Those who know me closely will vouch for my unwillingness to tolerate anybody of a witless nature. They will also know that I have no time for cretins who litter their speech with expletives and I believe, quite strongly, that too many people in this day and age have a peurile grasp of the English language. I am always trying to expand my vocabulary and thanks to the wonders of the digital era I am never too far from a dictionary.

So when I discovered 365 Days Of Vocab, which teaches you a word everyday, it instantly struck a chord with me. If you’re reading this and are retarded I would highly recommend you put this site in your bookmarks (Ctrl+D if you don’t know how and are on Windows. If you needed me to tell you that then I know you won’t own a Mac). This site is especially for you if you’ve had problems understanding any of the words in this post.

You will definitely find it interesting even if you’re not one of the brain dead people who can’t string a sentence together without using the word “homie”. Courtesy of this blog I have now added mephitic to my vocab 😀

For the dummies: Move your cursor over the link below and then click.

http://365daysofvocab.wordpress.com/

Advertisements
Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

Escaping the furore surrounding the latest leaks from Wikileaks is seemingly impossible unless you are a Shaolin monk living high up a mountain in China. Reaction to the leaks seems to vary from outright anger and contempt to utmost respect and praise. As is often the case when a major news story is doing the rounds I’ve been asked by various people on which side of the debate I sit and so I have decided to wade in and join the debate and offer my opinion on this whole affair.

Some people see Wikileaks as  a vital force for accountability and freedom of speech. To others it is a dangerous organisation that needs shutting down. Many are now asking have Wikileaks gone too far? Those who sit on opposite sides of this debate seem to argue their point with as much conviction as the religious and atheists do when discussing matters of faith.

In short, I think Wikileaks has done far more good than harm to the world and as such is vital to continuing free speech and keeping governments and massive corporations accountable for their actions. In my opinion this is evident when you look at some of the past things Wikileaks have been responsible for.

The first major release by the website was evidence of an order to assassinate Somali officials in 2006. Another notable leak was evidence of corruption  by Daniel arap Moi whilst leader of Kenya. Wikileaks have also published the hacked Yahoo email account of Sarah Palin which showed her illegally using it for official purposes and thus trying to avoid a record of her communications being kept. By far one of the most well known releases by Wikileaks is the infamous “Collateral Damage” video which shows US helicopter troops using unrestrained force and killing unarmed civilians in Iraq. This, coupled with the recent leak of US military documents paints a very contrasting picture of the wars in the Middle East when compared with what the US say in public. It is with leaks such as the ones above where I believe there is a genuine benefit to the public interest in releasing such information. Were it not for these releases we would probably have never known that US troops had murdered innocent civilians in such a cold blooded way, that Sarah Palin was trying to circumvent public record laws, or that the US weren’t reporting civilian deaths accurately.

But, and it is a big but, I believe Wikileaks has gone too far with some of the latest releases. Yesterday’s release of a list of worldwide sites viewed as “critical” to US national security genuinely puts the US at risk. It is essentially a list of places the US government feel were they to be attacked would cause significant damage to the infrastructure of the country. I cannot possibly see what benefit to the public there is in making this public and would go so far as to say it could put the public in danger.  Likewise with some of the other releases which could seriously strain diplomatic relations across the world.

When considered in the context of Wikileaks being solely a force for free speech and accountability some of these leaks raise serious questions about the judgement of Wikileaks and it’s founder Julian Assange. It doesn’t take a great deal of intellect to work out the potentially damaging nature of some of this information and with much of it the public benefit is hard to see. So, to understand why Wikileaks has leaked this information, I think it is important to look a little closer at Julian Assange himself, what he stands for and how Wikileaks is releasing the information.

Assange gained slight fame before Wikileaks was founded in 2006 as a computer hacker. His targets were often ethically motivated and his mantra was

“Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”

Assange also spent time as a computer programmer where he created a “deniable encryption” service aimed at helping human rights workers protect sensitive information in such a way that their passwords could not be extracted through torture.

These ventures go some way to highlight Julian Assange’s motivation and demonstrate that he feels strongly about injustice, human rights and freedom of information. This ties in with the general aims that most people associate with Wikileaks.

There is a problem though. If Wikileaks sole aim is to protect public interest then why have they released the potentially damaging information they have? The answer to this, I believe, lies in the philosophical views of Assange.

In 2006, shortly before Wikileaks launch, Assange, writing on his now defunct personal blog, wrote a number of essays on what he thought about government corruption and the effect information leaks have on them.

In the essay “State And Terrorist Conspiracies” he said

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not”

And on his blog he said

“the more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. … Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”

In an essay titled “The Road To Hanoi” Assange draws a parallel between the way a small pothole gets bigger and bigger and eventually renders a road useless and how political “potholes” can do the same to a government. This essay is worth reading as, when read in conjunction with the above essay, it gives a good insight into the way Assange thinks.

The above quotes, in my opinion, clearly shows Assange’s motivation. He is not simply out to put valuable information into the public domain but to go a step further and attack what he sees as a corrupt and unjust form of government and force regime change. This explains why Wikileaks have not just released all 250,000 documents at once. By releasing them in small batches they are able to maximise the impact and damage. Whilst the world’s leaders scramble to repair the damage done by each leak Wikileaks are waiting in the sidelines ready to strike again. Like soldiers waiting and firing when the enemy leave their cover to collect the wounded. Wikileaks have made it clear they have even more secret information stacked up ready to be released, including leaks that could “take down” some major banks. Why are they waiting? So that they can strike at a time that causes maximum damage. They would not be concerned with this if their intentions were purely journalistic.

This is where I have a major problem. If Wikileaks want to be viewed as a credible journalistic outlet with a noble aim then they should remain free from political ideologies. The nature and the way this information is being released puts them into muddy water. This gives credibility to the USA’s claim that the leaks are an attack on their country and weakens Assange’s defence.

As I close let me make this clear. I support Wikileaks in theory and commend much of what they have done but as this affair gains momentum they have to be very careful how they conduct themselves if they are not to be accused of “cyber terrorism”. But I also think the authorities need to be careful. If they successfully prosecute Assange (which, incidentally, will be very difficult) they run the risk of making him a martyr for freedom. The public love a Che Guevara type figure willing to take the law into his own hands for the greater good. Prosecution will not stem the flow of leaks. Assange has made it quite clear that the mechanisms are in place for Wikileaks to continue in his absence.

I leave you with this: is there really much difference between what Wikileaks do and what the rest of the media do when they publish damning stories that governments try and stop? I don’t think so.

(For the record, and to dispel accusations of simply lifting information from Wikipedia, I opted to use the above quotes after reading Julian Assange’s essay and blog before I noticed they were on Wikipedia!)

This article appeared on The Guardian’s website in their ‘Comment Is Free’ section on belief and was written by Victoria Coren, a columnist who usually writes about poker. Venturing into the realm of the controversial she has decided to pen her thoughts on the growing atheism movement that is rapidly gaining momentum across the world.

Victoria’s point is that religion is seriously short of intelligent people ‘flying the flag’ for belief in God and that these supporters are becoming vastly outnumbered by the prominent intellectuals lending their voices to the atheism side of this never ending debate. She also goes on to say that now the religious are fearful to admit their faith because they “feel silly”.

She blames “new atheism” (which, incidentally, is only new because we’ve only recently managed to loosen religion’s grip on the world) and people like Richard Dawkins for this because, as she puts it, the “Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position.”

As an outspoken atheist I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have some major problems with Victoria’s viewpoint. Not least due to her apparent inability to correctly define atheism and agnosticism.

Consider this quote from the article:

Atheism itself is fine; good luck if that’s what you sincerely (don’t) believe. But the proselytising, fundamentalist new atheist movement sets itself up as more “logical” than faith, which is ridiculous. Given the incomprehensible scale of the creator we’d be talking about, the only “logical” position is agnosticism.

I’ll not say much about Coren’s sarcastic use of the phrase “good luck” here, it’s a cheap shot. To use the word “proselytising” in relation to atheism is quite rich given the colourful history religion has for trying to convert people: I don’t recall any wars as the product of trying to “spread” atheism or seeing any atheism channels amongst the dozens of religious channels found on satellite TV! I also have a big problem when people try and link atheism and fundamentalism together; the two are incompatible and contradictory. Every atheist I’ve ever asked has based their atheism on evidence and so they are always able to change their position should the evidence require it; fundamentalism is defined as an infallible belief in a particular religious doctrine. Atheism and fundamentalism cannot go together.

Aside from these issues of lexical semantics Coren seems to have some basic issues of logic. She states that atheism itself is fine but that “new atheism” and it’s claim it is based on logic and not faith is “ridiculous” because the only logical position is, apparently, agnosticism.

Firstly, faith is generally deemed to be belief or trust in something based on conviction rather than evidence. As atheism is the product of studying the evidence it has nothing to do with faith. Faith only steps in when your position contradicts the evidence. And secondly, agnosticism is simply the belief that it is impossible for the human mind to reach certainty on whether God exists. It is a misconception that you are either a believer, an atheist or an agnostic. The premise that “given the incomprehensible scale of the creator we’d be talking about, the only “logical” position is agnosticism” does not itself stand up to logic.

The author then says:

“In place of the comfort which faith can provide in the face of death, grief or loneliness, [atheists] offer… nothing. They are suspiciously eager to snatch away the consolations of their fellow men.”

Suspiciously eager? She doesn’t explain what she’s suspicious of. Here we see a common tactic: insult the atheist for daring to doubt our precious religion! It may well be a comfort for those in pain to turn their eyes upwards to heaven but it makes it no more likely to be true and is not a good enough reason to believe. It’s also interesting to note here that it is the “faith” that’s given the credit for providing comfort and the atheists that are being slated for not providing an alternative. This is a ridiculous notion given that it is man’s subjective interpretation of a particular religion that provides this comfort in hard times. Comfort can be found in a whole manner of things and it is a pretty weak basis for belief. The language in the above quote is intended to create a negative impression of atheism: spin at it’s best!

I can keep going with laughable quotes from this article:

“Without religion, human life is no longer sacred – nothing is – so it’s not “logical” to believe we’d be gentler if it disappeared. All we’d have to replace it is a trust in altruism, which is certainly no less naive than believing in God.”

Without religion human life is no longer sacred? No shit sherlock: the definition of sacred is “connected to or involving God”. What is it about the obsession humans have with being extra special and sacred? We don’t seem to be able to accept we’re just animals like every other animal on Earth. It’s a pretty arrogant attitude to posses. I’ve also never heard anybody, including the prominent atheists, say that if religion just “disappeared” then all it’s problems would disappear also. The problems are a product of inefficiencies in the human mind not religion per se. Altruism is not a replacement for religion, it is a vital part of how we’ve evolved to where we are today and it is a behaviour which is easily observable in the natural world. To claim it is “no less naive” to trust something as tangible as altruism when compared to trusting an invisible God makes no sense at all.

Lets imagine that Coren’s wish were to come true; that a plethora of “cool, brainy and witty thinkers” spoke up in favour of religion. It wouldn’t make a difference. The message they brought would still be as illogical and undesirable as it currently is however they re-branded it.

One thing that seems to have escaped the author of this article is that perhaps the reason there are so many intelligent intellectuals on the atheist side of the debate and hardly any on the religion side is that atheism makes the most sense based on the evidence? The religious seem quite content with ignoring the fact that science and deep, intense study of the way the world works are all pointing towards there being no God.

Given the growing mountain of evidence science is piling up perhaps the religious should be looking in the mirror at their own beliefs if they want to explain the scorn they’re receiving in the modern world.

The Guardian – As I didn’t say to the archbishop
Atheism seems to get the cool, brainy people: We need witty thinkers to speak up for God

Hello! For the past 3 months I’ve not updated the blog but now I’m back!

I know I’ve lost some readers in the past few months because my traffic stats reflect this but some people have continued reading and to them I say thanks!

During the past 3 months I’ve been through a major period of life reconstruction, which is still ongoing, following the end of a long-term relationship. My priorities shifted and for a while I couldn’t find the motivation to keep the blog going. This is because to maintain a blog like this takes dedication to keeping abreast of the news, reading other blogs, inhabiting forums, engaging in debates etc.

But all this is in the past as we are now back in business and I’m ready to start annoying religious people again. To mark what is effectively a “relaunch” of this blog I’ve given it a visual overhaul which, I believe, looks a lot better than the previous version.

So come back and join in the debate at The Mind Of An Atheist!

Yesterday I posted with some stupid laws that were once in place in the UK. Today’s stupid laws are yet again from the UK.

Stupid law #5 – Any person found breaking a boiled egg at the narrow end would be sentenced to 24 hours in the village stocks. This law was enacted by Edward VI.

Stupid law #6 – It is unlawful to stand within one hundred yards of the reigning monarch when not wearing socks. Another stupid law enacted by Edward VI

Stupid law #7 – Any boy under the age of ten may not see a naked mannequin.

Stupid law #8 – A licence is required to keep a lunatic.

Stupid law #9 – it is an act of treason to place a stamp that bears the queen upside down.

Stupid law #10 – It is legal for a pregnant woman to relieve herself anywhere including in a policeman’s helmet.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to diversify this blog and post about things other than religion and god. So today I am starting what will become a regular-ish feature: Random Facts Of The Day.

I’m starting with stupid laws and it seems I am spoilt for choice. The USA tops the list of countries with ridiculous laws owing to the fact they have the ability to enact state laws. Historically each state acted as effectively its own country and so over the years many stupid laws have been enacted. Many of these remain to this day due to the fact they’ve simply never been repealed.

But, to avoid appearing anti-American I will begin with a few from our very own great nation the UK. I kid you not, I didn’t just invent these!

Stupid law #1 – It is against the law to be drunk in charge of a cow.

Stupid law #2 – All English males over the age of 14 are to carry out 2 or so hours of longbow practice a week.

Stupid law #3 – You may not fish for salmon on a Tuesday.

Stupid law #4 (and one of my favourites) – The severest penalties will be suffered by any commoner who doth permit his animal to have carnal knowledge (sex for those too 21st century to have heard of “carnal knowledge”) of a pet of the royal house. This law was enacted by King George I

In a previous post I wrote about animal testing and my thoughts on it. Today I read the story of Liam, a dog rescued from a lab, and his transformation. So in a bid to post about something happy and upbeat I’ll share this story with you.

“8888884. I just got those numbers tattooed on myself. They are numbers that mean a lot to me because I am not the first person to get them. These numbers were first tattooed on someone nearly four years ago. Someone who didn’t get to choose where he would get his number. Someone who didn’t want a number in the first place. His name is Liam. He’s my dog…..” Click link below for full story.

Full Story – Huffington Post

Quoted text and image © 2010 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc