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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dublin, writer's festival

I went to the Dublin Writers Festival, on June 5th, 2012, to see and hear Richard Dawkins live. I took some notes and thought, I'd share.
It was called
"Richard Dawkins in Conversation"
A reporter named Crawly or Crawley or something like that interviewed him.
It was not monotone or boring but quite entertaining and very funny.

There was a little chitchat first.
Mr Dawkins said that he had just come from Conemara where he used to be a lot when he was a boy. And that he likes it a lot there.

On the question on what the most asked question is, that he gets he said "What's happening next in evolution?" and with a smile he added that he gets this questions all the time and pretty much everywhere, and everyone who asks him this questions seems to think they are the first ones with the idea.

The interviewer asked him if he thinks, a death bed conversion would be possible for him, he said "no" and, after a few words of Dawkins that I didn't write down because I listened, the interviewer added "No death-bed-conversion, looking for loopholes". I assume it's not funny out of context but the whole room was laughing.

He was asked if he was religious as a child and he answered with Corinthians 13:11
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways."

Very interesting was that he went a similar way out of religion as I have heard a lot in the past. He said that after leaving Christianity he became a deist because he said "there has to be something".

He mentioned his parents who have always been great in giving answers that where based on fact and science and when he graduated school he chose between Art and Science for university. Well, we know what he chose after all, eh.
He mentioned he likes art and literature quite a lot and when asked what his favourite work of literature would be he said that he likes "evil and war". Not for the ideas or the author but for the fine and well chosen language in the book.

After that they talked about Hitchens and what Mr Dawkins thinks about him. He said that he admired him for having been on the same side as he is when it came to public debates. He first met him only 4 or 5 years ago and he remembers watching him on TV on a ship when he was at the Galapagos islands when Hitchens was on TV and made the statement: "If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox. "

He was asked what he has to say about the statement that atheists and even he himself is arrogant. His reply was that this statement is mostly coming up when people have nothing else to say against an argument you stated.

Another question was about the claim that people like him seem very stritent (dunno if i spelled it right but it sounded like this) when it comes to talking about religion. He explained that actually this is not true. We can say the worst things about stuff and noone is being really mad about it. He gave the example of restaurant critiques saying "this is not only the worst restaurant in Dublin, it is the worst restaurant on the planet" that you actually expect such comments. But we learn that religion is special, if it is religion you can't say anything and it is bad to say something negative about religion. And our ears are so trimmed to that, that even the slightest comment about it sounds absolutely bad.

The reporter then asked him how he feels when he is speaking in the US as people are so religios there. He answered that he actually gets the best receptions in the US, especially in the bible belt.

He was also asked what he thinks might be the most irrational religion and he started make examples connected to politics.
First he gave an example about Mormons, believing that there was a guy who found golden tablets with a strange language that only he understood and that he stored in a hat, and that he translated them into 15th century english when he was a 19th century man, and that these plates vanished after the translation PLUS every mormon who dies gets his own planet, even those who have been babtized after dieing. And then he asked if he is supposed to vote someone for president who believes that this is true!
The next example was rom. catholic, wther he should vote someone who believes that a wafer becomes the real dead body of a 1st-century man after being blessed.

In connection to this he also mentioned that in the US it is a taboo to ask people who are up for election, what their belief is, because it is a private belief. He said he once wrote an article on this topic (forgot where, sorry) and he mentioned those private beliefs of important people like doctors, teachers, politicians, etc. And people said it doesn't matter what they believe at home as long as they do the right thing.
So he asked if you would trust your eye-doctor to properly fix your problem if you know that he beliefs babies come from the stork.
Or if you would trust a geography teacher to teach your child properly if you know he believes that the earth is flat.
He said that he thinks, these people should be fired and that he would not trust them to make important desicions if they are able to believe complete unproven nonsense.

After this the question was about natural selection and if he would be willing to give a few details so he talked about two theories. One by Hamilton which was about genes being potentionally immortal due to the fact that they are being copied all the time through successful reproduction.
The other theory was about groupselection which says that groups of animals that act social have a higher change of survival.
His example was an ant nest. He said that the workers do not reproduce but all they do is work for the queen and care for the offsprings and those ants that are female become queens in their own nests and reproduce and get their own workers etc etc. and this would be one of the successful examples of these two theories.
He was also talking about the theory of kin selection and that it is not true and not false because it follows logically Darwin's theories. (I am sorry but I forgot most of that part)

After that he was asked how he thinks about making political and social/moral statements in public. He said, that he doesn't feel qualified to make political statements and that is why he refuses to go public on programs (tv and radio) that are about that. But he feels qualified and fine with making social and moral statements in public.

The last question in the interview part was about dumbing down things for people who are not very educated.
Mr Dawkins quoted Einstein: "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler."

Then came the questions from the audience and I only give you those that I found best.

A teacher said that she find her students being quite bored about science and asked for a tip how to make it less boring.
He mentioned his book "The magic of reality" which is mainly aimed towards the younger generation. He also said that a lot of people say that it has to be useful and that is what makes science interesting but what he find very important to show kids how great science is, how inspiring and how wonderful and complex everything is. Looking into the stars and wondering, checking out the leafes of a tree or the ocean, would be great things.

Someone else from the audience asked what his guilty pleasure is.
The reporter added with a grin "Keep it clean and a version for public" Everyone had a good laugh and Dawkins said that his guilty pleasure is the Computer. He said it is so highly addictive and he spent so much time on programming and on searching things on the internet.

Another question was if he had any hints for aggressive secularism, meaning how to get things moving more secular in very christian countries.
He said "Make your voice heard, don't be shy, speak up, show we are ordinary, nice people!"

A mother of two sons said that she doesn't really want to know anything but her sons are asking what his favourite dinosaur is.
He said that birds are his favourite dinosaurs because birds are the species whose skeleton is the closest to the flying dinosaurs and they are feathered dinosaurs. He added that he would love to get on a time machine to travel back and see them for real.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Atheist weekend, Dublin


The Atheist Weekend in Dublin (Ireland) is coming up soon.
25th / 26th, August 2012!
If you would like to sign up, please include your name, age, and how many people you will bring along.
Please sign up by 18th, August 2012.
The event is for people of 16 years or older. People under 18 years will have to hand in a letter of consent, signed by a parent or legal guardian.
We are kindly asking for €5 per person for snacks, drinks, and material.
We will have a speaker, a workshop, discussion round, BBQ, and an "official unbabtizing".
Don't miss an entertaining weekend, and sign up now! Limited spots available!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Riots in Romania - The battle of Bucharest

A brief background to what is happening in Romania and the protests going on.

It all started in the 1990's when a doctor who had moved to Romania decided to improve emergency rescue services. This doctor was Raed Arafat.
What exactly did he do, back then? He started an experiment with a single second hand car. Preparing it for special emergency situations. He parked it at the hospital where he was working and said that if something very urgent comes in, they have to send this car. It was the best equipped and he had a fireman coming with who would open doors etc.
At some point Dr. Arafat expanded this service all over Romania. By this time he got money from the government and was able to buy more cars and even helicopters. He started working with firemen who would open trashed cars or get into collapsed buildings to rescue people.
This service is called "SMURD" (Serviciul Mobil de Urgenta, Reanimare si Descarcerare) - Mobile Emergency Service for resuscitation and extrication.

Dr. Arafat was, by that time and until just recently, a state sub-secretary attached to the health ministry. He got a budget that he was using on this project and it works very well. There are other services like that but SMURD is working best.

Now, after pretty much cheating the Romanian People for a long time on a lot of levels, the President had the great idea to privatize SMURD. Of course Dr. Arafat opposed this so (to make it short) he was forced to resign from his position. Of course all this happened publicly and people only needed one more thing to explode.

So people were outraged, this plan is bad, it would cost more tax money and people are poor already, it would not necessarily keep the service level where it is now, and added to all the other bad things the president already did people now want him to leave.

They want immediate elections. They want the president with his party and ministers gone.

The president did not make a statement since the protests started and it's a week now and there are more and more people now.

Today is January 19th 2012, there was a huge organized public meeting, 20,000 people attended in Bucharest, while somewhere else in Bucharest people kept protesting as usual.

Want more?
Here the “fun facts” that are not so fun.

This whole thing is getting ridiculous.

# A headmaster went from class to class with a police man, telling his students (all of legal age) that if they join the protests they will be kicked out from that school.

# Riot police gives tickets for shouting against the president

# Trains to Bucharest are being stopped in mid journey and people are being asked where they go and what they do there. Everyone who seems to be on the way to protests is kicked from the train.

# A father has been arrested, he wasn't even protesting. He was there with his 11 year old daughter, lost her in the masses. But he was arrested anyway.

# A man, standing on the side of the crowd, watching the protest without participating was shot in the leg and beaten up so bad that by now he lost the bones in his leg and needs an implant.

# A journalist was arrested for being there as a reporter, his press-id was ripped off and he was beaten inside the police van.

This list goes on and on.

Reactions from the officials?

In attempt to stop the protests Dr.Arafat was accepted back in his position by now.

The president did not talk to the public, yet.

The whole situation got international attention by now and the EP-president has warned Basescu to take the protests seriously and to address the complaints.

USA officials had a message for the Romanian People to protest peacefully and for the authorities to stop the violent repression.

Everybody seems to notice the situation except the president and the government.