills seem to be more or less intact. Excepting, that is… Each time I see a camper van I seem to develop an overwhelming desire to study Latin and chemistry. “Illegitimi non carborundum” as we say in the crack game.

Belatedly, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and are having a good 2015. I did and I am.


That’s what I thought about cancer while going through it, some of what I wrote was pure bravado of course because it is in the nature of we males to hide our fear. It is in the nature of women too; in the many hospital waiting rooms I shared with other cancer patients, I never heard a single complaint nor did I see anyone feeling sorry for themselves.

Do I have advice for other cancer patients? No! But a word to those whose friends or relations are cancer patients, treat them as you always treated them because they haven’t changed. They may be a little thinner, sport a more extreme hairstyle perhaps but they are still what they always were. Cancer does not define them.


Super Moon

dsc09034_1280Last night’s super-moon was the biggest and brightest super-moon to rise in almost 69 years and we won’t see its like again until Nov. 25, 2034. Here it is in all its super glory conveniently located at the top of my street.

Just how Super was this moon? Not very super at all really, not even marginally awesome, in fact it really wasn’t much different from any full moon you have ever seen and if it weren’t for all the hype, it is doubtful that anyone would have even noticed it.

Super-moon is the term used by the media to describe a full moon when it is at its closest point to the Earth. This is called the perigee.
The moon’s closest perigee occurred on November 14, 2016 when the moon was a mere 356,509 km from earth. The moon’s farthest apogee occurred two weeks earlier on October 31, 2016 when it was 406,662 km away.

That’s a difference of about 50,000 km between the distance to the moon at perigee compared with its distance at apogee.
The moon’s mean distance or semi-major axis from Earth is about 384,400 km or about 28,000 km less that at perigee which is a difference of less than 8%.

dsc09039_1280dsc09038_1280Look at the pair of photos above. One image was taken at a distance of 20 m from the stop sign while the other image was taken from 8% further away at 21.8 m. The difference in perceived diameter of the stop sign from one image to the other is the same as the difference in perceived size of a super-moon compared with an average full moon.



The second pair of images were taken with a longer focal length lens but otherwise met the same distance conditions.

Put in in pizza terms, its like a comparing a 16.0 inch pizza  to a 17 inch pizza.

The wonder of the moon is not in how its size appears to vary slightly from time to time. The wonder of the moon is that there are footprints on its surface. Footprints made by a few brave Americans who were propelled there by rockets designed by Germans and guided by mathematics developed by Frenchmen, the Dutch and Danes and a bad tempered Englishman who stood on the shoulders of Greek and Arabic speaking giants. That is the wonder of the moon, the glorious culmination of a collaboration spanning space and time. Celebrate that while tucking into a 16 or 17 inch pizza.


Palermo 1216
Palermo 1216

Sicily entered the history books when the Greeks founded Syracuse in 733 BC. The Greeks had Sicily pretty much to themselves until the Carthaginians invaded in 410 BC. The Romans took a dim view of a Carthaginian outpost so close to their own patch and so in the course of the ensuing Punic wars, Sicily became Rome’s first province in 227 BC. Archimedes was killed in his home town of Syracuse when that city fell to Rome in 212 BC during the closing stages of the Punic wars.

Sicily became Christian along with the rest of the Roman empire around 325 AD.The Vandals invaded in 440 AD and ruled Sicily until the Ostrogoth’s took control in 476 AD. In 535 Sicily was annexed to the Byzantine empire.

A major Arab invasion was mounted from Tunisia in 827 and Sicily remained under Muslim control until Norman mercenaries got stuck into them in 1017 and subsequently ruled all of Sicily until 1194.

The German Emperor Henry VI of Swabia took Sicily from King William III of Sicily in 1194 thus putting an end to the Italo-Norman dynasty.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, King of Spain and ruler of much of western Europe, became King of Sicily in 1568. Sicily was ruled by various European monarchies until finally being annexed to the new kingdom Italy in 1861. More recently, the allies took control of Sicily from the axis powers as a prelude to the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII.

None of the many invaders completely supplanted their predecessors and this led to a a complex layering of multi-ethnic cultures still visible today in a unique synthesis of art and architecture.

McDonalds arrived in Palermo only last year but it is too early to tell as yet if Sicily will survive this latest invasion.

Here are photos of Palermo and Cefalu taken in 2016 AD during my invasion of Sicily.

The Truth Matters

Internet Image
The World Wide Web

The internet is not merely a great resource, it is the greatest repository of knowledge of all time, it is big, really big, I mean really really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts compared to the internet. (42% of plagiarism is tribute, OK?).

By an amazing coincidence 42% is also the proportion of internet content content qualifying as bullshit. Some of the bullshit (about 42% in fact) is obvious nonsense or transparent propaganda and is readily detectable from the content itself or from its source.

Sometimes the source is veiled or masquerades as something else. After all; who would believe anything from “” ? Quite a few come to think of it. Most insidious of all, the source may be an otherwise likable and steadfast friend who innocently repeats a falsehood because it has a superficial appearance of truth, profundity or plausibility.

Here are two examples of false memes (aka lies). I  chose these two examples of false memes because they fooled me until my deeply embedded skeptic circuits kicked in and my bullshit alarm started to sound.

The Belgian Mayor Letter:
The mayor of a Belgium municipality, Marc Duvivier, is alleged to have sent a letter to the citizens of of Ath explaining why he refused to give in to local Muslim demands to stop serving pork in Ath schools. The letter usually goes along these lines:

Muslims must understand that they have to adapt to Belgium, its customs, its traditions, its way of life, because that’s where they chose to immigrate. They must understand that they have to integrate and learn to live in Belgium.

They [Muslims] must understand that it is for them to change their lifestyle, not the Belgians who so generously welcomed them. They must understand that the Athois are neither racist nor xenophobic, they accepted many immigrants before Muslims (whereas the reverse is not true that Muslims do not accept non-Muslim foreigners on their soil).

They must understand that no more than other nations, the Belgians are not willing to give up their identity, their culture. If Belgium is a land of welcome, it’s not Marc Duvivier that welcomes foreigners, but the Belgian people as a whole.

Finally, they must understand that in Belgium with its Judeo-Christian roots, Christmas trees, churches and religious festivals, religion must remain in the private domain. The municipality of Ath was right to refuse any concessions to Islam and Sharia.

For Muslims that disagree with secularism and do not feel comfortable in Belgium, there are 57 beautiful Muslim countries in the world, most of them under-populated and ready to receive them with open halal arms in accordance with Shariah.

If you left your country for Belgium, and not for other Muslim countries, it may be because you considered that life is better in Belgium than elsewhere. Ask yourself this question, just once, “Why is it better here in Belgium than where you come from?”

A canteen with pork is part of the answer

Mayor Duvivier is real but the letter is false and the local Muslims never demanded the withdrawal of pork from school menus. Now don’t get me wrong, I will oppose any effort to introduce sharia law into my country but I would oppose it because religion of any stripe has no legitimate place in the conduct of political affairs in a secular country and ought not to have any place in our schools either.

I happen to love bacon and I would oppose anyone who tried to criminalize my bacon butties.

Bacon Butty
Bacon Butty

On the other hand I would not force oink based protein on anyone. I have no objection to people eating halal food, I have no objection to halal restaurants and if KFC or McDonalds want to have a few halal outlets they should be free to make that business decision without a bunch of morons baiting the staff over the absence of bacon.

I long ago discovered that eating kosher food had no effect on my foreskin, my love of curries did not make me a Hindu and my eyes have remained more or less the same shape despite years of addiction to all forms of Asian food. A lifelong love affair with hamburgers, Kentucky fried chicken and blackened catfish failed to make me a Southern Baptist but I did once have an irresistible urge to invade Poland after eating sausage and sauerkraut, OK I made that one up in the interests of balance.

Variations:   A variant of this item shifted the locale from Belgium to Quebec, Canada. In 2016 the tale moved around the planet to Maryborough, Victoria, Australia.

Bottom line:  there are plenty of good and honest reasons for opposing sharia incursions into our secular institutions. And oppose them we should because a secular society is our best and only guarantee of religious freedom and freedom from religion. Our strongest weapon is the truth, we don’t need to make stuff up.

The first Australian Prime Minister letter:
A letter purporting to be from Edmund Barton, the first Australian Prime Minister is another call for immigrants to “fit in” it goes as follows:

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an Australian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.

But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an Australian, and nothing but an Australian… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an Australian, but something else also, isn’t an Australian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Australian flag…. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Australian people.’

Edmund Barton 1907

This post is actually a modified version of a letter written by US president Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt to the American Defense Society. Roosevelt wrote the passage in 1919, shortly before his death, not in 1907 as claimed in the post.

Variations:   Variants of this item use John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard,  as the source of similar xenophobic falsehoods.

Fortunately for all us Australians, most immigrants absorb the best of Australia while simultaneously changing it ever so slightly. Australia is a great place to be because of its immigrants, not in spite of them. That is pretty much true of the UK, Canada, the USA and just about every other country on the planet worth visiting or living in.

The truth matters.

Anti Christian? Moi?

A few days ago I posted a brief description of the heroic efforts of Captain Moody and his crew as they fought to save Flight 9 after all four engines of their 747 failed over Indonesia. I drew a parallel between the fight to save that aeroplane and current efforts to save the planet from the consequences of global warming.

The piece [click here to view] attracted a multi-part response from an old friend who happens to be on the opposite side from myself on just about every issue except possibly the joys of drinking copious quantities of beer. My American friend’s response is enumerated below in bold italics with my comments appended in normal text.

  1. “I can’t think of anyone who would sit back and pray without trying to save themselves.”

There certainly are such people especially when it comes to refusing proven scientific medical care in favor of woo and attempts to pray a disease away. That however was not my point.

I was referring to that group of religious people who deny the reality of climate change as an article of faith because God once produced a rainbow as a sign that he would not flood the earth again and to another group of religious types who accept that climate change is happening but attribute it to God dealing out righteous punishment for various sins. I cited references for these two contradictory biblical views in my “Biblical Climatology” post. There are yet others who think that making a snowball and displaying it in the Senate chamber somehow outweighs the considered views of thousands of climate scientists. Click here to see Senator James Inhofe make a complete ass of himself on that score. These are all examples of those who regard praying as having greater efficacy than science.

2. As they say, “There [are] no atheist in the foxholes”.

Some do say that but there are and always have been atheists in foxholes. Atheists serve in cockpits and on ships they are everywhere. [Click here] to visit a site dedicated to men and women who are serving their country in uniform or  have served in the past. The most common final word on cockpit voice recorders, uttered by men who know they are about to die, is not an appeal to God, it is “Mother”.

3. You seem to be very anti Christian.

I am not, nor have I ever been anti Christian, I am not, nor have I ever been anti Muslim, I am not, nor have I ever been anti Hindu, I am not, nor have I ever been anti Semitic etc etc. I am not against any person simply on the basis of their cosmological view. I am an atheist and as such I have many differences of opinion with those who hold religious views.

At bottom, a religion is nothing more than an opinion or a set of related opinions held by a particular group. Sometimes these opinions are expressed as being “deeply held religious beliefs” with the implication that they should not be challenged. A “deeply held belief” is still just an opinion and as such is as open to challenge as any other opinion.

I am not anti Christian but I do disagree with some of its premises, on the other hand I agree strongly with the philosophy of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself.

Question: what goes clip clop clip clop clip clop, bang, clip clop clip clop clip clop?

Answer: An Amish drive by shooting.

This joke is humorous on several levels but mostly because no one would ever consider a member of the Amish community participating in a drive by shooting. Which brings me to a problem on my side of politics, the liberal side.

Many liberals refuse to accept that terrorist atrocities committed by Jihadists have anything to do with Islam. Instead, they cite entirely political motivations. Political motivations certainly feed into Jihadist atrocities but it is foolish to deny that Islam plays no part. I am with Sam Harris, Bill Maher and Douglas Murray on this point.

Equally there is a problem with some on the political right who characterize all Muslims as being murdering thugs. Ultimately, it is largely Muslims like Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation who will reform Islam and defeat the Jihadists.

4. Would the world be a better place based on Sharia law? 

Emphatically and unreservedly no to sharia law. [Click here] for my views on sharia as I expressed them in 2014. All efforts to incorporate the opinions of any religion into the law of the land must be resisted every where and at all times.

5. Would Europe be a better place if the Muslims had succeeded in their attempted conquest of Europe?

I think that Charles Martel’s victory over the  Muslim Umayyads at the battle of Tours in 732 was a good thing. Similarly the repulsion of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 was a positive outcome for Europe.

6.  I hear the argument that the Crusades are the root of our problems with the Muslims. My history books state that the Crusades was an attempt to take back what the Muslims had taken.

I have no strong opinions on this other than that you seem to have overly simplistic history books. The crusades are part of a very complex and multi faceted history between the East and West. The crusades were as much about power, wealth and control of territory as they were about religion. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

7. Finally, do you think the western world is a better place as our society adopts an attitude that if it feels good, do it?

I don’t think that “if it feels good, do it” is a particularly useful or even a meaningful idea and it is not, in my opinion,  a generally accepted one. I might go along with it in the strictly narrow sense that if a proposed action does not compromise your conscience or your moral principals, it may be OK to do it. As a statement of ethical principles “if it feels good, do it”  sucks.

Niggardly Ignorance

In 1999 an aide to the then DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams, lost his job for using the word “niggardly” in describing how he would have to manage a fund’s tight budget. If any of the PC brigade are reading this, you should know that  “Niggardly” means miserly and has no racial connotation whatsoever other than a fallacious (nothing to do with fellatio) one in the minds of the vocabulary challenged.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when MSNBC’s Brian Williams in reference to nuclear weapons said “We are the only nation to have used them in anger“. The vocabulary challenged have got their knickers in a twist yet again by ignorantly interpreting Williams’s sentence as meaning that the USA used nuclear weapons on Japan because of some sort of bad tempered emotional outburst.

The locution: “to use something in anger” simply means to use something for its intended purpose. A shot fired in anger is a shot intended to kill rather than to hit a practice target. A software program used in anger means it’s no longer being tested, it’s now running on a live system.

James Joyce used the phrase in Ulysses:
“I know where he’s gone, says Leneban, cracking his fingers.
Who? says I.
Bloom, says he. The courthouse is a blind. He had a few bob on Throwaway and he’s gone to gather in the shekels.
Is it that whiteeyed kaffir? says the citizen, that never backed a horse in anger in his life?”

The “in anger” part the Joyce quotation is used figuratively; it means “seriously.” The chap may have placed a few inconsequential bets but never big enough money to matter. It doesn’t mean getting angry when a bet is put on a horse.

Bible Fairy Tales


I used to file the bible in the fiction section of our school library, I did this so often that I was finally caught in the act by our overtly Christian librarian who sent me to see the headmaster.

Expecting dire punishment, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the dreaded headmaster, Mr Adrian Bristow M.A.(Cantab), could barely conceal his amusement and sentenced me to a light Simpsonion punishment of writing out 100 times “I must not interfere with the library filing system”.

I wish that I had been witty enough to have thought of this most appropriate of editorial efforts.